If I wanted water, I would have asked for water.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Super Small Beers

A British beer blogger has a post up about an English brown ale that weighs in at 2.8% alcohol:
If you're American, you'd probably laugh it out of town. I doubt they send much - if any - across the Atlantic. Instead, the beer cowers in brown, half litre bottles on the shelves of Tesco stores in Britain. It coyly suggests on its label that it be used for cooking. There's even a recipe for beef stew on the back. It's as if the little chap doesn't want you to drink him.
It appears that the beer in question, Mann's, is a throwback. In the comments to the post, a guy named Paul notes "When we had our beer shop we used to sell a reasonable amount of Mann's brown. I don't ever remember a customer for it being under 60." That, and the suggestion that it's more fit for stew than mug, hint at its status there.

Nevertheless, there is a long and loving history of small beers, going back to the time when they were consumed in greater quantity and at what we might now consider off hours. In our mania for extremes, we extend not even scorn for these kinds of beers now--most craft beer drinkers probably believe that beer under 4% alcohol was made to serve scorn-deserving niches (light beer, non-alcoholic beer).

Well, as a sometimes brewer and all-around beer appreciator, I will go on record as a fan of the little beers. They're the quadruple salchow of brewing--very hard to pull off, so much so that few even bother. But when done properly, they reveal flavors concealed at higher octane. Here in Beervana, we so eschew anything with the macro taint that even our session ales are 5.5%. But in the world of extremes--which make Beervana's heart sing--super small beers are something to consider.

A general call to Oregon brewers: what about trying to knock off our socks with one hand tied behind your back? Something around three percent, style of your choice. Betcha can't.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Organic Beer Fest - Open Thread

Open threads work well on blogs that get high traffic and comments, and this one has neither. Still, I hope you report back on your findings at the Organic Beer Fest. Your reports will be my only experience of it, and so you'll be doing me a favor if you tell me what happened.
  • Good beers?
  • Bad beers?
  • Breweries new or new to Oregon--how'd they measure up?
  • Environmental issues--the site, the weather (should be a mirror opposite of last year's cold, rainy Saturday), the volunteers, etc. How'd it go?
Stay hydrated and stay cool--

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Organic Beerfest Preview

North American Organic Beer Festival, June 27-29
Overlook Park, North Portland, Oregon
Fri, 3:00 to 9:00 p.m., Sat, noon to 9:00, Sun, noon to 5:00.
Compostable tasting mugs: $5, samples $1
Children welcome with parents.
Tomorrow at three o'clock, the North American Organic Brewers Festival opens its doors. Believe it or not, this is the fourth iteration of the fest, which seems like it just got started a couple years back. I have the distinct displeasure to have to miss this year's fest do to an unavoidable trip out of town, but you shouldn't be cavalier: this is the premier event for quality West Coast beers.

Organic beers are no longer the oddity they once were, but they're still special. Few breweries are all-organic, so those that do brew an organic beer do it with intention. (An example: in order to have Green Lakes certified organic, Deschutes had to spend six months working with Oregon Tilth just for the one beer.) Whether or not organic ingredients offer empirically-better tasting beer is debatable. But what became clear to me at last year's fest was that as a class, organic beers tend to get more loving attention from brewers and are consequently showcase products. Nearly every beer you try at this fest will be better than average, and that just can't be said for any other fest. So don't miss it.

I will not presume to tell you what to sample, but if I were able to go, this would constitute my short list:
  • Dupont Foret. Was Dupont the first brewery to produce an organic beer? They started way back in 1990. Pinkus (see below) may have started even earlier, but together, these two breweries are organic pioneers. Foret is one of the saison variations offered by the most renowned farmhouse brewery in the world, somewhat more robust than the standard Saison, and I would love to try it on tap.
  • Pinkus Hefe-Weizen. This German brewer started experimenting with organics two decades ago, and if you think you don't like hefeweizens, test the theory by trying Pinkus. It is a revelation of delicacy and tartness. And from the keg, it should be super fresh.
  • Crannog Hell's Kitchen Potato Ale. I had this last year, but I would love to revisit it--the potato is, I recall ... interesting.
  • Bison Single Hop IPA. Last year, I was impressed by Bison's offbeat Gingerbread Ale, but I'd like to see what they can do with a straight-up IPA. (No evidence of which single hop has been deployed.)
  • Willamette IPA. What's a brewfest for if not trying beer from new breweries? I was unaware of this Eugene joint, which looks to be about a year old. (What the hell kind of blogger am I to have missed this? A question for the sages.)
  • Santa Cruz Dread Brown. Why? Because this is the beer's lineage: "This is the first ale by brewster, Emily Thomas, co-owner of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing. Thomas brewed up her first batch of brown ale in the bathtub of her college apartment almost ten years ago." Female brewer? Check. Bathtub? Check. Award-winning brown ale? Check. A trifecta.
  • Hair of the Dog Greg. Though HotD has three choices, I'd probably go with the Greg, just so I could still stand up in a roughly vertical manner afterward.
  • Nelson Brewing IPA. Okay, I've got too many IPAs on my list. But come on, it's from British Columbia, eh.
  • St. Peter's English Ale. You may recall Britain's St. Peter's from their characteristic flat bottles. I recall them for their extraordinary quality. Never had the English Ale, though.
  • McMenamins Saison du Pass. The buzz beer last year, to which I responded coolly. I'd like to give it a second chance.
  • Widmer WOMP Pale. Because Widmer always tries something interesting.
This list excludes beers that I know to be exceptional, like the Double Mountain beers, Sam Smith (another organics pioneer), Schneider, Fish Tales, and Roots (which I can get at the pub near my house). And I'm certain that I've overlooked some stellar beer that will float your boat. And with this fest, you probably can't go wrong.

Enjoy--

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Brewery Websites (Suck)

BridgePort unveiled a new website today. It is a Flash based, high-graphics site that I've no doubt Gambrinus spent a lot of money designing. I got a nice email announcing that it would be accompanied by a launch party, and another one saying it was live now--a day early.

Pretty much the only thing that's changed is the design. The info is roughly the same as that offered at the old site. Navigating through it, I had an epiphany: brewery websites suck. "Suck" is too strong a word, because they're actually very pretty. Many have now moved to the technique of offering professionally-produced videos, which for those who can't visit the brewery, are especially nice.

The problem is that the sites are designed to sell rather than inform. It is not dissimilar to the experience I used to have as a paid writer when a brewery would send me on a tour with a PR flack. She would hustle me around to the things I didn't want to see and talk about things like "strong brand identification" that I couldn't care less about. Whenever we'd get near to something I'd like to see--like the brewery--I'd feel a firm hand on my arm and feel myself getting dragged off to look at the latest label mock-up or something equally uninteresting.

