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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

From Cartwright to Session IPA in 272 Words

I'm a bit short for blogging time this week, though there is a remarkable post over at Oregon Hops and Brewing Archive that will feature prominently in (hopefully very near) future posts. A trove of documents reveals what the state of brewing was like in the late Carter administration as Chuck Coury struggled to make one of America's first microbreweries a viable enterprise.

Original Cartwright site.
I don't want to step on that blogging too much, but suffice it to say that what brewers and drinkers understood then--a long time by one measure, but well within living memory--was shockingly primitive. That article contrasts nicely with a piece that provoked a lot of debate on the nature of Session IPAs. In that post, Londoner Mark Dredge argues that there's nothing sessionable about this style. Unsurprisingly, his British commenters all offer their hear-hears (as did Alan, in a thread that sadly took place on Facebook). I'll leave aside for a moment my strong dissent of Mark's point--"sessionable" may be a British word, but which flavors Americans choose for their sessions is not under British oversight*--but what's striking is the distance between Cartwright and Session IPA.

We've gone from a time when Americans neither knew how to brew beer nor what most beer tasted like to a time where we argue about "sessionability" and "session IPAs"--two concepts that would have been abstruse to the point of gibberish just 36 years ago. I have a decent shot at being alive in another 36 years, and it's hard to even imagine what world we might inhabit then.

*Okay, I didn't entirely leave it aside.

Monday, January 25, 2016

But the Horse Has Already Left the Barn...

...and lived a full life and passed into the next. But Coors, discovering the door ajar, is racing to close it.

Latest marketing push uses "Whatever your mountain, climb on" to lure back diverse crowd of consumers curious about craft brews
The campaign opens with a panoramic shot of hiker scaling a snow-covered peak, which is followed by a "Rocky"-style montage of boxers, bull riders, runners, climbers and welders.

"Our mountains make us who we are, your mountains make you who you are," the ad says, winding up with "whatever your mountain, climb on."

It's a far cry from hot babes and cold beer.

The new comprehensive marketing campaign from MillerCoors, the Chicago-based joint venture of Denver-based Molson Coors and SABMiller, targets women, consumers with diverse ethnic backgrounds and adults aged 35-44, hoping to draw customers back to the venerable brand.

On the positive side: at least now they're aware they have a problem. On the negative side: they've skeezily objectified women for 35 years.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Marks of the Modern Era: Hop Breeding

Looking back on a decade of blogging, one of the biggest revolutions has been the emergence of hops as the central player in craft brewing--a phenomenon that stretches all across the globe.  This has been driven by a couple things. First and foremost--and the subject of a future post--the way in which beer styles have evolved to take advantage of the flavor and aroma of particularly New World hops (US, New Zealand, Australia). But a possibly overlooked dimension in all of this are the hops themselves.

Breeders have been busy for the past four decades adding to the world's inventory of hop varieties. The focus in the early decades was on alpha acids; every few years, breeders managed to goose the alpha acids in hops so that "high alpha hops" went from 8% up to the low teens. When they kept going, breeders invented a new category, "super high alpha," to describe them. Large industrial breweries were driving these innovations, because the higher the alpha acids, the fewer the hops they had to use in a batch of beer.

Craft brewing changed that calculus, as drinkers became attracted to the vivid, often exotic flavors of New World hops. There were a decent number of first-gen varieties to choose from, principally the classic "C-hops" (Cascade, Centennial, Chinook). As craft brewing turned more toward hoppy ales and brewers started focusing more on techniques to enhance these hops' flavor and aroma, breweries started to look for new varieties to give their beers distinctive flavors. Stan Hieronymus would probably be able to comment more knowledgeably on this than I, but it appeared that the development of Citra, led by the Widmer Brothers and Sierra Nevada, marked a turning point. 

