Sunday, September 27, 2015

How the mid-Atlantic fared at the GABF.

GABF 2015
Presented by the [U.S.] Brewers Association, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is the largest commercial beer competition in the world and a symbol of brewing excellence. In its 29th year, the 2015 competition surpassed all previous participation records, exceeding last year’s record-setting competition.

The mid-Atlantic triad of Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (home to this blog) did well at the GABF this year, grabbing ten medals. Five of those were gold, the region's highest gold medal tally ever. In the three jurisdictions, Virginia breweries won the greatest share by far: nine medals (of which four were gold), placing Virginia eighth best among all states in the nation. Maryland won one medal, a gold; breweries in Washington, D.C., did not win this year, even though they have in the past.


The DMV winners at GABF 2015

  • Maryland
    1 medal; 1 gold
    • Jailbreak Brewing: Laurel, Maryland.
      First-time GABF medalist.
      brewer: Ryan Harvey
      Van Dammit
      Category #80: Belgian-Style Strong Specialty Ale (65 entries)

  • What's on tap at Jailbreak (03)

  • Virginia
    9 medals; 4 gold
    • Brothers Craft Brewing: Harrisonburg, Virginia.
      First-time GABF medalist.
      brewer: "the whole team here at Brothers Craft Brewing."
      Category #61: English-Style Mild Ale (40 entries)

    • Champion Brewing Company: Charlottesville, Virginia.
      brewer: Hunter Smith
      Shower Beer
      Category #34: Bohemian-Style Pilsener (62 entries)

    • Devils Backbone Brewing Company - Outpost: Lexington, Virginia.
      brewer: Jason Oliver
      Vienna Lager
      Category #39: Vienna-Style Lager (46 entries)

    • Fair Winds Brewing Company: Lorton, Virginia.
      First-time GABF medalist.
      brewer: Charlie Buettner
      Siren's Lure
      Category #75: French- and Belgian-Style Saison (132 entries)
      Highest degree of difficulty in the area, based on number of entries.

    • Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery: Goochland, Virginia.
      First-time GABF medalist.
      brewer: Sean-Thomas Pumphrey
      Heir Apparent
      Category #8: Chili Beer (79 entries)

    • Pale Fire Brewing Company: Harrisonburg, Virginia.
      First-time GABF medalist.
      brewer: Jamie Long
      Salad Days American Saison
      Category #22: American-Belgo-Style Ale (71 entries)

    • Port City Brewing Company: Alexandria, Virginia.
      brewer: Jonathan Reeves
      • Silver
        Monumental IPA
        Category #52: English-Style India Pale Ale (42 entries)
      • Silver
        Category #83: Robust Porter (102 entries)
      • Bronze
        Optimal Wit
        Category #74: Belgian-Style Witbier (82 entries)

And, oh yes. One more thing!

When Port City Brewing first opened for business in Alexandria, Virginia, in February, 2012, it became the first production brewery in that city (located just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.) since 1916.

At this year's GABF, Port City was one of only four breweries nationwide to win three medals (none won more). It was one of 518 breweries, among those producing between 1,000 and 15,000 barrels of beer in a year, competing in the Small Brewery category, the largest number in any of the GABF's seven brewery categories. And, Port City won, recognized by the GABF as the nation's Small Brewery of the Year. It joins Devils Backbone, of Roseland, Virginia, as one of only two breweries in the tri-jurisdiction area so honored.

Congratulations to owner Bill Butcher, lead brewer Jonathan Reeves, and the entire Port City organization.

Port City Brew wins "Small Brewery of the Year," at 2015 GABF.


How the DMV has fared over the past 5 years

Let's look at how the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia have fared at the GABF over the last five years. There's an interesting trend.

11 medals; 4 gold.

15 medals; 4 gold.

15 medals; 4 gold.

13 medals; 3 gold.

Breweries in Virginia have clearly been dominant. And that supremacy continued this year, as the state captured nine of the area's ten medals, including four of the five gold medals.

10 medals; 5 gold.

Virginia does have more breweries than the other two: at the time of the GABF (24-26 September 2015), there were one-hundred twenty-seven breweries in Virginia, to fifty-four in Maryland and ten in Washington, D.C. But the state's success at the GABF over the past five years might also be attributed, to a large extent, to one particular Virginia-based brewery group.

In its first year of operation, 2009, brewpub Devils Backbone garnered two golds and a silver at the GABF. In 2010, two golds and a bronze. In 2011, the brewpub, now known as the "Basecamp," won one medal. But, then, at the 2012 GABF, it took eight medals, more than half the total of all the breweries in the three area jurisdictions, winning national Small Brewpub of the Year.

In 2013, Devils Backbone won again, as national Small Brewery of the Year, taking six of the region's fifteen medals. Last year, the brewery's production-only facility —which the company calls the 'Outpost'— won Mid-Size Brewery of the Year. Combined, the group won four medals out of the thirteen total for the region.

Devils Backbone won only one medal this year —albeit a gold medal— but, all in all, the brewery has had a magnificent seven-year run: twenty-six GABF medals. Any decrease this year is not a sign of diminishing quality, but rather a matter of numbers, a sign of the changing underlying national structure of the competition.


Gauging the increasing difficulty of winning at the GABF

At the festival, the (U.S.) Brewers Association, the host organization, announced that 'craft' beer had reached a milestone in its fifty-year history. There are now four-thousand breweries in the United States, of which the overwhelming majority are considered 'craft' breweries.

Four thousand breweries in the United States.