On the other hand, when brewers showed me around, it was a revelation. They cared about the beer, the way the beer was made, how it was conceived, which ingredients went into it, and how it was evolving. After an hour with a brewer, I knew I would have to work to contain myself to the 800 words I was allotted.

Let's have a look at what BridgePort wrote about their brewery, shall we? This is it, in toto:
At BridgePort Brewing, we made our mark by evolving from a small microbrewery to a regional leader in the craft brewing market without losing focus on our end product, our award winning ales. With a focus and commitment to quality and consistency, we have earned the admiration of craft beer lovers, the respect of our competitors, and a shelf full of awards from international judges. As declared in our Pledge: "we stand for beer" -- brewed with the finest ingredients, all under the watchful eyes of passionate and committed brewers in the Nation. The BridgePort Brewmasters.* And we promise to produce the finest examples of American craft brewing with every beer that bears our name. Every Beer. Every Time.
Now, keep in mind that this is about the brewery. That's it--there's nothing else. Did you just feel the arm of the PR flack take you away from the big room with the pretty copper and into a stuffy office with a woman and a plastic smile? And seriously (since this has turned into a full-fledged rant): "we stand for beer"? That's the best you got? I remember when Delta Airline's ad used to be "we get you there." This is just marginally better, and what it's doing in a description of the brewery is mystifying. Tell me about the brewery. Show me pictures. Tell me about the beer, who created it and what they were after. Tell me what's in it. Don't tell me that the

Okay, I've said my peace. BridgePort has a new website. They'll be so delighted they sent me an email letting me know. (Though it should be said that all the major breweries have similar websites, and I'm not just picking on BridgePort. Full Sail's is just as bad. Widmer's is as promotional, but does tell you about the beers in detail. Deschutes, as with so many other things, gets kudos as having the most data-rich website, but they could do with more info about their beer, particularly with regard to ingredients. And so on.)
_____________
*That's not really even a sentence, and why is Nation capitalized? Sure, typos riddle this site, but I'm not getting paid eighty grand to write copy for a national company.

NYT Discovers Oregon Beer (and Alan Sprints)

I have spent a few posts deriding Eric Asimov's beer stories in the New York Times, so now let me praise the Gray Lady (if not Asimov). Today, Lucy Burningham exonerates the paper somewhat in an article about aging beers.

A growing number of Americans practice the art of beer cellaring. In Europe, laying down brews isn’t seen as innovative; many beer stores have sections devoted to vintage beers.

But in the United States, a country with a preference for lagers, which lose flavor over time, most beer drinkers assume fresher means better.

For the most part, they’re right. Most beers were made to be consumed as soon as possible.

But certain types develop desirable flavors over time, like those with a high alcohol content, bottle-conditioned beers with yeast in the bottle, barley wines, lambics, barrel-aged and sour beers and winter ales.

It's quite a nice article--informed and accurate--and as a bonus, one source she cites is Alan Sprints:

Historically, European brewers have been the ones intentionally making beers to be laid down. But increasingly, American craft brewers are doing the same.

Alan Sprints, owner of Hair of the Dog Brewing Company in Portland, Ore., says he opened the brewery 15 years ago to accomplish one specific goal: to create beers that improve with age.

Hair of the Dog’s first release, the Adam, remains a popular choice for cellaring. The next time Mr. Sprints sells an Adam from his first, and now dwindling, batch, he’ll ask $50 for one 12-ounce bottle.

Adam collectors can consult a vintage guide for the beer on the brewery’s web site, a new tool for the collector.

Go read the whole thing.

[Update: I see via the Brew Crew listserve that Lucy is a Portland writer. I think she ought to invite the NYT's Eric Asimov out to the Northwest for a beer tour.

Second Update: I corrected a pasting error mentioned in the first comment below. ]

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Craft Beer Month

[Note: post updated with accurate dates.]

The Oregon Brewers Guild is touting the third annual Craft Beer Month, which kicks off on July first. I haven't done a lot of touting myself, but since the calendar is out, here's a few for which you should save the date:

___
Concordia Cup, July 9th-13th
10 of the Best Oregon Imperial IPA's battle it out for first place in a blind taste test. Winning brewer will captain the Oregon Beer Brawl II team. Votes will be gathered from July 9th starting at 11 am until July 13th at midnight. Taster trays are $10 to participate and vote for your favorite. Admission is free.

Concordia Ale House, 3276 NE Killingsworth, Portland
503-287-3929 • www.concordia-ale.com

___

"Puckerfest," July 14-20
Specials on tap and in the bottle throughout the week. Unofficially named the "Puckerfest," several sour beers will also be pouring at the adjoining biercafé.

Belmont Station, 4500 SE Stark St., Portland
503-232-8538 • www.belmont-station.com

___


Sagebrush Classic, July 18-19
One of the Northwest and Central Oregon's premier culinary and golf events, put on each year by Deschutes Brewery.

Broken Top Club, Bend
800-601-8123 • www.sagebrush.org

___


Portland International Beerfest, July 18-20
130 beers from 15 countries in three days. Eminently doable.

North Park Blocks, Portland

___


Oregon Brewers Guild Dinner, July 23 (6:00 to 8:30 pm)
Some of the biggest names in craft brewing attend this informal BBQ as a prelude to the Oregon Brewers Festival. The ticket price of $50 ($40 for SNOBs) includes dinner, a souvenir pint glass, and six half-pints of Oregon beers that are not featured at the festival. Proceeds benefit Oregon Brewers Guild. Attendance is limited to 600.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Portland
503-288-2739 • www.oregonbeer.org

___


Oregon Brewers Festival July 24-27

What needs to be added?

Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Portland


Mark your calendars--

[Note: dates were wrong on the original post and have been updated. Sorry for the confusion! Damn that copy editor...]

Monday, June 23, 2008

Get Thee to Lucky Lab for a Quality Rye

The Lucky Lab, bless their hearts, seem to have two speeds: hoppy and dark. It is sometimes amusing to consider the style designation as you quaff a pint of, say alt--for the Lab, style is a state of mind, nothing to get too worked up about. (Pity the Dusseldorfer who expects something familiar in his alt.)

That's why I urge you to try out a very un-Lablike offering on tap now--Quality Rye. I'm certain I've seen and tried this beer before, but either it's changed or I've forgotten how good it is. At 4.5% and 15 IBUs, it probably doesn't get a lot of love from the regulars, but it's a very subtle, well-made beer. Rye contributes a kind of spicy quality, and dries a beer at the finish. It's not always easy to identify, but in this very svelte little ale, you get a good sense of it.