Developing hops takes a long time and is expensive and laborious. Unusual, off-putting compounds in these new hybrid hops are not always evident until they've gone into a number of beers. (Summit has a compound that tastes of onions to a minority of drinkers, Sorachi Ace a dill note--flavors not generally admired by those who detect them.) Producing a winner like Citra means finding several also-rans. Nevertheless, the blend of incentives created by the new direction of craft brewing post-2005 has shifted hop breeding firmly in the direction of aroma varieties. 

After Citra, a succession of new hops has hit the market--Mosaic, Equinox, Meridian, El Dorado, Palisade--all bred to give breweries more options. This is only the start of things. Breweries have a huge interest in finding hop varieties that will (generally in combination with other hops) give them IPAs that taste like no others on the market. They're looking not only to newly-bred ones, but forgotten varieties (Comet has made a comeback), indigenous varieties, and uncommon foreign varieties. What follows is an incomplete list of hops you may see appearing in your local IPAs:
What's been really amazing is how these effects are translating to new varieties in Germany (Mandarina Bavaria, Huell Melon), the Czech Republic (Kazbek, Vital, Bohemie), and the UK (Sussex, Sovereign, Endeavour)--all places where classic varieties had previously been sacrosanct. The British strains seem to be the most New-world of the bunch, and Americans may soon be turning to the new varieties there to trick out their hoppy ales.

When I started this blog, it was possible to keep track of all the hops used in commercial brewing. As a homebrewer, I was able to brew with most of them and learn how they behaved and tasted. Now it seems like every week I encounter a beer made with some new hop. The very popular ones, like Mosaic and El Dorado, find their way into enough beers that we can hope to identify them. But Tahoma? Minstrel? TNT? It's getting harder and harder. I suspect this will slow down at some point, but it's the new normal for now. And it's been quite a transformation.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

From Understudy to Star: Craft Brewing's Decade

Craft beer doesn't seem like a recent phenomenon. (For the purposes of this post, "craft beer" means anything made by smaller American breweries from the late 1970s onward.) Most of us will recall hearing something about it before I started this blog a decade ago. Some will remember drinking it back as far as the Reagan administration. But in some very real ways, it is recent. Until the middle 2000s, craft beer was a niche product in all but the beeriest of cities. Let's trot through some numbers to illustrate just how stark the change has been.

This draft array, sighted this week in Yuma, AZ,
is typical of what you used to find--in, say, 2006.

In 2005, craft breweries combined to brew 6.3 million barrels, which was just 3.2% of all beer sold in the US that year. At the end of 2014 (the most recent date with numbers), that figure had more than tripled to 22.2 million barrels, or 11.3%. (Total barrelage was nearly identical for both years at just over 197 million.) When they finally get to totting up the figures for 2015, it should be around 25 million barrels, or 14.5% of the entire market. Since 2005, the craft beer segment's worst year-over-year growth was 5.8%; it fell below double-digit growth only twice, and that was during the throes of the great recession.

In 2006, Oregon was well ahead of most of the country in adopting craft beer, with Portland and Bend leading the way. I couldn't find the statistics for overall consumption in 2005, but I think it was probably close to the national stats we'll see in 2015. In 2006, craft beer was already a generation old, and it had only managed to cobble together a 3% share of the beer market. There was a general sense that it was never going to become a huge player, and when people looked at Oregon's stats, they tended to dismiss them as cultural outliers. No one believed the rest of the country would ever achieve that kind of penetration.

I'd argue that the psychological change in the last ten years has been far greater than even the growth in barralage. In 2006, craft beer could provide owners with a nice little business. No one imagined that it constituted a real threat to mass market lagers. Last year, big breweries paid tens of millions, and in one case a billion dollars for modest-sized craft breweries. Even in 2006, there were craft breweries the size of 2015's Ballast Point and Lagunitas, but the idea that a large brewery would spend half a billion or a billion on them would have been inconceivable. The reason is because the idea that craft beer would one day become the dominant force was also inconceivable. Now it's conventional wisdom, and large breweries are willing to pay a massive premium in order to position themselves to compete in this world in the future.

