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Monday, August 31, 2009

Why Bud Has Many Plants

Back in April, I reviewed Dogfish Head Festina Peche. I had purchased a bottle, intent on identifying a Dogfish product I could unconflictedly praise. The beer that poured out of that bottle was not good. My description:
The trouble began right away--it was nearly flat, even when I tried to rouse it with a tall pour. A stray bubble or two--to call them a proper bead would be overstating the point--rose languidly to the surface. The nose was faintly sour, but tinny and hollow like canned fruit, which more or less describes the beer.... [T]he final sentence of my notes: "Like a flat soda that has been sitting out in the sun for a few hours."
Over the weekend I had this same beer on tap at the Green Dragon and it was a revelation. An excellent rendition of style, light-bodied, sprightly, and more that a tad tart. Putting peach in a Berliner Weisse is an inspired move: the fruit's sugars had mostly been gobbled by yeasts; what remained was a gentle essence joined perfectly with the beer's sour. The style can be a little aggressive naked; that's why it is often dressed with a bit of sugary syrup. The peach is a better solution; it keeps the nature of the tart beer intact, but adds a summery, fresh note that softens it just enough. Dogfish Head can definitely take a bow--this is a hell of a beer.

But what then explains the difference between the bottle and the keg?

This is one of the problems with shipping your beer--once it leaves your brewery, you have no idea what happens to it. A distributor may leave it on a pallette in the sun or it may languish on the shelf of a store that rarely sells anything but Hamm's. From time to time I'll read a harshly critical description of a Rogue beer I like on BeerAdvocate--inevitably, the sampler picked up the bottle far from Oregon. Like my Festina Peche bottle, they were tasting the death of a beer, not a beer.

(This can be the brewery's fault, of course. A poor batch or poor packaging can ruin an otherwise tasty beer.)

I don't know whether Dogfish is culpable for the condition of the bottle I tried, but I sympathize with them in any case. Getting beer to Oregon (2850 miles, according to Google Maps) is no easy task. This is why Redhook opened a brewery in New Hampshire back in the 90s, and it's why Bud has them scattered all over the country. The closer a brewery is to the point of sale, the more likely it is that the beer will arrive like it left the bottling line.

I suspect there's a beeronomics post in there somewhere, but for the beer enthusiast, it's a good reminder. And I will be more charitable to Dogfish henceforth.


  1. The sad part is that a horrible first experience is enough to turn you sour on either a beer or a brewer that may not deserve it. I know Victory Brewing, for example, has a very good lineup - but I had a bad (very, very bad) couple of bottles of Golden Monkey few years ago and it's stuck with me until now.

    Consciously, I know they would never let a product in that condition off the dock and they are likely blameless, but subconsciously? Victory = swill not fit for this earth.

  2. I agree with your observations completely, Jeff. I first tried a bottled Festina Peche a few years back and hated the beer. A few weeks ago I reluctantly tried it on tap and loved it that time. This past weekend I tried the bottled product and hated it again.

  3. Fully agree, and I too have had many problems with the way beer seems to be handled.

    That's why I feel with Widmer, it is a positive thing with AB distribution... they actually care about the dates, shelving, and handling.. and do it very well.

    I remember grabbing my first bomber of Victory Hop Wallop at the Whole Foods on NE 15th and Fremont... and it was skunked like the skunk got run over. I grabbed a 6-pack recently from the newly remodeled Fred Meyer on 39th and Hawthorne of Green Flash West Coast IPA (One of my favorites) and it too was either skunked, old, or just plain not handled properly... kind of like the keg of Imperial IPA at the OBF... but worse. I was seriously let down because I paid well over $10 for that 6-pack.

    It pays to have great distribution... and if people like your beer enough, you will still profit. The big problem is balancing the price of beer. Many craft beers are just too expensive to be regular drinking beers except for maybe Session/Session Black (One of my favorite under $10 picks)... just think what a 6-pack of Green Flash West Coast IPA would cost in Nebraska if AB distributed it as fast as it was brewed? $20?

  4. I'd like to see a more scientific post on what types/styles of beers are more resistant to skunking. Are big ABV and low hoppy beers more resistant?