Blogs will save us.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

On the Fringe

This past Monday, I celebrated Memorial Day the way most Americans do--at a backyard barbecue. (Yes, I am aware that this misses the point.) I took along some of the new Hefe Shandy the Widmer Brothers recently sent me, expecting not to like it much. By chance, someone else brought along a Bud Light Apple-Ahh-Rita, the latest in the line of abominations AB is passing off as refreshment.

Although many beer geeks are blissfully unaware of it, there is a product segment in the beer world that is aimed at people who don't like beer. It's been a robust source of revenue for decades, but a dicey one. Each new product has a limited life span, and after a few years, they vanish without a trace, making way for the newest latest. (My theory is that these products are aimed at new, mostly young drinkers who are transitioning from soda. The products therefore become fixtures of drinking juvenilia, and after a few years, when the drinker has developed a palate for something more mature, the old alco-pop is regarded with embarrassment, like a favorite boy band from childhood.)

In any case, the Apple-Ahh-Rita and Hefe Shandy offer an interesting dichotomy. The former, part of the "-rita" line of abominations, is undrinkable. Imagine an off-brand Jolly Rancher melted down and cut with Everclear and you're near the mark. It's a boozy 8%, presumably to reduce the amount you have to choke down before the harsh, grain-alcohol buzz kicks in. It's a scam product that will die its inevitable death as soon as people realize, en mass, just how bad and absurd it is.

The Widmer Brothers' product, by contrast, is aimed at people who like beer. It wasn't made for me, but neither was it made for 19-year-old undergrads. Although the nose is hugely (and not entirely naturally) lemony, the palate is dominated by a light wheatiness. The lemon is an accent, more zest than juice, and is surprisingly dry. It's about half the alcohol (4.2%) of the Rita, and designed for backyard barbecues. Widmer Brothers could have as easily called it Lemon Hefe.

The beer market is developing very quickly. Where once there were just three categories--mass market lagers, craft, and alco-pop--now there is a large and growing segment between craft and mass market lager. There are a lot of people who like the flavor of beer, don't hate Budweiser, but don't love imperial sours and barrel-aged stouts. Blue Moon and Shock Top have been exploiting (and enlarging) that segment for years, and now craft brewers are poking their toe in these waters. Hefe Shandy will be an interesting test case; if they can make inroads into that segment, it will further accelerate the change in beer categories.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Odds and Ends

I've been trying to think of a hook for this story, but I got nothin'.
But one [distillery] has found a work-around. It's come up with a chemical process that ages bourbon not in years — but in hours. The innovation is unsettling an industry that is long-soaked in history and tradition....

Terressentia's website says its process uses ultrasonic energy and oxygenation, which "finishes chemical reactions that failed to complete in the distillation stage," and results in a "smoother mouth feel."
Interesting, though.

Next, I'd like to direct you to the latest All About Beer blog post, in which thinking about the validity of regional IPA subtypes (West Coast, East Coast, etc.) leads me to consider regionalism:
So, if we think there’s a style effect going on, it’s more likely a brewery effect. They don’t drink a lot of Dortmund export in Cleveland because of some exotic local preference (I’d find it mighty surprising to see the Dortmunder style pop up anywhere else)—but because the favorite local brewery, Great Lakes Brewing Co., makes a great version of that beer. Here in Portland, one of the U.S. cities most famous for hops, our best-selling craft beer is a wheat ale. But that’s not because Portland is a wheat ale town (they’re pretty rare), but because Widmer’s flagship is Hefeweizen, and Widmer’s our hometown brewery.
And finally, a personal note: the Beer Bible apparently went to the printer today. They're doing two versions, hard- and soft-cover, though the former is mainly just for the library market. (Just 1,500 copies, but you can pre-order one--no doubt for a Limited! Time! Only! from Amazon.) On the inner flaps of the dust cover, the publisher has written really nice copy. To celebrate the imminent tangible manifestation of the book, I'd like to share it with you. (An indulgence, and I appreciate it.)
Never in the long history of drinking have beer lovers had it so good, with a brewing renaissance happening around the globe. And never before have beer lovers who also have a thirst for knowledge had it so good—The Beer Bible is a lively, comprehensive, authoritative, and purely fun-toread guide to beer in all its glory.

The Beer Bible celebrates the pleasure of discovery, for readers new to beer, and the pleasure of connoisseurship, for old hands ever eager for more information. It’s a book built on the premise that the best way to learn about beer isn’t by trying every one out there, but instead pouring your favorite and studying it. That’s what opens the doorway to history, culture, and craft, the influences that make each style of beer unique.

Like bitter, for example. Its origins in the twin discoveries of hops as a spicing agent and modern kilning, which allowed for straw-colored malts. How it took several more centuries to displace the great porter epoch. The influence of mineral-rich Burton water. The Zen simplicity of how bitter is brewed. The quality called “moreish”—a distinctly British adjective extolling the virtue of being pleasant over the course of a full evening at the pub. And the fact that it really needs to be drunk straight from the tap or cask.

To top it off, Jeff Alworth’s ever-engaging style: “British bitters are characterized by a definite hop presence, but they have no violence in them. The hops ride atop a gentle biscuit sweetness and add marmalade and spice.” And so it goes for bocks and lambics, schwarzbiers and Vienna lagers, saisons and Pilsners, weisses, weizens, and witbiers.

Welcome to beer heaven.
(That last sentence even seems to be a subtle tip of the hat to this blog.)

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Beta Podcast

Well, here's something new. Patrick Emerson--OSU econ prof, erstwhile beeronomist, drinking crony--and I have started a podcast. It was his inspiration, and against all odds, we actually sat down and figured out how to make one of these things and got around to recording one. We're hoping to keep them to a half hour, but the first one ran 36 minutes. (Not bad.) If you have 36 minutes to spare, I'd love to have you listen to it and offer some feedback. The notion is that we'll tackle one issue per pod, look at it from the beery side (me) and the econ side (Patrick). We'll probably taste beers, and we hope to have some kind of questions/feedback section. This is fairly close to what we drew up. Have a listen:

A few notes and questions:
  • The music comes from Barcelona's Freak Fandango Orchestra. Yes, they're awesome; yes, they allow you to use their music for free.
  • We sort of punted on the name, and I'm not super psyched about it. The "Beervana podcast" ain't entirely original, and I'm not sure it's particularly descriptive. For one, we'll be surveying the world of beers, not just Oregon, and for two, it has the economics element in it. Any ideas would be most appreciated. I'll send a bottle of something tasty to anyone who cracks this nut.
  • Yes, we're amateurs. This is part of the allure, but yes, we do hope to improve.
  • We intended to answer some of the questions people asked on Facebook but, in the one major blunder of the podcast, forgot.
  • Tell us what you thought, what worked, what didn't, and anything else that springs to mind. Many thanks--
Now back to your regularly-scheduled slow blogging.

Friday, May 15, 2015

SABMiller Taking a Page out of AB InBev's Playbook in London

This caught me by surprise:
LONDON: SABMiller is buying Britain's Meantime Brewing Company, swallowing up one of the pioneers of the country's craft brewing movement to give the owner of big brands such as Peroni and Grolsh exposure to a fast-growing part of the drinks market.  
Meantime was a plumb target because...
Sales volumes of Meantime's beers including London Pale Ale and London Lager soared 58 percent in 2014, compared with a 1 percent rise in Britain's beer market as a whole. The more richly flavoured craft beer also sells at a premium to standard lager, another draw for SABMiller.

Read more at:
Sales volumes of Meantime's beers including London Pale Ale and London Lager soared 58 percent in 2014, compared with a 1 percent rise in Britain's beer market as a whole. The more richly flavoured craft beer also sells at a premium to standard lager, another draw for SABMiller.

Sales volumes of Meantime's beers including London Pale Ale and London Lager soared 58 percent in 2014, compared with a 1 percent rise in Britain's beer market as a whole. The more richly flavoured craft beer also sells at a premium to standard lager, another draw for SABMiller.  
I don't have a ton to add here. I toured Meantime when I was researching the Beer Bible, and enjoyed speaking with founder/brewer Alastair Hook. (I wrote about his interesting thoughts here.) I even happened to see him at the Craft Brewers Conference--no doubt he was smiling to himself knowing what was in the works. At this point, there's not a lot to say--we've been down this road often enough that we've already said it all. (Though if you're dying for analysis, Pete Brown has some.)

