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Beer ingredients in 2020: What about barley?

Beer production compared to barley production

Questions about barley prices in the short term keep popping up and it is no small deal for breweries. However if Brewers Association members are going to sell 20 percent of the beer brewed in the United States in 2020 there’s a bigger conversation at hand.

Bart Watson and Chris Swersey only mentioned malt production in passing during their presentation at the American Hop Convention, because they were there to talk, obviously, about hops. They drew a contrast to how quickly hop farmers have reacted to growing demand from all brewers for what they refer to as “aroma” hops. They are planting different varieties and building out infrastructure. Swersey and Watson added considerable detail about both hops and barley in the current issue of New Brewer magazine, the publication for BA members.

… there is already increasing evidence that the demand for malt grown and malted specifically for all-malt beer production has not been met by domestic malsters. … Further, much of the malting capacity developed during the 20th century was capitalized and owned by large brewing companies and this continues today. This makes the malt industry less flexible than the hop industry.

What they refer to as the disconnect between BA member demand and U.S. malt supply can be seen in the increasing share of imported malt used by domestic brewers. There are several reasons for an increase in imported malt, shown in the chart at the top. Much of the malt is coming from Canada, in part because barley growing has moved north as a result of climate change. American brewers would much prefer to use malt grown somewhere in North America, and to have input on what is grown.

Processing will be just as big a deal. Like with hops, the investment extends beyond the fields.

Current estimates of U.S. malting capacity show the ability to malt between 2.2 and 2.3 million metric tons annually. given that the U.S. malting infrastructure is used not only to supply domestic demand but also Mexican brewers, industry insiders see total production as using 95 percent of that current annual capacity, but much of that capacity is committed and unavailable to craft brewers. Our analysis of consumption and production confirms that current uncommitted U.S. malting capacity is unable to meet current craft demand.

They project that brewers of all sizes will use 25 percent more malt by 2020. They figure the cost of expanding capacity will be $500 million at a minimum.

I remember attending a seminar at the 2007 Craft Brewers Conference, so we are talking not quite eight years ago, where the discussion focused on the cost of stainless steel and what it would take to build enough brewing capacity for BA members to reach ten percent market share. Simpler times, I guess.

7

Because the Internet never forgets, including craft beer

Beertown

Remember this illustration? (You can visit it at the Wayback Machine.) It greeted visitors to the Association of Brewers website in the 1990s, at the time the parent of both the Institute for Brewing Studies and the American Homebrewers Association — and the organization that merged with the Brewers’ Association of America to create the Brewers Assocation.

Yesterday evening, Andy Crouch posted a point of order about defining “craft brewer” and “craft beer.”

Yep. This is the sort of history included in the story I wrote for the current issue of All About Beer Magazine (V. 36, No. 1, date March 2015). Meanwhile, one more from the Wayback Machine, in this case from April 23, 2003:

Craft beer definition

‘Guardians of the Temple of Brewing Culture’

Boak & Bailey follow up on the Wall Street Journal’s story about contract brewing in Belgium (“In Belgium, Battle Builds Between Brewers and ‘Beer Architects”) by examining what the requirements might be for a credible beer architect. Their list:

– has a qualification from a great brewing school;
– has worked hands-on in breweries;
– has studied hops, malt, yeast and water in the laboratory;
– knows the history of beer and its place in culture;
– pays painstaking attention to detail and
– has a well-trained palate and excruciatingly good taste.

They also introduce the term “ghost brewed” — which seems like it should be useful in this argument that is never going to go away.

One bit of disclosure. I made my bias obvious when Joe Stange tweeted “Beer ‘architects’ is utter bullshit. Any asshole can think up a beer idea and google a decent recipe. Only brewers make them drinkable” and I replied “It insults both real brewers and real architects.”

Now onto the rest, which goes beyond who conceives the plan for a particular beer (but feel free to let that “ghost brewed” idea rattle around the back of your head). Who physically makes the beer matters. To me. Maybe not to you. And apparently not to Sebastien Morvan, one of the principals in the story. I don’t mean to get all touchy-feely on you, or hipster-foodie (think of the couple in Portlandia who take a look at a free-range chicken’s “papers” before ordering). But there’s an acquired level of skill involved, and a respect for the process.

As I already wrote, I am biased going in, but this was also my takeaway from two books last year: “We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers” and “The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer.” The title of the former gives away its intent. In the introduction of the latter, Williams Bostwick writes, “Because if beer’s essence can be dstilled to one idea, it’s this: beer is made.” Some parts of this book can feel a little forced, which could be a function of trying to spin the history of the world around beer, but when the narrative revolves around the process of making beer then it’s a five-star book (currently 8 for 8 at Amazon).

An accredited beer architect presumably would know just how to do this. Morvan doesn’t exactly come across thinking he needs to.

He creates beers with the aid of mass tastings, crowdsourced recipes and Internet forums. And then he gets someone else to brew them. “I get frustrated at people acting like the guardians of the temple of brewing culture.”

“Guardians of the Temple of Brewing Culture” sounds like my kind of summer movie blockbuster, preferably starring Ralph Fiennes.

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