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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]


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.


Big craft just keeps getting bigger


Newly Formed Craft Consortium Enjoy Beer LLC Eyes Acquisitions, IPO.
Honestly, I wouldn’t pretend to understand all the implications for “an acquisition vehicle and craft beer consortium,” which is how Enjoy Beer is described. But it must be big business because founder Rich Doyle says he “hopes to have five craft beer breweries under the Enjoy Beer umbrella before 2020, at which point the company may consider an IPO.” This certainly means more of what Alan McLeod has been calling “big craft” or “national craft” for about four years. Abita Brewing CEO David Blossman, whose brewery is the first to enter into a deal with Enjoy Beer, told the Boston Globe: “We’re not losing our heart and soul. We turned down lots of other opportunities because we wanted to remain rooted in our local community and culture.” But he also wants his coming to keep expanding.

That’s not a particularly bad thing, at least that’s the view from here, nor is it necessarily a good thing. It simply is. There are going to be more breweries shipping more beer farther from where it is brewed. It may be harder for them to act as autonomously as they once did or to appear as warm and cuddly. This won’t bother most of the drinkers who buy their beers. But if it does, here’s the thing, there will still be more local, quite often pretty small, definitely independent breweries in America than since, well, probably ever. [Via Brewbound]

In which I give more badly written beer history a good kicking.
Marytn Cornell goes to work on “How the India Pale Ale Got Its Name” at, which carries a certain cachet when it comes to history. But Cornell calls the article “one of the worst I have ever read on the subject, crammed with at least 25 errors of fact and interpretation.” [Via Zythophile]

Nano Breweries: The Art (and Economics) of Brewing at Tiny Scales. Small. “Success is contextual.” [Via Paste]

Let’s Grab a Beer… With A-B InBev.
Big. Curious fact: will redirect you to what appears to be a sign in page. But if you really want to see what the site looked like back in 2007 or so use the Wayback Machine. [Via Advertising Age]

The Growing Future of Local Hops.
Noteworthy here is that the Hop Growers of America has added an at-large director to its board, so that for the first time there’s a board member from outside the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Tom Britz of Montana is also chairing the Small Growers Council, which will address “the very different business model and challenges of small growers across the country who have no infrastructure, no multi-generational institutional knowledge, and no economies of scale.” Just to be clear, three Northwestern states will continue to supply almost all the hops in the country. We don’t know how things will work out trying to grow hops many places where they eventually failed before. But nobody will succeed without putting the infrastructure for picking, drying and processing in place. This is another sign that is happening. [Via Flathead Beacon]

Brewery has enough water to make beer for the year.
The local water district in Redding, Calif., lets Wildcard Brewing in Redding know just how much water it can use during 2015. [Via KRCR]

The Lesser-Spotted True Red Lion.
Maybe the beer culture always looks a greener on the other side of the Atlantic, but — dang — a true inn that offers beer and lodging, and also the village shop and post office. Plus a backyard that comes “closer to the feel of a Bavarian beer garden than anywhere else we’ve been in Britain and yet, at the same time, could not be anywhere but in England.” [Via Boak & Bailey]

Brewery re-imagines flagship beer.
An announcement from Stone Brewing not long ago that it was replacing Ruination IPA with Ruination generated the usual Stone related chatter on the Internet. New Holland Brewing in Michigan is taking a different approach — simply stating it is changing the recipe on Mad Hatter IPA and throwing a little party. The change includes using Michigan-grown hops, not available when the beer was first sold in 1998, and a hop variety, Citra, that also wasn’t available. [Via Grand Rapids Business Journal]

How Cans turned Craft into Crass.
This would have made an interesting addition to The Session #98, although it’s about something more basic than cans versus bottles. “I’ve said before how I dream of a day where a brewery releases its beers in cans for the first time and there isn’t a gratuitous Twitter frenzy worked up where people admit they’ve masturbated five times that morning because a beer that more often than not has already been available for 12 months is now going to be a million times better because its changing vessel. I’d like to think such a day will come. I fear it shall not for many a year.” [Via Beer Compurgation]


Continuing beer education

The sap buckets were hung by the birch trees with care.

Harvesting birch sap for Scratch Brewing beer

This was the view yesterday in a stand of woods outside of Ava, Illinois. Those are birch trees. If you look carefully in the photo below you will see a bit of sap falling from the tap into a bucket.

That sap will end up in a beer made at Scratch Brewing. As will toasted bark from the trees and Chaga, a crazy an intense smelling, parasitic mushroom that grows on the trees. Chaga is known by the Siberians as “Gift from God” and the “Mushroom of Immortality.”

Visiting Scratch is like enrolling in a Continuing Education class.

Birch sap tapped - will end up in Scratch Brewing beer


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