Monday, April 24, 2017

Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Weeks 13/14, 2017.

Clamps and Gaskets: weekly roundup
A bi-weekly, non-comprehensive roundup
of news of beer and other things.

Weeks 13/14
26 March - 8 April 2017

  • 8 April 2017
    Re-brand and prosper: The Brewers Association should dissolve itself and reconstitute as the United States Brewers Association for practical, logical, and historical reasons.
    —Via YFGF.

  • 7 April 2017
    By partisan vote, Neil Gorsuch confirmed to United States Supreme Court, capping a year-long fight by the Republican party to restore a conservative tilt to court —including a year-long refusal to even grant a hearing to President Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland— returning court to traditional nine-justice make-up.
    —Via Washington Post.

  • "Pretty good. Not bad at all!"
  • 7 April 2017
    No! Prohibition did NOT end on 7 April 1933. That's 'Fake News.' What did happen was that Congress, constitutionally, redefined the legal meaning of "intoxicating."
    —Via YFGF.

  • 6 April 2017
    Don Rickles, the insult comedian whose aggressive delivery belied his engaging smile, has died at age 90.
    Frank Sinatra had his own favourite Rickles story: the comic interrupted his dinner at the Sands in Las Vegas one night to say he wanted to impress his date, who didn’t believe he actually knew the singer. When he’d finished his meal, Sinatra went over to Rickles’s table. “Hi, Don, how the hell are you?” Rickles looked up. “Not now, Frank. Can’t you see we’re eating?”
    —Via The Guardian.

  • 5 April 2017
    'Own-premise' sales volume (i.e., at the brewery sales) in 2016 was 2.3 million barrels, or approximately 9.4% of the production volume of small and independent brewers (9.5% of domestic sales volume and about 1% of overall U.S. beer sales volume). Up 2% over 2015, that growth in 'own-premise' sales is coming more from the proliferation of production breweries that begin with onsite as a large portion of their business model rather than a strong shift within existing breweries toward onsite sales.
    —Via Bart Watson, chief economist for [U.S.] Brewers Association.

  • 7,714 operating brewery licenses in U.S. (April 2017)
  • 5 April 2017
    As of 30 March, there were 7,714 breweries with active TTB permits in U.S. (By comparison, there were 2,343 in 2010.)
    —Via Lester Jones, chief economist for National Beer Wholesalers Association, at YFGF.

  • 4 April 2017
    Another canary in the 'craft'-beer-mine? BridgePort Brewing Company, a 30+ year veteran of craft brewing, is cutting about half of its brewing staff "in order to keep pace with the rapidly evolving craft beer market in Oregon."
    —Via Portland Business Journal.

  • 3 April 2017
    Absurd Maryland bill HB 1283: jeopardizes Guinness' move to the state AND harms the state's existing craft brewing industry. As beer author Jeff Alworth tweeted:
    This is incredibly asinine. What on earth is Maryland thinking? These laws wouldn't have been defensible in 1985; now they're madness.
    —Via Baltimore Sun.

  • 31 March 2017
    William T. Coleman Jr. —who championed the cause of civil rights, was a key member of the legal team that litigated Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark desegregation case in which the Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for African American and white students to be unconstitutional, served as only second African-American Cabinet Secretary (United States Secretary of Transportation under Gerald Ford)— has died at age 96.
    —Via NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

  • 30 March 2017
    From the moment a brewery is taken over, its beers may cease to exist – or be replaced by inferior substitutes – at any time, and there’s nothing anyone outside the new owner company can do about it. The new owner hasn’t bought beers, it’s bought brands and their market share. If the new owner is genuinely committed to making decent beer, the beer backing up those brands may continue to be good, but even that can’t be guaranteed – and, of course, the new owner can’t actually be held to account by anyone else. Even when the new owner continues to make a particular beer the old way, nobody can tell whether they’re going to start cutting corners or simply stop making it – let alone stop them doing so.
    —Via Phil Edwards, at Oh, Good Ale.

  • 29 March 2017
    British Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50, marking the formal start of the United kingdom's exit from the European Union (EU), its so-called "Brexit."
    —Via National Public Radio.

  • 29 March 2017
    Master cellarman Mark Dorber defines cellarmanship:
    To promote the most beauty in each cask of beer by developing the most interesting range of sound aromas and flavours; by nurturing wherever possible high levels of natural carbonation consistent with each beer style and, moreover, by serving each beer in a manner and at a temperature that enhances its aroma and flavour profile and creates an appropriate mouthfeel.
    —Via YFGF.

  • 28 March 2017
    A craft punk after all, large Scottish 'craft' brewery BrewDog threatened legal action against a London bar planning to call itself "Draft Punk," and this, only a day after the brewery blamed “trigger-happy” lawyers for a similar dispute over a Birmingham pub's name, "Lone Wolf," that sparked a social media backlash.
    —Via The Guardian.

  • 28 March 2017
    President Trump issues executive order which:
    • Rescinds Clean Power Plan (which had required power utilities reduce CO2 emissions 32% by 2030)
    • Lifting moratorium on federal coal leasing
    • Rescinds several restrictions on hydraulic fracking
    • Removes requirement for federal agencies to consider climate-change during decision-making.
    —Via Washington Post.

  • Craft Beer in 2016 (Brewers Association)

  • 28 March 2017
    The era of 18% growth rates is probably over.

    The [U.S.] Brewers Association releases its 2016 data showing craft breweries produced 24.6 million barrels in 2016, saw a 6 percent rise in volume over 2015, and realized a 10 percent increase in retail dollar value (estimated at $23.5 billion, representing 21.9 percent market share). By adding 1.4 million barrels, craft brewer growth outpaced the 1.2 million barrels lost from the craft segment, based on purchases by large brewing companies. Microbreweries and brewpubs delivered 90 percent of the craft brewery growth.
    —Via [U.S.] Brewers Association, at YFGF.

  • 28 March 2017
    Republican-controlled U.S. Congress passes joint resolution stripping the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the primary authority for communications law, of its power to protect consumer's online privacy protection.  The new law enables Internet providers to sell online history and data without consent.
    —Via The Nation.

  • 26 March 2017
    Millenials have "promiscuous drinking tastes."
    Legacy craft breweries are struggling for several reasons, among them, an inability to reach choice-craving millennial consumers whose drinking tastes are more promiscuous than previous generations. And the ubiquitous nature of brands such as Boston Beer Co. and Sierra Nevada won’t make it easy. “The fact that they’re national brands gives them cache that’s offensive to the millennial,” said Mike Mazzoni [a beer industry veteran who has studied the 'lifecycle of brands']. “They want something that’s local. That’s one of the reasons that they’ve fallen off.”
    —Via Brewbound.

  • 26 March 2017
    Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, have died, killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off.
    —Via New York Times.

  • 26 March 2017
    U.S. hop growers, dealers, and brewers had 140 million pounds of hop on hand as of 1 March 2017, as compared to 128 million at the same time in 2016, for an increase of 9 percent, according to a report by USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. (Compare to March 2015, when hop stocks were down 2 percent from March 2014. In September 2016, pre-harvest stocks were up 2 percent from the year before and the September before they were down 8 percent.)
    —Via Capital Press, at YFGF.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pic(k) of the Week: Brewers queue for Welcome Reception.

Brewers queue for Welcome Reception (02)
On 10 April 2017, a long line of brewers (a very long line, snaking a couple of city blocks) waited for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to open its doors for the 2017 Craft Brewers Conference Welcome Reception.

The conference ran 10-13 April in Washington, D.C. It was only the second time the conference had been in that city.
The Brewers Association (BA)—the not-for-profit trade group representing America’s small and independent craft brewers—has concluded the 34th edition of the Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America (CBC) in Washington, D.C.

As the largest industry gathering, CBC brought together some 13,300 brewing professionals and more than 900 exhibitors for discussion and dialogue around America’s craft brewing business and culture. CBC was last in the nation’s capital in 2013, with 6,400 attendees and 440 exhibiting companies.

There were so many attendees that the Brewers Association simultaneously staged a second reception at the National Museum of American History, a couple of blocks to the west, although less well-attended.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

The skinny on the 2017 Craft Brewers Conference

Welcome to the 2017 Craft Brewers Conference

The 2017 Craft Brewers Conference only just concluded on Thursday. And I've only begun to look through photos, transcribe recordings, write up my thoughts, and recount stories. It's time to get to work, in other words, but that'll be tomorrow. Today, there's a ballgame to listen to and yard work to do.

The [U.S.] Brewers Association —the host and organizer— is, however, behaving in a more professional manner than I. It already has released a post-mortem, possibly one of several to come. Here is its official press release.

Craft Beer in the Capital

13,300 Brewing Professionals, Exhibitors Convene in Washington, D.C. for the 2017 Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America®

Boulder, CO • April 13, 2017—The Brewers Association (BA)—the not-for-profit trade group representing America’s small and independent craft brewers—has concluded the 34th edition of the Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America (CBC) in Washington, D.C.

As the largest industry gathering, CBC brought together some 13,300 brewing professionals and more than 900 exhibitors for discussion and dialogue around America’s craft brewing business and culture. CBC was last in the nation’s capital in 2013, with 6,400 attendees and 440 exhibiting companies.

Highlights from the 2017 conference include:
  • 2017 Achievement Awards
    Three members of the brewing community were recognized and awarded for their dedication and service.
    • Brewers Association Recognition Award:
      Vinnie & Natalie Cilurzo, Co-Owners, Russian River Brewing Company

    • Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Brewing:
      Will Meyers, Brewmaster, Cambridge Brewing Company

    • F.X. Matt Defense of the Industry Award:
      Matthew McLaughlin, Executive Director, Mississippi Brewers Guild

  • Other notable takeaways from this year’s CBC include:
    • Keynotes:
      Leadership expert Alison Levine drew parallels from her experience climbing the highest peak on every continent to discuss how craft brewers can compete in a challenging and changing environment. Revered brewer Dick Cantwell provided his industry colleagues with his insights from his long career in the craft brewing community, offering a message of unity among small and independent brewers and reinforcing the importance of producing and maintaining high-quality beer.

    • Diversity Committee:
      The BA announced the formation of a Diversity Committee, with a goal of bringing a more diverse group of brewers and beer lovers into the craft brewing community. Helmed by BA Board member Scott Metzger (Free Tail Brewing Company), the committee is made up of a cross section of industry members of varied backgrounds and regions.

    • Marketing and Advertising Code:
      The BA updated its Marketing and Advertising Code to help brewers maintain high standards and act as responsible corporate citizens. New language has been included to address that beer advertising and marketing materials should not use sexually explicit, lewd, or demeaning brand names, language, text, graphics, photos, video, or other images that reasonable adult consumers would find inappropriate for consumer products offered to the public. Any name that does not meet the Marketing and Advertising Code that wins a BA produced competition including the Great American Beer Festival® (GABF) or World Beer CupSM will not be read on stage or promoted in BA materials, and will not be permitted to use the GABF or World Beer Cup intellectual properties in their marketing.

      Additionally, the BA has convened an Advertising Complaint Review Board should an issue arise that warrants further review and action.

    • CBC Symposium Beer:
      Each year the BA works closely with the local state guild to create the CBC Symposium Beer. Washington, D.C., presented an exciting opportunity to collaborate with the D.C., Virginia and Maryland guilds and involve area craft breweries. CBC attendees received a can of Family Tree, a Belgian pale ale whose recipe highlights the comradery among five D.C.-area brewers—Manor Hill Brewing, Vanish Farmwoods Brewery, Waredaca Brewing Company, and DC Brau Brewing Company—who got their start at Flying Dog Brewery.

    • Government Affairs:
      More than 230 brewers, brewery owners, and state guild representatives participated in the CBC Hill Climb, talking with Congressional staff about legislation important to the brewing community including the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act. Introduced at the beginning of the 115th Congress, this legislation would lower the federal excise tax paid by craft brewers. Brewers explained that a recalibration of the tax rate would allow them to reinvest in their companies, creating the opportunity for more local manufacturing jobs.

Not one to dawdle, the BA has already begun promoting the 2018 CBC, which it has scheduled for 30 April through 3 May of next year, concurrent with the World Beer Cup, in Nashville, Tennessee. That'll be a hootenanny.


Pic(k) of the Week: Easter egg in tree.

In A.D. 325, the Council of Nicaea set the date of Easter as the Sunday following the paschal full moon, which is the full moon that falls on or after the vernal (spring) equinox. In practice, that means that Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon that falls on or after March 21. Thus, Easter can occur as early as 22 March 22 and as late as 25 April, depending on when the paschal full moon falls.

We know that Easter must always occur on a Sunday, because Sunday was the day of Christ's Resurrection. But why the paschal full moon? Because that was the date of Passover in the Jewish calendar, and the Last Supper (Holy Thursday) occurred on the Passover. Therefore, Easter was the Sunday after Passover.

The Church does not use the exact date of the paschal full moon but an approximation, because the paschal full moon can fall on different days in different time zones, which would mean that the date of Easter would be different depending on which time zone you live in.

For calculation purposes, the full moon is always set at the 14th day of the lunar month (the lunar month begins with the new moon). Likewise, the Church sets the date of the vernal equinox at March 21, even though it can occur on March 20. Both approximations allow the Church to set a universal date for Easter.

Still, Easter isn't celebrated universally on that date—at least not on the calendar we all use in everyday life. While Western Christians use the Gregorian calendar (the calendar that's used throughout the West today, in both the secular and religious worlds) to calculate the date of Easter, the Eastern Orthodox continue to use the older, astronomically inaccurate Julian calendar.

Currently, March 21 on the Julian calendar falls on April 3 in the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, for the Orthodox, the Sunday following the 14th day of the paschal full moon has to fall after April 3, hence the discrepancy in the date of Easter. Note that the Orthodox use the exact same formula for determining the date of Easter; the entire difference comes from their use of the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian one.

Easter egg in tree

Spring arrived nearly four weeks ago, on 20 March. The first full moon of the spring season, the Paschal Moon, occurred just this past Tuesday, 11 April.

Thus, in the year 2017, Christians will be celebrating Easter on 16 April —precisely the first Sunday after the Paschal Moon. ...Tomorrow.


Saturday, April 08, 2017

Re-brand and prosper: The (United States) Brewers Association.

In 2007, the [U.S.] Brewers Association (BA) revoked the 'craft' brewery identification of Widmer Brothers. Widmer, the association decreed could no longer be pals with other 'craft' breweries, its birthright denied —despite it being one of 'craft' beer's pioneers, founded in 1984. Its crime? Anheuser-Busch had purchased thirty-two percent of Widmer's new tripartite partnership, the Craft Brew Alliance.

Fast forward ten years later. In March 2017, the BA released its list of the top 50 brewing companies in the U.S, ranked according to sales volumes. Look closely at this list. Forty of the fifty are 'craft' breweries, as defined by the BA.

Top 50 U.S. Brewing Companies, by sales (2016)

Notice all those special notes, labeled "a" through "w"? (I've listed them, and their multi-brewery exceptions, after the jump. Concurrently the BA compiled a list of the top 50 'craft' breweries —as it defines them— in the U.S. See that below the jump as well.)

In recent years, the BA has been removing additional breweries, once considered fellow 'craft' brewery members, fast and furious from the membership roll. Beer writer Jay Brooks succinctly found the absurdity in that:
Breweries in bold are considered to be “small and independent craft brewers” under the the BA’s current definition. That there are so many footnotes (23 in total, or almost half of the list) explaining exceptions or reasons for the specific entry, seems illustrative of a growing problem with the definition of what is a craft brewery. I certainly understand the need for a trade group to have a clearly defined set of criteria for membership, but I think the current one is getting increasingly outdated again, and it’s only been a few years since it was hotly debated by the BA. But it may be time to revisit that again.

Before revisiting, first this:

An American history of brewing cooperation

In 1862, to fund their prosecution of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Congress adopted a one-dollar per barrel excise tax on beer. The following year, brewers of the Union (principally the lager brewers) joined forces to successfully lobby for a reduction: the levy was reduced to sixty cents. Although Congress would reinstate the higher tax, the group saw value in common cause and formalized its existence as the United States Brewers Association. The organization would grow in size as the industry grew, only interrupted by Prohibition.

In 1942, small American breweries —"pinned down by [WWII] rationing and ambitious national shippers [large breweries] on one side and a fusillade of federal regulations on the other"— felt slighted by the USBA and created a lobbying group for their own interests. They called it the Small Brewers Committee, soon thereafter changing the name to the Brewers Association of America. In 1976, the USBA and BAA jointly secured a tax differential on the first 60,000 barrels produced by 'small' breweries,' those producing fewer than two million barrels per year, maybe the high point of their political influence. That tax break still exists today.

By 1983, the BAA was fast losing its members to closures and buy-outs (and itself to despair). An aspiring brewer named Mark Stutrud wrote the organization asking for advice. It responded:
My dear Mr. Stutrud: Thank you for your letter, and I note that you are working on a feasibility study on establishing a Micro-Brewery in the Twin Cities area. Please know that I am not encouraging you to do so, because it is a long and hard road that you planning to go down.
(Stutrud would ignore the 'advice.' He opened his brewery, Summit Brewing, in 1986, in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is still in operation, now the 27th-largest 'craft' brewery in the United States, producing 129,000 barrels of beer.)

Seeking a more potent advocate for nascent very small "microbreweries", Charlie Papazian founded the Association of Brewers that year.

Three years later, in 1986, after 124 years of advocacy for American breweries, the USBA was disbanded. Attrition had shrunk it to a mere forty-four brewing company-members, losing it the support of the largest American-owned mega-breweries, which replaced it with a new organization given the anodyne name, the Beer Institute. Still operating today, the Beer Institute's putative mission is to represent all American breweries. In practice, however, it thrives as a lobbying representative of the large international brewing conglomerates —and associated businesses— operating in the United States. (It also serves a valuable historical purpose as a repository for American brewing records dating back to the Civil War.)

In 2005, the Association of Brewers merged with the Brewers Association of America —in reality, the former absorbing of the latter— forming the Brewers Association. The new organization kept the BAA's 1940s definition of 'small' brewery as one producing fewer than two million barrels per year (although adopting the term, 'craft' brewery.) In 2011, in danger of losing Boston Beer Company and its dues and clout (the brewery was approaching the limit), the Brewers Association moved the goalpost, expanding the definition of "small" and "craft" from two to six million barrels.

Craft Brewer Defined

As it is defined now...

Does 'craft' have meaning?

The Craft Brewers Conference is the annual confabulation of the minds and mugs of America's 'craft' brewers. Next week, it returns to Washington, D.C.

The first time it had convened there, in 2013, its founder, Charlie Papazian addressed the convocation without ONCE using the term 'craft' brewery. He pointedly and repeatedly used the phrase "small and independent" breweries, even avoiding mention of the association's third stipulation for a 'craft' brewery: "traditional."

The [U.S.] Brewers Association also takes no stand on what a 'craft' beer, per se, is or isn't. But prior to 2014, it did: forbidding the use of corn —a traditional American brewing ingredient— by any of its members in their flagship beers. In 2014, it altered that definition to graciously permit that starch.

Another stipulation goes to outside ownership. The BA draws a red line for its 'craft' members at twenty-five percent ownership by any brewery that it does not consider 'craft.' Why that amount? Why not more (pristine) or why not less (restrictive)? What is so magical about less than a quarter?

The BA remains silent when outside ownership belongs to a non-brewing entity. If, say, a hedge fund had invested in Widmer rather than Anheuser-Busch, Widmer would still be a member in good standing in the BA's 'craft' club. Why would it be less 'craft' to be owned by a brewery than to be owned by a venture capitalist, owing no allegiance to beer other than investment? A distinction seemingly without merit.

When the BA increased the brewing limit of membership two hundred percent from two to six million barrels per year, it de facto acknowledged the capriciousness of that limit. How did the marginal production of one barrel more than two-million justify the elimination of the 'craft' label? It didn't, and the BA recalibrated. Now, how does "one toke over the (six-million barrel) line" eliminate 'craft'? Again, it doesn't. In defense of the ineffable, the BA punishes the achievable.

And, so...

A Modest Proposal

In anticipation of the upcoming national brewers conference, I suggest this Modest Proposal.

The Brewers Association should dissolve itself
and reconstitute as the
United States Brewers Association.

Yes! The new United States Brewers Association (USBA) could be, as it once was, the advocate of all American breweries: the very large, the regional, the small, the very small, production-only or brewpub, local or national. What the USBA would not be is the representative of foreign-owned breweries. To be a member, a brewery would have to be, at a minimum, fifty percent American-owned. That, like a majority vote, seems less arbitrary than the current twenty-five percent 'craft' limit. No convoluted pretzel-twisting definitions and no time-wasting semantics. No thanks, Anheuser-Busch InBev!*

All American breweries —from the family-owned three-million-plus barrel-per-year Yuengling Brewery to the nano-est 100-barrels-per-year nano-brewery— could find common ground to work together, barrel-by-barrel, toward their common interests. Whether corn —or cocoa-puffs or dingleberries— could constitute the grist of a 'craft' beer would be a moot question relegated to Reddit and blogs like this one.

Problems? Of course. The simmering conflict between large and small 'craft' would continue and the differing concerns of production breweries and brewpubs would continue, even as they do now. But after the change, those interests, common and separate, would be addressed as between American breweries. The smug moral superiority of a nebulous 'craft' imprimatur would be rent. Come back Widmer! Come back Founders; come back Lagunitas; come back all of you. Forgive us!

Back to the future:

The United States Brewers Association

A resurrected USBA could end the jumble of fungible barrelage requirements, ingredient self-righteousness, and convoluted arguments about what exactly a 'craft' brewery is or isn't. Any opinions between outside brewery ownership or venture capital ownership would be rendered a fifty percent stake or less, that is.

This is a solution that acknowledges reality. It avoids subjectivity. It pays homage to American brewing history. It does not penalize success. It increases the industry's economic and political clout. (And, gasp, it's patriotic.)

In 1978, there were 44 breweries in the United States. As of the end of March 2017, there were 7,714 operating brewery licenses. Thank you, [U.S.] Brewers Association.

Now, live long, United States Brewers Association, and prosper.