Not all participated in the festival and competition, but the sheer numbers that did —and will do so in the competitions to come— ensures a difficult road to victory or dominance for any one brewery, let alone repeat medaling. To name but a few, there were no medals for such heavyweights as Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Lagunitas (no stranger to controversy), New Belgium, and Boston Beer. According to the Association, there were 6,647 entries this year(twenty percent more than in 2014), from 1,552 breweries representing all fifty states and the District of Columbia.

Moving forward, it may be harder for mid-tier population states such as Virginia and Maryland, and small jurisdictions, such as Washington, D.C. to consistently win, show, or place well, or even at all. In 2011, according to the BA, there were 2,033 breweries in the U.S. In 2012: 2,456. In 2013: 2,917 breweries. In 2014: 3464, with 1.5 breweries opening every day.

Likewise for the future of multi-medal winning breweries. The most medals won by any one brewery was only three this year, achieved by only four breweries, nationwide. Compare that to 2012, when Devils Backbone won eight medals (and there are many examples of multi-medal runs by many other breweries in years past).

With a far greater numbers of breweries, and the population to support them, the big three of California, Colorado, and Oregon, will probably remain dominant for the near future, even though Texas is coming up fast, which is why Virginia's showing of ten medals including five golds, as the eighth highest medaling state this year —and its similar showing in the previous four years— is a strong feat. But, to put it in perspective: California garnered sixty-seven awards, almost twice the number of medals as second-place Colorado, and twenty-two gold medals, almost three times the next highest total, of Texas, at nine.


The GABF 2015, by the numbers.

This year’s GABF competition saw its biggest panel of judges ever, with 242 beer experts from 15 countries, including the U.S., and 155 competition volunteers. The panel also evaluated 91 Pro-Am entries.

Overall competition highlights included:
  • 38 first-time entering breweries won awards.
  • Top three states by ratio of medals to entries by state:
    • Maine: 21% with 14 entries and three medals
    • Rhode Island: 10% with 10 entries and one medal
    • North Dakota: 8% with 12 entries and one medal

  • Most medals won, with three medals each:
    • Firestone Walker Brewing Co., Paso Robles, Calif. (three medals: two gold, one bronze)
    • Sun King Brewing Co., Indianapolis, Ind. (three medals: one gold, one silver, one bronze)
    • Port City Brewing Co.; Alexandria, Va. (three medals: two silver, one bronze)
    • Left Hand Brewing Co.; Longmont, Colo. (three medals: one gold, two bronze)

  • Award-winning brewers received prestigious gold, silver and bronze medals in 92 beer categories covering 145 different beer styles (including all subcategories).The 2015 competition saw three new style categories:
    • Category 8: Chili Pepper Beer
    • Category 16: Session India Pale Ale
    • Category 24B: Mixed Culture Brett Beer
    • No gold medal was awarded in Category 6: Pumpkin Beer.


Final Thoughts

The category with the most entries was #56: American-Style India Pale Ale. No surprise there, with three-hundred thirty-six entries. Props to BNS Brewing & Distilling Company, of Santee, California for winning gold for its Revolver IPA.

Best name for a winning beer? How about Toaster Pastry, from the 21st Amendment Brewery, in San Leandro, California, with which it won silver in Category #59, Double Red Ale.

It was pleasing to see Founders Brewing of Michigan (gold medal), Firestone-Walker of California (5 medals, 2 gold), and 10-Barrel of Oregon (2 medals) —all recently excommunicated by the BA as non-'craft'— all win medals. In fact, Firestone-Walker took Mid-Size Brewing Company of the Year.

No gold awarded for Pumpkin Beer? Yeah! Maybe, no more recognition, ever? How are beers chosen for medals? See the GABF awards philosophy, after the jump.

Thank you to The Brewing Network which provided live streaming of the award ceremony, for the rest of us, not in Denver. It was remarkable, and heartening, to see the large amount of female brewers on stage, receiving awards. Not so, this year, for non-white brewers. That's something 'craft' beer needs to work on if it wishes to sustain growth, let alone reflect American demographics.

The GABF historically has been scheduled in October. It's earlier start this year may have reduced the number of entries in the Fresh or Wet Hop Ale to only thirty-four. Hops hadn't been harvested in time for the festival.

What's up with that crazy inflation of beer 'styles'? One-hundred forty-five style categories (and no cask ale category or subcategory)? Really? Uh ... well, that's a lost battle topic for another day.

Why not publish the judges' scores for all beers? A brewery might not win a medal, but still have a score in the 90s. The GABF is there, in part, to promote 'craft' beer business. Why not give your brewery members their beer-scores as valuable sales tools?

But as today should not be an occasion to dwell on criticism, but to offer praise for good brewing and brewers: congratulations, all!
  • Read more about this year's Great American Beer Festival, at the (U.S.) Brewers Association.
  • See the entire list of winners: here.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pic(k) of the Week: Bad keg!

Bad keg!

Would you want to drink a beer poured from this 'craft' beer keg?

After filling the keg at the brewery, the cellarman had apparently neglected to spray out and sanitize the well of the keg spear. This was the result, as seen at a bar, several weeks later, when the publican removed the keg cap. Not good. That green stuff is mold growing on an inch of dried, 'gel-ed', beer. Brewing is 95% cleanliness; everything else follows.

My answer to the question: not me. I would not care to drink a beer poured from this keg. And neither did the bar, which didn't tap it.

The photo has been blurred to protect the guilty. They know who they are.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Weeks 36/37, 2015.

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

Weeks 36/37
30 August - 12 September 2015

  • 11 September 2015
    After Heineken/Lagunitas, why more large foreign breweries will be buying American 'craft' breweries.
    —Via Craft Brewing Business.

  • 11 September 2015
    Greg Koch, co-founder of Stone Brewing, to resign from position as CEO, and accept new role as Executive Chairman.
    —Via Craft

  • 10 September 2015
    Another 'craft' brewery acquired by a much larger brewery. MillerCoors purchases a majority interest in two-year-old San Diego, California, brewery, Saint Archer Brewing Company.
    —Via Brookston Beer Bulletin.