Hook plans to stay at Meantime, which should assuage fears any fans have, at least over the short term. It's a sign of times.

Alastair Hook

Monday, May 11, 2015

Slow Blogging Ahead

Just an acknowledgement of something you may already have noticed: I'm not doing a lot of high-quality blogging these days. That's likely to continue, as I am currently pretty buried, and the ten-day forecast is calling for more buried. I'll keep up with the weekly post on All About Beer, but you may see only scattered randomness here.


Thursday, May 07, 2015

Good Reads

All About Beer lives up to its name today, with three articles you'll want to check out. The first comes from Oxford-based writer Tim Hampson and concerns the latest developments in English hops.
“The British climate is maritime with even fairly even rainfall throughout the year. The majority of other hop-growing regions in the world are much hotter in the summer and much colder in the winter, and all require irrigation. It is the terroir created by our unique climate that produces hops with lower levels of myrcene than in the same hops grown elsewhere in the world. Lower levels of myrcene deliver a more delicate aroma and leave room for more of the other hop oils, which provides the complexity of flavor."
Next we have a Cinco de Mayo post from Jeff Cioletti on mezcal. It's tequila's more rustic cousin, and it is by far more interesting and tasty (in this drinker's humble opinion). It's the smoky Islay malt to tequila's Highland.
Before the agave is fermented and ultimately distilled, artisans bake the heart of the plant in underground charcoal-heated ovens, imparting the not-so-subtle smokiness. Tequila distillers, on the other hand, steam their agave, which has no such effect on its taste.
Finally, the last bit is a piece I wrote about the wild, wonderful cocktails of centuries past, now documented and reproduced by local Portland mixologist Jacob Grier. You ain't drunk cocktails 'til you drunk a mulled, curdled-milk cocktail made with eggs.
I think it’s human nature to believe that the olden times were boring and monochromatic. The people were more innocent, their interests less racy, their choices few and limited by what would grow on the back forty. That may be true of most things, but not beer. Beam back 300 years, and you’d find an orgy of exotica inhabiting the average pint glass. One of my favorite descriptions, from a 17th-century source, suggests starting with wheat and oats and “one bushel of beans.” It continues: “once fermentation begins thirteen flavorings are added, including three pounds of the inner rind of a fir tree…” Another source, from the 1500s, mentioned laurel, ivy, henbane (a poison) and chimney soot. Tasty! 
Perhaps some reading you can do over your lunch hour.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Lessons From Oregon's Mature Market

Josh Lehner of the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, has an interesting teaser for a larger report that will be coming out next week in June. Because Oregon is such a mature market, the trends he sees might soon visit states elsewhere. To wit:

[T]he vast majority of the growth in local sales is driven by new breweries and their products. While the state’s legacy breweries have seen increased sales, much of their growth in recent years is outside of Oregon (either in other states or internationally.) 
It comes with these handy graphs:

I wondered aloud on Twitter whether this trend was an artifact mainly of Ninkasi's rapid growth. The answer--a little, but not much. "Overall, from '05-'14 if pull @NinkasiBrewing out, Oregon growth of 102% instead of 118% actual." Most of the growth comes from production breweries, but as distributor Jim Fick noted on Facebook, that trend will be affected by saturation at certain outlets in the future: "Grocery stores and on-premise are close to being saturated - but convenience stores are the next growth opportunity as craft sales are under-weighted there. It's already started somewhat but look for a large expansion of craft beers in convenience stores in the next 1-3 years."

So, even in Oregon, the most mature market in the US, growth has been robust and has the potential to keep growing for awhile. If you live in a state where craft beer has less than 10% of the market, you shouldn't be worrying about a bubble anytime soon.

Friday, May 01, 2015

New Book Project: Brewing the World's Classic Styles

I've been a little slow to mention my latest book project, but now that it's well under way, it's time to come clean. The idea was an outgrowth of my research for The Beer Bible; in traveling around to Britain, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, and elsewhere, I became far more attuned to the national brewing traditions in those countries. I would periodically post blogs or discuss my travels, and the people who were most interested were invariably homebrewers. People were fascinated about, say, the way in which nearly every Belgian ale spends time in secondary fermentation in a warm room, or how open fermenters are pivotal in developing flavors distinctive in weissbier, and were keen to learn more. So a flicker of an idea sparked in the back of my brain: what if those same brewers I spoke to offered basic advice on their techniques for the homebrewer.

Which brings us to (working title) Brewing the World's Classic Styles; Advice From the Professionals (Storey). I've been partnering with some of my favorite breweries from around the world to discuss the way they brew classic beers. Brewers like:
  • John Boyle at Mighty Oak (mild)
  • Hans-Peter Drexler at Schneider (weissbier)
  • John Keeling at Fuller's (strong bitter)
  • Phil Leinhart at Ommegang (witbier)
  • Peter Mosley at Porterhouse (Irish stout)
  • Matthias Richter at Bayerischer Bahnhof (gose)
  • Daniel Thiriez at Thiriez (rustic French ales)
Those are breweries for which I have completed chapters. Others that have agreed to participate include Pilsner Urquell, Samuel Smith's, Duvel, Kerkom, St. Feuillien, Birrificio Italiano, and Van Eecke. Many more are on the way.

Each chapter will contain an overview of the style and brewing tradition. It will include basic instructions for ingredients and formulation of a typical recipe (not necessarily the brewery's own), with "next steps" for how to riff on the theme, and "deep cuts" for the truly avid homebrewer (parti-gyle brewing, making your own invert sugar, home casking, open fermentation, kettle souring, and so on).  In many chapters I've got advice from other brewers that make these kinds of beers as well, so the overall effect--I hope--will be like having a resource library of the techniques of the world's great brewers.

Beer ethnography in action at Samuel Smith's in Tadcaster.

I've already kicked off "Science Lab Fridays," wherein I test out some of these techniques so I can write sensibly about them. (You'll be very delighted to learn I'm not pretending to be a master homebrewer--I'm more like a beer ethnographer.) It's already been quite a blast, and I've learned a ton. I hope that when it's done, you will, too.

No doubt I'll reference this over the coming months. It's due December 1, and I've got a book tour starting sometime in August, so I'll be cranking away especially through the next quarter-year.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

One More Post on Sexism

I recognize I've been on a bit of a tear about this lately, but this is the last one. You can find it over at All About Beer:
Tuesday was one of those days of convergence when the universe seemed to be telling us something. In Baltimore, anger bubbled over from protest to riot following the death of yet another black man at the hands of police. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court listened to a case that could potentially legalize gay marriage across the U.S. For those of us who take solace in frivolities like beer, there was no relief: Anheuser-Busch (AB) dominated the news with an incredibly boneheaded new slogan slapped on Bud Light bottles (AB released bottles with this tagline, not realizing the inadvertent pro-rape sentiment it endorsed, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night”).

All of these incidents have something in common—they represent the friction that inevitably happens during social change.  
(It's also interesting to see the differing reactions on social media. For whatever reason, on Twitter it seems uncontroversial, while on Facebook, there are some fairly dark comments.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bud Bombs Again

Wow. Just wow.
On Tuesday, Bud Light was pushed to apologize for a tone-deaf (and avoidable!) tagline that appeared on a number of bottles as part of it’s “#UpForWhatever” campaign, which advertised the beer as “perfect” for “removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” The label was criticized for promoting rape culture after an image appeared on Reddit, prompting social media backlash.
The feminist site Jezebel gets my vote for best response:
Ideally, what I’d like out of this is several free 30-racks and a promise that they will hire at least one woman or even one non-idiot to help out at the Budweiser copy desk: how many people do you think this label had to go through without anyone side-eyeing it to the grave? 
The company has offered an anemic apology, which the internet fires received as gasoline:
“The Bud Light Up for Whatever campaign, now in its second year, has inspired millions of consumers to engage with our brand in a positive and light-hearted way. In this spirit, we created more than 140 different scroll messages intended to encourage brand engagement. It’s clear that this particular message missed the mark, and we regret it. We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior. As a result, we have immediately ceased production of this message on all bottles.”
What a disaster. But by cultivating a bro campaign in a social media culture, I suppose this was inevitable.