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Friday, September 30, 2016

Cider Made Simple: $2.79

I just happened to notice that my cider book is now selling for a massive discount on Amazon--just $2.79! I know that this is a passion for a relative few of you out there, but even if it's something you haven't yet delved into much, I encourage you to give the book a look. I wrote it in a narrative format, with the hope of drawing the reader in. For example, here's how the chapter Cider Under Cork begins.

World-wise travelers ignore the photography of tourist boards and travel guides. Those “quintessential” scenes of bucolic splendor are almost always taken from a quickly-disappearing countryside. In the travel material for the Calvados Department of Lower Normandy, you usually find photos of medieval-looking half-timbered long houses with steeply pitched roofs and attic gables. I headed to Normandy hoping to sight at least one prime example on my travels. (Which, of course, I would immediately photograph, perpetuating the fiction of their quintessentiality.) In this case, the travel brochures don’t exaggerate. Those amazing old farmhouses are everywhere. I considered pulling off the road at the sight of the first one, and when I saw another converted into a restaurant a little further on, I stopped in for lunch. I wasn’t taking any chances. As I drove on, not only did the farmhouses begin to proliferate, it actually became difficult to see any other structures. I’d been in Normandy an hour, and already I’d feasted on French food, cider, and the unbelievable local architecture.

But what the travel brochures don’t mention is something even more interesting for the cider tourist. Many of the buildings were built as dwellings, but a lot of them are were also built to be pressoirs—press-houses for making cider and Calvados (a kind of apple brandy). These old buildings, dating from the 17th century onward, were constructed from the material available to people then—wood, straw and mud, and thatch. According to locals, the reason they’re long and narrow had to do with beam lengths. The longest beams were expensive and were used in more elegant chateaux; the farmers only had access to shorter beams, which described the full width of the building. If a farmer wanted to expand, he just added more length to one end. With sharply-peaked roofs, they have attics ideal for storing harvested apples before the press, and the lower portion accommodate oaken casks of fermenting cider and aging liquor.

After my lunch, I drove straight to Glos, not far from Lisieux, to meet Cyril Zangs at his home. Guess what kind of structure it was? We spoke for a few minutes in his kitchen, and then M. Zangs showed me how the rooms were laid out. The buildings are the width of one room, so the houses are segmented—kitchen, living room, bedroom, and so on, rooms adjacent to one another running in a line.

We drove to his cidery in a nearby town, and—guess what kind of building that was? He brushed off my amazement—these old buildings are a dime a dozen, he said, and he was able to rent this cheaply. His cidery was an elegant one with a brick foundation and scalloped roof, and it was surrounded by wood-fenced fields, which were themselves dotted with old farmhouses of a similar vintage.

The features particular to Normandy didn’t stop there. His press was parked out front. “Parked” because it was of a mobile design typical of the region. Every farmer may have made cider and Calvados, but they didn’t all own their own presses. Instead, each fall, an owner of the press would drive around, farm to farm, offering his services—this was the practice for generations. Neither did most of them own their own stills. I would see a related contraption the next day in Coudray-Rabut at the Drouin cidery, but instead of a press, it was an old wheeled still that farmers would have used to turn a portion of their cider into Calvados.

It’s not wrong to think of Normandy as cider country, but it’s incomplete. Normandy has an apple ecosystem that begins with cider but continues on to Calvados and pommeau, an aged blend of Calvados and apple juice. Guillaume Drouin, a third generation cider maker at the Christian Drouin distillery, speculates that just a few decades ago there were tens of thousands of farmhouse producers. “Calvados was really a farm product. Every farmer was making his own Calvados even fifty years ago.” The farmers harvested their apples and made cider and later distilled it. Until very recently, in every pressoir in the department, farmers had stocks of fresh cider and barrels of aging Calvados. The farmers didn’t think of themselves as cider makers or distillers, they were farmers, and cider and Calvados were just part of their produce.

Once I left the Zangs cidery and was driving the roads through lush farmland, I started to think about all the half-timbered buildings I could see. How many of them had once been put to the service of the orchards? Apples and their assorted nectars are so central to this region, I almost wondered if it didn’t ooze from the earth.

If it seems like something you might like to read, now's a great chance to take a cheap flier on the book and get your copy.

The Making of a Fresh Hop Ale

Continuing with the discussion of fresh hops, and delving into the archives again, here are excerpts from a connected pair of posts from 2013. I'm reposting them because there continues to exist a kind of fresh-hop fundamentalism in which the only "authentic" fresh hop beers are the ones made exclusively with fresh hops. There's a reason this is ill-advised; when used to bitter a beer, fresh hops very often add a note of boiled vegetables (since that's what they are) and can result in a note of decay, like compost. If you want the fullness of that fresh hop flavor and aroma, you need to use to use conventional hops to bitter a beer. From there, theories vary. Read on for more.

A Crystal Gayle Goschie, poured yesterday (Sept 29).

I inquired with a group of brewers that really seem to reliably produce excellent fresh hop beers to see what they had to say.  What were their methods?  My working theory is that using fresh hops throughout the boil--once seen as the only "true" method--added too much vegetable matter and created the compost note.  I couched my question from that perspective and found some agreement.  Here's Laurelwood's Vasilios Gletsos:

"When I moved to Mactarnahan's/Pyramid/PBCo, I didn't have the flexibility to use fresh hops on the hot side [the kettle], so I devised a plan to add them in secondary/conditioning tanks. We did this as whole flower breweries (Deschutes or Sierra Nevada before torpedo) do: stuffed into mesh bags and tied them to the bottom of the vessel (in our case, since we didn't have tank hooks, we cleaned up heavy chunks of stainless and tied then to that). This gave the best, "Fresh Squeezed" flavor I have ever gotten from fresh hops. A beautiful mix of peach fruit cup with a touch of tea, and an unparalleled horticultural mouthfeel (if that makes sense)."
But wait--not so fast!  I also spoke to one of those "whole flower" breweries, Deschutes.  (Most breweries, especially larger ones, use pellets, which are more compact.)  Brewer Cam O'Connor does use them on the "hot side," though only very late, for some of their fresh hop beers:
"This hop addition happens in the hot wort, usually in the kettle or in the hopback, where wort is transferred onto the hops. The impact we are looking for here is a nice juicy in-your-face hop aroma and flavor without a lot of vegetative flavors. Hop Trip and Chasin freshies are both made using the hot side hop additions." 
But he agreed that "cold-side" fresh hopping has its place, as well.
"This method is very similar to traditional dry hopping except you are using fresh/wet hops to dry hop the beer in the bright beer tank. The impact from this method is usually potent in aroma and flavor and can pick up some of the vegetative qualities from the fresh hop. We make some of the pub beers using this method. It is very difficult to do on a large scale so the pubs work very well. Fresh Hop Mirror Pond is made using this method." 
You note that Cam mentioned picking up a "vegitative note" even in the bright tank? Vasili agreed and offered a recommendation:
"Don't leave it on the hops too long (48-72 hours seems good) before racking it off, which limits contact with the vegetal matter and may be contributing to the [unpleasant] flavors."
Writing for Gigantic, Van Havig added a point I'd never considered--oil content.
I think it really all lies in hop choice. The higher oil hops seem to make better fresh hop beers.  This makes intuitive sense, of course. But it really is the case that you have to start with the right raw materials. After that, I think boiling is a bad idea. It extracts things you don't want, and potentially drives off oil.  So late additions - hop back generally - is where it's at. When we make them, we add a little bit of a known Bittering hop at the start of boil, and then ALL of the wet hops go in the hop back.  We use a lot - 200+ lbs for 15 BBLs. If we need to "touch it up" with dry hops, we use a light hand (1/4 lb / bbl or so)."
Another factor Double Mountain's Matt Swihart points out is how dangerously perishable fresh hops are. 
I think it is those situations where the stinky, vegetative, musty aromas pop up in some wet hop beers. From my perspective, you simply can’t use non-dried hops more than 12-24 hours after picking, unless you can spread them out in a cooler, and keep ‘em cold.
One of main issues, he points out, resonates with Van's point about oil content:
Unfortunately the high moisture and oil content at harvest also starts to breakdown and physically compost once the vine is cut.
Which suggests that the sooner they get into the wort/beer, the better.  (This gives Oregon brewers a real advantage--Portland-area breweries are 45 minutes from the hop fields.)  I'll have a full guest post from Matt tomorrow that gives one of the best descriptions of the care and tending of fresh hops I've ever read.

As with all things brewing, there are different methods and approaches.  Matt recommends using traditional kilned hops in the conditioning tank along with wet hops, while Vasili cautions against it.  (For Matt, the combo is "pleasing" while to Vasili it's "distracting.")  Your experiences may vary.  A consensus seems to be forming around adding the hops later rather than earlier.  In addition, use the freshest possible fresh hops and hops with high oil content. 

After that?  Probably pray to Ninkasi that the crop was good and the oils rich and vibrant.  There's a certain bit of alchemy in the process that makes fresh hop beers a bit of a mystery. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

On the Nature of Fresh Hop Beers

 Mt Tabor Brewing held a media event unveiling their new, inner-Southeast location, and as things began dissipating, a dispute broke out about fresh hop beers. I thought I'd settled all this already, but I see there's still work to do. As such, I'm reposting comments from September 24, 2014--"You Know a Fresh Hop Beer By Its Taste."

Let us consider the fresh hop beer. A seemingly simple beast, it is made from the addition of undried hops rushed sun-warm from field to kettle (or tank). In recent years this simplicity has been obscured by off-topic etymological and existential discussions about what "fresh" really means. It has come to mirror--or rhyme with--the debates about gluten and organics, as if the best way to ascertain the true nature of a fresh-hop beer is to check your conscience. Can it be a fresh hop beer if some dried hops are used?  Can it be a fresh hop beer if none are used? These inquiries lead in the wrong direction, to ethics, and away from the thing that is so blindingly obvious. The "fresh" in the fresh hop comes from the living plant and anyone who has tasted that life in a beer appreciates it through the proper instrument, her senses.

This is not rocket science.  What we should be looking for in a fresh hop beer are those very obvious flavors and aromas that ooze out of the [pick one: fresh, wet, unkilned, undried] hop. We know a fresh hop beer not by querying the brewer about his methods, but by tasting it. I recognize that a lot of people in the world haven't had the chance to try these beers, so Pacific Northwesterners must act as envoys to tell of these wondrous creatures from afar. The first lesson is: they're about as easy to distinguish from normal beers as a porter is from a pale. If you're sniffing and swishing and cocking your head trying to figure out if the beer was made with fresh hops, it's not a good example no matter how it was made. If you're getting lively, feral, sometimes unsettling flavors, that's a fresh hop beer.

I am all for truth in labeling, and I endorse Bill Night's long crusade to expose breweries who call their beer "fresh hop" when they're nothing of the kind. But it obscures the far more relevant and important inquiry into the joys and wonders (and mishaps and disasters) that are to be found in those that are manifestly fresh hop beers. They are their own thing, and their thing is obvious by the way they taste. We should go forth and discover.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Vignette #4, Adam Brož (Budějovický Budvar)

Brewer vignettes feature quotes from brewers I picked up in my travels around the world.

“It depends on the beer category you are producing.  If you try the lager type, the decoction is very important.  We compared decoction versus infusion on our  small-scale brewery; always the beer brewed by the infusion process was emptier in its taste—the body was not correct for the lagers.  Also the color changed.  If you boil during the decoction, you prepare the compounds which cause golden color.  So the infusion lagers were yellowish, not so full in its taste.”