  • 9 September 2015
    Beer is "one of few human practices that unites us through time and space. [...] But beer companies? They are organs of commerce, however wonderful the brewers and publicans they employ may be."
    —Via Jeff Alworth, at All About Beer.

  • 9 September 2015
    New York's farm-brewery law requires a farm-brewery to brew its beers with at least 20% New York-grown hops, annually. In 2024, the requirement jumps to 90%.
    —Via CBS News.

  • 8 September 2015
    The 6th largest 'craft' brewery in the U.S., California-based, Lagunitas, sells a 50% stake to international brewing company, Heineken.
    —Via Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.

  • 8 September 2015
    Tony Magee, owner of 'craft' brewery Lagunitas, declares his company to be a peer of international brewing giant, Heineken.
    —Via YFGF.

  • U.S. brewing jobs: 2014

  • 7 September 2015
    Statistics on Labor Day.

  • 5 September 2015
    Over seven-thousand refugees fleeing war in Syria arrive in Austria, after Hungary yields in a days-long campaign to turn them back.
    —Via Washington Post.

  • 4 September 2015
    • The impact of beer (and 'craft' beer) in Washington, D.C., in 2014/2015.
      —Via (U.S.) Brewers Association.
    • The impact of beer (and 'craft' beer) in Maryland, in 2014/2015.
      —Via (U.S.) Brewers Association.
    • The impact of beer (and 'craft' beer) in Virginia, in 2014/2015.
      —Via YFGF.

    Full bar @Caboose

  • 2 September 2015
    The volume of beer sold directly in brewery taprooms is up 46.7% over the same period last year: from 287,965 to 422,561 barrels.
    —Via Bryan D. Roth, at This Is Why I'm Drunk.

  • 1 September 2015
    In 1985, there were 188 trademark applications for beer filed in the U.S. Last year, there were more than 4,600 filed.
    —Via Washington City Paper.

  • 31 August 2015
    President Barack Obama re-renames Mount McKinley — the 20,237-foot mountain in Alaska and the tallest in North America — as Denali, as it was originally known by Alaska Natives before it was renamed to honor President William McKinley.
    —Via USA Today.

  • 30 August 2015
    Oregon's Deschutes Brewing eyeing Charlottesville, Virginia, for a possible East Coast brewery.
    —Via Brewbound.

  • Respect your (Pliny the) Elder (02)

  • 30 August 2015
    Hoppy beers. When aging a beer is not a good thing.
    —Via Fritz Hahn, at Washington Post.

  • 30 August 2015
    "Failure rates for new craft breweries are near zero. Barriers to entry are nonexistent. Startup costs are low. Sales start immediately. Margins can be fat. But the price of success is brutally hard work, long hours, and low pay."
    —Via Entrepreneur.

  • 30 August 2015
    When breweries produce beers with ingredients and processes other than the 'standard' water, malt, hops, and yeast, the U.S. government's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) requires approval of the formula. In 2014, the TTB relaxed those standards just a bit. Certain processes —such as aging beer in barrels containing NO DISCERNIBLE QUANTITY of wine or distilled spirits— and certain fruits and spices were exempted.
    —Via Brewery Law, at YFGF.

  • -----more-----

    Saturday, September 19, 2015

    Pic(k) of the Week: Wine on draft.

    Wine on draft (04)

    It's a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: stored in a keg, pushed through a draught system, poured from a tap ... at a brewpub.

    American restaurants —'white-tablecloth' or pub, 'hip' or 'neighborhoody'— have begun pouring wine from kegs; and wineries are offering them greater choice in draught wines, better than generic 'red or white.'

    Wine on tap flows through a 304 grade stainless draft system —very similar to that used for beer— pushed out of kegs using a blended mixture of gasses, usually 75% nitrogen and 25% carbon dioxide. This blend preserves wine quality and freshness, without adding bubbles. (Using a higher concentration of carbon dioxide would carbonate the wine, inappropriate, unless, of course, the wine were a sparkling wine.) The equipment installation cost for a restaurant is not that great, especially if a beer-dispense system is already in place.

    The standard keg size for wine is 5.16 gallons, which, in wine-measurement, is 19.5 liters (the equivalent of twenty-six 750-ml wine bottles: two cases plus two bottles). * White and red wine kegs should be served from different refrigerated compartments: the white wine at or about 42 °F; red wine at or about 55 °F. (Room temperature red wine, draught or bottle, is not a refreshing beverage. Chill it slightly.)

    At present, it's mostly California wineries that are kegging their wines. They ferment and age their wines as usual, and ship the results in bulk containers to facilities which package the wine for them. (Of course, there's no reason, except cost, for a winery, like a brewery, to install its own kegger.)

    At the restaurant, there's no waste, no corks to un-cork, no bottles (and corks or screwtops) to dispose of, and little to no spoilage. It's clean, green, 'cool'; and usually at or just below the equivalent per-ounce cost of a bottle, depending on the wine poured.

    As seen at Ornery Beer Company, in Woodbridge, Virginia, on 28 August 2015.


    Wednesday, September 16, 2015

    America is doing cask ale wrong.

    It should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway. There are exceptions to poorly constructed and wretchedly served cask ales in America. But sadly, they are in the minority. America is doing cask ale wrong.

    Patrick Berger is the publican at the Kaiser Tiger, in Chicago, Illinois. He is a fan of cask-conditioned ale. "Is there anything as lovely as a perfectly cellared and properly poured pint of cask conditioned real ale?" he asks. No, there isn't, I'll stipulate ... at least in beer.