Beyond sheer growth, there's a change in the distribution of breweries as well. Have a look at the total production by type of brewery. These are the Brewers Association's categories; a regional brewery makes more than 15,000 barrels and a micro makes fewer than 15,000.

Production by Type


The share of production by big breweries is now over three-quarters of the market, and that's the segment of real barrel growth. In the coming few years, the percentage of beer produced by the biggest craft breweries will likely pass 90%. In a market where there are fewer bigger players, you'd expect consolidation, and that's what we're already seeing.

One of other interesting trend is the types of new breweries getting founded. If you wanted to identify a bubble somewhere in the market, this might be a place to look. It appears that people are betting on production facilities rather than brewpubs.

Percentage of Breweries by Type


This again isn't surprising; with all the potential money to be made, starting a production brewery looks like an attractive option. But it means that there will be many more players trying to compete for a piece of the pie dominated by large breweries. I expect that means we'll start to see brewery failures rise in the future--even if, overall, there's not yet a bubble.

In 2006, as I started this blog, craft brewing was just a sleepy little current in the overall beer market--still a "boutique" segment. In the next decade, growth has been so strong that it is now a given that it's the future of beer. Imagine what the next decade will hold.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Beer With "Lift"

On Saturday I had the pleasure of judging at the evolving Willamette Week Oregon beer awards. During one of the sessions, a judge (I'll let him identify himself if he wishes) was describing why he liked one of the beers. He was praising its liveliness and described the finish as having "lift." It was an adjective that received appreciative nods and smiles around the table.

A beer with "lift?"
Describing or judging a beer can often be a deadening experience, as we default to a list of familiar attributes. But the experience of drinking a beer, particularly a very good or very bad one, sometimes means using the language of metaphor. "Lift" is not a descriptor that will ever be usable in the way "diacetyl" will--it's not a quantifiable quality. But in the case of the beer being described, it was perfectly accurate. We all understood what he meant. It wasn't only liveliness, but the way the beer evolved in the mouth. It went out with a rising, spirited snap, with lift.

I've heard other beers described as having "bass," a kind of thrumming resonance full of deep flavors. It's not only the sense of heft or roastiness, but gravitas. Some beers seem "hollow," in that they have at the mid-palate collapse--perhaps the opposite of "bass." In a world where we use the same, tired old language ("the beer pours out copper and smells of nuts and citrus") it's great to hear new words that capture a beer's essence.

Happy MLK Day, everyone--

Friday, January 15, 2016

Beer Sherpa Recommends: Upright Fantasia

Upright Brewery recently convened a media event to introduce the specialty beers they'll be releasing throughout the year. Upright, for those of you who may not know, is a small brewery that--well, let me tell you an anecdote by way of introduction. During the event we were sampling one of the beers and Willamette Week's Arts and Culture editor Martin Cizmar asked founder Alex Ganum how he planned to market the beer. Mind you, breweries are businesses, an arrangement that obliges breweries to convey their products to consumers in exchange for money. In nearly every case I can think of, the brewery would have had a ready answer. Instead, Alex got a surprised look on his face and admitted he'd never considered the question.

Upright's name is an allusion to the jazz musician Charles Mingus, and never was there a more appropriate choice. Like Mingus, Ganum (and his conspirators Gerrett Ill and Bobby Birk) thinks only in craft, not dollars and cents. Unlike Mingus, Upright's beers are rarely challenging--they are more often compositions of layered nuance and balance. The barrel-aged selections are usually so balanced they don't get mentioned with awe alongside the more famous American wild-ale producers, which are more aggressive. That's a shame, because they are making some of the most interesting and accomplished beers in the country.