“Always there is a discussion of the definition of pilsner lager.  We are a bit different [than Pilsner Urquell].  It is not so bitter, and a bit deeper fermented.  It’s really difficult to compete with Pilsner Urquell because I think that it’s really the style.  It became the style of the pilsner type.  We are a bit different in this category because bitterness is really fine, the alcohol is a bit higher than the pilsner has.  The Budweiser beer is really different.”

(Incidentally, there's a cool story about that mug Brož is holding. They're copper-clad but lined by tin, and are the vessels brewers have used to taste beer for ... ever, probably (Adam wasn't sure; "a very long time.") It's called something like a mazek, based on what I could hear him say, and that apparently derives from the name of the volume it holds which I think is related to the German Maß. When we were in the cellars, he used that little pigtail you can see in his left hand to zwickel beer (the pigtail is nearly always used for lagers in Germany), and he filled that that sucker nearly up to its full mazek. The day I visited, the brewery was having electrical work done, and there was no power on in the brewery. Except for the small flashlight he carried, we were in the dark, like thieves stealing the beer. After he filled it up, we passed it back and forth and crept around the echoing cellars--which I couldn't see.)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Presidential Debate Drinking Game

Before the debate, pour yourself a stiff drink. If you have a back porch, take it out there and regard the crisp autumn air as the liquid slowly warms your belly, noting how a country just before revolution is infused with a strange calm.

What to Drink
This is a beer blog, sure. I know there are a few wine drinkers who read it as well. This is, however, no time to fool around with dainty potables that have only been lightly fermented. An event like this requires distilled beverages, strong and brutal. America eventually found its love of beer and wine, but it was founded on the hard stuff. (Beer Bible: "By 1763, New England alone housed 159 commercial distilleries; there were only 132 breweries in the entire country in 1810.  By 1830, the US had 14,000 distilleries, towns tolled a bell at 11 am and 4 pm marking 'grog time,' and the per capita rate of consumption was nearly two bottles of liquor a week for every drinking-age adult.") Democracy, apparently, cannot be trusted to the delicate caress of IPA or pinot noir. The revolution is coming and, like our founders, you should be sloshed to the gills when it arrives.

Game On
In this game, the first ten minutes is a no-drinking zone. You'll require your senses to take in the sweep of Trump's hair, the drape of Hillary's pant suit. There are things you need to see with clear eyes to reassure yourself that they're actually happening. There's the billionaire Mark Cuban in the front row, selected by Clinton to provoke Trump. There's Gennifer Flowers, Bill's one-time mistress, sitting nearby--Trump's earthy riposte. Note the optics of the moment: the first woman in 240 years to be nominated by a major party debating a proud sexist who cheerfully and regularly retweets white supremacists while the debate is moderated by a black journalist. Only in America!

Once you've situated yourself in the moment, it's time to start drinking heavily. Most drinking games revolve around the mention of certain key words or phrases, such as "believe me," "Benghazi," or "small hands," but they are unsuitably frivolous for this year's debates. Instead, pour out another drink when the pangs of doubt peek over the edge of your subconscious and startle you, that moment when you first think, "Sure, this is amazing television, but I wonder if it's good democracy?" As the fire of alcohol burns down your throat, comfort yourself with the fact that there are no plans for a wall north of the country and, anyway, the border is too vast to keep out fleeing Americans, anyway. Oh Canada, our (future) home and native land...

Drink again when you notice the superficial nature of the moderator's questions. If you happen to wonder why actual policy issues are not being discussed, ponder the degenerate state of journalism in the United States. How is it that presidential elections went from being moments when journalists carefully vetted the candidates who would control a nuclear arsenal to one in which they so came to resemble a reality show that they actually starred a reality show personality? Pour another drink while you consider whether there's a satiric screenplay in all of this.

Drink every time the distaste of nepotism and dynastic politics crosses your palate. Consider the ramifications of sexual politics in a country that had two and a half centuries to nominate a woman who wasn't the wife of a president ... and failed. Drink when you think of Bill Clinton serving as the first gentleman, and take note of the glimmer of joy that brings. Joy will be in short supply throughout this ordeal, so take it when you can.

Drink every time the camera cuts to a Republican or Democratic official and you find yourself pondering our two-party system. Surely we can do better than two parties. Surely we can do better than these two parties. And yet, it's also true that Great Britain has multiple parties and still inadvertently voted to leave the European Union. Drink when you consider democracy. Are we really sure it's the best system? 

Drink when you notice the anxiety that this election seems to be a metaphor for ... something. Drink when your mind lapses back to earlier elections (2008 for Dems, 1980 for Republicans) and you remember thinking, "Is America the best damn country in the world, or what?" Drink when you grow irritated they're not talking about the issues you care about. Drink when you realize they're not talking about those issues because Americans don't care about them. Drink to douse your gnawing apprehension, drink to encourage your hope. Drink for liquid courage. Drink for comfort. Drink for good old Teddy Roosevelt--man, we could really use the old Rough Rider right now. Drink to drink.

And remember, enjoy the debate!

Picture credit:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Importance of Self-Distribution Laws

My sojourn to South Dakota has not given me too many insights into the nature of the national beer scene. The state is in a nascent phase of building a market for local beer; to date there are only 14 craft breweries, and most of them are tiny (one that I know of, Gandy Dancer, is so small and provisional one could debate whether it actually exists). Collectively, the entire output of South Dakota's breweries in 2015 was smaller than Double Mountain's. Locals are coming around to beer and there's palpable excitement, but palates are at the porter-and-stout stage* and typical barroom tap ranges include a lot of the old American industrial brands. South Dakota is a farming state, though, and there's already a fair amount of interest/excitement about the prospect of a local hop industry, and breweries are talking about making beer with all state-grown ingredients. That could be one of those local tie-ins that really helps power local growth.