    Cask pour of Peg Leg Stout

    But ... despite being an obvious partisan for cask-conditioned ale, Mr. Berger REFUSES to serve any cask ale at all at his pub. And, why? Because, as he writes in a clear and convincing essay, "As with most things, the devil is in the details, and cask beer in America more often than not gets the details wrong."
    • Oxidation

      A hand pump introduces oxygen to the beer in the cask every time you pull the handle. Oxidizing beer will create a fruity 'off' flavor that is very apparent after only a day or two so the beer's shelf life is very short. Many places use a CO2 breather that places a blanket of gas over the beer in the cask to give it a few more days of freshness but you're still left with 3 or 4 days tops to finish that cask. This might work out if all the bar is offering is a few cask beers, but in my experience the hand pump is usually sitting next to many other taps thus making it difficult to plow through one selection.

    • Lack of expertise

      Many breweries don't normally fill casks and therefore aren't experienced with it. Try to remember that the perfect pint of cask beer you perhaps had in London, was filled by a brewery that fills firkins everyday and probably has been for the last 100 years. Pro tip: if a brewery doesn't own a firkin, chances are they don't know how to properly fill and condition them.

      No tut

    • Inappropriate beers

      Traditional English ales are way more balanced than ours and the softer carbonation [as cask ale] brings out the nuances of the caramel malts and earthy hops. But ... modern American craft beer flavors are not designed with casks in mind and do not necessarily get better when you put them in one. American craft beer is made to be served through a modern (hopefully clean) CO2 draft system. Some beer geeks get downright giddy when they find out their favorite IPA is being served in a cask, but I'm not sure the beer tastes any better. American beers are meant to whack you over the head, not highlight the subtle balance of malt and hops.

    • Freshness counts

      Why not serve imported firkins from England? Well, mostly because it defeats the whole purpose of fresh cask beer. Some beer will be fine in a cask for a month or two while it sits on a boat and then sits in customs and then in a distributor's warehouse -- but most won't. [This can also be a deleterious issue with American casks, often shipped thousands of miles, refrigerated or not, and served weeks or months later.]

    And what of the cocoa-puffs and dingleberries American brewers seem to add willy-nilly to their cask ales?

    A recent Wall Street Journal piece on cask ale quoted a brewer on just that: "Casks are an incubator for experimentation, a chance to do something new all the time.” In other words, in America, cask ale is not about freshness of flavor and condition, but is used as a pilot brewery on the cheap, with the consumer picking up the tab for experimentation, good or bad. I would think that a brewer would be proud of her beer, as it tastes, as she brewed it. But maybe that's just me.

    And what of cask ale at American bars and pubs? Mr. Berger recommends skipping that experience altogether. Go to a brewpub, instead, he writes.
    Many brewpubs are able to pull it off because they have a trained cellarman (the brewer) who can pick and choose which beers are going to benefit from the cask. They also have a willing brewery partner (themselves) and they usually only pour a small selection of their own beer which they tend to plow through.

    With laws changing to allow consumer consumption at production breweries, I would add brewery taprooms to the list, but only if those breweries understand cask ale and its preparation. Drinker beware!

    Last week, I was involved in the following conversation at a 'craft' beer bar near to where I live. It was a conversation that, in similar form, recurs in many American 'craft' beer pubs far too often (but minus the honest admission).
    Me: "When was the firkin tapped?"
    She: "Two weeks ago." [Points for honesty.]
    Me: "What do you have on draft?"

    American publicans, on the whole, have little clue as to what cask ale is or how to serve it properly. Without respect for the beer, or the brewery, or their patrons, publicans toss cask ales on bartops without conditioning or care or cellar coolant, and serve room-temperature messes, tilting the casks to catch the last dregs not brewery-intended for human consumption.

    Cask pour? You must be joking.

    Or, they will serve a cask via a hand-pump, and, assuming a magical quality therein, will serve the beer well past a cask beer's two day, three, or four day best-by date (or, on rare occasions, five day lifespan). Often several weeks.

    And, after all that, they'll have the temerity to say that that sour, flat, warm, and stale sludge they've served you is cask ale. No, it is not cask ale. It's crap.

    What publican Patrick Berger says he desires is proper, well-tended cask ale. I couldn't have said so better myself, so I've quoted him above, and summarized. Please read his entire piece. He has more to say. Read it, and act upon it.

    Consumers: demand better. It's your dollar; it's your missed opportunity for 'real' cask ale.

    Publicans: learn the art and science of cellarmanship. But if you can't or won't —and that's understandable: there's a lot of work in a busy multi-tap pub— please don't do injustice to cask-conditioned ales. Your patrons won't appreciate that; and cask ale, itself, in the process, will lose drinkers for life. Please choose instead from the wealth of wonderful non-cask kegged beers.

    Brewers: likewise. Cask-conditioned ale is so much more than, simply, ale in a cask. If more of you would take care to learn the art and skill of cask-ale preparation, maybe Mr. Berger might be convinced to change his mind. And I. And maybe, as well, more Americans, unaccustomed as they are to beautiful cask-conditioned ale, might change their minds.

    Mad Ordinary

    I don't want to dismiss all cask beer in this country. I think when it's done right it's a wonderful worthwhile thing. So while a lot of us beer nerds like to lose our shit over any beer in a firkin, try to keep in mind - it doesn't automatically make it better.


    Monday, September 14, 2015

    Nine reasons why there might be an upcoming 'craft' beer bubble-burst.

    The American 'craft' beer business is thriving spectacularly. But there may be problems, uh, a-brewing.