Take for example the lineup Upright will be offering this year. Hearts' Beat and Shades are sister cherry ales, the former made with blood-red Chelan, the latter Rainier cherries. Hearts' Beat plays on the depth of fruit flavor, which thrums with tannins and rich flavor, while Shades keys off the fruit's acidity, which tends toward white wine. Fatali Four and Billy the Mountain are longtime faves--well, Billy's a fave to a small group (me included; it's in the Beer Bible), but we really love it. And then there's Oregon Native, which gets its vinousness from the use of actual pinot grapes and aging in pinot barrels. That one, still too young to render a final judgment, has the potential to be a spectacular beer. Rarely do the delicate flavors of pinot noir grapes survive commingling with beer, but in the young version of this one, they were perfectly intact.

But for Sherpa purposes, the beer I want to bring to your attention is another long-time favorite, Fantasia. It's a lightly tart beer made with tons of peaches. It has always been one Upright's signature beers, but five years in and it's still evolving. For this batch, the brewery decided to try to preserve the unique ecosystem of microorganisms that developed as a result of wild yeasts and bacteria from the fruit skins. Birk was tasked with taking off the metal hoops from the barrels and removing the old fruit, then reassembling the barrels in preparation for the new batch of beer and peaches.

What all this trouble produces is a beer that smells like a warm, tree-ripe peach on an August afternoon. It tastes the same, and you might imagine a dribble of juice running down your chin. Because of the acidity produced by the wild microorganisms, that flavor and aroma is set and preserved; the acidity also balances the fruity sweetness and gives it a dry, crisp (and balanced) finish. It is hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't smile after a mouthful of this beer, from the most hardened, cynical beer geek to that cousin who only drinks Rainier.

Fantasia goes on sale tomorrow at the brewery, which is open from 1pm to 8pm. There's a three-bottle limit, but you can augment with a nice draft pour while you're there. I believe Four Play was on tap at the event, and that alone is worth a trip to the brewery.


"Beer Sherpa Recommends" is an irregular feature.  In this fallen world, when the number of beers outnumber your woeful stomach capacity by several orders of magnitude, you risk exposing yourself to substandard beer.  Worse, you risk selecting substandard beer when there are tasty alternatives at hand.  In this terrible jungle of overabundance, wouldn't it be nice to have a neon sign pointing to the few beers among the crowd that really stand out?  A beer sherpa, if you will, to guide you to the beery mountaintop.  I don't profess to drink all the beers out there, but from time to time I stumble across a winner and when I do, I'll pass it along to you.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ten Years Blogging: The Modern Age of Brewing

I have always had a bit of trouble dating this blog precisely. By the time I started it, I had already been blogging for a few years in the political sphere.* The first post, really just a placeholder, consisted of four words and went live on January 20, 2006. Things sat idle for more than a month. I did occasional beer blogging at BlueOregon, one of the sites I co-founded, and I started moving those posts over here in February. The first actual post came on Feb 26, a review of a now long-forgotten BridgePort experiment called Supris.

My better-looking, younger doppelganger, Bolt Minister.
His career is a study in change. When I took this photo
in 2009, he was at Astoria Brewing. He went on to work
at three (?) more breweries before founding 54-40
late last year.

In the life of a blogger, ten years counts as a significant amount of time. In the life of beer, it's so short you can't even see it. In the life of American beer, it's more than you'd imagine. At the end of 2005, there were fewer than 1500 breweries in the US, which was actually fewer than there were in 1999. Craft breweries made just 7 million barrels then (when "craft beer" was actually a pretty discrete category). They brewed 22 million in 2014 and will probably be over 25 million when we look at the numbers at the end of this year.

Ninkasi is now sells the third-largest amount of beer in Oregon; it didn't exist when I started. Breakside, the Commons, Block 15, Upright, Oakshire, Fort George, Double Mountain, Upright, Boneyard, 10 Barrel--none existed when I started this blog. (You can play this game with a lot of breweries. I just got off the phone with Sam Richardson of Other Half Brewing in NYC, a brewery most big apple beer geeks agree is setting the standard now; they will have their second anniversary later this month.) Back in 2006, only historians had heard the term "gose." No one had heard "session IPA." The concept of kettle souring may have existed, but basically no one knew about it. I certainly didn't. Mosaic and Citra hops didn't exist.

