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.


Pic(k) of the Week: 2nd rosé of spring

2nd rosé of spring

A cornucopia cépage of Mendocino and Sonoma Coast fruit: Pinot Noir, Barbera, Grenache, Grenache Gris, Syrah.

Banshee Winery: its 2016 rosé.

How (did it taste):
Light touch of nectarines and raspberries. Dry finish with a nice smack of acidity.

Rosé: so much a sign of spring.

Front porch: Atlanta, Georgia.
The second rosé: The first glass, I had poured earlier in the evening. 24 March 2017.

Bloomin' Dogwood (03)


Wednesday, April 05, 2017

CBC Road Trip!

Projects underway but not yet completed:

Road trip!

CBC13 Keynote Ballroom


Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Where to find beer (and good beer) at Nats Park

Thanks to our friends at, when you catch a Washington Nationals baseball game, you'll also be able to find a good beer. They've just published this convenient 2017 beer map of Nationals Park, in Washington, D.C.

Nationals Park Beer Map 2017

  • District Drafts ('craft' beer from Washington, D.C., and Virignia):
    Sections 119, 129, 139, 223, 310 plus 3 more carts, TBD.
    • 3 Stars
    • Atlas
    • D.C. Brau
    • Mad Fox
    • Old Ox
    • Port City
    • Plus 2 rotating taps for other local beer. (For example: Fair Winds will be at the first homestand; Right Proper, at the second).
  • Vendors
    In addition to the normal flotsam and jetsam sold by beer vendors (Budweiser, via Anheuser-Busch, is the official team beer partner), tallboy cans of Maryland's Flying Dog Brewing's Snake Dog IPA may also be found here and there. Cans of Virginia's Port City Brewing Optimal Wit will come later in the season.

  • Everything else (mainstream beers, imports and Goose Island and Devils Backbone):
    • Base Line Brews:
      Center Field Plaza and Sections 104, 108, 115, 133, 136, 141, 221, 231, 303, 305, 314, 318.
    • Homestead Grays Pub:
      Section 217.
    • The Union Pub:
      Section 306.
    • Devils Backbone Brewing Company:
      Left Field Lodge.
    • Distillers of the DMV:
      Sections 112 and 135.
The Nationals moved to town in 2005, playing in old RFK Stadium. They moved into their new digs, Nationals Park, in 2008. It wasn't until 2013 —due to the efforts of Bill Butcher of Port City Brewing and Bill Madden of Mad Fox Brewing, among others— that good local beer, via the District Drafts carts, became a regular, easily accessed thing at the Park.

As they say, forty-five miles to the north, in the Baltimore Orioles' home field of Camden Yards, where local 'craft' beer has been served since 1993, one year after that magnificent park was opened ...
Ain't the beer cold, hon!


Monday, April 03, 2017

Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Weeks 11/12, 2017.

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

Weeks 11/12
12 March - 25 March 2017

  • 25 March 2017
    Twenty-seven European Union leaders renewed their vows at a special summit in Rome on Saturday, celebrating the bloc's 60th anniversary with a commitment to a common future, but without the United Kingdom, signing a new declaration on the Capitoline Hill, where, on 25 March 1957, the six founding states —Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and West Germany— had signed the Treaty of Rome.
    —Via Agence France-Presse.

  • 24 March 2017
    ‘Repeal and replace ObamaCare' itself is defeated. House Republican leaders abruptly pull their rewrite of the nation’s health-care law because of insufficient votes for passage.
    —Via Washington Post.

  • 23 March 2017
    Trump Winery in Virginia applying for work visas for non-American immigrants to work in its vineyards.
    —Via Associated Press (at Fox News.

  • Top 25 beers globally (by sales dollars)
  • 23 March 2017
    The world's top twenty-five most popular beer brands, as ranked by sales in dollars. The top three, in order, are Bud Light (with $6.6 billion in sales), Budweiser ($5.8 billion), and Heineken (%5.2 billion)
    —Via Brand Finance (at Craft Brewing Business).

  • 23 March 2017
    May is American Mild Month. Across the U.S., breweries will be brewing Mild Ales, and pubs, serving them. @MildMonthUS:
    —Via American Mild Month.

  • 22 March 2017
    British-born terrorist attack outside Westminster leaves 4 dead, including attacker and police officer.
    —Via CNN.

  • 22 March 2017
    Georgia legislature passes bill to allow state breweries to sell their own beer in their own taprooms. The law takes effect 1 September 2017. Among all states and the District of Columbia, only Mississippi still forbids the practice.
    —Via GPB News (NPR).