Quality Rye is slightly hazy and pours with a frothy head--nice for a beer of this weight class. I get a bit of a lemon from the combination of Fuggles and Hallertauer hops and the rye malt--or perhaps lemongrass is a better description. It's creamy but very crisp, a nice combination for a summer beer. A great example of how complexity and interest can come in spite of few ingredients. I'd love to see the Lucky Lab brew with this kind of subtlety more often.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Beer Spree

Around Chez Alworth, we have no hard-and-fast rule against profligate beer buying, yet I try to moderate my purchases. Since dropping $15 on a wee dram of spontaneously-fermented kriek is an out-of-budget expense, I don't do it often. However, a few months ago, thanks to my superior insight as a basketball prognosticator, I came into some March Madness cash. A hundred and fitty. I may not spend it all on beer, but since it's found cash, I'm gonna go on a spree.

But which beers?

I appeal to you all: which world, national, and local classics do you consider must-tries? Jon has his list, but I've never really thought it through. I recognize that not every beer I should try is on the classic list (Hoegaarden Wit ... yawn.) But others, like Orval, do make my cut as one of the world's best. That beer I reviewed last week (Taras Boulba) was so new the brewers haven't even gotten their own facility yet, and it would be a respectable recommendation. There are at least a dozen world-class beers brewed right here, too.

For what it's worth, if someone asked me this, I'd offer this list (excluding locals, which don't require a spending spree):
  • Budweiser Budvar
  • Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus
  • Coniston Bluebird Bitter
  • Saison Dupont
  • Duvel
  • Fuller's ESB
  • Guinness Extra Stout
  • Hanssen's Oudbeitje
  • Huyghe Delerium Tremens
  • Orval
  • Rodenback Grand Cru
  • St. Peter's Porter
  • Verhaeghe Duchesse De Bourgogne
As you can see, my tastes tend toward the Flemish. I would easily double or treble the list if I added domestics (the US is now rivaled by only Belgium in the sheer number of world-class beers it produces). Not limiting yourself to foreign styles only, or even those available in the US, on which beers should I absolutely, positively spend my hoops lucre?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Who's Number One?

A wonderful discussion broke out on that lively Brew Crew listserve I mentioned some time back. At issue was which state had bragging rights for being the most breweried. Of course, this is easy to ascertain--it's California by a mile. But wait! Surely there's a way to calculate it so Oregon's number one? David Cato submitted the following list, which is a pretty nice bit of work. It shows that Vermont actually gets bragging rights. (Though there was an extended debate about whether to include the multiple McMenamins and Lucky Labs in the count. Conclusion: depends.)

There is a related, if slightly sideways look at beer and states over at Champagne of Blogs, where Dave is trying, in this election year, to determine which states brew better beer, red or blue? If number of breweries is any indication, blue's killing red. But per capita consumption even things out a bit.

Personally, I think the fact that people were having this debate and putting together statistical measures for proving Oregon's superiority is itself all the evidence we need. But for those who wish to see the numbers, here you go (columns are state, population, number of breweries, and people per breweries):

         State                 Pop.   Brew.    Ppl/brew

1 Vermont ............... 621,254 19 32,698
2 Oregon ................ 3,747,455 90 41,638
3 Montana ............... 957,861 23 41,646
4 Maine ................. 1,317,207 28 47,043
5 Alaska ................ 683,478 14 48,820
6 Colorado .............. 4,861,515 96 50,641
7 Wyoming ............... 522,830 9 58,092
8 Washington ............ 6,468,424 93 69,553
9 Wisconsin ............. 5,601,640 64 87,526
10 New Hampshire ......... 1,315,828 15 87,722
11 Idaho ................. 1,499,402 16 93,713
12 Delaware .............. 864,764 8 108,096
13 Nebraska .............. 1,774,571 16 110,911
14 New Mexico ............ 1,969,915 17 115,877
15 South Dakota .......... 796,214 6 132,702
16 Hawaii ................ 1,283,388 9 142,599
17 Michigan .............. 10,071,822 70 143,883
18 Nevada ................ 2,565,382 16 160,336
19 California ............ 36,553,215 218 167,675
20 Kansas ................ 2,775,997 16 173,500
21 Massachusetts ......... 6,449,755 37 174,318
22 Iowa .................. 2,988,046 17 175,767
23 Rhode Island .......... 1,057,832 6 176,305
24 Pennsylvania .......... 12,432,792 67 185,564
25 District of Columbia .. 588,292 3 196,097
26 Utah .................. 2,645,330 13 203,487
27 Connecticut ........... 3,502,309 16 218,894
28 Missouri .............. 5,878,415 25 235,137
29 Minnesota ............. 5,197,621 22 236,256
30 Indiana ............... 6,345,289 26 244,050
31 Arizona ............... 6,338,755 24 264,115
32 Virginia .............. 7,712,091 29 265,934
33 North Carolina ........ 9,061,032 31 292,291
34 West Virginia ......... 1,812,035 6 302,006
35 Ohio .................. 11,466,917 37 309,917
36 Maryland .............. 5,618,344 18 312,130
37 Illinois .............. 12,852,548 40 321,314
38 South Carolina ........ 4,407,709 13 339,055
39 New York .............. 19,297,729 51 378,387
40 Tennessee ............. 6,156,719 15 410,448
41 New Jersey ............ 8,685,920 19 457,154
42 Florida ............... 18,251,243 36 506,979
43 Oklahoma .............. 3,617,316 7 516,759
44 Georgia ............... 9,544,750 17 561,456
45 Kentucky .............. 4,241,474 7 605,925
46 North Dakota .......... 639,715 1 639,715
47 Arkansas .............. 2,834,797 4 708,699
48 Texas ................. 23,904,380 33 724,375
49 Louisiana ............. 4,293,204 5 858,641
50 Alabama ............... 4,627,851 3 1,542,617
51 Mississippi ........... 2,918,785 1 2,918,785
Total .................301,621,157 1,472 204,906

Notes:
1. BA lists 85 breweries in Oregon but Brewer's Guild
Director Brian Butenschoen said we have 90 breweries
so I used Brian's number instead. (The BA's number
drops Oregon to 3rd place.)
2. There's at least one brewery in Texas, Southern Star,
that I'm aware of that is not included in the BA's list so
I included them, but their inclusion doesn't change Texas'
rank, nor does it make it any harder for Louisiana to
overtake them.

All I have to add is: poor Mississippi.

Honest Pint in WW, Elsewhere

Willamette Week has a story out today with some interesting info on the question of the cheater pint. (I spoke with the writer about it last week.) I'm trying not to wear out my welcome on this issue, but there's some value in it. In particular, there's this nice detail:
Several Portland restaurant-supply companies say most of their customers buy full-size pint glasses. For instance, Tom Rose, of Rose’s Equipment and Supply, says his company has sold 526 cases so far this year of 16-ounce glasses and only 73 cases of the 14-ouncers.
The story also has some info about state legislator Brian Clem's thoughts on a policy fix:

Clem, who is “not a huge drinker,” tells WW he doesn’t envision a statewide force of “beer cops” armed with measuring cups.

