Your Weekly Beer News Considered And Consolidated For Exactly What Your Thursday Demands

I need to make sure I am less self-indulgent this week. Last week was a bit too… thematic without, you know, a solid theme. I deserve a rebuke from time to time. I thought Stan was helpfully chastising me in his comment… but I am not quite sure. You have a look:

I’m pretty sure Alan McLeod was lamenting the use of the term “deep dive” in his commentary on recent beer news last week. Fact is when I see the words “deep dive” I expect what follows to go deep less often than not.

I never do well with these sort of mathy statements. But then… I thought it would be “more often than not” if deep dives labelled properly were more common than the tawdry shams.  Doesn’t “less often than not” mean the shams outweigh the actuals?  And if you think about it – by their very nature – these summary things are more like strolls in the shallows, not deep dives at all.  Oh dear. I’ve been self-indulgent again. Must stop. Here’s some news.

My problem with the thesis on glitter beer by the entirely reliable Carla Jean Lauter is knowing the many really stupid and indulgent things which give me joy. They still remain sorta stoopid* despite my joy. I am reminded, in fact, of that passage from Thomas More’s early modern masterpiece Utopia:

They divide the pleasures of the body into two sorts—the one is that which gives our senses some real delight, and is performed either by recruiting Nature and supplying those parts which feed the internal heat of life by eating and drinking, or when Nature is eased of any surcharge that oppresses it, when we are relieved from sudden pain, or that which arises from satisfying the appetite which Nature has wisely given to lead us to the propagation of the species. 

In first year undergrad, someone in class asked what More meant by eased surcharge. Poop, said the prof. Or, now, glitter pee, I suppose.

Elsewhere, someone by the name of Gary, left in charge of UK grocer Sainsbury’s social media, was having a hard time at the end of last week but Matthew L stepped forward to straight-forwardly and helpfully explain the economics of chilling beer at the general retail level:

I’m closer to the shop floor realities of retail than Gary is, and I can explain why supermarkets don’t, as a rule, chill their entire beer supply and display chain.  As stated above, this might be a revelation to those who don’t work in my industry.

What a sensible explanation. And what a sentence from Stonch: “For an hour and a half, I was a fixed point among the shifting population of tourists, as I savoured glasses of each of the four beers poured at a simple bar.” While we are at it, what a photo and caption from The Beer Nut!

Good to see that sensible sweaters are big in Brussels. TBN actually had another point… which I liked. And I also liked this proclamation from Matty C about London. I usually don’t like proclamations, urban or otherwise, but this is actually a good one. It’s nice. Not quite Belgian millennial sweater nice but actually pretty close.

Speaking of almost Belgian millennial sweater goodness, if I were to pick a review to review as illustrating what a book review (and, yes, I know this sounds indulgent) it’s this review by The Tand of the new book by Stange and Webb. It even includes substantive arguments as to why one should trust the new book by Stange and Webb on Belgian beer:

The authors point out – and this is important – that they did not seek samples from breweries, but rather, went there and bought the beers. They are also keen to opine that, in an age of obfuscation and blurring of lines, often by large conglomerates,  the place of origin of beer remains important, as it adds to authenticity. This is particularly so in Belgium, where beer in all its diverse forms so often has a clear link to its local or regional roots. 

Some will still insist that paying your own way to prepare a book about beer is impossible. Sounds like a very good one. And what is a good “two”? Well, that’s the number of new good things you’ve learned so far about Belgium. Boom! Here’s something interesting which is not related to Belgium a confession from Boak and Bailey:

We’ve never been quite sure. Think it refers to a distinct grain / seed / breadcrust flavour derived from malt.

I think I can be helpful here… if the question is “what does a biscuity malt mean?” If you go way back into this blog’s archives you will find beer reviews like this or this.  And there you will see me using descriptors like biscuity and breadcrusty and pumpernickely. When I did that I sometimes actually went and got a biscuit or crust of bread to confirm my reference. But then… was it an arrowroot biscuit or a butter biscuit? Whole wheat or French? I also would find I wanted to describe something as raisiny but  then wonder is it a Thompson or Sultana? Words like this draw you into thinking about flavour. Based on your own actual experience. I think it is fundamental to learning how to taste things, about how I taste things.  You may have another path to the same end. There are likely many. But this is one I recommend.

Question: if you call a brewery “they” then don’t they then have souls?

Finally, our two nominees for “The Unhelpful But Beer-Related Semi-Science Story Of The Week“:

Australians Have Developed a Beer That You Can Drink in Space

Why Do Some Beer Bubbles Appear to Defy Physics?

There. I am done for now. There could be more to be said but I think I am done for this week. Yup. Feels like it. Done. Big Supreme Court of Canada ruling on buying beer and then transporting it across provincial boundaries being issued later today.  But that’ll deserve its own space and quiet consideration. So it will.

*St👀pid, even. Which, you know, owning the complete DVD set of Space: 1999 requires me to acknowledge. And the 200 lbs of men’s tweedwear.  

Remember When We All Believed In The J-Curve?

