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Friday, July 26, 2013

Brewing News of the Bizarre

In the political world, the longueurs of summer are the time when, lacking the anchor of legislative activity, paranoia and conspiracy become unmoored and float up among respectable conversation.  It's called silly season.  I wouldn't have thought the same thing happened in the beer world--until I scanned through my news lists and  Beer Pulse this week.  Now I wonder...

1. Weird Canning Story #1
We go to the unlikely source at Wonkblog for our first oddity: the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs is hording aluminum in order to drive up prices, driving up the cost of producing a can of beer. 
Here’s the trick: Three years ago, Goldman bought a bunch of warehouses around Detroit and started paying traders extra to bring their metal there rather than anywhere else. The longer it stays, the more rent Goldman can charge, which is then passed on to the buyer in the form of a premium.
This is, as all things Goldman touches, perfectly legal--and just as immoral.  Imagine if the commodity at hand was, say, broccoli or flu vaccine.  Neato!

2.  Weird Canning Story #2
You recall Churchkey, the retro-hipster beer company Entourage star Adrian Grenier launched last year?  It has fallen on hard times:
[S]ix months into production, the company hits a snag and is forced to pull all of its freshly made beer from the marketplace.  The idea was to revive the flat top steel can, a package that hadn’t been used in the beer industry in more than 50 years. But quality control issues and what Hawkins described as “bulging cans” forced Churchkey’s founders to halt production last October.

“The integrity of the beer was being compromised,” Hawkins said. “The canning line wasn’t as efficient as we needed it to be, the pressure inside the can was too high and we ultimately had to pull the beer off shelves.”
This makes no sense to me. What about the canning line could cause the packages to bulge?  Must this not be a problem with the beer?  And if it's a problem with the beer, shouldn't that be easy enough to fix? 

3.  So Cynical My Head Hurts
Newcastle, that punky independent brewery from Northern England, got a good one off on ole Budweiser.
Newcastle posted a photo across its social media accounts on Monday mocking Budweiser’s new “Bowtie” can. The photo is part of a series called #NoBollocks, mostly geared to tear down traditional big beer marketing.
Introducing the new, #Newcastle bow-tie can. It’s our regular can with the sides pushed in. Innovation! #NoBollocks
Ha!, that's so funny!  Except that Newcastle is an international Heineken brand no one in England actually drinks.  You can call it "meta," I call it cynical.

4. Call it "Reinheitsgebot Plus"
I doubt this will shock many of you, but the big breweries use additives in their beer.  Newcastle, for example, uses caramel color.  A ton of breweries use corn syrup.  It's so not shocking that I was shocked to see a non-beer person recoil in horror.  She has the shocking expose:
But, Guinness beer also contains isinglass, a gelatin-like substance produced from the swim bladder of a fish. This ingredient helps remove any “haziness,” solids, or yeast byproducts from the beer. Mmmmm… fish bladder sounds delicious, doesn’t? The sneaky thing this beer company does like many of the companies mentioned here today is create an illusion of using the best ingredients when in actuality what they tell you publicly on their websites is a complete farce. 
Actually, not so sneaky: fish bladders have been used for generations to clear the haze in cask ale.  The writer is especially interested in GMOs and got MillerCoors to "admit" the use of corn.  It is actually newsworthy, I suppose, to wonder if the corn in the corn syrup in the Lite beer came from GMO crops, but I doubt very few beer drinkers were rocked by the news that Miller and Coors use corn.  But it does reveal how we can forget to communicate basic facts about beer to those who don't swim in these waters each day.

5. You Can't Drink 13,958 Beers
Sometimes I stress that I'm not keeping up with all the new beer releases.  Whoo-boy, am I sure not keeping up with the new beer releases:
A single TTB agent currently approves all beer labels, Hogue said. The TTB has approved 13,958 individual beer label applications since October of last year.
The story is actually more about the process of getting beer labels approved, and it's really fascinating. If you've ever talked to a brewer about getting labels approved, they describe it as an experience half-way between Kafka- and Dante-esque.  The sixth circle of bureaucratic hell.  Now we know why.

That ought to hold you for awhile.


  1. From what I heard, the "bulging can" problem was the fault of the cans--viz., they were steel cans, but not steel beer cans. Just what I heard, so it may or may not be true. However, it does seem to fit with the whole brand concept.

  2. Re: #2. A product built around a bit of nostalgia that nobody felt. Yeah, I wonder what could have gone wrong.

  3. #4 - sounds rather like the drivel put out by BrewDog about the ingredients used in some beers.

    Oh and if we are anti-additives then the hops need to go because they were originally added as a preservative, no more IPA!