But one massive barrier to breweries is the lack of a self-distribution law. Living in Oregon, I forget how fundamental these are to the incubation of viable small breweries. This may seem like boring arcana for most people, so let me break it down as a way of illustrating how a new Oregon brewery has a big leg up over their counterpart in South Dakota.

In Oregon, breweries are allowed to self-distribute 7,500 barrels of beer from each brewing facility they operate. (Of the 200+ breweries in the state, fewer than twenty will bump up against that limit.) That means that they can sell directly to retailers rather than using a distributor--which offers two big advantages. In the typical arrangement, a brewery sells a keg to a distributor for a wholesale price, and the distributor adds a mark-up when he sells it to the retailer. In self-distribution, the producer is able to sell the keg at the wholesaler's price directly to a retailer.

Second, a self-distributing brewery can sell their products directly to retailers rather than have to depend on a proxy (the distributor) who will necessarily have less commitment to one of their many brands than the brewery. Further, self-distribution allows breweries to develop relationships with retailers, who become valuable outposts for the product, even when a brewery is very new.

Compare that to Wooden Legs brewing, where I sat and talked with assistant general manager Angela Yahne over beers last night. South Dakota has no self-distribution laws. Wooden Legs has signed up with a distributor, but they're basically a nano and can barely keep up with production for the brewpub. In order to grow, they're going to need a new system, which means capital. Trying to push volume so they can send beer out into the market is tough, though, because they're selling kegs wholesale.

Even worse, Wooden Legs is stuck with their distributor,thanks to beer franchise laws, which make these relationships like a marriage--but harder to break. Angela gave me no reason to think Wooden Legs' distributor is anything but a great partner, but if they weren't, the brewery would be out of luck. Stories of sour relationships are legion:
For example, I once tried to terminate a contract with an underperforming distributor in New York for not only selling my products outside of his territory, but selling out-of-date beer. I thought it would be straightforward, since my contract said I could leave “with or without cause.”

But the distributor took us to court, saying the state’s franchise law, which sets a high standard for showing cause, trumped whatever my contract said. Two State Supreme Court rulings upheld my position, but, fearing a further appeal, I settled out of court. I was freed from the contract, but the legal fees and settlement cost Brooklyn Brewery more than $300,000.
I'm just guessing here--but Wooden Legs probably doesn't have a quarter million laying around for legal fees. 

The way good beer expands is by availability. Self-distribution laws, directly and indirectly facilitate this. States without them struggle to build the kind of rich tapestry Oregon has (which, counter-intuitively, has been great for distributors because many breweries ultimately do choose to go with one). We even have data on the matter:
"The contrast is stark. States with self-distribution have 1.41 craft breweries per 100,000 21+ adults. States without self-distribution have 0.77.... The same pattern emerges when we look at production. With the exception of one outlier state, the states with no ability to self-distribute are clustered at the bottom of per-capita production by craft breweries (average = 1.05 gallons produced per 21+ adult) whereas states with the ability to self-distribute average higher levels of production (average = 2.51 gallons produced per 21+ adult). Once again this difference is statistically significant with a p < 0.05 (two-tailed test).
This is in no way to demean distributors. There are a number of reasons they're a valuable asset for a brewery. In fact, having both well-regulated distributors and self-distribution laws give breweries the broadest freedom to implement their business plan. But for states without them, the downsides multiply. 

Angela told me that an incipient collection of the state's breweries met a few months back, and it may one day form into a guild. Here's hoping it does, and that they move quickly to pushing for a self-distribution law. That, way more than local hop fields, will jump-start the brewing scene here.

*This is in no way to denigrate porters and stouts, which are among my favorite styles. It's just that I've noticed that they seem to be popular styles for people getting into beer in the US, and are then sadly left behind. Since I've been in South Dakota, I've encountered probably a dozen people who tell me they're just getting into good beer, an their faves so far are porters and stouts. The South Dakota beer geeks, meanwhile, are into the same thing beer geeks everywhere are--which is to say not porters and stouts.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

South Dakota

One of the many statues in Sioux Falls, SD

I am currently sitting in a slightly dated hotel room on the edge of Brookings, South Dakota. The South Dakota Festival of Books is the event, and I'm doing my bit to act as a beery interloper on all the high-minded literary salons that will be soon taking place. I was paired with a Pulitzer-prize winning Washington Post author at an event last night in Sioux Falls, but he was snared in the net of chaos that is O'Hare, and didn't make it to town in time for the event, sadly. But it gives you a sense of the kind of show this is going to be.

In any case, slow blogging through the weekend. I'll try to get out and drink beer, but no promises on timely updates. The event last night was hosted by WoodGrain Brewing, and later on I went to Monks, the first (and apparently still pre-eminent) beer bar. Sioux Falls is, as you would expect, not on the bleeding edge of the beer scene, and yet it supports a pub with this taplist:

A third stop, at a burger-and-beer joint, yielded similar results. Impressive beers including ones like La Folie. I had a Fernson IPA (local) that was a bit heavy on the diacetyl and thick and caramelly. Better was the IPA at WoodGrain, though that too was caramelly. Based on the prevalence of Denver-based breweries available here, brewers may be looking to the Rockies for their IPA inspiration. The best beers were a rye saison from WoodGrain and a double IPA from a local (Gandy Dancer?) made with South Dakota-grown Nugget and Centennials. The hops were soft and herbal and reminded me a bit of Oregon-grown varieties (Yakima's are brighter and more sparkly).