What is it in alcohol that makes people so strident, so binary? Oh, I forgot. It’s the alcohol. Which is what I thought again to myself as I read many of the reactions to the news from the UK’s leading medical journal, The Lancet, that a diet that includes a rather moderate amount of regular alcohol intake is not a very good diet if you like the quantitative aspect of life. Here is the summary of the study’s findings:

In the 599 912 current drinkers included in the analysis, we recorded 40 310 deaths and 39 018 incident cardiovascular disease events during 5·4 million person-years of follow-up. For all-cause mortality, we recorded a positive and curvilinear association with the level of alcohol consumption, with the minimum mortality risk around or below 100 g per week. Alcohol consumption was roughly linearly associated with a higher risk of stroke (HR per 100 g per week higher consumption 1·14, 95% CI, 1·10–1·17), coronary disease excluding myocardial infarction (1·06, 1·00–1·11), heart failure (1·09, 1·03–1·15), fatal hypertensive disease (1·24, 1·15–1·33); and fatal aortic aneurysm (1·15, 1·03–1·28). By contrast, increased alcohol consumption was log-linearly associated with a lower risk of myocardial infarction (HR 0·94, 0·91–0·97). In comparison to those who reported drinking >0–≤100 g per week, those who reported drinking >100–≤200 g per week, >200–≤350 g per week, or >350 g per week had lower life expectancy at age 40 years of approximately 6 months, 1–2 years, or 4–5 years, respectively.

The great thing about this study is that it is a study of all the bad stuff. In addition to using grams of alcohol instead of some useless “standard unit” measure, it does not cherry pick. From time to time you will see a beer trade consultant argue that there is a health benefit to drinking alcohol that leverages the idea up there of the log-linearly association with a lower risk of myocardial infarction. Heart disease. To dress it up, the talking head will reference “the J-Curve” to impress that this is a masonic like bit of secret information that has to be received on the basis of trust rather knowledge.* Belief over fact. Sometimes the idea actually is presented compellingly.

The most important thing to understand is that it is both true and not true at all. The J-Curve requires having a preference to not suffer from one particular set of diseases related to the heart. I know of no one who thinks that way: “I don’t mind recovering from this mid-60s bout of cancer but I will be damned if I have that mild heart attack that sets me back for a bit until I get my house in order.” But, just as craft loves to award itself first prize when it comes to harm avoidance, the booze trade loves the J-Curve.

No, it’s about overall health and the balancing of it off against overall fun. I turn 55 next week and have had my share of boozy fun, happily more and more in my further past. It’s nice to have the memories – even some of the ones that make you cringe – because the alternative to having the memories is not all that great. I had an acquaintance twenty years ago who was a regular smokey-drinky after work guy. Bob. Bob hit 50 around 1996 and would say he liked to live his live as he wanted. He’d bring that up, between phlegm sputtery coughs, most times I was out in his company. He died around age 52. No J-Curve miracle for Bob.

Max, as usual, has the more realistic view, expressed on Facebook this morning:

I don’t think having a drink every now and again is bad for you, any more than it is having a fag or a joint every now and again, but I am not convinced it is any good, either (at least physiologically) and I am equally skeptical about the conclusions of the linked article as I am about those from pieces touting the health benefits of having a pint or a glass of wine a day. And yes, I drink more than I probably should, but I do it because I like it and not because I expect any health benefit.

It’s a trade-off. Which is what the study in The Lancet is saying. If you have 200 grams of alcohol a week, well, on average that’s going to knock half a year off your life span. That’s about a 12 pack of 5% beer in 12 ounce bottles. Double that amount to about 24 bottles a week and you might be looking at a life that is shortened by four years or eight times that six months.

Now, without getting too much into the details, I have had the opportunity to work with the older and, occasionally, the dying as part of my career. I have taken a death will from someone who passed 30 minutes later. Not fun. Yet, quite important to that person and quite humbling for me. My impression is that once one gets to a certain point in years the “fun v. years” trade-off is worth it. You think “so maybe I die in October and not next April… I’ve had a good run.” My own father basically said that, even though the cause in his case was not the perils of alcohol but the perils of being freckled and living within the range of the sun’s rays. I might even go so far as to say that magic number for this sort of reflection might kick in when you get in view of your eightieth birthday – or perhaps it’s getting to 90% of your expected longevity based on your relatives. Not the Bob-span. Much more than that.

Yet note one other thing. This is from a twitter discussion amongst stats geeks reading the report in The Lancet:

Of 100 people drinking 14 units a week, 99 people will not die due to alcohol and 1 will. That 1 person loses 37 years of life. The remainder obviously lose 0 years. The average across the 100 people comes out at 0.3 years lose.

The distribution of the ill effects of too much drink is not consistent, not fairly distributed, whatever fair means. So much more important than either the J-Curve effect and even the average number of drinks is luck of the draw. You know you are shortening your life but the degree to which it is shortened is case specific. Based on you. And whatever it is you did. [What did I do? Yikes!]

Sometimes I ask myself whether at some point in my retirement I might take up smoking. Or add much more unctuously satisfying animal fat to my diet. Statistically, if I get to 73 or 76 I might as well as I won’t shift my likely outcome in terms of the quantity of my remaining years all that much. I fancy sticking a pipe in my pocket, a leather pouch of a cherry infused tobacco. Once in a while. Not Bob-like smoking. Something more sensible. No rush. That’s a couple of decades off yet. If I make it. If I haven’t already played all the strong suit cards I was dealt.

I think there is a lot of good news in this report. While the overall detrimental effect on health is steady, the line on the graph does not take off at an entirely unexpected pace. And, as the graphs do  not record longevity into the triple digits, there is a implicit reminder that we are all ending up in the same place eventually. So, it is a “fun v. years” calculation. Finding that point of balance. Unless it isn’t about fun for you. Or if you are a Bob. Or Bob. Good stuff to consider, maybe even over a beer or two this weekend.

*Trust me. I am a lapsed Mason.