    Mitch Steele is the brewmaster at Stone Brewing of Escondido, California. On the side, he writes a blog called The Hop Tripper: Musings on IPA, beer history and craft brew travels. In his most recent post —"Craft beer sales are at an all time high - and why this could be scary"— Steele identified nine danger signs of a potential burst of this 'craft' beer bubble.

    • 1. 'Craft' breweries are beginning to not 'play nice' with each other, legally and illegally.
    • 2. There aren’t enough trained brewers to go around. Some breweries are operating with unskilled and/or untrained brewers that are bestowed with the title “brewmaster”.
    • 3. Large brewing companies are purchasing 'craft' breweries and wholesalers with increasing frequency.
    • 4. 'Craft' beer may be headed towards the mainstream with consolidation and homogenization.
    • 5. To succeed these days, it isn’t enough to brew excellent beer, a 'craft' brewery must also have a catchy marketing angle and a message that separates its from other breweries. With some 'craft' beer distributors, there are already far too many brands in the portfolio to put adequate focus on all of them.
    • 6. Long-term hop supply is a concern because craft brewers are using more and more hops on a per barrel basis than ever before. Combine that with the 20% growth rate of 'craft breweries, and one will see that hop demand is starting to outpace supply.
    • 7. The fickleness of the craft beer consumer is creating concerns for long time flagship brands. This situation makes projecting sales and ingredient requirements an "impossible" task for brewers.
    • 8. The death of Pale Ale and the IPA-ification of everything.
    • 9. The 'craft' beer business is turning from a brewer-driven focus to one where marketing determines brewing decisions.

    Backing up Steele's third and forth assertions, one has to look no further than the recent 50% stake purchase of Lagunitas —the 5th largest U.S. 'craft' brewery— by international brewing company Heineken. Craft Brewing Business wrote of this overseas 'outsourcing' as a trend that may only intensify.
    • As shown by the Lagunitas-Heineken deal, large foreign brewing companies are increasingly considering strategic investments in U.S. craft breweries as a way to direct funds into a growing market segment and as a way to diversify their business.
    • These transactions have the potential to open up international distribution opportunities for U.S. craft breweries without compromising existing production plans or disturbing U.S. distribution channels (subject, of course, to the terms of existing contracts and obtaining any required consents thereunder).
    • The joint venture can be structured as a cash sale of a portion of the craft brewery’s equity (often with a post-closing contractual arrangement concerning management, distribution, etc.) or an exchange of craft brewery equity for stock in the acquiring company, depending on the legal and financial needs of the parties.
    • The reaction among craft beer drinkers to these transactions has been less negative than to similar transactions involving AB InBev or MillerCoors. This allows a U.S. craft brewery to increase its resources and begin distributing to a larger audience, without sacrificing the allegiance of their core demographic.

    Add another reason why: the American tax code rewards foreign investment in American business. That's not a bad thing for economic growth, but it's not a sturdy peg for continuing American ownership of 'craft' breweries.

    When the Heineken/Lagunitas deal was announced, a false-dilemma cacophony arose on the web. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about 'sell out' and the like. (Lagunitas owner, Tony Magee's over-the-top explanation didn't help.)

    In rebuttal, there were condescending tut-tuts: hey, it's only business. It's only beer. Get over it. (And, this has happened now on several occasions: Anheuser-Busch with Goose Island and Ten Barrel, Duvel Moortgat with Boulevard and Firestone-Walker, to name a few.) Other gray-speckled 'craft' brewers may have been envious that it was Magee's mobile phone and not theirs which had vibrated with call-waiting from 'Big Brewer.'

    The truth lies, as it often does, somewhere in between. Who are we to begrudge brewers their financial stability in retirement? 'Craft' beer is neither a non-profit public trust, nor is it an ordinary product like the widgets of Econ 101. It's a legal drug with little utility other than amusement, but containing a small measure of nobility. (Maybe believed after consuming one.) "Craft breweries have a soul, and I think the big money coming into the industry is kind of a challenge to that soul," said Steve Hindy of Brooklyn Brewing.
    I am 100 percent with those who characterize beer as something ineffable—it’s one of the few truly international human practices that unites us through time and space. Sitting with friends drinking beer made by a local family in the next room is as ancient as civilization itself. [...] But beer companies? They are organs of commerce, however wonderful the brewers and publicans they employ may be.
    —Jeff Alworth. All About Beer: 9 September 2015

    'Craft' beer proponents —manufacturers and drinkers— can occasionally demonstrate a messianic streak. 'Saving the world' is a meme promulgated by some of the poobahs of established breweries —who declare the Lydia Pinkham miraculousness of their products— shared by the arrivistes of 'nano-breweries' —who bedeck themselves with the honorific 'brewmaster,' declaring the end to bad beer, despite nary a professionally-brewed drop in their portfolio. Where's Professor Harold Hill when you need him?

    'Craft' beer can often show little regard for the lessons of its own short history. Why, for example, were there almost no observances or celebrations of the half-century mark of craft beer's re-birth in America? I'm afraid that there are many in the 'craft' beer world who could not have cared less.

    When the American small brewery industry was resuscitated fifty years ago —in 1965, when Fritz Maytag bought the Anchor Brewing Company, and followed eleven years later, in 1976, when Jack McAuliffe opened his short-lived New Albion Brewing— few could have foretold the growth, of what now most call 'craft' beer, from null to significant. That first generation of 'craft' beermakers, the second in the 1980s, and the third in the 1990s, together had, as one of their goals, if unspoken, the 'mainstreeting' of 'craft' beer. Where good beer had been once very difficult to find, the goal was to make it —as has been achieved fifty years later— readily accessible to all Americans. This is an important milestone of doggedness and success, worth trumpeting.

    Steele finishes his analysis of the state of American 'craft' beer in 2015 worried but hopeful:
    When you see established breweries veer off their tried and true path, or brew a beer that someone else has already made popular, that is most likely a marketing decision, not a brewer decision. Maybe I’m a bit naive, but the idealist in me finds this unsettling, and I don’t think it bodes well for the future. All this being said, I am still quite bullish on craft brewing and will remain a lifelong fan of great beer. But I think there will be some rough roads ahead as the industry growth continues.


    Saturday, September 12, 2015

    Pic(k) of the week: Cask & draught

    Cask & draught

    A pretty pair: a glass of cask-conditioned double IPA * on the left, and, on the right, a glass of draught pilsner.

    William Jeffrey's Tavern
    Arlington, Virginia.
    10 September 2015.


    Monday, September 07, 2015

    Clamps & Gaskets: News Roundup for Weeks 34/35, 2015.

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

    Weeks 34/35
    16 August - 29 August 2015

    • 29 August 2015
      Beer historian Ron Pattinson looks at the historical record to determine the real differences between porter and stout. It involved a process called parti-gyling.
      "The difference between porter and stout? All stouts are types of porter. But not all porters are stouts. Only the stronger ones."
      —Via All About Beer.

    • 29 August 2015
      Whenever breweries produce beers with ingredients and processes other than the 'standard' water, malt, hops, and yeast, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) requires pre-approval of the formula. In 2014, the TTB relaxed those standards just a bit. Certain processes —such as aging beer in barrels containing NO DISCERNIBLE QUANTITY of wine or distilled spirits— and certain fruits and spices were exempted.
      —Via Brewery law.

    • 28 August 2015
      The Washington Redskins football team relents, decides to offer locally-brewed beer at FedEx Field. Maryland and Virginia beers, but, despite the team's name, no beers from Washington, D.C.
      —Via Washington Post.

    • 27 August 2015
      Dudes Brews in Colorado produces a legal marijuana beer. No physcotropic tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but plenty of cannabidiol.
      —Via Craft Brewing Business.

    • 27 August 2015
      A not insubstantial portion of 'craft' beer's recent growth has been based on beers that don't taste like beer.
      —Via YFGF.

    • 26 August 2015
      Ninety-five years ago, on 26 August 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, guaranteeing American women the right to vote.

    • 26 August 2015
      Researchers at Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute have determined that the Washington, D.C. area has the nation's worst traffic congestion.
      —Via WTOP.

    • 23 August 2015
      The Answer Brewpub (in Richmond, Virginia) wins Best of Show at The 2015 Virginia Craft Brewers Cup, announced at the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest, held in Roseland, Virginia.
      —Full list of winners, via Virginia Craft Beer Magazine.

    • 21 August 2015
      A nascent industry in Maryland: farming and malting of brewer's barley. and how that could help preserve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay. a nascent Maryland industry.
      —Via beer historian Maureen O’Prey, at Behind The Craft.

    • 20 August 2015
      Byron Burch —American homebrewing educator and author, and ‪early 'craft' beer‬ guru— has died in Santa Rosa, California, at age 75.
      —Via Bill Swindell, at Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

    • 20 August 2015
      Was this the first commercial brewery in America?
      "According to Henry Gusmer, at A. Gusmer, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, can boast the first brewery in America, dated as far back as 1642. Jan Putten is purported to have built the first 'brouwerie' on Castle Point close to the many resorts of Elysian Fields memory [an early 20th century resort, itself purportedly the site of the first-ever organized baseball game]."
      —Via beer historian Rich Wagner, re-quoted at YFGF.

    • 19 August 2015
      "Craft breweries have a soul, and I think the big money coming into the industry is kind of a challenge to that soul." Steve Hindy of Brooklyn Brewery, discussing the current large, and growing larger, interest of investment firms in 'craft' breweries.
      —Via Reuters.

    • 17 August 2015
      The sorites paradox of 'session' beer: "When it comes to our body’s alcohol intake, what’s the real difference between 4% and 5% alcohol by volume?
      Much more than 25%."
      —Via beer writer Joe Stange, at Draft Magazine.

    • 16 August 2015
      "Julian Bond, a charismatic figure of the 1960s civil rights movement, a lightning rod of the anti-Vietnam War campaign and a lifelong champion of equal rights, notably as chairman of the N.A.A.C.P., died on Saturday night in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. He was 75."
      —Via New York Times.

    • 16 August 2015
      University of Wisconsin scientists have sequenced the DNA of Saccharomyces eubayanus, the non-European parent of lager beer yeast. In the process, they discovered that the two principal modern strains of lager yeast, Frohberg and Saaz, had separate origins, not a single precursor, as earlier hypothesized.
      —Via Los Angeles Times.

    Sunday, September 06, 2015

    The day, twenty years ago, that Cal Ripken, Jr. showed up for work.

    Once in awhile, sports can provide us with a transcendent moment, something more than parochial physicality.

    One such moment may have occurred this date, twenty years ago, on 6 September 1995.

    On that evening, Cal Ripken, Jr. —shortstop for the Orioles baseball team in Baltimore, Maryland— would show up for work for the two-thousandth one-hundred and thirty-first consecutive time, setting a new record for the most consecutive occasions, in the history of Major League Baseball, that one person had played that game.

    Baseball has plenty of records, but some always stand out. Part of the reason is the accomplishment itself, but who has held them is just as important. And just as 60 home runs always meant Babe Ruth and a 56-game hitting streak always meant Joe DiMaggio, 2,130 consecutive games played always meant [Lou] Gehrig.

    It was one of the game's unbreakable records, and with good reason. For 40 years after Gehrig's career ended because of the disease that would eventually carry his name, no one came within 900 games of catching him.

    The 1983 season was [Baltimore Orioles shortstop] Cal Ripken's second full year in the big leagues, and the first in which he played all 162 games. It was also the year he won his only World Series and the first of his two American League Most Valuable Player awards.

    By the time he won the MVP again in 1991, Ripken was within 500 games of catching Gehrig, and the Iron Man legacy was building. At that point, though, it was still secondary to his reputation as one of MLB's best players.

    Sometime around 1995, and maybe exactly on that magical night of Sept. 6, the dynamic flipped. Fans still celebrated Ripken for the way he played the game, but more than anything they remembered him as the guy who never missed a game.

    Ripken Jr. made the night all the more memorable with a home run. "I said a long time ago that to be remembered at all is pretty special," he said. He'll be remembered for ages, and his record will be, too.

    Ripken's streak ended in 1998 at 2,632 games, which, at 162 games per season, takes a little more than 16 years.
    Bleacher Report

    That evening, twenty years ago, today, Cal Ripken, Jr. showed up for work, and a standing-room-only crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland, rewarded him with a twenty-two minute ovation. It may have been just a game, but the folk there (and many, elsewhere) cheered for him for that most Ben Franklin-esque of American traits: the value of hard work.

    So, why not America, this weekend, twenty years to the day, why not cheer for all who show up for work? Why not respect the intrinsic value of each and every American's labor, no matter how grand or quotidian the job?

    This weekend, let's rededicate our nation to rewarding all Americans for their worth and for their basic human dignity, as we remember that capital without labor has little utility.

    This weekend, America, let's honor Labor Day. And, while we're at it, give our (non-baseball!) laborers the day off.

    "I've seen a lot of things in professional sports, but never in my life have I ever seen anything like this," said Hall-of-Fame announcer Jon Miller.


    Saturday, September 05, 2015

    Pic(k) of the Week: August pilsner refreshment

    August pilsner refreshment

    Pilsner infused with coffee? Misappropriation of a time-honored name? * Amok potluckery masquerading as 'creativity'? Yes, yes, and yes.

    But, no. Merely because one can , does not mean one should.

    In the pilsner pictured above, as counter-example, there was no coffee. Rather, a brewer had used skill (and art) to render something difficult as tangible. The brewer had 'created' —as in, to have "brought something into existence"— refreshment.

    Simplify? It was a beautiful pilsner beer, for 26 August, 2015.


    Friday, September 04, 2015

    Virginia 'craft' beer is booming.

    August was Virginia Craft Beer Month, first proclaimed by the Virginia legislature in 2012.

    It was worthy of celebrating. 'Craft' beer is doing a booming business in in the state.

    Virginia is for CraftBeer Lovers

    In just one year, the Commonwealth of Virginia has seen a 47% increase in the number of its breweries. There are now one-hundred twenty-five (125) 'craft' breweries in the state. In 2014, by comparison, there were eighty-two 'craft' breweries; in 2013, just over fifty. 1

    According to the Beer Institute, the total economic impact of the beer industry in Virginia during 2014 was:
    • $4.9 billion dollars in direct economic impact.
    • $2.6 billion dollars in taxes.
    • 26,184 jobs.
    For comparison, in all of the United States, in 2014, the beer industry accounted for:
    • $253 billion in economic activity (1.5% of GDP).
    • $48.5 billion in tax revenue.
    • 1.75 million jobs.
    Also using 2014 numbers, the (U.S.) Brewers Association ranks Virginia as:
    • 15th in the U.S. for number of breweries (out of 51)
    • 27th for breweries per capita (at 13 per 100,000 residents)
    • 19th for economic impact; 39th for economic impact per capita ($173.18).
      [Statistics for Washington, D.C. and Maryland below the jump. 2]
    The greater portion of this growth can be tracked to 2012, to the passage of Virginia Senate Bill 604 and House Bill 359, that allowed production breweries —that is, breweries without a restaurant attached (aka brewpubs)— to sell beer for on-site consumption in their public taprooms.

    Full bar @Caboose

    Nationwide growth of at-brewery sales

    This increase of at-the-brewery-consumption is not limited to Virginia. The adjoining state of Maryland and the District of Columbia allow it too. And, it's growing throughout the U.S., in those states that permit it. As beer blogger Bryan D. Roth reported:
    A glance at the most recent statistical report on beer by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau shows production of beer in several categories is roughly on par with last year, including kegs, bottles and cans. However, one area stands out quite a bit. One big takeaway from the latest TTB beer production report: people are drinking a lot more beer at breweries.

    Nationwide, that's 46.7% more beer consumed at breweries from January to June over the same period last year: 422,561 versus 287,965 barrels.

    Virginia Craft Brewers Festival 2015

    Virginia Craft Brewers Cup

    A highlight of Virginia Craft Beer Month was the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest, now in its fourth year. And a highlight of that was the awarding of the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup to the state's best beers and breweries, as determined by nationally accredited judges (of the BJCP, the Beer Budge Certification Program).

    For the three years prior, host brewery, Devils Backbone, had won the Cup —and bragging rights as Virginia's best. But things changed this year. The Answer —the less-than-a year-old brewpub of An Bui, long-time proprietor of Vietnamese restaurateur/craft beer bar Mekong— won best-of-show, for its IPA.

    The Virginia Craft Brewers Cup competition by the numbers:
    • 306 beers were entered in 24 categories. 3 [In 2014, 200 beers in 14 categories.]
    • The Answer (in Richmond) was one of 3 breweries to garner 3 gold medals. The other two were Devils Backbone (Roseland, Lexington)) and Midnight Brewing (Rockville). No one brewery received more than three gold medals.
    • Devils Backbone took home the most overall medals with 6, followed by O'Connor Brewing (Norfolk) with 5, and Lickinghole Creek (Goochland) with four.
    • 7 breweries, including The Answer, were awarded 3 medals.

    Answer Brewpub head brewer Brandon Tolbert hoists the Virginia Beer Cup
    Photo courtesy Virginia Craft Beer

    The 2015 winners:
    • Best of Show
    • Light Lager
    • Pilsner
    • Amber and Dark Lager
      • Gold
        Devils Backbone Brewing Company Outpost – Schwartz Bier
      • Silver
        Devils Backbone Brewing Company Outpost – Vienna Lager
      • Bronze
        Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet) – Jomo
    • Light American Ale
    • Kolsch and Altbier
    • British Bitter
    • Scottish and Irish Amber Ale
      • Gold
        Midnight Brewery – Rockville Red
      • Silver
        Three Notch’d Brewing (Charlottesville) – Hydraulion Red
      • Bronze
        Capitol City Brewing Company (Arlington) – Canny Lass
    • American Amber and Brown Ale
      • Gold
        Rusty Beaver Brewery (Ladysmith) – Roy’s Big Bad Brown Ale
      • Silver
        Wolf Hills Brewing – Creeper Trail Amber Ale
      • Bronze
        O’Connor Brewing Company (Norfolk) – Red Nun Red Ale
    • English Mild and Brown Ale
      • Gold
        Three Notch’d Brewing (Charlottesville) – No Veto Brown
      • Silver
        Midnight Brewery – Not My Job
      • Bronze
        Garden Grove Brewing Company (Richmond) – Broke Down Soldier
    • American Pale Ale
    • IPA
      • Gold
        The Answer (Richmond) – Larceny
      • Silver
        Extra Billy’s Smokehouse and Brewery (Richmond) – Citra Ass Down
      • Bronze
        Young Veterans Brewing Company (Virginia Beach) – Semper Fi PA
    • Imperial IPA
      • Gold
        Parkway Brewing Company (Salem) – 4 Damn Fights to a Pint
      • Silver
        O’Connor Brewing Company (Norfolk) – Heavy Footer DIPA
      • Bronze
        The Answer (Richmond) – Hard In The Paint
    • Porter
      • Gold
        Devils Backbone Brewing Company Basecamp (Roseland) – Danzig
      • Silver
        Big Ugly Brewing (Chesapeake) – Ghost Rider Porter
      • Bronze
        Parkway Brewing Company (Salem) – Raven’s Roost Baltic Porter
    • Stout
    • Russian Imperial Stout
      • Gold
        Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery (Goochland) – Virginia Black Bear
      • Silver
        Extra Billy’s Smokehouse and Brewery (Midlothian) – Sin Bin
      • Bronze
        St. George Brewing Company (Hampton) – Imperial Stout
    • Strong Ale
    • German Wheat Beer
    • Belgian Session Ales
    • Belgian Strong Ales
    • Sour Ale
      • Gold
        Alewerks Brewing Company (Williamsburg) – Lover’s Greed
      • Silver
        Reaver Beach Brewing (Virginia Beach) – Jolie Rogue
      • Bronze
        Hardywood Park Craft Brewery (Richmond) – Berliner Weisse
    • Smoked and Wood Aged Beer
      • Gold
        O’Connor Brewing Company (Norfolk) – Backyard Bonfire Smoked IPA
      • Silver
        Adroit Theory Brewing Company (Purcellville) – Devil Made Me (Bourbon Aged)
      • Bronze
        Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery (Goochland) – Li
    • Herb, Spice, and Vegetable Beer
      • Gold
        St. George Brewing Company (Hampton) – Pumpkinfest
      • Silver
        Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery (Goochland) – Heir Apparent
      • Bronze
        Blue Mountain Barrel House (Lexington) – Spooky
    • Fruit Beer
      • Gold – River Company Brewery (Fairlawn) – Peachicot Blonde Ale
      • Silver – Hardywood Park Craft Brewery (Richmond) – Raspberry Stout
      • Bronze – Alewerks Brewing Company (Williamsburg) – Pumpkin Ale
    • Specialty
      • Gold
        Port City Brewing Company (Alexandria) – Ways & Means IPA
      • Silver
        Parkway Brewing Company (Salem) – Gose Both Ways
      • Bronze
        Lost Rhino Brewing (Ashburn) – Tmavy
    • 1 This number comes from the Virginia ABC website which lists breweries that are legally licensed, paying state excise taxes and other government fees. Anheuser-Busch in Williamsburg, and MillerCoors in Elkton, also operate as breweries within the state, but are too large to be considered 'craft' under the definition of the (U.S.) Brewers Association.

    • 2 Since YFGF is located in the DMV, let's look at figures for the 'D' and the 'M' as well, where on-premises consumption at breweries is also allowed.
      • In the District of Columbia during 2014, beer accounted for:
        • $276.9 million dollars in direct economic impact. (51st out of 51)
        • Impact per capita: $293.10 (16th out of 51).
        • $69.2 million dollars in taxes.
        • 3,125 jobs.
        • 49th in the U.S. for number of breweries
        • 21st for breweries per capita (at 1.6 per 100,000 residents)
      • The total economic impact of the beer industry in Maryland during 2014 was:
        • $1.28 billion dollars in direct economic impact. (23rd)
        • Impact per capita: $157.66 (47th out of 51)
        • $400 million dollars in taxes.
        • 14,980 jobs.
        • 24th in the U.S. for number of breweries
        • 38th for breweries per capita (at 0.9 per 100,000 residents)

    • 3The list of winners is from Virginia Craft Beer magazine. (As of this post, the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest had not officially published a list of winners at its website.) I don't have the numbers for how many breweries actually entered, or how many beers were entered in each category.

    • For more from YFGF: