Session #87 announced: Local Brewery History

Lemp Brewing sign, building (background)

The SessionHost Reuben Gray has announced the ground rules for The Session #87: Local Brewery History: “I want you to give your readers a history lesson about a local brewery. That’s a physical brewery and not brewing company by the way. The brewery doesn’t need to still exist today, perhaps you had a local* brewery that closed down before you were even born. Or you could pick one that has been producing beer on the same site for centuries.”

His one stipulation is that a brewery must have been around at least 20 years.

* “Local” allows for breweries within 8 hours drive. In my case that puts Bell’s Brewery, New Glarus Brewing, and Vino’s Brewpub in play. Or closer to home Chouteau Avenue Brewery, Forest Park Brewing, and Lemp Brewing.

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The life cycle of beer innovation

A quick exchange of comments here Monday provoked this thought from Boak & Bailey about what happens to even the most dominant of breweries over time:

Our suspicion is that, of the current wave of new brewers (1970s to now) some will inevitably become the new Whitbreads and Watneys.

We don’t see, say, Sierra Nevada going into the Lite Lager business any time soon, but we can imagine, in thirty years time, a business which seems complacent and arrogant, and of which people will say: “They’re so dominant that no-one else can get into the market, and all they produce is that bland, dumbed-down, sub-6% pale ale crap …”

If that does happen, there will be plenty of brewers waiting to challenge them, and the cycle will continue.

Of course change is inevitable, but is complacency? The number of “breweries in planning” illustrates there are already plenty of pesky competitors nipping at the heals of the largest of the small breweries (otherwise known as “big craft” or just “craft”), and projects like Sierra Nevada’s “Beer Camp Across America” sure indicate somebody’s not punching out at 4:59.

No arguing that the crazy growth of beers with IPA somewhere in their name suggest that a few brewers might do a little more thinking on their own, but together IPAs, PAs and “seasonals” still don’t account for half of sales. That’s a lot more diversity than the days when the choices were pale lager and light pale lager.

Twenty years ago, when Sierra Nevada sold about one-fifth of what it does now, it seemed like almost every new brewer talked in glowing terms about how great Sierra Nevada Pale Ale tastes, then added “but I want to make something different.” Think about when Stone Brewing opened in 1996. “When I brewed at Pyramid (in Washington) we made a Cascade pale ale, and I was a little sensitive about doing what we’d done at Pyramid,” co-founder Steve Wager explained. He and Greg Koch decided not to use Cascade hops (also a signature for Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) in any of their beers, and made a big deal out of it. “We had some fun,” he said.

Five days ago, August Schell Brewing Company, established in 1860 and the second oldest brewery in the country, won two medals at the World Beer Cup. It earned gold for Schell’s Firebrick, a Vienna-style lager. File that under traditional. It took a bronze for Schell’s Framboise du Nord, made by adding a boatload of raspberries to Star of the North, a Berliner Weisse, and refermenting that for an additional four months. This all happens in Schell’s original 1936 cypress wood lagering tanks.

Some tradition in there, for sure, but also something else. Definitely, 154 years in, not complacency.

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What’s Big Beer? What’s Big Craft?

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 04.14.14

A nice piece of reporting by Eric Gorski last week provoked still more excellent questions from Alan McLeod, but before getting to those links I’m wishing I could find entries defining Big Beer and Big Craft in my beer dictionary. Steve Hindy used the first in his oft-cited New York Times op-ed piece, Free Craft Beer!, and regular readers of A Good Beer Blog will be familiar with the latter. History suggests asking for narrow definitions causes mostly pain (see craft beer), but I’m feeling a bit confused.

Does American craft brewing have a quality problem? and One Key Way Big Craft And Small Brewers Differ. You couldn’t turn around at the Craft Brewers Conference last week without bumping into somebody with a beard or somebody talking about the importance of quality (sometimes one in the same). As well as examining those concerns, Gorski’s story points out that the cost of quality control and quality assurance are not a barrier to entry. And quite often during presentations (there were 10 at a time) on the technical brewing track included useful checklists (vital equipment, what can be checked in house, which is better tested by an outside lab, etc.) and information about the importance of in-house sensory panels.

Of course, quality beer and “good beer” (not more capital letters and pleas for definitions) are not one in the same. Which is why you should also read the second link.

[Via The Denver Post and A Good Beer Blog]

Vive La Difference? Good question — and surely related to the concept of Big Craft — as still another brewery from the West goes shopping for an East Coast home: “There is a question though that nags away in the back of my head, would it not be utterly disingenuous to consider Stone a ‘local’ brewery, or their beer as ‘local’?” [Via Fuggled]

Complacency and “craft” in Munich. If that headline alone isn’t enough to get you to click the link you must not be a regular here. [Via I might have a glass of beer]

Sierra Nevada founder sits down to talk beer. Passed along because as much as been written recently about Ken Grossman and Sierra Nevada’s new North Carolina brewery there are still things to learn. Like that he often slept in a trailer on site while the brewery was being built. [Via Blue Ridge Now]

Terroir? What Exactly Do You Mean? Harvey Steinman might think he’s writing only about wine, but there are clues here to help to sort out the notion of beer from a place. “Is terroir about the basic material, or how it expresses itself in the wine?” And, “Some want to include ‘the work of man’ in their definition of terroir. But that’s regional style, not an expression of terroir.” [Via Wine Spectator]

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The Session #86 roundup posted

The SessionMy brain froze when I was assembling the weekly links to post this morning. I couldn’t pick just one Session #86: Beer Journalism essay, so I went with none.

Very lame.

Fortunately, host Heather Vandenengel didn’t mess around, road to the rescue, and rounded up the roundup in close to record time. See give it a read.

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‘The original craft beer’ – Guesses?

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 04.07.14

Brown’s beer: How mainstream is craft beer? There’s that “c” word again, and a reminder it means something a little different in every country. You’ll need to read the article to get the background on “world beer” but this likely makes since to you anyway: “So now we’re starting to see the same aggressive obfuscation in craft that we got with world beer. Stella Artois was originally ‘crafted’ for Christmas. Guinness is privately referring to itself as ‘the original craft beer’.” [Via London Loves Business]

Ground zero for beer? I ask this question seven years ago. I thought about because I just read that the Craft Brewers Conference will attract 8,000 attendees this week. Many international visitors are already in Denver to judge the World Beer Cup before the conference starts officially on Wednesday. Sixteen hundred attended CBC in Austin in 2007, compared 1,950 when Austin previously hosted the conference in 1995. That’s a five-fold increase in seven years, more modestly four times growth in 19 years — whatever that means.

What the return of Yuengling to Boston means to smaller breweries. Just a “fling” or something with larger implications? [Via The Boston Globe]

The Actual Multi-Dimensional Beer Universe. This will either make you think hard, or give up thinking altogether because it is kinda hard. [Via A Good Beer Blog]

Superstar winemakers. Turns out the notion is relatively new – “Call it the People-magazinization of the industry.” [Via Steve Heimoff]

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