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Do tenets of capitalism make craft beer wars inevitable?


Why craft brewing is about to go to war with itself.
Does the modern American beer industry (and the culture attached to it) represent the leading edge of a new capitalism?
So it turns out Thrillist is not all click bait and listicles. Dave Infante dots his i’s and crosses his t’s in a relentless march to this conclusion: “In the end, the industry’s individuality and cohesion just doesn’t matter as much to many (I’d argue most) consumers as it does to some brewers. And as that becomes more apparent, more brewers — heavily armed with increased production and aggressive marketing bought with the help of outside cash — will make a play for the shelves and taps that are right in front of the mainstream consumer.” Hence war.

Craft Beer Productions vs. Capacity

I’ll throw in this chart from The 2015 State of the Industry presentation at the Craft Brewers Conference just to be provocative. Unused capacity is not good for pricing, and there seems to be more each year. However, that 12.4 million barrel difference between capacity and production in 2014 needs to be considered in context. Production was 64 percent of capacity in 2012 and two years later production exceeded 2012 capacity. In 2014, capacity was once again 64 percent of production. In addition, there is little doubt that 2015 production will exceed 2013 capacity.

That doesn’t invalidate Infante’s conclusion, but it does mean one potential concern isn’t, for now. So back to the question in hand, if his prediction is accurate how deep do the price cuts reach? Is the battle limited to the breweries Alan McLeod calls big craft? Infante mentions what he calls the noncombatants, those that stay small. If that includes all the microbreweries (producing less than 15,000 barrels) and brewpubs operating at the end of 2014, we’re talking 3,218 of the 3,418 breweries the Brewers Association defines as craft, or 94 percent. Now, some of those will grow past 15,000 barrels in 2015 and many others have similar aspirations, but you sense a larger number will feel the fall out if the pricing gloves come off.

But is it inevitable? That’s why the second link. Last January, Maureen Ogle wrote about the beer-related book she’d write if she were writing one (she is not). In that one she’d ask, “Does the modern American beer industry (and the culture attached to it) represent the leading edge of a new capitalism?” and “Is modern American brewing a new kind of ‘industry’? Or is it more of the same and that sameness will become apparent once the first two generations of modern brewers retire and/or sell their operations?” [Via Thrillist and Maureen Ogle]

Have we reached peak geek?
A short post from Ed Wray, related specifically to the UK and geeks as a source of funding for brewery expansion. However, Ray Bailey reminds us via a comment that non-geeks, even non-beer drinkers, see the growth in sales of what is generally referred to as craft beer presenting an investment opportunity. That’s because non-geeks are drinking these beers. A virtuous cycle or a game musical chairs? [Via Ed’s Beer Site]

Some CBC 2015 thoughts, questions, and takeaways.
As Jon Abernathy points out, sustainability was one of the themes the Craft Brewers Conference, and much of the post-conference discussion has focused on the “can growth be sustained?” aspect. Jon folds in the environmental component. [Via The Brew Site]

Dead or Alive: Are single-hopped beers still interesting?
Yes. Next question. [Via Chris Hall]

Types of UK Brewery.
Consider it a learning excercise. I’d like to see something analogous attempted on this side of the Atlantic, as long as it doesn’t result in a diagram printed on T-shirts. [Via Boak & Bailey’s Beer Blog]

The Accidental Death of the Wine Writer.
“Rather than being the spur to further discourse, wine writing has become a quasi-professional end in itself, and thus is rarely adventurous, controversial, intellectually provocative or emotionally engaging.” Is beer writing any different? [Via Les Caves De Pyrene]

Tricking Women Into Drinking Beer : Lies Men Tell.
5 Reasons Why The Beer Wench Is Bad For Beer.
Dueling lists. [Via Thrillist and Northdown Taproom]


Hop extracts available at Amazon

Kalsec hop extracts

So now I have a better answer for the question when homebrewers ask me where they can buy various kinds of hop extract. Although there are a limited number of extracts available from homebrew stores, both local and online, they don’t equal the range of what Kalsec is selling at Amazon.

There is a catch. Kalsec’s 8-oounce bottles cost $70 or more and are intended to dose 50 to 75 barrels (or about 1,500 to 2,300 gallons). Dosing is a challenge, so patience is a requirement when making a group purchase with the idea of parceling out the extract. To be honest, I haven’t wrapped my head around the logistics. Be sure to check out the dosing manual.

You’ll find the Kalsec products described at their web site, but here’s a bit more to think about:

Western Brewer magazine advertisement for hop extract– Hop extracts are not exactly new. The New York Hop Extract Company built the first extraction plant in the world large enough to produce quantities sufficient to supply brewers in 1870. Brewers bought extract when hops were plentiful and prices low as insurance against poor crop years and high prices, using it in combination with whole hops.

– Scientists used water and ethanol to extract hops in the nineteenth century. Today most processors employ carbon dioxide extraction, either supercritical (Europe and the United States) or liquid (England).

– It wasn’t long ago that anybody who called herself a craft brewer considered extracts the antithesis of natural hops. They were an efficient, in other words cheap, way to bitter beers that had little hop character. Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River Brewing was the first to speak openly about using CO2 extract. Initially he brewed Pliny the Elder, a groundbreaking double IPA, using only hop pellets. He didn’t like grassy, chlorophyll flavors he attributed to sheer hop mass. Following a suggestion from Gerard Lemmens at Yakima Chief, he replaced pellets with extract for the bittering addition.

“We kept it secret for the first few years,” Cilurzo said, “but Gerard twisted my arm.” Cilurzo gave Lemmens permission to publish the information in a Yakima Chief newsletter. Scores of other small breweries soon began to use CO2 extract.

Jeremy Marshall, who is in charge of brewing at Lagunitas, said the brewery started using extract in a wider range of its beers in 2010, intent on lowering the level of tannins in several brands (a problem that emerged after a poor barley crop). “We use hop extract because it increases the quality of our beer,” he said.

– American brewers are not nearly as open when discussing use of extracts for aroma and flavor as for bittering. Several brewers I talked for two stories for Beer Advocate magazine about the future demand for hops said they expect to be using more fractionated hops in the future, but didn’t want to be the first. The reverse is true in England, said Chris Daws at Botanix, a subsidiary of global hop merchant Barth Haas. Botanix creates its own line of aroma extracts, as does Hopsteiner. Daws said craft brewers in the UK are not reticent to use fractions for aroma, but resist extract for bittering.

– Extraction is totally different than distillation, the process Sierra Nevada to get the oils it adds to Hop Hunter IPA (link is for a YouTube video).

– These are intended to supplement “regular” hopping. A complaint about extracts is they can taste artificial, and they do better with a little help. Read the instructions for dosing on a commercial level to see is not as simple as spiking a beer with raw hop oil. And there is the matter of cleanup.

– The list of both positives and negatives that commercial breweries take into account is lengthy. So I’ll cut to the chase and quote Cilurzo again: “It’s such a personal decision. It’s philosophical.”

To return the conversation to homebrewing, I like the freedom that comes with using whole hops (well, pellets) — seeing how particular varieties interact with each other and with yeast to create new aromas and flavors, ones not available from extracts, at least for now. So I’m not necessarily endorsing the use of extracts at home or commercially (on the other hand it’s not like I’d have to tell me children to eat eight per cent less because dry hopping results, on average, in eight percent beer loss).

But I’ve dosed finished beers with samples Kalsec sent and served them to homebrewers. It’s fun. They ask where they can get something similar. Now I have an answer.


From deep in the belly of craft beer


During the opening session of the Craft Brewers Conference last week Brewers Assocation board chair Gary Fish said that, at least for the week, Portland, Oregon, was the “epicenter of craft beer.” I can neither confirm nor deny that. I spent my week among the trees, specific trees as a matter of fact, because I was in information collecting mode. And, I figured out over the weekend as I tried to catch up with Twitter and Feedly, pretty disconnected from the rest of the beer world.

Amidst all the high-fiving about how terrific beer in Portland is and what a fine job the city did hosting the convention there was this:

Trying to provide context via Twitter can be maddening. My suggestion is to visit Carla Jean Lauter’s Twitter feed (@beerbabe) read through her tweets and also the replies that followed. Here’s an essential one:

And in the midst of this Heather Vandenengal added more context with “A quick note on sexism and the beer industry.”

Twenty years ago, when Daria and I first visited the Oregon Brewers Festival, that a group of brewers assembled after a day’s work to head off together to a local strip club that had scores of beers on tap was pointed to with a sense of pride. It was another sign how far ahead of the beer curve Portland was — even the strip clubs have better beer. Maybe it is because strip clubs are as much a part of the Portland culture as beer variety, but nobody seemed to be bothered that not all of us are comfortable with treating women as objects.

To be clear, this isn’t a discussion primarily about strip clubs in Portland. All About Beer provided a guide to spots to look for before CBC began. And in the midst of the conversation Lauter started there was this from @SamuraiArtist:

This is a discussion about awareness. There’s been an ongoing conversation about sexism in beer and it needs to continue. In the midst of all those tweets somebody suggested “someone will still find a reason to be upset” and that is true. But some things should be obvious. “I sell beer. I want more women to buy it. I’d like more women to feel comfortable working in my industry.” The next thought should not be “Benjamin Braddock got the girl in the end, so I’ll ask these women to join me at a strip club.”

What do these exchanges on Twitter, and in actual one-on-one conversations, tell us about this entity broadly labeled craft beer? That it is as flawed as society itself? Or that we expect to it be somehow special, less flawed?

Vandenengal wrote, “The reality is that dealing with casually and overtly sexist men who don’t respect women is something that all women of all industries and backgrounds deal with all the time, in both their personal and professional lives. It’s no different in craft beer.”

Not a cheery thought to begin Monday with, but a fact. [Via Twitter, Heather Vandenengal]

Returning to our regularly scheduled program . . .

Critical Drinking — The Craft Brewers Conference + Getting Weird — Good Beer Hunting.
Later this weeks I’ll post some thoughts from the view from 20 feet (in other words, all about hops), but if you’d like more big picture thinking (the view from 20,000 feet) start here. [Via Good Beer Hunting]

Popularity, personal tastes and beer culture.
Is it possible that “local beer cultures do not exist, that they’re only a myth; something artificially preserved for tourists and romantics?”
[Via Pivní Filosof – Beer Philosopher]

What do you really think of that wine? Ask your brain.
If you are going to call somebody a hophead, or hop head, then an MRI kind of makes senses, doesn’t it? [Via Palate Press]

Science Has Not Really Spoken (On The Study Of Big Flavor Wines).
A discussion about wine that is just as relevant to beer. [Via 1 Wine Dude]

And to finish off with a smile, back to Twitter.


Out with the corn, in with the hops

You likely don’t remember, but the top photo first appeared here in September of 2014, when I spotted corn growing where god obviously meant for there to be hops. It is a field near the entrance to Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon.

The second photo is what that field looked like yesterday, almost ready for hops to pop up from the soil climb to the top of the 18-foot trellises. String has been strung throughout much of the Willamette Valley. The string is apparent in the photo at the bottom, taken from the north end of the hop field looking back toward the monastery.

Hop fields, Mount Angel, Oregon

Hop fields, Mount Angel, Oregon

Preparing hop yard for a new season, Mount Angel, Oregon


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