Rather, he hopes the industry can be persuaded to help pay for an inspection program, assuming that an “honest pint” certification could provide a marketing opportunity.

“It might be a tourism thing,” says Clem. But merely ensuring that beer drinkers get a fair deal? “I don’t think the industry’s going to be into that.”

The Clem proposal “might be something we would be interested in doing, but I never know what our members are going to say,” says Oregon Brewers Build Director Brian Butenschoen.

All interesting, methinks. But this piece I could live without: Jeff Alworth, a Portland State University researcher and “beer blogger” who founded the “Honest Pint Project...” "Beer blogger"--I been dissed! (Writer Corey Pein later offers more substance to my bona fides).

Elsewhere, thanks to that Wall Street Journal piece, others across the country are starting to take action.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On Organic Beer

For those of you who don't get the dead-tree version of the Oregonian, or for those who do but ignore the FoodDay, let me draw your attention to a fairly long article today about organic beer and the activities of Craig Nicholls and Christian Ettinger. To select three paragraphs at almost random:
Nicholls was at Alameda Brewhouse when he first started playing around with organic malt and found that the barley it was made from produced more fermentable sugars than conventional malt. When he made his organic Heather Ale in 1996 from that malt and some heather he'd grown in his yard, he thought he'd invented something new. That is, until he did some research and found out that heather had been used in making fermented drink for about, oh, 4,000 years or so....

In 2000 he organized a symposium at the Lucky Lab and invited all the local brewers. But news of the upcoming gathering spread and soon he was getting e-mails and phone calls from all around the country. Robert Wolaver, who began making certified organic ales in Vermont in 1997, asked to come and speak, as did Bret Cooperrider from Ukiah Brewing Co. in California.

In all, nearly 50 brewers and industry people came to hear from Oregon Tilth about organic certification and to talk about chemicals, GMOs (genetically modified ingredients) and organics. Nearly all agreed that they should each make one organic beer, and almost all of them have in the years since, though only a few keep one on tap full time. And that first symposium spawned the first North American Organic Beer Festival, now in its fourth year.

Read the whole thing here. (It's worth a click-through.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Smeirlap! (Taras Boulba, De La Senne Brewery)

Since I've spent a few days castigating the Belgians, I think it's time to praise them. Last week I picked up a bottle from Belmont Station--I hesitate to admit this and sacrifice my street cred--based solely on the label. My knack for decanting beer is clearly greater than my skill at photography, but at right you can see the label that beguiled. The image shows a burly, teamster-looking guy about to crush a scrawny beggar-looking man. They are inexplicably near a circus, and the teamster screams "Smeirlap!" That and the three words I could read ("Extra Hoppy Ale") were enough to make the sale.

As a now-elderly man who must scuttle around on bad knees while nursing a case of low-grade sciatica, I have few remaining childish joys left to indulge. One is purchasing beers from foreign lands, particularly when the label is inexplicable and bizarre. One has a sense (however romantic and inaccurate) that the beer represents something essential about the country, and that decanting the beer is a little like pouring out a bit of the country. (I should note that less than half the beers acquired in this manner have been worth a damn. Still.) It turns out there's a story behind the label (with Belgians, there almost always is), but more about that later.

Tasting Notes
It turns out the beer is a paltry 4.5% alcohol--substantially lighter than Full Sail Session--but I didn't know that until after I drank it. Absolutely nothing tipped it off. It is a corked beer, and comes roiling out like a Belgian strong. The head is absolutely magnificent, as thick and well-structured as whipped egg whites. (In the picture, you can see the peaks.) It's a hazy golden and sports a massive bead. Upon visual inspection, I had already concluded it was going to be a big beer.

The aroma and flavor mislead as well. The aroma in particular is complex and interesting--at first just peppery, but then I detected something that made me jot down "soap," and later it hit me--lavender. It is predictably rocky and effervescent on the tongue, which draws out the "extra hoppy" character advertised on the label. The bitterness--robust, but not out of balance--is of an almond/apricot pit quality. Far different from our green hoppiness. I detected no candi sugar (for reasons now obvious), but it felt every bit as big and substantial as many of the complex Belgians that ring in at 7-10%. No funk in the yeast, but it is very, very dry. A great beer, and a revelation when I learned it was a session ale (though at ten bucks a bottle, you won't be drinking it by the liter). I would like to hear about the 4.5% beer that has more flavor and more character than Taras Boulba.

The brewery is brand-spanking new--so new they don't even have a brewery. They borrow De Ranke's. (Interesting. Wonder if time-sharing is an option here? I have a sweet little brown I wouldn't mind trying to take to a wider audience. Kurt and Rob?) Their lineup features five beers, but only two are imported to the US. The other, a 4.5% stout, I did not see.

Okay, so what about the label? Don't bother trying the website--it's in French or Dutch, your choice. English, tantalizingly listed on the splash, is not yet operational. Fortunately, Shelton Brothers, the importer, has the details.
It's all been explained to us by the brewers, but we're still not entirely clear about it. What we can understand is that a young Flemish man has gone and married a French-speaking Wallonian girl, and his father, Taras Boulba, is very angry. (Smeirlap means 'fool' in a bizarre local dialect, which combines Flemish and French, somehow.)

This is all a bastardization of the original story by Gogol, whose protagonist was Russian, a Protestant. His son marries a Polish girl, a Catholic, during the religious war between the two countries in the 1600's, and the Russian father simply kills his son to eliminate the shame.

I am pleased to hear that the explanation only makes the whole thing more charming, if no more coherent. I recommend you try a bottle, should you see it. Another wonderful mold-breaking beer from Belgium, and only a smeirlap would fail to see that.

Sympathy for the Devil?

InBev has a lot of chutzpah. They make a hostile takeover bid for Anheuser-Busch, a bigger company, and then have the temerity to get pissed off when Bud doesn't fall in line:
Yesterday, InBev CEO Carlos Brito sent an annoyed letter to Anheuser-Busch’s board, complaining about A-B’s talks to take over the rest of Grupo Modelo. Brito warned, “In light of the reports, we believe it is important for you and your Board to understand that our proposal to combine with Anheuser-Busch by means of acquiring all Anheuser-Busch outstanding shares for $65 per share in cash is made on the basis of Anheuser-Busch’s current assets, business and capital structure.”
The issue is this: if Bud buys the Modelo Group, it will be too big for InBev to swallow. (Mainly because InBev has to go $40 bil in debt to swing the deal in the first place.) I have no idea what the shareholders will think, but putting the Modelo deal on the table is certainly a wise--it puts control back in A-B's hands and gives the company options. The irony is that InBev here is playing the American role--invading a company, but telling the invadees it's for their own good. Makes you sort of root for Bud, doesn't it? Sort of.

Amusing.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Borrowed Money--Wait, isn't that as American as apple pie?