I could go on and on, but I think you see the point. This blog's life corresponds pretty closely to what we might call American brewing's "modern age." When breweries first started opening in the late 1970s, there wasn't any "American brewing tradition." It took at least half a generation before anything really started to change. (Beer in 1982 and beer in 1995 looked a lot alike.) It took another decade for breweries to understand what that change would be and begin to refine it. And it was about the middle 2000s that it came into focus.

Instead of a traditional look back at what I did on this blog over the last decade, I plan to look back at beer over the past decade. It was the pivotal time in American brewing, both as an industry and as a craft. It will be fun and I hope edifying and illuminating to pore over those years and see what we've learned.

* The Oregon Blog and Notes on the Atrocities had already been born and died, but Low on the Hog was still going strong and BlueOregon was in its heyday and actually affecting the trajectory of Beaver State politics.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Touring the Cascade Barrel Room and Blending Facility

Ron Gansberg (r) gave Edwin Johnson the
hat off his head.
On Monday, I had the good fortune to tour Cascade's impressive new(ish) blending facility in Beaverton. It's a place the brewery hasn't spent much time advertising or opening to the public, but it's big, growing, and really impressive. Brewer Ron Gansberg has something on the order of 1,300 wine and liquor barrels (including a small array of cognac barrels that arrived just recently) and maybe ten medium-sized wine foudres (or foeders in the Flemish) of around 55-65 hectos. (They vary.)

John Holl was in town for a bit over 24 hours and had arranged the tour; I got lucky enough to be offered the chance to chauffeur, which of course meant taking the tour and ending up on an epic bottle tasting as Ron and the gang started raiding the library for vintage rarities. By the end of the tasting, everyone on-site had joined in the fun, and I'm afraid we dented their productivity. Fortunately, a lot of the newer guys hadn't tried some of the older beers, so I think it can be written off as a training/team-building exercise.

 At one point, Ron dispatched one of the guys to go get the last bottle of Blackberry Ale dating back to around 2007 or so. It had been hidden somewhere, and only a couple people knew where it was. We also tasted a Kriek from that vintage, which was spectacular. The Blackberry was never as good as the Kriek--with fruit ales, you deal with terroir and the vagaries of the quality of the fruit in any given year--but drinking it was more sacrament than indulgence. We let the history pass across our tongues and considered the arc of this brewery's history.

Anyway, here is a photo essay of the day. What I didn't capture were large conditioning tanks where fruit was sitting for months on beer--cherry, raspberry, apricot. They don't look all that magestic compared to the French foudres, but one of them contained nine tons of fruit. You had to use your mind to apprehend that majesty. All right, here goes.

The barrels are packed tightly. Once they're in
place, they stay in place.

These foudres should last thirty years.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Was it Inevitable?

Yesterday I served as the chauffeur for John Holl, editor of All About Beer, and sort of my boss. We began our day at the Cascade barrel-aging and blending facility, which is secreted away in a mostly-undisclosed location off Denny Road in Beaverton. We ended up spending way more time there than we anticipated (the voluble, affable, and wildly entertaining Ron Gansberg gave us a tour and so we lingered). For a nightcap, we dropped by Gigantic and were fortunate enough to encounter Van Havig and Ben Love.

And there I got in an intriguing conversation with Van on the question how national beer preferences emerge. Take any country that makes its own kind of beer (as opposed to making generic lagers) and you can ask the question: why this beer? Why cask ale in Britain? Why dunkel lagers in Bavaria. (Or take the even weirder example of Cologne and Dusseldorf--why a pale ale in one and a dark ale in the other?)

You can do this on down the line. Van and I got in an abstruse conversation about how IPAs developed (we had a heated debate, but by the end I couldn't tell what we were disagreeing about; I suppose that's typical for pubby conversations about beer). We both agree that an American tradition has emerged and that it is characterized by the way Americans use hops. I have harped on this enough I think you all know about it. But Van posed a question that has become my philosophical white whale, the great unanswerable riddle in beer. Was it inevitable that Americans were going to develop in this way?