  • 22 March 2017
    “We’re trying to make America great again,” said manager Jim Leyland, as Team USA won its first World Baseball Classic title, defeating Puerto Rico, 8-0, in front of 51,565 at Dodger Stadium.
    —Via New York Times.

  • 18 March 2017
    Columnist Jimmy Breslin, "bard of the New York streets," writer at the New York Herald Tribune, Daily News, and Newsday, dies at 88.
    A Pulitzer Prize winner whose muscular, unadorned prose pummeled the venal, deflated the pompous, and gave voice to ordinary city-dwellers for decades.
    —Via Washington Post.

  • 18 March 2017
    Chuck Berry has died at 90.
    Chuck Berry, who with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance parties did as much as anyone to define rock ’n’ roll’s potential and attitude in its early years, died on Saturday at his home near Wentzville, Missouri.
    —Via New York Times.

  • 17 March 2017
    Nearly half of the two million farm-workers in the U.S. are 'illegal,' because Americans are reluctant to take jobs in the fields picking fruit and produce. But without these workers, America risks food rotting in fields and farmers on the margins going out of business.
    —Via Tamar Haspil (in the Washington Post.

  • Kopman & Sisson
  • 16 March 2017
    Dan Kopman —co-founder and past longtime CEO of Shlafly Beer/St. Louis Brewery— to join Heavy Seas Beer in Maryland as its CEO. Will report to Heavy Seas' managing partner and founder, Hugh Sisson.
    —Via YFGF (at Facebook).

  • 16 March 2017
    Mitch Stone —past Anheuser-Busch brewer, Stone Brewing brewmaster, and author of book IPA— announces name and plans of his future Atlanta, Georgia, brewery: New Realm Brewing. Combination production brewery, taproom, restaurant, beer garden, and rooftop patio to open overlooking Atlanta's Beltline park in 4th quarter of 2017.
    —Via BeerPulse.

  • 15 March 2017
    Hundreds of miles of the Great Barrier Reef —the world's largest coral reef system, located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia— its most pristine northern sector, are dead, killed by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s most visited areas of color and life. “We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” said Terry P. Hughes, director of a government-funded center for coral reef studies at James Cook University in Australia.
    —Via New York Times.

  • Top 50 U.S. 'Craft' Breweries, state-by-state (2016)
  • 15 March 2017
    The Brewers Association has announced the top fifty 'craft' breweries in the U.S. for 2016 and the top fifty overall brewing companies, both ranked according to sales volume.
    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 the contentious debate that resulted in the current BA one. But it may be time to revisit that again.
    —Commentary via Jay Brooks at Bookston Beer Bulletin.
    —Rankings via Brewers Association.

  • 13 March 2017
    The Oxford Supremacy. A court in Maine rules in favor of overtime pay for dairy truck drivers because of the ambiguity of a statute missing an Oxford (serial) comma.
    —Via Quartz.

  • 12 March 2017
    Canary in the 'craft' beer mine? Echo of the late 1990s? San Francisco brewery Speakeasy closes.
    Speakeasy fits a pattern we saw--well, just about the time it opened in the late 1990s. That was during the first craft beer "shakeout," which wasn't a shakeout at all, but a flattening of growth that stranded breweries that had overleveraged themselves based on expected steep growth. Any time a brewery expands, whether that's from a nano scale to a seven-barrel system, or the leap that Speakeasy took, there's risk. It's hard to lose when the market is growing at 15%; breweries can exploit whatever level of market they plan on entering. But carrying millions in debt when sales flatten out can end a brewery. In the late 1990s, that's exactly what happened. Breweries made the jump to large facilities capable of producing a quarter million barrels just at the moment they flat-lined at sixty thousand. This led ultimately to high-profile failures or buyouts. [...] If this is a second plateau, it may last for years. If so, Speakeasy is just the first of many failures to come.
    —Via Jeff Alworth at Beervana.

  • 12 March 2017
    Unlimited access to drink 300+ beers from 120+ breweries from all over the world costing:
    – $200, which included 4 bottles of Hunahpu’s® Imperial Stout
    – $300, which included 8 bottles of Hunahpu’s® Imperial Stout
    – $400, which included 12 bottles of Hunahpu’s® Imperial Stout
    Hunahpu’s Day® at Cigar City in Tampa, Florida. Too rich for my blood; too rich, I'd wager, for many Americans. Beer used to be the democratic (small 'd') drink (but a noble one) for the masses. Is 'craft'?
    —Via YFGF at Facebook.

