Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dog Flying to Maryland

When Wolaver’s Certified Organic Ales began selling its beer back in the early 1990s, its business plan was to spread production between existing breweries throughout the US.

That may have been a plan born of necessity (fewer capital expenditures), but it was a plan easily also used as a marketing tool. If the beer need not be shipped far afield, it would be, ipso facto, a fresher product.

The plan bred success, and now Wolaver's produces all of its beer at the brewery it purchased as the result of its success - Otter Creek. But I don't think that freshness — from one brewery plant now — is any less a selling point.

Now, consider Flying Dog Brewery of Denver, Colorado, which last year purchased the bankrupt Frederick Brewing Company, and split Flying Dog production between that plant and its existing Flying Dog brewery in Denver, Colorado.

From the brewery's website, earlier this week:

Flying Dog Brewery recently announced that we are embarking on the next step in our illustrious, 17 year history of crafting remarkable beer by concentrating all of our brewing and production to the brewery in Frederick, MD, where 70% of Flying Dog Beer is already being brewed. This move will take place in January and we are working to ensure that our entire production team will be able to make this move over to Maryland. Accounting, sales, marketing and other administrative functions will remain largely unaffected by this change and our HQ will remain in Denver.

Efficiencies and potential markets are probably what drove this decision. The 'freshness' aspect - west of the Mississippi gets Denver product, east gets Frederick product - was probably never more than a marketing and freight cost measure. And that's fine and normal — if you don't claim otherwise.

But owner/brewmaster Eric Warner seems to imply that the newest move is, in and of itself, a 'green' thing because it will result in efficiencies.

Although the Maryland brewery wasn’t “Green Built” part of the reasons for the move is it is a newer, more efficient facility. As alternative energy sources become more accessible and cost effective we will look to tap into those as well. Like most other craft breweries, right now we are most focused on the staggering disruption in the malt and hop markets so our biggest challenge is getting the highest yields out of those products without compromising product quality. As breweries achieve this it is in itself more eco-friendly saving on energy use in transportation and production.

Using that logic, should Coors' Golden, Colorado plant be considered a grail for ecologically-friendly breweries?

Chris O'Brien is the Beer Activist blogger and author of Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World. He takes the brewery to task — with some vitriol — here.

Caveat: I work for Clipper City Brewing Company, a Maryland craft brewery competitor of Flying Dog. My opinions are not necessarily those of Clipper City.

That being said, I often have given Eric Warner his due as a brewer and craft-beer evangelizer. Read, for example, my recounting of a Maryland pub's beer breakfast.

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