Remove some important antecedents. Say Fritz Maytag had decided against buying Anchor and Ken Grossman became an aerospace engineer. Imagine that, instead of providing a market for those lovely Cascade hops that Coors didn't want, those brewers never existed and growers pulled the American-bred hops from their fields. Would we still have gotten here?

You can run this mental experiment with any country. What we know is that regional preferences develop, not why. We can trace the history back, we can look at extenuating circumstances (war, famine, tax law), we can consider local ingredients--but like an onion, we can keep peeling and peeling and never get to that answer. You end up with Cologne and Dusseldorf, sister cities making different beer.

It seems inconceivable that America would end up where we are if you changed up some of those early variable, but I can't seem to find the (math-like) proof that would affirm or contradict it one way or another. 

Friday, January 08, 2016

A Long-Winded Way of Saying: Quit Counting Breweries

On Tuesday, in one of my least-viral posts in recent history, I pointed out that assessing countries based only on the growth in number of new breweries gives you a limited perspective. It's better if you also consider existing breweries and total beer production. Germany produces a ton of beer and still managed to support 1,300+ breweries, so despite its anemic new-brewery growth, you still have to acknowledge its preeminence among brewing countries. Owing to the wild success of that post, I'm back for more.

Now we turn to the US for a similar look at state-by-state numbers. These figures come from a paper in The Journal of Wine Economics from a couple months past. They were working with 2012 numbers, but they still paint a very rich portrait. Here are the brewery counts from that year for the top ten states (they look woefully out-of-date, but probably line up pretty closely with the current top ten and demonstrate a similar distribution).

But now have a look at the top ten states by production (this is craft brewery production only). It paints quite a different picture.

California had nearly three times as many breweries as Pennsylvania in 2012, but actually brewed less beer. (Also not that  theMassachusetts number is misleading. It comes principally from Sam Adams, but of course, the amount of Sam Adams brewed in Mass is a tiny trickle--the state's production is actually south of 500,000 barrels.) Washington made less than a tenth the amount of beer as Pennsylvania. It would be great to run this with 2015 numbers, because the effect would be far more dramatic. Nearly all of the breweries that have opened since 2012 are brewing a tiny fraction of the beer. So all the talk of new brewery openings and total breweries would obscure that fact that two states brew a huge share of all the craft beer in the US, and the top four are far ahead of the rest of the country.

And the effect can get very pronounced the further you go down the list. Illinois, for example, had 59 breweries in 2012, but collectively only brewed 81,000 barrels--less than many larger craft breweries. (North Carolinians, who do a lot of bragging about the number of breweries they have, should probably be a bit more circumspect; in 2012 their 59 breweries only made 156,000 barrels--about a tenth the amount of Oregon.)

If you think I'm on a weird bender about possibly extraneous measures, well ... there's more! Over at All About Beer, I try to make the case that brewery numbers are themselves not terribly reliable. (Barrel numbers, which are tracked by the tax man, are rock-solid.)
If you’re like me, you suspect there’s an actual number of breweries in these locations, one that is knowable and countable, and if everyone adhered to the same rules, we could tot them up officially. We know quarks exist, for god’s sake; surely the number of breweries in London, England can’t be beyond our ken. It kind of is. Here we drop into something like a quantum state, where arithmetic may no longer suffice. There exist what we might call Schrödinger breweries, entities that can simultaneously be said to exist and not. I’ll describe the difficulty by way of example.
All of which is to say that counting breweries doesn't make a lot of sense. Cities and states do not try to burnish their cred by citing stats on the number of restaurants or karaoke bars or pet stores. What we actually care about are important, excellent, interesting, or unusual breweries, right? I propose that we quit harping on total numbers.