Okay, off to scare up some lunch--

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Podcast Update/New Podcast

You may have noticed that there hasn't been a new Beervana Podcast for awhile. (Surely you were waiting on the edge of your seat!) This has to do with our transition to All About Beer On-Air. We've finally worked out some of the kinks, and we've got one podcast in the can, and one available today. The good news is that we've tried to really step up our game. I'm prouder of today's podcast than any we've done. It is a nuanced discussion about the experiences of women working in the beer industry. We were joined by Sarah Pederson (owner of Saraveza), writer Lucy Burningham, brewer Natalie Baldwin (Burnside Brewing), Pink Boots Society Executive Director Emily Engdahl, and homebrewer, professional brewer, and now professional distiller Lee Hedgmon (they're in that order in the picture below).

I'm proud of it partly because we managed to pull off the technical feat of recording in Saraveza's Bad Habit Room, partly because Patrick and I mostly stayed quiet for once, but mostly because the conversation was one of the most interesting, insightful, and revealing discussions you're going to hear on this topic.

Our next episode is also a special one. Ron Pattinson has been working on a project with Mike Siegel at Goose Island to recreate a stock pale ale. I interviewed them last week, and Patrick and I listen to that interview and learn a ton about recreating historic recipes, the history of hops and barrel-aging, and taste a bottle of this totally unexpected beer. (You hear people say beers are unlike anything they've tasted pretty often, but in this case it's really true.)  So look for that one.

Also note that this podcast will still be available in all your regular locations--Soundcloud, iTunes, and Google Play. In our first AAB pod, it was originally located on a feed hosted by AAB, but we've since decided to put it in both places. As a final note, please consider subscribing and if you're an iTunes subscriber, rating the Beervana Podcast. We're hoping to build the listenership, and ratings help boost us. Thanks and enjoy--

Monday, September 19, 2016

Feds Approve Cannabis Beer

This is a pretty remarkable bit of news:

Dad and Dudes Breweria of Aurora, Colorado, has received approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to sell its General Washington's Secret Stash IPA brew, which contains cannabinoids (CBDs) — but no THC — in all 50 states. “Cannabinoids are a miracle compound, and I thought it would be a responsible choice to put them into beer,” explains Dad and Dudes co-owner Mason Hembree. “They are an antioxidant and neuro-protectant that have a lot of health benefits.”
CBD is actually an acronym for cannabidiol (cannabinoid is a general term), one of the two active ingredients in cannabis. The other, THC, is psychoactive (it gets you high), unlike CBD, which has been promoted as the ingredient responsible for many of cannabis' medical benefits. Among other things, proponents say it is beneficial for treating seizures, nausea, inflammation, and anxiety. Although the evidence is still sketchy--because the government has had a ban on research--at least some of the claims seem quite solid.

This appears to be one of those classic "innovation" gimmicks. Cannabis is expensive, and high-CBD strains are even more so. There's no mention of how much of this goes in the beer--if indeed any does at all (it's mostly insoluble in water, so if they just floated a few flowers in the conditioning tank, it's merely a gesture). No one's going to buy this beer for its potential medical properties (since we have no idea what dosage, if any, it delivers), and the talk of "responsible choice" seems about as sincere as the average politician's claims this time of year.

What interests me is that the federal government has approved its use in the beer, which means they regard it at the very least as benign. For reasons that mystify me, most politicians and much of the federal bureaucracy have a massive investment in denying cannabis' health benefits. It looks as if they're beginning to give a little bit on the idea that this is such a dangerous drug it must be banned in all forms.

It is therefore a gimmick I can get behind.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I HAVE A MINOR COMPLAINT: Stop Using the Word "Innovative"

Jargon infects all human enterprise. It's probably a habit of mind that allowed speech to develop--which is a good thing. It also leads to the development of jargon when a group of people in a related field talk to each other long enough. And eventually, it leads to meaningless jargon where words are mere name checks that signal, apparently, in-group solidarity. And so it has come to pass that the word "innovative" (and it's variant "innovation") are now used to describe every brewery in America. From actual press releases:
  • "a widely acclaimed brewery and restaurant, now serves fans of fully flavored beers in 30 states with innovative beers melding European ingredients and technology with American creativity."
  • "The pioneering spirit that launched [Brewery X] spans more than three decades, with innovation emerging from both the brewhouse and sustainability initiatives."
  • "[Brewery Y] also recently introduced its new series, which features a selection of small, limited releases from mostly craft brewers that rotate frequently keeping the selection both innovative and fresh." 
There may be a few innovations left to discover out there, but we've made a lot of beer in the 8,000 years of human history. If you put your beer in a barrel of some kind or add fruit to it or brew a beer with another brewery or, God help me, are introducing new label designs, you are not innovating. Truly innovative techniques and beers are exceedingly rare. The mere act of starting a new brewery is not innovative. Quit saying it.

Look at all the innovation!

Innovation has become so meaningless that, particularly when used by larger breweries, it often signals the opposite. I get things like this all the time "Our continued efforts at innovation have led our brewers to create a new grapefruit-infused IPA" (not an actual quote, but typical). In fact, this sentence should read, "Having seen how much money other breweries are making on this type of beer, we have decided to follow the trend and make an imitative knock-off."

Now, don't get me started on the word, "passion" ...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Vignette #3, Trevor Rogers (De Garde Brewing)

Brewer vignettes feature quotes from brewers I picked up in my travels around the world.

“We’re not masters of anything. We make wort, we don’t make beer. That’s very different; we’ve relinquished control for the most part. The one thing we do control is what goes into the barrel, and what gets blended from the barrel. But even after that, because it’s naturally reconditioned in the keg and bottle, you have zero control.” Pauses. “I didn’t have any gray hairs when I started.”