This is sort of interesting. Despite a tight credit market, InBev managed to score forty billion (or 86.4% of the total) of its $46 billion offer on credit.

InBev, the brewer of Stella Artois and Beck's, said it would finance its $46.3 billion bid for Anheuser-Busch with at least $40 billion in debt and a combination of non-core asset sales and equity financing.

"This is going to be one of the top five global consumer companies. People want to hold the debt," said a source familiar with the InBev offer. "For the right deal in the right industry, banks will come up with the money."

That's one kinghell of a bet. InBev really thinks Bud is a great company, don't they? Interestingly, A-B could block the deal by getting bigger:

Something that may play a role in whether or not the deal goes through is Anheuser-Busch's joint venture with Grupo Modelo, brewer of the Mexican beer Corona. Modelo might see the Inbev proposal as a chance to buy back Anheuser's half of the joint venture, but it is unlikely that Bud would go for it, said Douglas Cogen, co-chair of the mergers and acquisitions group at Fenwick & West.

If Anheuser-Busch, on the other hand, purchased Modelo's half of the profitable joint venture, something that is rumored to happen, it would add $10.0 billion to $15.0 billion to its value, making it more difficult for InBev to follow through with the deal.

I know, I know, you don't care about this deal. Still, I can't stop myself from telling you one more thing. In reaction to this deal, wherein Belgians (who speakFrench!) gain the reigns of an American behemoth, nationalists are in a tizzy.
The Save AB website, which has garnered more than 8,000 signatures, compares the Budweiser brewer's place in the American pysche to “baseball and apple pie”, adding: “With your help we can fight the foreign invasion of AB. We will fight to protect this American treasure. We will take to the internet, to the streets, to the marble halls of our capitals, whatever it takes to stop the invasion.”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A $47 BILLION Bud? That's What InBev Will Pay

The rockin' huge news of the day--sorry, I'm late posting on it--is Belgian beer behemoth InBev's unsolicited bid to buy out Anheuser-Busch. (As penance, there's some value-added analysis below.) The deal:

BRUSSELS -(Dow Jones)- InBev (INB.BT) wants to turn Budweiser into its "global flagship brand" as part of the Belgian brewer's plan to buy Anheuser-Busch & Co. (BUD) for $47 billion, InBev executives said on a conference call Thursday.

The merger, which values of Anheuser at $65 a share, would create the first global beer company, combining InBev's sales in Western Europe, Latin America and Canada with Anheuser's dominant position in the U.S. market.

InBev, maker of Stella Artois, Beck's and Brahma, will use its global distribution networks to boost sales of Budweiser, the iconic U.S. beer, in places such as China, Canada and Latin America, InBev executives said on the conference call. The goal is to capitalize on a growing demand for imported beers that can be sold as premium products.

"Budweiser is known by consumers but it's not available in many cases," said InBev chief executive Carlos Brito.

Brito and Chief Financial Officer Felipe Dutra downplayed the role that cost- cutting will play in the merger, focusing instead on opportunities to boost sales of Budweiser and other Anheuser brands outside the U.S. and InBev brands in the U.S. The merged company won't close Anheuser's U.S. breweries, which Brito called "highly efficient."

Background
First: who the hell is InBev? InBev is the result of extremely aggressive growth by a Belgian company called Interbrew that started gobbling up cool little breweries back in the late 80s--including a whole raft of venerable and exquisite Belgian labels. It's big national brand was Stella Artois, which it started to turn into an international brand during this massive growth spurt. In 1995 it bought Labatt's and later snapped up England's Bass (2000) and Germany's Beck's (2001). The big change came in 2004, when it bought Brazil's AmBev (becoming ImBev) and became the world's second-largest brewery--after A-B. Now it has over 200 brands, including large holdings across Europe. It seemed to be very successful at snapping up post-Soviet breweries, too, and has a number of labels from the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Russia, etc.

Business Aspects of the Deal
For A-B, it probably means "streamlining"--creating efficiencies by cutting jobs and consolidating management. This is a regular feature of the now-familiar InBev method. It means taking A-B international, which brewery analysts criticize Bud for not having focused on. The Budweiser label may enjoy greater international fame, but residents of St. Louis are not happy:
Calling the offer to buy Anheuser-Busch deeply troubling, [Missouri Governor Matt] Blunt conceded that he lacked any immediate way to block such a sale. He called the St. Louis-based brewer “a great employer, a great corporate citizen and the maker of great products that are enjoyed in Missouri and around the world.”
For other US macros, it's terrible news. SABMiller was courting InBev and now has to confront a titan with twice the institutional advantage. As many of you know, macros have flatlined in recent years, leading to consolidation as the mini-macros (Miller and Coors) try to compete with A-B. This would further weaken their position--and probably lead to further consolidation.

Craft Aspects of the Deal
This could be a biggie, and we dive now into fully speculative waters. As the hops and barley crisis have shown, small breweries can be seriously affected by brands against whom they don't compete. The hops markets, in particular, are global, so the Lucky Labs of the world have a stake in this thing. Craft breweries have left juice to swing deals for hops, and many of the little guys are left on the outside. With InBev controlling some massive percentage of the world's beer production, this seems like a scary proposal.

Then there's the institutional advantages afforded by having such a huge stake in the market. Recall my recent post on distributors--InBev's bid would make A-B distribution deals all that much sweeter. In markets on the West Coast this won't be as big a deal as it will in smaller markets.

Finally, what about breweries in other countries? If InBev is trying to increas Bud's reach internationally, that means aggressive marketing that will overwhelm many small, venerable national brands elsewhere. One of my favorite things about international travel is sitting down with the local beer and seeing how regional tastes have evolved to suit the culture and climates there. The Buddification of the world is a nasty thought.

Local Aspects of the Deal
Bud has a stake in Widmer and Redhook--two locals who are in the process of merging right now. My guess is that it won't much affect their operations or the merger. A-B's stake is a minority one, and they haven't been involved in day-to-day operations. But I sent an email to the brewery, so I'll report back when I hear.

Could be storm clouds passing, but all things considered, I don't see any upside in this development.

[Update: No comment from Rob Widmer.]

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

(Yet) More Honest Pint Project in the News

To my regular readers: sorry. I know that this is becoming exceedingly tiresome, and I have no doubt that the story's about to die. But since it hasn't yet, I'm still riding it. Writers for online editions of the Baltimore Sun and Portland (ME) Press Herald are asking their readers if they are seeing fishy pints out there.

From Maine:

This begs the question, anyone seeing anything fishy around these parts? Funny glasses at Sebago Brewing? Foam overload at the Great Lost Bear?

I should point out that I'm not making any accusations, just simply asking the question that could be on a lot of people's minds.

Is this bar trickery? Bad business tactics? An assault on the freedom of beer drinkers everywhere?

Sound off!
From Baltimore ("Ballmore," to locals):

The 14-ounce glasses have a thicker bottom, so they give the appearance of being an honest pint. Defenders of the practice say (a) nobody wants that much beer, and (b) that with the climbing cost of beer, this is a way to deliver a glass at the same price.

It seems to me if someone wants less than a pint, he or she could order a half pint.

This caper reminds me of the great candy bar wrapper trick. The size of candy bar is shrunk but the wrapper remains large. It is dishonest. Agree?

Anybody seen any of these so-called "cheater pints" or "falsies" in our area?

Does anybody actually take the time to measure how much beer is in his glass?

Part of the reason I'm mentioning this is because it's exactly what I'd hoped to see--growing awareness that this heretofore clear volume might not be as clear after all. Makes me think I oughta get a website for the Honest Pint Project up and running. Hmmm.....

(Oh, and lots of blogs got interested in the story, too. I guess the WSJ has a better reach than this blog.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More Honest Pint in the News

Sorry, I know this is becoming a one-trick blog, but it's unlikely the Honest Pint Project will be on NPR anytime soon. My name wasn't used, but surely you can dance to this music by now:
The skyrocketing price of hops and barley has pushed up the cost of beer. So, many drinking establishments are squeezing as much as they can out of kegs by serving "pints" in 14-ounce glasses. The word is "falsie"--that's what these smaller glasses are unofficially called. They have thicker bottoms, so customers don't notice they're getting less than the proper 16 ounces

But the Wall Street Journal reports that beer activists are on the prowl, measuring pints and outing offenders. One activist in Oregon wants state regulators to enforce a 16-ounce rule. Something like in the UK, where an imperial pint, equivalent to about 19 ounces, has been the government standard for centuries.
The story changes by increments and has a mind of its own. This mythic "beer activist" sounds like quite a rebel, doesn't he?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Honest Pint Project Update

Where We Started
If I had known seven months ago that a posting on this rather, ahem, modestly-trafficked website would result in a story in the Wall Street Journal (among others), I may have approached it with a little more intention. My main goal was to raise awareness of the issue, not be a firebrand for a major policy change. And certainly not Portland's pint-glass cop. I guess you could say that the goal has been accomplished--awareness raised. Unfortunately, I should have considered these issues more carefully and had a plan:
  • Are 16-ounce glasses adequate? Most Portland pubs now using shaker pints use the 16-ounce version, but of course, that means a pour of 13 or 14 ounces.
  • Should shaker glasses just be verboten, since it's nearly impossible to distinguish between 14 and 16-ounce versions?
  • How manageable would it be to police this? In starting the HPP, was I signing up as the cop?
  • What was the endgame--encouragement of pubs to switch to honest pints, or a statutory change to enforse it?
Where We Are Now
Thanks to seven months of experience, I'm now prepared to answer some of those questions. Given the total lack of clarity surrounding shaker pints, I declare them a wholesale blight on the concept of an honest pint. I will henceforth only cite those pubs that serve glasses of 18 ounces or more. Since this is a spirit-of-the-thing endeavor, I think the spirit of a "pint" demands that you get a pint of liquid. I will cite as Purveyors of an Honest Pint those places that serve a full liquid pour of 16 or more ounces, so I'm drawing the line for glassware at eighteen.

I am not a cop. I love Oregon beer and have an unreasonable optimism about retailers' sense of fair play, and so rather than try to catch out the bad guys, I'm going to celebrate the good guys. For now, that's what I, as an unpaid blogger, can manage.

Where We're Headed
I will support a statutory change if it comes to that--and maybe it should. However, I think the most effective change would be to certify certain glasses as honest and leave aside an enforcement mechanism. Instead, pubs could advertise their state-certified 18- or 20-ounce glasses. That would allow consumers to make their own judgment about places that didn't use certified glassware--effectively making it a market-based enforcement. (Imagine how many people would go to gas stations where a "gallon" was not a certified unit of measure.) It would save a lot of money and reward good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Honest Pint Project in the Wall Street Journal

I would like to call your attention to a fantastic article in today's Wall Street Journal (despite, rather than because, I'm in it). Nancy Keates got interested in the story a few weeks back, and we went out to a couple of places to discuss honest pintage and its various layers of issues. Well, she put together what should be considered the definitive piece on the issue. Really, really fantastic article. (Real journalism makes a blogger's scratchings look meager indeed.)

So as not to invoke the wrath of Rupert (on whose dime I had two pints and an order of tater tots) I will quote somewhat sparingly. Do click through, though--you'll love this article.

Two of the world's biggest glassware makers, Libbey and Cardinal International, say orders of smaller beer glasses have risen over the past year. Restaurateurs "want more of a perceived value," says Mike Schuster, Libbey's marketing manager for glassware in the U.S. Glasses with a thicker bottom or a thicker shaft help create the perception. "You can increase the thickness of the bottom part but still retain the overall profile," he says.

Dedicated beer drinkers are fighting back, with extra vigilance about exactly how much beer they get for their buck. They are protesting "cheater pints" and "profit pours" by outing alleged offenders on Web discussion boards and plugging bars that maintain 16-ounce pints, in hopes peer pressure will prevail. And they are spreading the word about how to spot the smaller glass (the bottom is thicker)....

Jeff Alworth, a Portland, Ore., beer blogger, university researcher and a founder of the Honest Pint Project, has been testing suspected short-pouring bars, in some cases measuring his beer-glass capacity by the men's room sink. His group collected more than 400 names in two weeks for an online petition urging state regulators to enforce a 16-ounce rule. And at one point, he was posting the names of bars that didn't measure up on his Web site. But in response to complaints, he now has taken to listing the names of establishments serving full pints in bigger glasses. "I'm not a firebrand," says Mr. Alworth. "I am devoted to Oregon beer, and it seemed like using glasses where you don't get a 16-ounce pour was not so cool...."

Beer activists are talking about developing stickers to adhere to the windows of bars and restaurants where pints live up to the name. Oregon legislator Brian Clem is taking up the issue for the state's 2009 budget, hoping to fund monitoring of beer portions by the state's agriculture department.
In one passage, Keates notes that my "procedure" [in measuring glasses in the bathroom with water, for accuracy "revealed it held 14 ounces"--this at Henry's Tavern. Just to be clear, that procedure was implemented by Keates, whose own glass was the shorty. I didn't actually witness that ladies-room test.

Oh, and I should add that Good Morning America (corporate partner of the WSJ) contacted me today about doing a shoot with them, but I was a bit gun-shy. Those of you who know me will not be shocked by that.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Two Good Ones: Full Sail Prodigal Sun and Hopworks Baltic Porter

I have had occasion to actually drink some beer lately, and have a couple of must-tries for you to track down. The first is available, but not perhaps for long, the second not yet released. Make your preparations accordingly.

Hopworks Baltic Porter
While I find some of the paler Hopworks ales overly astringent--an intentional and popular house character--I generally cotton quickly to the darker beers. On my recent visit there (a day like today, grimly cold, spitefully drizzly), it was an easy call to make once I heard they had this seasonal on tap. It is a wonderfully elegant, warming beer, and an early candidate for the Satori award. Baltic porters are generally made with lager yeasts, and combine elements of blackbier, Russian imperial stouts, and sometimes even the smokiness of rauchbier. It is an under-appreciated style, perhaps because it's difficult to make well.

Hopworks has, producing beer of light-capturing blackness that is surprisingly creamy and light on the tongue. It has a sophisticated, aged quality that recalls a tawny port. As with some of the other Hopworks dark ales, it has a smoky, roasted note as well. The alcohol is evident and adds to the sophistication. It is a rare beer that is simultaneously complex, mature, and very approachable. I would love to see this beer become a regular at the pub--it could become a Portland classic.

Full Sail Prodigal Sun
Before we delve into the description of the beer, let us pause briefly to acknowledge--on this rainy June day when the forecast calls for a high of 57--the genius of the title. When summer starts elsewhere in the nation, here we soak. Sometime after Independence Day, the sun will return to Portland, penitently, having lavished its heat elsewhere. We will be welcome it with Prodigal Sun beer.

And what a welcome. This is a pure crowd-pleasing beer, for crowds made of hopheads. I don't doubt you could detect the vibrant citrusy, piney hops at six feet as they waft out of the glass. This is a beer saturated with hoppy goodness. It's bitter, but this isn't the first thing you notice--you're too distracted by the flavor, which has layer upon layer of hopping. Some heavily-hopped beers seem weighty, but this one is lighter and brighter. As John Harris pointed out, the bitterness does come eventually, gathering at the back of the tongue. There's a nice malt foundation here (in contrast to some of the stripped-down big reds), which I think supports the hops and allows them to express themselves on more levels. It gives it balance that allows you to keep enjoying the beer. The website says it's 80 IBUs, and I think John said it was 95, but you get the point: hopppppppppppy. It'll be on shelves for the summer in 22s, so get a bottle. (And, while it will age well enough, you'll lose some of the more delicate hopping, so drink it fresh.)

[Post slightly edited for clarity.]

Thursday, June 05, 2008

More on the Distribution Merger

Based on the heavy flow of comments on my distribution pieces, I can tell you're all as hot to trot on this issue as I am. So let's have another!

As expected, John Foyston has a piece in today's Oregonian that's worth a look. It voices the same themes I expressed as assumptions earlier, and also confirms the piece about diesel prices.

Now the companies will consolidate warehouse space, trucks, sales routes and staff for improved customer service and significant savings in the time of $4-plus diesel. "The merger is an opportunity to realize business synergies, and fuel costs are a big part of this," said Lindy Bartell, a spokeswoman for Mt. Hood Beverage Co.

"We're all going to the same places," Hodge said, "and nine times out of 10 there's room on that truck for more product."

But more is at stake here than efficiency because beer distributors are not just warehousemen and truckers: Their salesmen are the boots on the ground in the battle of the beers. They push one brand over another in the escalating struggle for shelf space at the grocery and tap handles at the pub. That battle is especially pitched in Oregon, with its more than 75 breweries, many of which are small enough to get lost in the shuffle as the distributors get bigger.

"This puts the smaller brewers so far down the ladder that they're not going to get any play at all," said Ron Gansberg, head brewer at Raccoon Lodge's Cascade Brewing. The brewery produces about 1,500 barrels -- 46,500 gallons -- annually and sells more than half of that to outside accounts. "This vastly reduces the ability of the small brewer to get to the marketplace."

And it offers the usual talking points from the mergees:
"The craft brewers will not get lost in the portfolio," [Chris Hodge, Columbia's director of sales and marketing] said. "Consumers know what they want, but the missing link has been that army of passionate beer geeks to go out and work with stores and pubs and educate them about the different beers available.
Of course you don't really expect him to say, "Yeah, it'll screw the little brewers, but what can you do? It's all about our bottom line"--even if it were the obvious truth. One more interesting tidbit, though--consolidation has begotten more consolidation:
He notes the wave of consolidation taking place in the beer world, specifically the all-but-complete merger of SABMiller and Molson Coors and the much discussed $46 billion purchase of Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser, Bud Light) by InBev, the world's largest brewer.

The Miller-Coors merger made CoHo possible because Columbia distributes Miller and Mt. Hood and Gold River distribute beers made by Molson Coors Inc., and the twain never meets in the world of beer distribution. "Until the Coors-Miller merger, we were competitors," Hodge said.
Even in Portland, CoHo will be focused a lot more on its clients from Milwaukee and Golden, CO than it will those in town. Further reason to regard the sunny predictions about service to craft breweries with suspicion.b

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Rumor Mill: The Distribution Merger

At last night's inadvertently well-timed Brewer's Guild event, I had the opportunity to chat up some folks about the Columbia-Mt. Hood merger. What I have to report doesn't exactly rise to the level of real reporting, but I think it's good enough for blog work. The news was too recent for people to have formed solid opinions about it--and of course, no one knows the actual effects yet--but there were some unexpected observations. No one wanted to go on the record yet (one brewer, adopting a comically glassy-eyed look and robotic smile, said something like, "I am perfectly happy with our distribution and look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with them"--evidence, if any was needed, that these relationships are a bit tetchy), so that's why I'm calling this stuff rumor. Take it for what it's worth.

Assumptions
Based on my previous post, you can imagine that I went in thinking this merger was going to be bad--at least for small breweries. I figured that a broader distribution network would streamline systems, create efficiencies, and further homogenize the market. I could imagine some benefit for mid-sized breweries that had already gotten some city market-share, like Caldera and Terminal Gravity, but it seemed that breweries like Roots--which is about to install a bottling line--might be screwed.

Craft Glamor
Well, it turns out that there are some currents in this distribution game I didn't anticipate. Craft breweries are hot right now, whilst the macros are dull property, flatlining or contracting (especially in Oregon). Distributors looking to increase their business have nowhere to go but craft beer. This has led to an interesting phenomenon where Maletis, erstwhile A-B distribution behemouth into whose wide channels Widmer once bought, now represents such wee players (and I mean that only in terms of volume, not quality) as Ninkasi and Old Lompoc. So it's possible that a shakeout won't cause breweries to fail so much as realign.

CoHo Was Already Big
In the old prescription, Mount Hood was the little guy, Columbia the "mainstream craft" distributor, and Maletis the big dog. But Mount Hood now has contracts with Sierra Nevada, BridgePort, and Full Sail. It also has macros Coors, Miller, Pabst, and Henry's. Columbia has Pyramid/Portland, Anchor, and a bunch of imports and smaller players. It also has Miller's line. In other words, these two were already big business.

Gas Prices?
Someone pointed out that diesel prices may be a factor here. Diesel is currently selling at just south of five bucks a gallon, which means higher costs which likely disproportionately affect the smaller distributors. (If I'm wrong on this, I suspect the good professor will clear up my misunderstanding.) In any case (I think my econ is on solid-er footing here, any efficiencies that can be gained in the system will reduce miles and costs. This merger will create a two-state network, and must surely reduce the overall miles beer travels.

That's the scuttlebutt for today. I've included my email above, so if you're reading this and you have any inside info and want to talk on or off the record, drop me a line. I'm keeping my ears open, and I suspect the real reporters will be giving us some news soon.

Distribution Backgrounder

I suspect that a great many Beervanians don't give a flying fig about how their beer ends up in their bottle or pint glass, but it's actually quite important stuff. I am about to post a bit more information I've gleaned from yesterday's Mount Hood-Columbia distribution merger (well, rumors more like) , but before I do, this here's a bit on what distribution is and why it's important.

The brewery brews the beer. If it's a brewpub, they sell it on-site or ship it to a limited number of other self-owned pubs (one? two?). If it's a brewpub selling it more broadly or a brewing company selling bottles, it must be sold next to a distributor who in turn sells it to a retailer--a bar or grocer.

The system was put into place because back in the old world, breweries owned pubs, mucking up the free flow of beer to the market (a Guinness-owned pub wasn't going to be selling a whole lot of Beamish, or worse, the new micro from Paddy O'Malley over in Dún Laoghaire, who might find it very difficult to get his Oyster Stout to the public). The American system is called "three-tiered," as opposed to the one it replaced, known as "tied house." It resolved one real-world problem, the power of breweries, but created another.

Beer distributors now exercise enormous control, particularly with regard to smaller brewers. Since breweries can't sell directly to retailers, they have to negotiate with these intermediaries, the distributors. Problem is, the distributors have no particular loyalty to a brewery--so long as they can sell a truckful of beer, good enough. They don't care what's selling at the grocery store or pub, so long as it's one of their beers. The selling is for retailers. Therefore, if a retailer shifts an order, say upping its Full Sail order and dropping down its Deschutes, the distributor doesn't really care, so long as he has both breweries under contract. The bigger breweries with bigger volumes therefore appeal to distributors the most--because they know their retail accounts will reliably buy their beer.

In the case of the very big breweries, like Anheuser-Busch, this means lots of power. A-B annoints distributors like the Queen annoints knights--to receive a contract from Bud is to have a printing press for cash. (In the annals of American history, more than one story of political corruption includes a lackey and a beer distributorship.) In many cities, A-B has a proprietary distributor that will carry no other non-sanctioned breweries. This is why Redhook and Widmer did a "strategic alliance" with A-B, or whatever it was called, because it gave the companies access to the superhighway of Bud distribution.

Historically, it's been hard for smaller breweries to find reliable distributors because there's not necessarily anything in it for the distributor, which isn't going to aggressively promote the beer. If there's a market, okay. But if the retailer doesn't know about the beer or care, the distributor has no particular interest in promoting it.

There have been smaller distributors who pick up the little guys, and in a town like Portland, there was money to be made at each level. But that bucks the trend. Since 1970, the number of beer distributors has been cut in half--despite the number of breweries increasing by 1,400. It's only in towns like Portland where the volume of a bunch of smaller breweries can make it possible for a smaller distributor to make a profit. And in any case, the three-tier system collects power in the bottleneck of the distributor. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly something to keep an eye on. And with the merger of Columbia and Mount Hood, something even more important to keep an eye on.

Oregon Brewers Guild: Webby

Last night, the Oregon Brewers Guild held a website-launch party in the groovy offices of the web designers. For those of you who have been to the site in the past, you know it was ... under-designed. It had the happenin' style of them new internets, circa 1994. And some content from that era, too. As OBG Director Brian Butenschoen demonstrated the features, there were a couple of side jokes about how it was nice the new site had joined the 21st century. Indeed.

The current version is clean and easy to use and has a couple of features to which I'd like to draw your attention:
  • Much of the design is structured around a blog. Thanks to the wonder of tags, this means there's an updated events page.
  • The breweries page is updated and accurate, sorted by region or alpha.
  • Proving its 21st-century cred, the site features Twitter, which I'll admit isn't something I've spent a lot of time studying.
It has stats and info you'd expect to find about the industry. If I could offer a little constructive criticism, I'd mention that the breweries listing could include more info--for example, the brewers' names, year founded, and hours of operation (in the case of brewpubs). It's possible that I'll figure out how to put a widget on my site that includes updated events info (does Twitter do that), which would certainly be handy. There's a feature called "Meet a Friend for a Pint" which essentially sends an email (except when I tried, it--then it sent an error message). Dunno if that's going to revolutionize anything, but I like the idea, anyway.

It would be cool if there was even richer information, like a database of the brewers in Oregon, with one- or two-paragraph bios. These guys are rock stars, and I imagine I'm not the only one who would like to know more about them. It would be a great way to feel an even more personal contact with the beer we love.

But hey, they just launched. It's a vast improvement, so let's not focus on the negative. Brian and president Van Havig deserve credit for finally dragging the thing into the new millenium. Congrats!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Three Major Oregon Distributors Merge

Hat tip to Dave at Portland Beer Blog on this story. Quoting now from Columbia's press release:
Columbia Distributing Company, Mt. Hood Beverage Company and Gold River Distributing announced today that they plan to merge their beer and non-alcoholic beverage distribution businesses in Oregon and Washington, following approval from their respective suppliers....

The new organization, which will be named CoHo Distributing, will have annual sales of more than 35 million cases of beer and non-alcoholic beverages and is planning to operate out of consolidated facilities located in Seattle, Everett, Portland, Eugene, Medford and Bend. In addition, the Mt. Hood Beverage operations in Yakima and Kennewick Washington will be included in the merged company effective January, 2009.

Columbia has a distribution network in Portland and Seattle. Mt. Hood is a competing distributor in Portland, areas of Western Oregon, Bend, the Tri-cities in Washington, and Yakima. Gold River is a Southern Oregon company.

Although this isn't particularly sexy news, it could have a profound effect on the beers that make it to market. Columbia and Mt. Hood both had extensive craft-beer clients, and this consolidation is quite likely to hurt the little guys--but that's my first blush reaction. I'll be going to an event hosted by the brewers guild in a couple hours, so I'll ask around and see what the mood is. Stay tuned--this is a big one.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Blogging to resume in earnest tomorrow.

No foolin. There's some kind of wingding hosted by the Oregon Brewers Guild that will provide immediate, actual content, including a taster of the new Full Sail IPA. Sorry I've been lame, I've been busy.