Update. In the manner of blogs, this post sort of developed as I was writing it. (Note to self: don't do that.) Let me clarify the actual point by responding to Stan Hieronymus' comment:
"Right now there are four breweries within 3 miles of our house (in St. Louis). If plans for 2 more go through, likely, then there will be 6 breweries. At a personal level, the number matters. And shouldn't beer always be personal? Put another way, the big picture that interests me is a sum of all the little pictures." 
Yes, exactly. My real belief is that there is way to much focus on the number of breweries to the exclusion of other factors. Production is a proxy for popularity at both the market and brewery level. They suggest a market where a lot of people are drinking a lot of beer. Illinois looks like a good beer state until you consider that people weren't drinking the beer. In Stan's example, it's great to have a lot of breweries near your house if they're good breweries. Having a bunch of mediocre breweries is no bonus at all. By only focusing on numbers, we miss other important factors. It should be a consideration, but it should never be the only consideration.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Seeking Sponsors for this Site

As my abortive effort a couple of weeks ago hinted, I am actively trying to earn a bit of revenue here at Beervana. For ten years, this site has been mostly ad-free, an experience I appreciate when I visit other sites without ads. But I'm also a working writer, and I'm going to have to start getting a bit of revenue for the words I write here.

Toward that effort, I am now looking for some sponsors for the website. I am thinking of these folks as "sponsors" because I'm asking a little bit more of them than I would random advertisers. The most important thing a blogger has is his independence and the trust of his readers. I've built up, I hope, that trust over the decade I've been blogging here. I don't do anything like objective journalism, but I hope you believe that I've been transparent in my likes, dislikes, and opinions, and that they come exclusively from my brainpan, not some hidden influence behind the scenes.

For this blog to have any value at all, that transparency and trust will have to continue, so I'll ask my sponsors to agree to advertise with the knowledge that there's absolutely no quid pro quo--they won't receive any special considerations, additional coverage, or favorable content. If there's any value in advertising here at all, it's because people come to read honest opinions.

I firmly believe, however, that that honesty is also good for breweries. Not every beer they release is going to be a winner; not every press release is going to hit the mark. I may mention failures along the way. But that transparency means that, when I do praise a beer or person or brewery, you know it's real praise. Sponsors may not be delighted by every post I write, but if they've followed my content, I think they'll realize the value of having honest brokers out there discussing them and their beer. The internet is choked with social media buzz marketing, lame listicles, and clickbait. Sites with good, informative content are rare and they are a value not just to readers but the businesses they cover.

I've written up some sponsor guidelines to describe my approach. I've also created a media kit so you can see the value of the site and advertising here; it includes information about my traffic and the pricing scheme.

If you are interested in being one of these sponsors, shoot me an email at the_beerax @ I'll be happy to send you all the information I have.

To all the folks who've read this blog for years, I ask you to be vigilant during this new experiment, to give feedback about how it's going, and to absolutely tell me if you're losing confidence in my independence.  I have also learned in these ten years to trust you to call me on mistakes of fact, judgment, and bias. Please continue.

Thanks and cheers--

Update. I forgot to mention: we'd also love a sponsor for the Beervana Podcast. Everything I said above applies, but of course the medium is different. Give a holler.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

New Brewery Numbers Do Not Tell the Whole Story

Ron Pattinson has a nice post today that looks at the growth in European breweries by country in the five years between 2009-2014. What jumped out to him was the tiny growth (2%) in the number of breweries in Germany. He ran, Pattinson-style, a table with raw numbers. Allow me to render that statistic visually (click to enlarge):

It's true that the growth of 2% lags the rest of Europe. But percentages can sometimes be a little deceiving. The 21 breweries Germany added weren't that far behind the 24 Ireland added--but that was good enough for 92% growth on the Emerald Isle.* So what if we instead look at total breweries? How does Germany fare then? Quite a lot better, as you'd expect.

That brings me to my final visualization--and probably the most illuminating. We often look at brewery counts as a valuable metric for ... something. (I do it too, and I don't know why it's so compelling). But what if we look at the actual amount of beer a country produces rather than the number of breweries? Does that shed light on matters? It does.

(There is one final number crunch I could have shown, but it's not dramatic; it compares the production to population, but the differences weren't large. Italy was a bit of an outlier on the low side and the Czech Republic on the high side, but most were within close range of each other.)

The moral of the story is this: new brewery numbers are not a good measure of the entire health of a local beer market. You have to look at the total number of breweries and total production of those breweries. No single number tells a complete enough story on its own--you really need to look at all of them together. All countries went through massive consolidation in the 20th century, but Germany less so. It stands to reason that Germany would be repopulating its breweries more slowly now. (Which is not to say that Ron's initial observation isn't interesting--it is. And many would love to see more rapid growth of young, adventuresome breweries in Germany.)

*As commenters on Ron's post noted, those numbers are probably not quite accurate. It turns out counting breweries is a real challenge for existential and semantic reasons. More on that in due course.

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Argument Against (Henry's Hard Soda)

There is a lot to be said about the wave of consolidation among the larger American craft breweries right now (and I will say some of it later this week). In the meantime, I offer you a case-in-point for one of the reasons that argues against selling your brand, and particularly your name, to another company. Once it leaves your possession to become a brand in someone else's portfolio, terrible violence may be done to it. I forthwith offer you Henry's Hard Orange Soda (in a classic corporate move, where marketing precedes everything else, the website is not yet live). The bold is mine.
Today, MillerCoors proudly unveils Henry’s Hard Soda, a new line of deliciously refreshing hard sodas made with real cane sugar. Crafted for beer and non-beer drinkers alike with 4.2 percent alcohol by volume, Henry’s puts a playful spin on familiar flavors with Henry’s Hard Ginger Ale and Henry’s Hard Orange Soda.

“One of the main reasons why I love this product is because life is busy with work, kids and bills, but there’s always time to sneak in a little fun with friends,” said Bryan Ferschinger, MillerCoors senior director of innovations. “Beer is great, but now we also have Henry’s Hard Soda – an option that gives a little more flavor and excitement.” 

The new hard sodas are inspired by the spirit of Henry Weinhard, a brewer known in the Pacific Northwest for making flavorful beers and great soda for over a century. When Portland unveiled a new public fountain in 1887, Henry offered to pump beer through the fountain for everyone to enjoy. Today, Henry’s fun-loving personality lives on in this refreshing hard soda. 

MillerCoors will support Henry’s Hard Soda with a national marketing campaign, kicking off at the end of the month with advertising on primetime networks and high-profile cable partners such as ABC, FOX, TBS, Food Network, and Bravo. A custom digital presence in top pop culture sites, traditional print media support, dual-language public relations programming and influencer initiatives complement the rollout.
Henry is now a playful cartoon figure, like the Hamburgler or Twinkie the Kid. All he needs now is a catchphrase. Sad face on behalf of all the good citizens of Portland.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

The Year in Pixels

Below I offer a year in beer, filtered through the particular lens of my perambulations. There's an unexpectedly large number of All About Beer editor John Holl in here. With CBC in Portland, OBF, GABF, and me visiting the East Coast, I got to see him more often than usual. There is a more national theme this year, as I wandered about on my book tour travels. But also shots of brewers in lederhosen, brewers playing banjo, and very small brewers in skirts. There are technology shots, bar shots, people shots, and even one art shot. All in all, a very good year.

They're mostly chronological, so have a look.

How my year, and 47th birthday, started out.

Early last year, Alex Ganum captured Willamette Week's Beeer
of the Year with Engelberg Pilsner.

The release of Pliny the Younger at Roscoe's.

Niki Ganong released her book.

Espied at FH Steinbart, my local homebrewing shop.

Oregon brewing royalty at CBC: Rogue's John Meier (l)
and Pelican's Darron Welch (r)