“Our biggest challenge as a natural, wild brewer is to restrain acidity. It’s going to be there, and you need some for the complexity, but it needs to be in balance. It’s like the hops arms race—we are in that phase. The demand for sour beer makes people think sour is good. Like hops are good; bitterness is good. But that shouldn’t be the defining feature of a beer. It should be an element that is essential to produce complexity—not the element defining the beer.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

In the Public Interest, But Not the Public Domain

This morning, NPR ran a story about an effort to preserve pubs in the UK:
The British pub is as much a part of the fabric of the United Kingdom as fish and chips and the queen, but each year hundreds close their doors for good. The reasons include the high price of beer, more people drinking at home and rising land prices. Now — in an apparent first — the London borough of Wandsworth has designated 120 pubs for protection, requiring owners who want to transform them into apartments or supermarkets to get local government approval first.
This is not going to be another demise-of-the-British-pub posts, partly because "demise of the British pub" articles have been a going concern since the first Bush presidency. In fact, I recall but cannot find a post/article that pointed out these articles have actually been popular for centuries. It seems the English pub is always endangered.

No, what it made me think of was something related: the demise of the independent brewery.

Since 2011, when AB InBev bought Goose Island, something like 15 breweries have been purchased by large companies. That's compares with the nearly 5000 that remain independent. And yet, we do harbor a gnawing worry that independence is in danger. Part of this is because we don't relate to pubs and breweries the way we relate to, say, iPhones and soda brands. The part of that NPR piece that really crystallized it was this comment by Jonathan Cook, deputy leader of the Wandsworth Council:
"What we're saying is, 'Well, hang on a minute — we have an interest here as well. The community values the pub and you've got to factor that into the equation,'" says Cook.
We don't relate to pubs as interchangeable service-providers any more than we relate to breweries as random widget-makers. In our minds, they're something of a public trust. The Councilman says it more baldly than most, but there's a piece of this thinking that goes into every angry comment on a Facebook post announcing the latest buy-out.

Pubs and breweries, for their part, strongly encourage this thinking. What business would fail to capitalize on this rare emotional connection customers have to their favorite brand/establishment? We want to have connections to these entities. But, as Martyn Cornell pointed out when he addressed this issue of restricting pub sales two years ago, as much as they may be in the public interest, they're not actually in the public domain:
The whole idea that pubs need special protection is nonsense, anyway, as I have frequently argued. Pubs are not sacred. The rights of pubgoers do not trump the rights of property owners. The disappearance of any pub is not the same as, eg, the disappearance of a Saxon church. Pubs are, and have always been, “churned” all the time: one closes, another one opens. (It may surprise you to learn that JD Wetherspoon has closed more than 100 of the pubs it has opened over the years). If a pub is making less money for its owner than it would under another use, the owner must have the right to maximise their income. If a pub closes, and a community feels it needs a pub, let someone open a new pub, in a more viable site with fewer overheads. 
I am perhaps more sentimental than Martyn. When an old pub closes to make way for a convenience store or fast-casual restaurant, I feel the poorer. Were Deschutes or Sierra Nevada or Breakside or Other Half to sell to ABI, I would feel the poorer. As a guy interested in policy, I'm with Martyn that efforts to restrict the sale of private businesses is bad public policy. It does not necessarily follow that I'm happy to see the churn.

I participate in the false sense that I somehow have a piece of the pubs and breweries I like, as do they, and I will continue to do so because it's a more pleasant way to live. But it's good to acknowledge from time to time how silly this is of me.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Yup, It's an IPA

The beer is 5% ABV and it has 15 IBUs. Existential question: is it an IPA?

The answer doesn't really matter (and wouldn't be definitive in any case). But whatever you think of this trend in nomenclature, it's pretty good evidence that "IPA's" new meaning is settling into place. It's been just a couple of years since I first made the case that, at least to customers, "IPA" doesn't have anything at all to do with beers shipped from Burton to India.
To the average drinker, slapping the word "India" on a label communicates a very specific, easily-understandable meaning.  It's shorthand for "saturated in the flavors and aromas of American hops."  Gigantic IPL, for all the ways it wasn't an IPA, instantly met the expectations I'd had--it was decadently perfumed and soaked in Simcoe and Citra hops.
The beer in question is brewed by pFriem, and I've written about it before. Over the weekend, I stopped into the brewery on a trip out the Gorge and was delighted to find it on tap again. It definitely fits the bill of "saturated in the flavors and aromas of American hops." In this case, if I had any problem with the name, it's the "sour." It's lightly acidified via kettle souring, and this gives it a tartness akin to citrus fruit. Add the fruity hops on top, and it really has the effect of making it more fruit-like. Many fruits have an element of acidity, but we don't think of them as "sour" because they're balanced by sweetness. In this case, it's the hops that sell the fruitiness, adding their flavors and aromas to that snappy tartness. It's like a scoop of mandarin-melon sorbet.

The IPA part--that's wholly defensible. The one thing I didn't mention so much back in 2014 was how IPAs have been decoupled from bitterness. IPAs have become so flavor-and-aroma-centered that people have become habituated to relatively low-IBU IPAs that nevertheless have deeply saturated hop flavors. pFriem's IPA has all that flavor, and it's actually accentuated by the acidity. The "sour" part of the title may scare some people away, but I doubt few people complain that it fails to meet their expectations for an IPA.

When I wrote that post back in 2014, the comments were not entirely supportive of the thesis. I become ever more convinced that it's happening in front of us, and this is a good case in point.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Where To Find Me in September

I have been remiss in my self-promotion duties in the face of what turns out to be an unexpectedly active September. (Hey, I can hear your groans, you know!) Mark your calendars.

Klindt's Books, The Dalles, today, noon-3pm
Today, in just two hours, I'll be signing books at Klindt's Booksellers in The Dalles. (Oregon's oldest bookstore, dating back to 1870.) If you wanted to scramble and drive there--presuming you don't live in The Dalles--there's still time. I'll be there until 3pm.

Feast Portland
On Friday (9/16, noon) I will be joining a star-studded panel to discuss cider. Tickets are still available, and you should buy them to listen to Kevin Zielinski, Nat West, and Josh Bernstein.

On Saturday, from 1-2pm, I will be signing/selling books at the Grand Tasting. That event is sold out, so if you have tickets, come and say hi.

South Dakota Festival of Books, Sept 22-25
I'm doing several events at this book festival in Brookings, South Dakota. If you're anywhere nearby and interested, have a look at the events I'll be doing (click on the link) and see if any tickle your fancy. The guided tasting on Friday, Sept 23 is going to be super cool. We'll talk flavor elements, but we'll also talk national tradition and how you can spot it in your pint--or stange--glass.

An unexpected troll hit this post, and after a few exchanges, s/he (though one suspects "he") decided to retreat and delete all his comments. I was able to turn them off before he could delete the first one, so you can get a flavor of the conversation. 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Belgian Family Brewers Needs to Update Their Member List

Bosteels down.

I am generally sanguine about the creative destruction in the beer industry that leads to acquisitions and buy-outs--but this sent a pang through my heart:
Anheuser-Busch InBev reportedly has agreed to buy Belgian brewer Bosteels, maker of Tripel Karmeliet, Kwak and other specialty beers. A-B InBev, also based in Belgium, agreed to buy Bosteels from the family that founded the brewery over 200 years ago, according to TheStreet. Financial terms weren't disclosed but Belgian news sources estimate the deal's value at 200 million euros ($225.4 million), according to the report. Antoine Bosteels will continue to run the brewery as part of A-B InBev's craft and specialty division. 
It wasn't surprising. A week ago, reports surfaced that Heineken and Duvel Moortgat were also in the hunt. The brewery makes three pretty impressive beers, and represented a prize to any brewery. Tripel Karmeliet sells very well and has a (largely bogus) connection to an old Carmelite monastery that Bosteels has long trumpeted. Kwak has long been one of the most famous Belgian brands, thanks partly to its funny glass. And Deus is perhaps the most well-known champagne-style Belgian beer. All three of these can reach different markets and have wholly distinctive personalities, and that must have been quite alluring to the perspective buyers. The price tag looks pretty high for a brewery that makes just 120,000 barrels, but consider the per-bottle price these beers command, and it makes more sense. ABI should be able to do with these brands what they've done with Leffe and Hoegaarden and make them super-premium international brands. Look for them at a grocery store near you.

I will say this: ABI's international craft-brewery division (called, unironically, the Global Disruption Group), is acquiring some primo breweries. Last year they picked up Camden Town, and earlier this year they snatched up Birra Del Borgo--two of the crown jewels in their respective countries. Jerome Pellaud heads up the team that acquires these breweries, and he's doing an impressive job--particularly since there was a bidding war here.

For Belgium, where fewer and fewer venerable family brands survive, this must be considered a pretty hard blow. But $225m is a lot of Benjamins, and it would be hard for any family to turn their back on a pile of cash that large. As Vonnegut would have said, "and so it goes..."

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The "Craft Slowdown" is a Fiction

The beer market is changing. For years, the craft segment has been all growth, from the tiniest nano to the category leaders (including gray-market craft like Blue Moon and Shock Top). For the first time in a lot of years, that's no longer true. The Brewers Association recently reported that the craft segment had slowed to just 8% growth (which is still crazy good, though it's lower than at any time since 2009), but here's the thing: the biggest brands are not only not growing, they're in decline:
"[C]ombined volumes for the top 12 craft brewers grew only 1% for the three months to May," Sanford C. Bernstein stated this week citing Nielsen figures in a report titled "The Dramatic Slowdown of Craft Beer Continues." The slowdown appears to be coming from the biggest craft brands.
I recently took a gander at the OLCC's numbers* for Oregon sales, and the story is the same. The state's leading seller, Deschutes, is down 16% over the first half of the year, and the third-largest, Ninkasi, is down 10%. (The OLCC no longer captures figures for Widmer Brothers, another top-seller.) What's going on, says the Brewers Association's Bart Watson, is that the “long tail of craft continues to smoke; there's very little evidence of much of a slowdown there.” The implication is that the big brands are suffering at the hands of smaller competitors.

This "long tail" he's describing refers to the thousands of small breweries that produce tiny volumes. (In your mind's eye, imagine a graph with brewery volumes on one axis and percent of the market on the other; a few breweries make most of the beer, and a whole lot of breweries--the tail--make marginal amounts.) There's no doubt these breweries have room to grow--it's relatively easy to build ten percent growth onto a base of 500 barrels, and some of those breweries will be growing much faster.

But here's the thing: little breweries just don't constitute much of the volume. Even when you confine your view to the breweries represented by the Brewers Association, the numbers are pretty staggering: 90% of American craft breweries make 5,000 barrels or less of beer a year, and they account for just 12% of the beer tracked by Brewers Association. The top 1.6% of breweries in this group make over two-thirds of the beer. In other words, that long tail could quadruple its production and still only constitute a third of all the beer made. That long tail is never going to account for a sizable share of the volume.

What's actually happening has to do with the breweries that the Brewers Association doesn't track--those recently purchased by ABI, MillerCoors, Constellation, and Heineken--which are growing, and incredibly fast. With Bud's might, Goose Island IPA has become one of the best-sellers in that style. Before selling to ABI, Elysian only had the available hops to brew Space Dust once a week. With ABI's access, hops are no longer a limitation, and the brand has grown 2000%. When I glanced at those Oregon numbers, I was shocked to see the movement of the number-two brewery on the list, ABI's 10 Barrel. In the first half of 2015, it sold a bit less than 13,000 barrels in Oregon. In the first half of 2016, it sold 23,000--an 81% jump.

At the top end, where volumes are measured in millions of barrels, the competition is getting extremely tight. Breweries like Sierra Nevada and Boston Beer are competing against brands that have enormous advantages they can't match:
Using ABI's distribution network, its craft brands now dominate shelf space and tap handles across the nation. Not only that, but the beer is often priced lower than other similar but independently owned craft beers. That has led to accusations that ABI is intentionally undercutting competition: Goose Island kegs, which were once $110, can sometimes be found for $56, and six-packs dip well under 10 bucks, even in major cities. If price is all that matters to drinkers, there's simply no way a smaller, independent brewery can compete.
The "slowdown" in "craft" is a fiction. What's happening is that the top end of the market has gotten competitive, and big companies can afford a price war to build volume. Mid-sized independents can't compete at those prices, and are losing a few customers to cheaper brands like Goose. Some enterprising data journalist will at some point create a database that includes all the brands that fall into the craft category and look at the aggregate growth. I'd bet my bottom dollar it shows that the growth curve is still well above 10%.
*The OLCC's figures have grown increasingly suspect, but are probably at least accurate enough to assess the direction of trends.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Cheers to the Hard-Working Brewers on Labor Day

Post Updated. Brewers add their comments below.

I often comment that there's a lot of money in beer, and there is ... for some owners. The folks who actually work in the breweries--not so much. Brewing is having its moment as a high-status job, but the work itself is blue-collar, lift-and-sweat labor. Even at small breweries, where new-recipe creation happens each week (the glamorous part), for the people who must put water to malt and make those beers, the days are long and hard. What can brewers expect to make?

According to PayScale and the American Brewers Guild, this is what you're looking at:
  • Assistant brewer. The range runs about $30-$40,000 for most breweries. If you happen to score a job brewing at a big company that makes more that 60,000 barrels, it might go as high as $60,000. Brewpub salaries might be even lower. Only half of workers have medical benefits (48%).
  • Head brewer. The range runs from $35,000-47,000, and again only about half (52%) of head brewers get medical benefits.
  • Brewmaster. Unsurprisingly, this is the most well-compensated, with a range from around $40,000 to around $76,000. Big breweries may pay much more ($100,000+, but these are very rare, highly-placed positions). Amazingly, only two-thirds of brewmasters receive medical benefits.
These are not terrible salaries, but neither are they going to line a person's garage with Teslas. It's increasingly common for breweries to expect brewers to have specialized degrees to get these jobs, which make the salaries even less competitive. (People in the marketing department make as much or more; the accountant makes substantially more.)

All of which is to say that, on this Labor Day raise your pint to the hard-working men and women who deliver you those delicious pints and bottles of beer. They're working very hard, not getting rich, and they're doing an absolutely bang-up job.


Update. On the Beervana Facebook page, brewers have been weighing in with their comments and experiences, and two particularly caught my eye. First up, from Ben Edmunds at Breakside:
Labor issues are the Achilles heel of the craft beer movement. We need to become an industry that provides our brewers with career-satisfying wages, or craft beer businesses won't be sustainable. Right now, it's not the case and the results are clear. Aging brewers (45+) have 5 options: get lucky and land a top dog/brewmaster job, open their own place, work somewhere "big," move to the supply or sales side of the industry, or get out altogether. Or option 6, be poor.
Next, The Commons' Sean Burke:
Ben, I have been thinking of this exact subject quite a bit lately and you have really hit the nail on the head. At what point does the passion lose out to just being fairly compensated for the amount of hard work put in? I say this quite literately as I sit with a heating pad on my back because I refuse to not be apart of "the process" therefore not willing/wanting to sit at a desk all day long, everyday, but I know this won't last forever. The sad thing is that I am relatively new to the industry. Though I have worked doing physical labor most of my life...hence the back pain. I know so many brewers and industry related folks that have left what I would consider decent jobs for this industry and I struggle to see the sustainability of low to medium wages combined with hard work and what that means for the future of the individuals who are helping to drive this continuously changing industry.
These are serious issues. Historically, workers in the physical trades have unionized, and brewers for big companies like Miller and Anheuser-Busch have enjoyed good salaries and benefits. Craft brewing has lagged on this front, often because small breweries survive on shoestring budgets. As breweries get bigger and bigger, though, thinking small does not advantage brewery workers. Although I know it would be unpopular, I'd love to see brewery workers begin to unionize in at least the larger craft breweries. 

In any case, an important topic to keep our eyes on.

Friday, September 02, 2016

All the Fresh Hop News That's Fit to Print

It is that time of year again, when the hops of the valley are plucked at the peak of ripeness and thrown into kettles and conditioning tanks all over the Northwest. Like blooming flowers, however, these beers appear in their glory for only days at a time. You need to drink 'em when they go on tap, or miss them forever. In past years, I've tried to keep track of which breweries were making fresh hop beers, and with which hops. But since I'm terrible with details, it was always half-assed at best.

Fortunately, Ryan Sharp has stepped into the breach and now keeps an updated Google document to track these things. Even better, he's created a form for breweries to use to add their info to the document. Those links:
There are a number of fresh hop events to take note of as the month unfolds, as well:
  • The annual Lucky Lab hop-plucking event happens next Tuesday (Sept 6) at the back patio of the Hawthorne location. If you have hop bines you don't know what to do with, drop them off at the Lab in the afternoon. Then, sometime that afternoon (in classic form, the press release did not have a time), stop by and pluck those hops. You'll be offered free beer and wings, and the fruit of your labor will go into the Lab's annual fresh hop beer, "The Mutt."
  • From Sept 20-24, there will be an ongoing pop-up fresh hops fest in the parking lot of Burnside Brewing. Each day features a different brewery.
  • The Hood River Hops Fest will happen Saturday, September 24 in downtown Hood River. It's one of the best events of the year.
  • The annual Portland Fresh Hop Fest will happen a week later (Sept 30 - Oct 1) at Oaks Bottom Amusement Park. There are other fests around the state--follow the link for more info.
And of course, pubs and breweries are about to be inundated with fresh hop beers for the next month or so. So get your palate running--the best season of the year is just around the corner.