  • 12 March 2017
    In 2014, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) rejected a bid by the Deutscher Brauer-Bund (German Brewers Association) to have the Reinheitsgebot recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as it would designate Belgian beer culture two years later in 2016. A German writer for the magazine Mixology writes that the bid should be taken from the German Brewers Association because it “puts the commercial interests of the large breweries it represents first, callously using the Reinheitsgebot myth as a seal of quality.” He recommends a new application focusing on Germany’s positive brewing heritage, rather than just the commercial interests of the modern industry.
    —Via Mixology.


Sunday, April 02, 2017

Bonus Pic(k) of the Week: Vin Scully in Brooklyn.

Vin Scully in Brooklyn
It's time for Dodger baseball! Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good afternoon to you, wherever you may be.

When Vin Scully retired last year, 2 October 2016, at age 88, he had broadcast Dodgers baseball games for 67 years, the longest span for any broadcaster with a single team in professional sports history.

Mr. Scully began broadcasting the Dodgers' games in 1950, when the team was still playing in Brooklyn, New York, New York. In this 1950s photo of Mr. Scully in his Ebbett's Field broadcast booth in Flatbush, Brooklyn, a bottle of Schaefer Beer sits next to a carton of Lucky Strike cigarettes). Sponsor product placement!

In 1958, the Dodgers decamped to Los Angeles, California, and Mr. Scully followed. Two years later, Ebbets Field was razed and replaced by apartment buildings.

With Mr. Scully retired, Opening Day will never again be so mellifluous. But it's baseball today, and we can all hope that maybe, just maybe —to paraphrase Mr. Scully's famous call of Kirk Gibsons' 1988 World Series home run— in a year that is improbable, the impossible may happen.

It's a bonus Pic(k) of the Week on this magnificent Sunday. Play ball!


Saturday, April 01, 2017

Pic(k) of the Week: Pint & torch

Pint & torch
At night, 
with a pint; 
Garden sight, 
By firelight. 

It was warm enough, in Atlanta Georgia, on the evening of 25 March 2017, to enjoy a beer with my good friend, Al Fresco.

Forgive me for the doggerel.


Friday, March 31, 2017

May is American Mild Month. Will Georgia brewers participate?

"You must have seen great changes since you were a young man," said Winston tentatively. The old man's pale blue eyes moved from the darts board to the bar, and from the bar to the door of the Gents ... "The beer was better," he said finally. "And cheaper! When I was a young man, MILD beer —wallop we used to call it — was four-pence a pint. That was before the war, of course." "Which war was that? said Winston. "It's all wars,' said the old man vaguely. He took up his glass, and his shoulders straightened again. "Ere's wishing you the very best of 'ealth!"
— George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.


An open letter to Georgia brewers

Dear Georgia 'craft' brewers:

As a recent Georgia immigrant (16 months and counting), I've enjoyed your beers: the sours, imperials, barrel-aged, and flavored.

Now, here's my challenge to you. In May, brew the opposite: brew...Mild Ale.


Mild Ale is a Session Beer, quintessentially

Mild Ale It is not intemperate; it is not over-alcohol'd or over-hop'd; it is not spiced or soured. A Mild Ale is mild enough to disdain extreme flavors. Mild Ale is low enough in alcohol so that two (or more) can be enjoyed in sobriety. But it is more-ish: just flavorful enough that the triad of ale flavor —hops, yeast and, in particular, barley malt— are easily discerned, undisturbed by extraneous fruits and spices and flavorings.

Dark? Maybe. Fruity? A tad. Hoppy? In the background but not timidly. A Mild Ale might be mild-mannered, but it does not lack sinew. Low calorie with gusto. It is the quintessential 'session' beer.

Not just for Georgia brewers...

May is American Mild Ale Month

American Mild Month 2017

The month of May 2017 marks the third American Mild Month. Throughout the month, American breweries, nationwide, will be brewing Mild Ales and 'craft' beer pubs, serving them.

The whole thing is the idea of Alistair Reece —an ex-pat Scotsman, past Prague denizen, and, for several years now, a USA resident, who blogs at Fuggled.

In the United Kingdom, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has been celebrating Mild Month in May for many years. * Mr. Reece asked, "why not here in the U.S.?" And, for three years now, we haven't had to ask.