All The Beer News That Matters For The Middle Third Of April


Matters? None of this really matters all that much. Fine. Maybe posts like this are just the stuff you need to get you to – or through – the stuff that matters. Let’s go with that. It’s OK. A quiet week now and then is nice. No need to puff it up with claiming this post is a “deep dive” into this or that. Is that why so much get the head scratching these days? Is there actuallyan increase in beer media types tweeting about beer just because they want freebies“? Does that really matter? Yet… who thought that, by Wednesday, the TV ad up there from 1995 would matter so much now, twenty three years later? But it does as it’s a matter the center of a lawsuit that might end up maybe marking the end of an era. More below. Deep down there.

Before that – first, but not exactly unrelated – I find a certain sort of post, illustrated this week by one Pete, a bit… odd. You may not agree – which is fine – but let me express myself for just this one instance.  Please. What I don’t get is while he concludes that what he finds odd is an article motivated by the desire to “create specious claims” he spends a lot of time saying things like “that’s certainly food for thought” and “there are certainly some interesting points” which, for me, leads to the critique of the article sounding a lot like a sibling of the article. Which leads me wondering why the article, the one he didn’t like, would matter to Pete that much. It’s not like I don’t sympathize. I was shocked when I read about “The Secret Brewery Battle That Could Kill Manchester’s Booming Craft Beer Scene“! but then couldn’t believe my eyes when I read about “The Secret Brewery Battle That Could Kill Wales’ Booming Beer Scene“!!! Clearly there is less than 85% overlap between the two articles so… journalism can’t be dead! [Note: intracraft warfare now clearly out in the open with the use of “beer bullies” by one local Mancunian know-it-alls. Well… sometimes they do know something, right?]

All I mean is what we are all seeing around us is far more interesting : the expansion of craft by including and retaining anything claiming to be craft; freakshake pastry stouts, the churn of increased brewery closures aligning with the uncertainty tiny brewers bring; and the seven year itch that, yes, is hitting the craft beer monogamists. Being a spectator in a ripe time of transition behooves us all to spectate. Which sounds a lot like speculate but it’s really quite a different thing all together. Let’s just sit and watch for a bit. There. That’s better. [Note: if you love something let it go.]

Perhaps conversely… but maybe not, my own dear old hometown newspaper ran an article on my own dear old undergrad alma mater’s historic brewing studies – and it’s perhaps the most honest bit of beer related journalism I’ve read in yoinks. [Note: Apparently, we usually can’t handle the truth.] So much of what was made sounds horrible. Did anyone get an F for their project?

In an even more real case of matter… and perhaps even anti-matter,  I think we can all agree that we don’t need to check out the Royal Oak in Wigan. Don’t go. The back streets of Ron’s Amsterdam, however, are where the clever should aim there feet.  [Note: Ron hit the exact sweet spot for mushy not mushy this week. Govern yourselves accordingly.] And speaking of travel and also as a matter that surely matters, I would still be mesmerized even if it turned out that Lars has been stringing us all along, weaving an entirely fictional fraud upon us all with his northern farmhouse ale studies. “Koduõlu, the traditional farmhouse ale from the large Estonian islands in the Baltic“? Who researches that? Lars!

What else? Well, given my recent doubts as to the point of taproom fever, it has been playing the role of interesting subtext of the week. What is a taproom anyway? Beeson, J. is of the opinion that if the beer is not brewed on site surely it’s just a bar. Yet the utterly venerable Laxfield Low House in Suffolk clearly has a taproom yet does not brew. It is the room where casks are tapped and served on gravity. [Note: it has a taproom but is not a taproom.]  The Royal Tavern here in Kingston, Ontario has a sign over the door that says “Tap Room” but – even though the establishment predates Canada and was a haunt of our first Prime Minister – it’s just a bit of a hard dive.  Not Wigan Royal Oak hard… mostly… mainly. [Note: it has no taproom and is not a taproom but claims a tap room.] I suspect taproom is like curate, code for “modern thing or action which needs not be investigated and considered so much as put up with and outlived.” [Note: Did I mention I turn 55 next week. Does it show? If you call it “double nickels” it sounds way cool, too, just like “curate“!]

You know what matters? You, the kind reader. And this has to be the most heart warming response to a weekly newsy notes post ever:

OK, then. I will.

Finally, that matter at the top of the page. That 1995 TV ad way up top… that’s actually referenced in the Answer and Counterclaim filed by MillerCoors in the Stone vs. Keystone lawsuit archived at Syracuse, NY attorney Brendan Palfreyman’s website.  Much of US-based beer social media was humming about the contents of the Answer as well as Brendan’s analysis on Twitter. The bottom line is this. Stone launch a court action a couple of months ago claiming a bit of the moral high ground. But, as I noted last February, there is plenty of evidence of the use of “Stone” related to Keystone beer before their trademark was registered and under US law this is important. As stated at paragraph 29 of the Answer:

…Coors’ use of STONE and STONES predates Stone Brewing’s use of STONE. When co-founders Greg Koch and Steve Wagner decided to adopt the moniker Stone Brewing in 1996, Coors was already selling Keystone beer nationally in cases labeled STONES and running marketing campaigns advertising Keystone beer as STONE. MillerCoors did not “verbatim copy” Stone Brewing’s trademark. If anything, it is much more likely that Stone Brewing copied the STONE name from Coors, since Keystone beer was already advertised as such in the market.

It sounds like bravado but at section 23 of the Answer, it states that Koch said the following in an interview about Keystone’s 1995 “Bitter Beer Face” ads (like the one up there at the top of this post):

Basically it was a misinformation campaign. It was designed to tell the American public ‘You’re not sophisticated enough.’ Let’s try to tell you that you don’t want better beer. It’s really a form of oppression. There’s just nothing short of it.

This is an amazing bit of evidence. Needs to be proven in court but, funny enough, that is what MillerCoors apparently is going to do. Watch the TV ad again. I had no idea there were “anti-hoppy” ads running in the mid-1990s. What is not to love about that ad? Well, maybe not if you like that bitter puckery micro beer. Which might cause a mid-1990s upstart with oddly strong impressions about what oppression means to take aim at the gargantuan brewery making fun of your dreams on the TV.  Wouldn’t that be funny if over two decades that attitude were now to come back to bite someone. Sometimes a particular stone is the best means to clarify what is real. Who knows? Let the court decide, I say!

So there you go. What looked like another dull week explodes again by my Wednesday deadline to send this baby to the printing shop… boom. No doubt there will be even more for you to consider from Boak and Bailey on Saturday and Stan on Monday.

A New Indigenous Beer Style? Watertown Cold!

Searching the on-line archives on a quiet day off, I found a very interesting bit of news in a June 5, 1988 article in the entirely venerable Watertown Daily Times  under the headline “Prohibition Invention Made in City” which describes one aspect of the local bootlegging trade when distributing Canada’s gift of beer imports was a boon to the good folk of upstate New York. The border area was, as would be expected, a hotbed of smuggling – but in the middle of the article there was this startling passage:

By 1925, even the New York Times carried stories stating that Watertown was the hub of illegal beer shipments. On Aug. 20 of that year, newly appointed Buffalo Divisional Prohibition Chief Romaine Merrick, who was assigned to northern New York, told The New York Times: “In the Buffalo District, I will have the largest distillery in the state. It is in Watertown.” The next day, The Watertown Daily Times wrote a reaction story, stating that only near beer, a legal beverage at the time, was known to be brewed here. 

Little did they know that sometime between 1919 and 1928, the owners of the brewery had constructed a secret cold-distilling and bottling operation worth $50,000, concealing it in a nearby garage. The federal Treasury Agents were amazed. They thought they had sealed off the area nine years before… Federal officials had found two huge vats in the basement of the brewery, where cold water, malt, hops and yeast were being mixed and allowed to ferment slowly into high-alcohol beer. The beer was then filtered through special paper that collected impurities, and piped to an illicit bottling operation nearby.

Now, as I wrote in Ontario Beer, we all know that even though Canada had a form of restriction on the legal sale of beer during our temperance era, there was never actual full on prohibition. Restrictions were largely imposed province by province. The breweries were not shut down as that was under federal law. And the era of temperance ended when the realization was realized that the breweries (and wineries… and distilleries…) were making masses of untaxed wealth off of the export trade. And the Canadian export trade was exporting into the USA. So, that the Feds, the G-men, were on the trail of bootleggers was normal.

But what was going on in that basement was not normal. What the heck was this cold fermented, filtered, high-alcohol beer? The 1988 story quotes a nephew of the final owner of the brewery who said “[e]veryone liked the beer…” and also Watertown resident Samuel Frazitta who said that it had a real kick to it and “tasted real good.”This is important to appreciate as these recollections were reported in the context of an area awash in the 1920s with good Canadian beer and liquor. But what was it? Apparently the secret brewing process did not require boiling the wort as that would have attracted the Federal agents far sooner.

There is more background in this 2017 article and in this 2014 report in Northern New York Business magazine stated that the equipment included “vats that contained 320 barrels of beer in various stages of fermentation” so not a tiny operation. After the end of prohibition, the brewery continued for about another decade as a legitimate operation under the name Northern Brewing Co and was known for its:

…malty, full-bodied, European-style brews, with high alcohol content and a head you could stand a spoon in. Specialties included Watertown Cream Ale, Old Style Lager, and Jefferson Lager Beer.

All of which is interesting. Notice the prohibition beer was made of malt and hops and not just some fifth-rate sugar thrown together to make some sort of hootch. It was both malty and enjoyable. Which is also reasonable as the operation during the prohibition era was actually making legal sub-2% alcohol beer. And reasonable given the brewery had three phases of legitimate brewing: Watertown Brewing Co.(1893 to 1901), Watertown Consumers Brewing Co.(1901 to 1920) and The Northern Brewing Co. Inc. (1933 to 1943). To these can be added the illegitimate operation from 1919 to 1928.

But what was the cold-fermentation, non-odorous brewing process that was used during the bootleg era? Certainly it appears to be a singular process, without replication elsewhere as far as I know. Maybe Stan or someone else knows more. Another indigenous hidden style. Heck, is it a new, mysterious hidden technique for the crafteratti to now explore, appropriate and, then, almost immediately ruin by loading it up with fruit flavours and glitter?  Maybe. Needs more study.

The Session 134: Beer In The Garden Does Not A Biergärten Make

For this month’s edition of The Session, host and Expos successionist Tom Cizauskas has asked us to think about beer gardens:

What is a beer garden? Or what isn’t a beer garden? Or what should a beer garden be? Or where is a beer garden? Is a beer garden a place of foliage and shrubberies? Or is it a plot of concrete with umbrellas? Is a beer garden an outdoor bar? Or an outdoor Biergarten pavilion with Gemütlichkeit und Bier? Or is a beer garden to be found at a brewery with a hop trellis de rigueur?

My problem is I have never been to a beer garden. Not really a Canadian thing. Oh, folk will talk to you about a patio but that is completely different.

So… I will mention two things. The first is that Joe Stange has written a particularly wonderful entry for this month’s contribution on the joys and, umm, realities of taking your family to an actual German Biergärten. It’s the sort of great writing that an editor of a beer magazine would reject and its publisher never pay for. It’s that good! The second thing is that while I have never been to a beer garden I have written about in the past, including this piece below from 2011 “Saturday Afternoon Beer As I Smoked Meat By The Shed” which, amongst other things but especially as the southern end of the yard has lost its lovely tree, reminds me how I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so I can fix up the shed roof, clean the place out, set up a chair and have some Saturday afternoon beer as I smoked meat by the shed as I listen to a baseball game drifting in and out on my tiny AM radio.

++++++++++++

After two weeks off that saw a lot of road, it was good to have a Saturday to commune with 5 pounds of pork and 5 hours next to the Weber set up as a smoker. As perfect a summer day as ever there was, the fire sparked quickly given the subtle breeze. I dry rubbed the joint for only an hour or so and then settled in for a long afternoon’s watch.

 

 

 

 

Despite the moment, I took a few scribbled notes:

⇒ Mill Street Organic Lager is a beer that had been mainly offered in an irritating 10 ounce bottles but is now available in 500 ml cans. It has a nice body for a 4.2% beer – some pale malt roundness framed by slightly astringent hopping leafing to an autumn apple finish. one of the few Canadian better sort of sessionable beers. Good beer at a good price that lets you have a few.

⇒ I should be grateful to have a Rickard’s Blonde in the fridge – because I happily downed the first two samples sent and then had to go back and ask for more. It’s a slightly sweeter lager than the Mill Street, a bit darker with a slightly peachy tone supported by heavy carbonation. Its light astringency is present from first sip onwards leading to a bit of a rougher hop finish. Its sameness from the sip to swallow got me thinking but it is quite worth buying for what it claims to be.

⇒ Hop Devil is an old pal that served as a change of pace mid-smoke. It pounds that crystal malt that some English beer commentators now suggest is overkill. The hops have black pepper and pine tree with maybe a bit of menthol. A beer I would happily have on hand anytime.

⇒ The Samson came my way care of a pal who was traveling through Quebec and found this at the Government SAQ store up in Gaspé on the Atlantic coast. Apple butter with molasses notes open up into black cherry. Bready and bready crusty make me think of the drink that Dr. Pepper wishes it was allowed to be. No need of this to be held out for the few and the easterly. Nothing Earth shattering but more evidence that Canada needs better beer distribution.

Shed. Beer. Shed beer. They held me in good stead as the afternoon wore on. Slow smoked the pork and slow passed the hours as I day dreamed about the human condition as well as the drawing to the end of holidays.

Some Thursday Beer News After The Whole Green Flash Thing

I love the map above, a 1881 Isochronic Chart showing travel time from London under optimum conditions. Which should help understanding the travel time for casks of British beer from that year and perhaps quite a few decades before. Or at least it can be adjusted by a factor. In 1732 the ship Ann crossed the Atlantic, from London to the not-yet colony of Georgia in 88 days. Note how in 1881 Nova Scotia and a bit of Newfoundland are green, meaning transit could occur under ten days. Or about an eleventh of an Ann. Neato. More here.

Gary: Bass master… not Bassmaster. Got it?

Archaeologist Merryn Dineley, is making some great points on Twitter these days about the lack of respect and role of malt and malting through time, both today and and in particular in relation to the study of Stonehenge.

Yup.

Ha ha! Stone sued a party that had nothing to do with it. Will they pay their legal costs? Is that the reason for the delay?

The forces of “don’t worry, be happy” are out in force this week given that the news broke that the assets of Green Flash, the 43rd largest US craft brewery, have been sold off. As the Full Pint reported on Tuesday, this is part of the official memo that Green Flash President and CEO Mike Hinkley sent to over 100 shareholders:

On behalf of myself and the Board of Directors of GFBC, Inc. (the “Company”), I am truly sorry to report that the Company’s senior lender, Comerica Bank, has foreclosed on its loans and sold the assets of the Company (other than the Virginia Beach brewery) to WC IPA LLC through a foreclosure sale which closed on March 30, 2018.  As such, the Company no longer owns the Green Flash and Alpine businesses.  Comerica Bank is currently conducting a separate process to sell the Virginia Beach brewery. After a general slowdown in the craft beer industry, coupled with intense competition and a slowdown of our business, we could not service the debt that we took on to build the Virginia Beach brewery — and in early 2018, the Company defaulted on its loans with Comerica Bank.  

Note a few things. The shareholders were not aware of the decision made apparently by the main shareholder, the lender whose loan bounced. The were told after the fact. I expect that indicates that the lender got the power to do that in a loan agreement. It also might indicate that this was not the first loan agreement as gaining that short of shareholder control is not the stuff of ordinary loan agreements.  The failing of the business has being going on for some time. Also, these are asset sales.  This is not a foreclosure of the business.* The brewing company has not been sold off, just the assets of value. Including the “businesses” which would include the brands, the goodwill if any is left and all operational aspects.  So, the corporation has been stripped to pay the bank. Reason? Forget the other stuff – over extension of debt to move into the branch plant business. The only question that matters is whether others will be found to be in the same boat.

Craft was in the news for other reasons. The Wall Street Journal declared craft beer was “big business.” [Note: “big craft” was discussed in 2014.] I like this plain language sentence in the WSJ piece in particular: “[r]ecent years have seen a world-wide wave of beer consolidation.” No “sell out!” No “got gobbled up!” Just a plain language description of the business of beer doing what it has done for hundreds of years – consolidate.

One example of a consolidation was examined in far greater detail by the Chicago Tribune in Josh Noel’s excellent article “Goose Island Aims to Shake Off Rough Year with New Beers, Ad Campaign.” The only thing I didn’t understand was this passage:

Goose Island’s story is therefore returning to Chicago — an effort to tie the brewery not just to its hometown, but to cities in general: urban and bustling, with a dose of cosmopolitan and hip. “It’s something that can be owned and is differentiating for Goose Island,” Ahsmann said. “Think about it: Can you think of any other nationally distributed craft brewer based out of a city?” There are others, of course — Brooklyn Brewery, Boston Beer Co. and Anchor Brewing in San Francisco — but none that owns the idea of city in the way that Corona is beach or Coors is mountains. Ahsmann wants Goose Island to be that beer. 

If that is what Goose Island is doing under AB InBev it’s not speaking to me. I just thought Goose Island was about geese on an island. Monsieur Jonathan, Le Beerinateur, clarified on Twitter that is was a district of Chicago. Who knew? Without that context, there is no way I would think “gooseness” + “islandness” = “urban and bustling, with a dose of cosmopolitan and hip” because that math just doesn’t work for me even though I have been having the odd Goose Island IPA** since maybe 2010.  [Did all you all know this and not tell me?]

Is the lesson of both Green Flash and Goose Island that US craft and local/regional are more closely tied than big craft thought? Notte note: “It’s a fine lesson…

Celebrator ends its print run. I blame MySpace.

This is an interesting story. It’s about Catalonia’s burgeoning craft beer scene. It’s from March 2013. One key thing was left unexplored then: local sausages. No idea how they measure up compared to the sausages of other regions of Spain. That is not the point. You know, it would be nice to know what each junket sponsoring jurisdiction requires in its funding agreement by way of social media follow up content. That is for another day. Today, I am fascinated by the sudden fascination with Catalonian sausages.

You want a real beer vacation? Three words: Bavarian… theme… park.

My two favourite April Fool’s pranks: “Brewers Brace for Brettanomyces Shortage” and ^Greg, the Sunday intern for Boak and Bailey.

That’s it. I am down to the cheap shots and gags. It wears one down. More next week. Sure thing. You bet. Perhaps cheerier. No promises.  No comment.

U*This could be another aspect of the over all plan.
**Or something or other under that label.

I Don’t Understand The Taproom Math

There other day there was another one of those triumphalist announcements from someone or other on Twitter that brewery taprooms were changing US beer culture forever. Don’t get me wrong. I like them and fully understand this sort of outlook as described in The Guardian:

British craft beer makers are reviving the tradition of brewery tap rooms as an antidote to the national trend of pub closures and the dominance of big brewers. About a third of small breweries now run a tap bar, which lets drinkers sample their wares, according to a report by the Society of Independent Brewers (Siba), which also highlights a burgeoning micropub scene as brewers take over empty shops on their local high street.

That makes sense. It’s new* and there is nothing craft beer likes more than novelty. But the idea that taprooms are going to alter the basic landscape is problematic. Say we have 6,000 US breweries each with the potential to have a taproom. They will have on average likely no more than fifty seats. And if we are honest on average they likely have less than thirty seats. There are many tiny new breweries which, as I noted last week, are where the only real growth is occurring.

I shall now do the dangerous thing and apply some math.** Even going with the higher number, fifty seats times 6,000 breweries is 300,000.  In the whole of the USA.  Let’s say we get to 10,000 breweries in a few years. That would make it 500,000 seats. For 325,000,000 people. One taproom seat for every 65,000 people. I once lived in Pembroke, Ontario where there were 13 large taverns for 13,000 people. It was a reasonable estimate that there was one seat in a tavern for 10 to 15% of the community’s population at any given time. And on Friday night it was self-evident. That town liked to go out.

For taprooms to even hit a 10% level of community coverage, the US would need 325,000 craft breweries with a taproom average of 100 seats each. Fantasy. Never happening.  Which is good. Good beer is always going to be a niche product with a position and price point set by general market forces as well as reliable percentage of reasonably high functioning dipsomaniacs. That being the case, they really fill a spot like high-end cake shops or the fancy butchers folk go to only for a holiday roast.

Why do I care? My concern is, while there is certainly rural and small community infill opportunity, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to come into the market in the way that new breweries might come on line just two or three years ago. The best serve food which makes them really a brewpub but they all can’t offer the same thing, let alone afford the infrastructure of a kitchen.

One stat I would like to see tracked beyond openings and closures is the average duration of a craft brewery’s life cycle. Has the life expectancy shortened as many new players join in the game? As opportunities become more limited, as shelf space ceases to be an option it would be good to know how long a taproom focused establishment can expect to exist. And, accordingly, whether the investment is worth it.

*OK, newish… well, not really all that new.
**Please refer to the title of this post before you wag a digit. And even if I am off by an entire base ten order that sill means 32,500 breweries. Nuts. 

The End Of March Is Already Here And I Do I Have Some Beer News For You!

Time. March 2018 is almost gone and I barely noticed it was slipping away. Q2 looms. Which is great as I hate winter but which is not so great as I turn 55 next month. Did I mention that thing about time? Still frigging cold outside, too.  That in itself should help you put the week’s news about fretting about beer in perspective. Come on spring. Hello? Anyone there?* OK, I get it… let’s see if the beer news is cheerier.

First, another vintage brewery necktie for the collection. Please – send me your neckties. I may not get samples and would stick nails in my eyes before I went on a junket but I will take your ties! That would make me happy.

Next, a number. 6,266!  Wow! That’s more than before and likely less than from a bit from now. That of course, is not the real news. It’s nothing like that deep insight that things are “normalizing” – whatever that is. No, the real news came out in a web PR release that came out a day after the infographic that unpacked the numbered with an inordinate level of honest detail in the section entitled “Per Brewer Growth“:

In absolute terms, per brewery growth was less than 200 barrels last year. In 2014, it was almost 900 barrels. To drop like that suggests both that many brewers probably aren’t seeing the growth trajectories of breweries from a few years ago, and that many brewers are declining. The table below shows the distribution of companies with 2016 and 2017 data (so excluding 2017 openings). I’ve starred the “more than 50% group” as a reminder that a huge chunk of them are 2016 openings—50% will average growth of 100% or more just due to when they opened in 2016.

2017 Growth % of Breweries
-10% or worse 17.0%
-10% to -1% 10.3%
+/- 1% 15.3%
1% to 10% 10.0%
10% to 25% 13.0%
25% to 50% 11.6%
More than 50%* 22.9%

The positive interpretation of the table above is that even in an extremely competitive environment, 73% of breweries were flat or up last year. The flip side is that 27% saw declines greater than 1%, and 17% saw double-digit declines. 

Interestingly – but that is actually not the story. Notice above that there is a category for “+/-1%”… that’s is a weird choice of measurement. Unlike all the other bands. If you remove it, and aggregate it with the categories above it you will see that 42.6% of breweries saw no discernible growth or actually saw significant retraction. Then, understand that this is a percentage of the number of breweries and not a reflection of brewery production.  Since 2014, as the infographic says, there have been over 2,500 brewery openings in the US. 800 in just the last year. As these breweries are going from zero growth to some growth, it is logical that most of the growth by brewery numbers is based in the tiny recent entrants. Old bulky big craft appears to be stagnant or worse. I think we have been coming to that understanding over the last couple of years but it’s good to see the BA set out the numbers that tell the tale. Good news that.

Speaking of old bulky big craft, medium-large US craft brewer Green Flash is pulling up stakes and hightailing it out of the “branch plant out east” business. Likely they found out, as many are, that folk out east have plenty of beer out east that tastes like beer made out east and they like it just fine. Interesting: “…this is a move that was made to solidify investments to keep San Diego’s operations above water.” Wow.

Pete Brown wrote a wonderful thing Tuesday all about how rough his last decade or so has been. Folk called him brave, honest and an example. All true. It’s also a huge success. Kind of a graduation day speech. See, I have had two or three dabblings with what Pete wrote so openly about and, so, I know (i) I still couldn’t write what he wrote and (ii) it’s a measure of his success that he did. Hooray! I am very pleased but also concerned given how many people in good beer I would describe as stressed out, unhappy, dysfunctional workaholic who soothed themselves by eating and drinking too much. Be careful out there.

In another episode of where are the beer bloggers of 2009, Jeff of Stonch [ … now of Rye … but presently in Lunigiana…] reviewed a  beer this week:

Unsolicited trade samples aren’t usually terribly good. In truth, if a brewery’s making good beer, those with an interest in buying it or writing about it will have sought it out themselves. Similarly, beers with obscure geek culture references as names – the type that leave one none the wiser even when explained in detail – also tend to be shit. This one, therefore, surprised me twice.

Fabulously honest writing. Unlike anything edited and sold for payment. Which makes one wonder why, as shared in the recently circulated NAGBW Newsletter 2018.3, that the topics for NAGBW symposium during the Craft Brewers Conference has the three topics for panel presentations:

– “Beyond the Byline”: book publishing and podcasting;
– “Editor’s Roundtable”: leaders from industry publications share insights; and
– “Industry Roundtable”: hear from industry pros about pressing topics in beer.

None of which will lead to be a better writer even if you become a more compliant, less individualized one. It won’t make a Ron. And we all do know there is no real money in beer writing, right? Don’t be doing this for making money from writing… please. And don’t be sloppy researchers. Ben hates that.

Speaking of sloppy research, the great thing about the debunking of myths about lambic (often seemingly peddled by the edited and published) by Roel Mulder of Lost Beers is how the actual far more interesting story of lambic is explained.  It’s younger than the industrial revolution, it has been brewed in a far wider set of locales and didn’t rely on old hops. It’s about as traditional as mass produced Porter in mid-1700s was. Fabulous.

So there you have it. Another week filtering the positive from the dreary, the genuine from the fake, real from the seeming, the worthy from the transient. Ahhh… annnnnd… nothing turns on it. I probably could have done better, too. If I had made the effort. Something similar will happen next week. And I will be there to check it out as will Boak and Bailey on Saturday just as Stan will on Monday.

*making the noise of knocking on a window pane.

Yesterday, I Bought Beer At A Local Grocery Store

Well, that was interesting. I was out grocery shopping yesterday and discovered that arguably the best Ontario beer selection in town is pretty much at a grocery store I never go to all that often. It’s a bit of a premium store. The sort of store where a can of something I can buy for $1.39 somewhere else sells for $1.64. But then I went down the beer aisle that has been added since the great beer reforms of 2015 and found myself happily surprised.

I bought a few things. Two ciders not available elsewhere. A few brown ales, too. Not much. But it got me thinking about how the reforms as well as the advent of our local craft explosion had changed my marketplace. Above you will see in red the seven outlets for take away beer in my fair city until maybe five years ago. Then, as noted in black, we started the local beer boom and suddenly there was Stone City, Riverhead, Kings Town, Maple, Kingston Brew Pub and Spearhead growler and can sales along with beer, cider and wine at two Loblaws, a Farmboy as well as Walmart. And, if I drive a little out of town, we have MacKinnon Brothers, Napanee as well as Gananoque breweries too. Have I missed any? Seven take away locations has reached into the mid-twenties. Still, laughably low for any other location in the western world.

Does beer begat beer? Not sure. Was I right to be suspicious when the reforms were announced? Well, it appears we have received four of the grocery store licenses instead of the two I predicted. But there are maybe pushing twenty or so grocery stores in our fair city of 125,000 or so.  Why can’t I buy beer at the places I regularly shop? Ben J noted that there were supposed to be “craft beer zones” in 25 other LCBO locations across Ontario. Don’t think this occurred – sorta like the earlier LCBO growler initiative that saw maybe eight taps provided for the entire province.  Jordan dismissed the idea that it would be just big craft and macro. He was right and also a bit wrong. The coolers and shelves have a good selection but no outlet is in any way comprehensive. I might have to go to four or five stores to actually buy all the beers I might want to offer if I was having a do or, say, a shindig. The nearest outlet is a 30 minute walk away.*

So, two cheers for the reforms of 2015 to date. We have a more complex market place but one that could easily be simpler. We are weeks away from the next election in the Province of Ontario. You would think this might be an issue but, as with the last campaign, I expect to it be unfortunately quiet. Some things are either too important or not important enough to be debated at election time.

*I lie. There is an outlet of TBS 15 minutes walk from my house. I rarely go there but decent beer is possible to find there.

Your First Beery News Update For Spring 2018

It all got messy mid-week. It was looking dull and then a number of big things happened. More about those things later. The best thing, a littler thing, is not really one of note – it’s that Ron wrote a few travel posts as he wandered about England as a Goose Island consultant. Not that I mind his recipes and quotations from rulings of the magistrate’s court circa 1912 but his real gift is capturing the normal life of a guy and his problem with beer. Consider the gorgeous photo he attached to one post which I have pilfered and plunked right there. I have dubbed it “Ronnui“: lovely wood and glass inside with unloveliness outside and across the road. And a man considering the emptiness of it all. You sense that even the umbrella he brought won’t be enough. A fire extinguisher serves as a warning to you.  Not the sort of thing you’ll see in one of the new dipso guides to global vagrancy. Editors don’t like that sort of detail. No, this is honest stuff. Click on the image, look upon Ron’s work and despair.

US big picture: 4,900,000 fewer barrels of beer were made in 2017 compared to 2016.*  A retraction of a little more than 2.5% and twice the drop for 2015.  What you will hear about will include how 30,000** more barrels were consumed at brewery taprooms.   That represents 0.6% of the total loss of overall production. Pick your top trends accordingly.

More big brainy stuff. I found a 2008 MA thesis on beer and tourism in Yorkshire. I found it as part of finding out more about York Brewery (1996-present) whose necktie I just added to the old man office wear collection. So not really really big stuff – but it is a 62 inch tie so that is good.

Biggish? In just two weeks two glossy quarterly Ontario-centric beer mags have been announced. Overlapping writers. Won’t last. Can’t last. Who will blink? Or will they both starve the other enough that each folds?

Pretty big. Dave Bailey announced the closure of  hi brewery, the much-loved Hardknot (2006-1018). I was not shocked but certainly saddened. I was one of those who this time last year was muttering at a laptop screen saying “don’t!… DON’T sell your house to save your business!” even though I was rooting for him and his family. While others missed the point entirely, Mark Johnson gathers together a fabulous remembrance of when, among other things, Hardknot was as big as BrewDog when both were small. Big news that:

Of all the comrades that e’er I had
They’re sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e’er I had
They’d wish me one more day to stay.
But since it fell unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all.

Then? Good to see he is already planning his next phase, Guerrilla Brewing.

Big but not big. One thought that the ascendancy of  “juicy” or “hazy” to the preference of “NEIPA” or, the most honest, “London murk” was as big a day as when almost everyone got to join the US small craft brewers. What next, adding makeup sparkles? As if that would happen!

Conversely, the best thing of the week is this 1975 news item on the making of Traquair Ale. Plainness and excellence.

And one last thing… hmm… how about this. Is this you?

Recovered beer snobs, also known as “geeks” or “nerds,” are generally Gen Xers who’ve spent years swirling and sniffing taster-sized samples, waiting in line for Heady Topper, and posting pictures of their beer hauls. They’ve gone through a lupulin threshold shift that carried them from IPAs to 100-IBU imperial IPAs, and then on to sours because their palates had basically grown numb to anything that didn’t blow it to pieces. But, as observers predicted, they eventually got tired. They overloaded. They grew up. And they stopped wanting to think so hard about beer.

They grew up“! Fabulous. And not without some basis. Lisa noted that we are on the top of the craft beer cycle wheel again. Andy is noting the return to lite. I get it. I am not much interested in anything too strong and certainly nothing too cloudy, fruited or hopped. Did I grow up? Did you? Did Lew? No, not you…Lew! We all know you didn’t. He’s in the story bearing witness: “glassware is such a first-world problem.” Boom.

*my typo as to date fixed.
**See snark in the comments. I added links to BA and TTB documents that explain. The 30,000 figure is actually for unsold beer consumed in the brewery – staff drinking, spillage and samples? The increase in taproom sales (for both craft and macro) is 385,000 barrels or so. Or 7.85% of the overall gross retraction. But they are two separate sorts of numbers. The larger one is a retraction, the other a shift in format. Context: gin and whisky are up.