What exactly is a Mild Ale?

Like porter before it, Mild Ale has been a disappearing beer in the U.K. And, here in the U.S., it's but a notch above nil.

The name itself might be an impediment. Mild? What's that? Weak beer? A local brewer told me of the time, a decade ago, a Mild Ale was not selling well at his brewpub. He put the beer on the 'stout gas' line and renamed it "Nitro Monkey." It became a hit.

So, what exactly is a Mild Ale and what is an American Mild Ale?

▶ Session Beer

Start with the much-abused concept of 'session' beer. It does not mean simply brewing a lower-alcohol version of another beer. Beer and whisk(e)y writer Lew Bryson has defined American Session Ale as:
  • 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
  • Flavorful enough to be interesting
  • Balanced enough for multiple pints
  • Conducive to conversation
  • Reasonably priced
If that seems vague ... it is. Here's another definition: low-alcohol, but not low-taste. It's subjective. Live with it, and enjoy it. We're here to help make your night out more fun, more tasty, and more safe.
'Session,' therefore, is both 'sessionable' in alcohol and 'sessionable' in flavor. One and the other. Goldilocksian.

▶ Historical Milds

According to British beer historians Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson, milds of a hundred and more years ago tended to be sweet, but, then again, could also be highly hopped and/or very strong. The key was freshness.

Originally, the main, indeed the only standard for a beer called mild was that it should be fresh, not more than a couple of weeks old, and have the taste and aroma that come with freshness. Any older, past the point at which the beer starts exhibiting the flavours that come with maturity, and it isn't mild anymore, at least not what brewers would have recognized as mild back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [...]

All the other characteristics generally associated with mild today are secondary to the fact that it was meant to be delivered into the pub soon after it was brewed (just four to ten days after being casked [emphasis mine], against maturation periods of twenty-one days or more for the lighter draught pale ales).
— Martyn Cornell. Amber, Gold & Black. 2010

The trend toward darker milds, as we know them today, began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The decrease in alcohol began in the early 20th century, and accelerated rapidly, for reasons such as tax laws and wartime restrictions.

▶ Modern Mild Ales

Today, the standard for Mild Ale might be as defined by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), in the U.K.
Milds are black to dark brown to pale amber in colour and come in a variety of styles from warming roasty ales to light refreshing lunchtime thirst quenchers. Malty and possibly sweet tones dominate the flavour profile but there may be a light hop flavour or aroma. Slight diacetyl (toffee/butterscotch) flavours are not inappropriate. Alcohol levels are typically low.
  • Pale milds tend to have a lighter, more fruity aroma with gentle hoppiness.
  • Dark milds may have a light roast malt or caramel character in aroma and taste.
  • Scottish cask beers may have mild characteristics with a dominance of sweetness, smooth body and light bitterness.
Original gravity: less than 1043. Typical alcohol by volume: less than 4.3%. Bitterness 14 - 28 EBU.

Furthermore, British brewers have often used brewing sugars and other starches (such as flaked maize or flaked barley) to accompany the malted barley of a Mild Ale grist.

And so, now, we come to...

American Mild Ale, defined

Mad Mild (03)

No style disciplinarians need apply: brewers should have fun with this. But there are two lines not to cross. American Mild Ale is emphatically NOT a Session IPA; it is NOT spiced or soured. And American Mild does NOT contain alcohol greater than 4.5% by volume. Doing either, a brewer would be playing with 'session' semantics.

American Mild Ale, Mr. Reece suggests, should have an alcohol-content-by-volume (abv) of 4.5% or less, a color greater than 17 SRM (i.e., darker than a golden ale), and an International Bittering Unit (IBU) level of 30 or less (thus stronger than an English Mild, but 'milder' than an American IPA).
American Mild is not a hop bomb, but neither need it be a hop free zone. 'Low' is not the same as 'none;' it is all about restraint, and with the wide variety of American hops available the range of hop flavors is actually quite broad, whether its the spiciness of Cluster, the grapefruit of Amarillo, or the tropical fruit of El Dorado, there is room here for differentiation, and dry hopping is ok too.
Remember though, before going crazy with the hops, an American Mild is not a Session IPA, or a Session Cascadian Dark Ale, it's still a mild. Traditional English milds top out at 25 IBUs, but for an American Mild we would suggest an upper limit of 30 IBUs.

One major departure from the English mild style in a theoretical American mild is the yeast. The classic American yeast strain used by many an American craft brewery is known for being very clean, allowing the other ingredients to shine through without contributing the fruity flavors of the British yeasts.


Why should we celebrate Mild Ale?

You'll sometimes hear a brewer mention that a lager, such as pilsner or helles, is difficult to brew well because there's no place for the brewer to hide faults. In that, a Mild Ale is its ale counterpart.

As Mr. Reece puts it, American Mild should be a "restrained, darkish ale, with gentle hopping and a clean finish so that the malt and what hops are present shine through." As Mr. Bryson puts it: it's "an unsung delicious beer style; tasty and 'more-ish' at low alcohol levels."


Mild and Cask

Firkin Brown Ale: Capitol City Brewing, May 2009

In the U.S., we often treat cask as only a special occasion thing, a one-off beer infused with extraneous gunk. And often with beer styles that are done a disservice by cask's lower carbonation and cellar temperature.

But ales like bitters and milds? On 'standard' tap, they can be wonderful. But they shine, shine, shine when presented in cask-conditioned form. Cask them, yes! Serve them uber-fresh, still living, gently bubbled without superfluous carbonation, drunk cool (NOT warm). Yes! But resist the temptation to disrespect them with cocoa-puffs or dingleberries. That is NOT Mild Ale.


How to participate

  • Sign Up
    To join the fun in May, go to the sign up form. Pledge to brew a American Mild in May (cask-conditioned, a plus), and Mr. Reece will place your brewery's name and website on American Mild Month's web-roll of distinction. That's it! Brew a Mild, then package it or keg it or cask it, but serve it and tell America about it.

  • Brewpubs
    This could be a simple matter for a brewpub that wished to participate, as well as for nano-breweries and other small production breweries. It might, however, be problematic for a larger production brewery.

  • Production Breweries
    ▶ In several states, production breweries are allowed to serve beer to patrons in their tasting rooms, like a bar, but without the food. That won't be the case here in Georgia until September, but a production brewery could produce a small batch on its pilot system, and serve it exclusively in its tap room?

    ▶ Or, produce a one-off 'collaboration' beer with another brewpub or brewery.

    ▶ Or, if a brewery already has a beer that fits (or comes close to) the parameters of American Mild, it could simply re-brand it for its taproom only and serve it there.

    Oliver Brewing Company, in Baltimore, Maryland, brews a very British Dark Horse Mild. This May, it will be stamping the American Mild Month logo on the side of the cans.

    Dark Horse Mild
  • Pubs
    Restaurant, pubs, and bars: want to play along? Ask your local breweries for Mild Ales in May.

  • Homebrewers
    Organize competitions in May for American (and, okay, English-style) Mild Ales. Register those at the website.

  • Georgia (and American) good beer drinkers
    You, the discerning drinker: you're the bulwark, the vanguard, the bottom line of defence, offense, and good taste. Tell your local breweries about this campaign for good session American Mild Ale. Ask your local pub to search for Mild Ales, and to serve them during May (if not year round).


In Mild Conclusion

Mild Ale for Mild Month (03)
  • Georgia 'craft' brewers:
    According to Beer Guys Radio, there are sixty-five breweries and brewpubs in Georgia. Last year for American Mild Month, only Monday Night Brewery brewed a Mild Ale in Georgia, serving it in its taproom. This year, I've had a Mild Ale at HopStix in Chamblee. That's two. Can we have more in May?

  • Everyone:
    The website is live at; and so is Twitter at @MildMonthUS; and so is Facebook at AmericanMildMonth.

In his just published book "The Secrets of Master Brewers," Jeff Alworth succintly sums up the magic of Milds:
Whatever the formulation, milds are built to be drunk in bulk, to taste as pleasant on the first sip as the fourth pint, a trick that isn't as easy as it sounds.

This May, participate in American Mild Month. Please! Many of us wish to make a bulk session of it.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

U.S. hops looking good for 2017.

Hopyards @Stillpoint Farms (02)

For the second year in a row, U.S. hop stocks were up in March over a year earlier, an indication that hop supply has caught up with demand. That and other U.S. hops industry statistics for 2015 through 2017, as published in Capital Press (21 March 2017):
  • U.S. hop growers, dealers, and brewers had 140 million pounds 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.)

  • A few specialty varieties still may be undersupplied, according to Ann George, executive director of Hop Growers of America and the Washington Hop Commission.

  • In 2016, a record 50,857 acres of hops were harvested — mostly in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. The production value was estimated at a record $498 million and volume was the second largest ever, at 87.1 million pounds.

  • The expansion of small, 'craft' breweries has fueled the demand for more aroma hop varieties, according to Ms. George.

  • The average price per pound reached $5.72 in 2016, up from $4.38 in 2015, driven by more high-value aroma varieties.

  • Prices for the 2017 crop will be slightly higher than in 2016, according to Pete Mahony, director of supply chain management and purchasing for Yakima hop grower/processor John I. Haas.

  • Because the 2017 crop is essentially entirely contracted under multi-year agreements pricing is still reflective of the peak of the market but will start to drop in 2018 and according to Mr. Mahoney.

  • U.S. hops acreage increased 17 percent in 2016 (and production increased 11 percent). 4,000 new acres expected to be reported this year, according to Mahoney.

  • A full sixty-four percent of total U.S. hop production was exported in 2016.
Now, we wait on nature and weather.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mark Dorber on Real Ale, Cask-Conditioned Ale, & Cellarmanship

If he had lived five hundred years later, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus might have translated that ancient Greek proverb as a reference to cask-conditioned ale.

Indeed five centuries later, a gentleman named Mark Dorber has been working to prevent cask "casualties." From 1981 to 2007, Mr. Dorber was the manager at the renowned White Horse pub on Parson’s Green, in London. Many traveled (and commuted) there to learn about 'proper' cask-conditioned ales, and to drink them.

Now, in the 21st century, Mr. Dorber is the landlord of The Anchor, "an award-winning inn and restaurant-with-rooms [...] in the charming village of Walberswick across the footbridge from the market town of Southwold" on the English North Sea coast, about 100 miles north-east of London.

Still serving 'real ales' and still imparting knowledge, Mr. Dorber has kindly posted a concise tutorial on cask ale service at the inn's website. I've reprinted it below.

Cellarmanship & Real Ale

"Real ale" as an expression was adopted by CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) in 1973. First known as the Campaign for the Revitalization of Ale, its name change was an attempt to simplify and shorten what was an uncomfortable mouthful of letters at the most sober of times. The appellation is a convenient campaigning device that has attracted a lot of crass comments about the "realness" of filtered beers.

Cask-Conditioned Ale

I prefer the simplicity and nondidactic expressions "cask-conditioned" or "bottle-conditioned" to describe beer with live yeast. The qualitative difference between cask-conditioned beers and filtered beers lies in the presence of live yeast, which is able to feed on any fermentable sugars remaining in the beer from the time it is racked into cask at the brewery and to impart its own individual imprint of aromas and flavours as well as life-enhancing carbonation.

Oxygen and beer

However, what might be termed CAMRA's "clause celebre" has inspired the fundamentalists of the campaign to insist that even a non-invasive blanket of carbon dioxide at atmospheric pressure * to protect slow-selling beers from the ravages of oxidation must be construed as an unnatural interference with the aroma, flavour and mouthfeel of cask ale, thereby rendering it non-real.

Their strongest claim is that the air drawn into a cask on dispense somehow softens the palate of the beer resulting in beneficial flavour changes analogous to the effect of oxygen on a young red wine. The fact that not a smidgen of evidence can be produced to support their thesis appears not to deter them in their dogmatic determination to be wrong and to penalize those who wish to get it right by excluding from the listings of beers in Good Beer Guide pubs those beers that use blanket pressure as part of their dispense and preservation regime.

The Art of Cellarmanship - Cask Conditioned Ales

Cellarmanship in the broadest sense covers the gamut of drinks sold by retail outlets and requires a detailed technical manual. The purpose of this short piece, though, is to set out the general principles for the successful management of cask- conditioned ales.

An avaricious brewer may define cellarmanship as the art of serving a continuous supply of saleable beer with the least financial loss. Here, compromises will be made on quality in order to fulfil the primary requirement of profit maximization.

My view on the primary goal of cellarmanship, which, incidentally has not changed since August 1981, is the following:

"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."

The above must follow the disciplines of good husbandry continuity of supply and speedy turnover in order to keep the beer in each broached cask as fresh as possible.

The Techniques of Cellarmanship

  • 1. Setting a Stillage

    Securing a cask of beer: A stillage is the name given to any solid object that enables a cask of beer to be laid down and prevented from moving by means of the insertion of wooden wedges (also known as scotches or chocks). It is important that casks be set horizontally with the shive pointing straight at the ceiling. If a cask is stillaged with a forward tilt, sediment will fall to the front of the cask and be concentrated at the tap, leading to fouling of the tap and the need to draw off three or four pints of beer before the clarity and quality of the cask's contents can be judged accurately. If the cask is tilted backward, problems of unstable yeast and finings slurry slipping forward may arise when the cask is tilted in order to decant the final few gallons.

  • 2. Conditioning

    The purpose of conditioning is to reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the cask to enable a good finings action to occur and then to build up the level of carbonation appropriate to the style of beer.

    Venting excess CO2 is achieved by inserting/hammering a porous peg ("soft peg" made of soft wood, usually bamboo cane) into the sealed shive tut causing a sudden escape of gas and the immediate emergence of fobbing beer. This procedure should be carried out in a controlled way; i.e., the contents of each cask should be chilled to 52 to 55 degrees F in order that a relatively calm and nonexplosive purging of excess CO2 can take place.

    It is also important that upon soft spiling, the cask should have an even distribution of finings and yeast. It is sensible to roll each cask vigorously before stillaging, securing and venting. The time taken for the beer to "work" through the soft peg will vary according to each yeast strain, the concentration of yeast cells per millilitre, and the yeast's general friskiness, along with the amount of residual sugar/primings in the cask and the temperature/state of agitation of the cask. In the case of exceptionally lively beers, it may be necessary to replace the soft peg every hour for a day or more. The pegs sometimes become blocked with yeast and, occasionally a plug of dry hops may form underneath the soft peg, preventing the release of gas.

    The rule on the amount of time to soft peg beer is that there is no rule. It is entirely dependent upon the yeast fining regime adopted. The object of soft pegging is to reduce the amount of CO2 to the point at which the finings will prove effective.

    But do not over vent. You are preparing the yeast for a marathon journey not a short sprint, hence the need to vent at low temperatures and avoid exhausting the supply of sugars. The tension to be observed is the need to produce clear beer and the imperative to stimulate good to high levels of CO2 in solution. Flat, clear beer is the norm in Britain. We drink with our eyes and then jazz up flat beer by forcing it through a tight sparkler. We cannot put our well-conditioned pale ales through a sparkler at the White Horse without substantial wastage due to the relatively high level of CO2 in solution.

    Hard pegging should occur when a cask has "worked" to the point where it takes 3 to 10 seconds for the fob to re-form on top of the soft spile after being wiped clean, again depending upon the style and strength of the beer, the yeast/finings regime, and when the beer is required for dispense. The soft peg should be replaced with a nonporous hard spile to prevent the escape of any more CO2 and to slow down yeast activity.

    Dropping bright will now occur and is, in my experience, greatly assisted by a rising temperature. Again, it is a matter of trial and error with the yeast strains used, but I have found that taking the ambient cellar temperature from 52 to 54 degrees F up to 58 to 60 degrees F for about 8 to 12 hours produces consistently bright, polished results across the range of ale yeasts used in Britain today. Dropping bright times from hard pegging vary from four hours to four to five days.

    Carbonating should now take place after a spell of warm conditioning at 58 to 60 degrees F. It is important to chill back down to 52 to 55 degrees depending upon the temperature that your yeast is happy with. The lower the temperature tolerated by the yeast, the greater the level of carbonation possible.

    Bass yeast remains one of the liveliest and most tolerant of yeast strains in Britain and will work happily at 50 degrees. After a four-week maturation period in the cellar at 50 to 52 degrees F our pale ale has the most glorious, mouth caressing effervescence that one could wish for.

  • 3. Maturation

    This part of the process of cellaring beers, sadly, is seldom given much attention in practice. However, aging beers not only allows the appropriate level of carbonation to be generated but also allows the beer to dry out the effects of krausen or priming additions, thus taking away any insipid qualities from the palate of the beer. The fresh kiss of yeast, the hallmark of cask-conditioned ale or unfiltered lager, develops further impact and complexity during the process of maturation, be it in a lagering tank or in a cask. Aging also enables the effects of dry hopping to achieve maximum impact after two weeks or so in cask, developing its own particular grace and delicacy of aroma.

    For beers such as low-gravity dark milds, we would expect to put the beer on dispense in the shortest time possible, perhaps only four or five days after racking, in order to promote the slightly sweet, fresh malt character of this supremely quaffable style. We cellar ordinary 1040 original gravity pale ales, such as Harvey's Sussex Best Bitter, for two weeks in order to extract the succulent malt characteristics and earthy Sussex hop flavours, but stop before the dual strain, spicy, clove-like yeast imprint becomes dominant. A period of two weeks also enables us to build up good levels of carbonation to provide the complementary mouthfeel so sought after.

    Draught Bass we keep for three to four weeks as described above. Old ales have been cellared successfully by us for months; two months for Highgate Old (1050 og.) this past winter to a year in the case of Traquair House Ale and Adnam's Tally-Ho (1075 og.).

  • 4. Dispense

    The key areas to get right here are:
    • Temperature, ideally 50 to 55 degrees F depending upon the style of beer and the ambient temperature. Please don't excessively chill a rich, biscuity, malty Scotch ale or an ester-laden, vinous barley wine. Therefore, pay attention to insulated beer lines (and beer engines) carrying beer from your cellar or chill cabinet behind the bar to the customers' glass.

    • Use either tap-fed gravity dispense or beer engines. If you use beer engines, decide which beers benefit from the use of sparkler attachments in order to produce a tight, creamy head. Stouts and dark milds can be enhanced by the use of sparklers, but think carefully and experiment before you connect a carefully crafted IPA to an 'Angram Pip'.

    • Each cask broached and put on dispense should be consumed as quickly as possible; ideally within 24 to 48 hours unless a cask breather is used. It is not just a question of oxidation and acetification setting in, but the loss of CO2. In all but the most carefully prepared casks, such loss will result in a notable loss of freshness and vitality, which matter a great deal to me.
For those of you who are preparing pale ales for cask-conditioned dispense, the following quote from the head brewer of Marston's in 1899 provides a rare insight into his perception of quality and indicates just how far brewing techniques had advanced from the 16th century:

Dorber concludes in high fashion by paraphrasing the "late, great Bill Shankly, pioneering manager of Liverpool Football Club":

A true fact, that.

Fobbing at the Tut: a series on cellarmanship.
Fobbing at the Tut:
A series of occasional posts on good cask cellarmanship.

  • * Some American pubs apply CO2 to a cask at 1 or 2 psi to forestall oxidation. The goal is noble; the suggestion is very wrong. Any additional pressure will add carbonation to the cask —more so the longer beer is served from it— defeating the purpose of the naturally-derived carbonation of cask beer. Dorber, on the other hand, is recommending blanket pressure of CO2 —net zero CO2 pressure— to forestall oxidation.
    • The atmosphere exerts pressure on us, which, at sea level, is 14.7 pounds-per-square-inch (PSI), depending upon weather conditions. A standard CO2 gauge measures only any additional pressure greater than atmospheric. Thus a gauge showing 1 pound-per-square-inch-gauge (PSIG) is actually releasing CO2 at one pound PLUS atmospheric pressure.
    • A cask breather does not really pressurize a cask. It's an aspirator valve that responds to the slight vacuum created when beer is pulled from a cask, by releasing CO2 at atmospheric pressure (or maybe a wee, wee, wee bit more) —thus, effectively, zero PSIG— completely filling the space vacated by the beer pulled out with CO2. This CO2 rests atop the beer like a blanket, accomplishing two things. It prevents ingress of air —and the oxygen in it— into the cask, which would oxidize, that is, stale, the beer. And, it slows the flow of CO2 —dissolved in the beer— into the headspace, that is, it slows the beer from going flat.
    • With a standard CO2 regulator, a setting of '1' would permit enough CO2 to flow into a cask to actually carbonate it, thus making it kegged beer rather than cask-conditioned beer, albeit at lower pressure additional beer carbonation. And a setting of zero would prevent any CO2 at all from flowing into the cask, and thus prevent little beer, if any, from being pulled out.
    • By the way, using nitrogen instead of CO2, or even mixed gas —so called Guinness gas (a blend of nitrogen and carbon dioxide)— would also protect the beer from oxidation, but it would NOT protect the beer from going flat, that is, losing CO2 into the headspace.

  • Yvan Seth, an expat Australian who runs a beer distribution company in England, has written two myth-busting cask-ale-service posts based on his in-the-trade experiences: Three Cask Ale (semi)Fallacies (12 May 2014) and Followup: Cask Ale Fallacies (18 May 2014).
  • Justin Hawke, an expat Californian in Britain, owns and operates Moor's, a small brewery in Bristol. Here are his Cellar Management Tips.
  • From YFGF: America is doing cask ale wrong. (16 September 2015).
  • Mr. Dorber's original essay at The Anchor: Cellarmanship & Real Ale.

  • For more from YFGF: