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Significant beer digits V (and some Monday links)

The longest-ever bull market ended last week. When it began — March 9, 2009 — there were about 1,550 breweries in the country. (About because the Brewers Association count at the end of 2008 has been revised a few times, and the official total is now 1,523 at the end of 2008 and 1,600 at the end of 2009).

Since then about 7,500 have opened, and about 1,300 have closed. (About because the BA has not released final 2019 totals.)

That’s 7,500, or so, breweries that have only sold their beer while the economy was expanding . . . and, of course, before social distancing.

Almost 3,000 of the country’s 8,000-plus breweries are brewery-restaurants. A good portion of the others are breweries with taprooms, in some cases earning most of their income from what they sell across the bar. Social distancing was not in their business plan.

Further reading:

What COVID-19 Means for the Beer Industry’s Frontline Staff

Beer industry watches and waits as coronavirus epidemic unfolds

Coronavirus Impact on Beer Industry: Taproom Closures, Event Cancellations

ProBrewer Wants To Help In This Crisis — Let’s Talk

Brewers Association’s Bob Pease Discusses The Road Ahead for Small Brewers

The Coronavirus Cost to Business and Workers: ‘It Has All Gone to Hell’

The Dos and Don’ts of Social Distancing

“A single person’s behavior can cause ripple effects that touch faraway people”

Game Theory of Social Distancing in Response to an Epidemic



How much do ‘we’ need to know about beer history?

Last week, Jeff Alworth struck a chord when he posted a list of “five breweries every serious beer fan should visit.” Lots of interest on Twitter and Facebook. No surprise, I agree that, “Even if you’re just into the standard American craft lineup, your appreciation for those beers will deepen if you visit the breweries that inspired them.”

This got a little more complicated for me: “An insularity is settling in among American craft beer fans, and it is cutting them off from the roots of their own tradition.” I agree that appreciating tradition enriches us. But I don’t know that today’s drinkers are any more insular than drinkers have always been.

That’s just an aside. Because the post turned out to be a prelude to a family of questions.

By chance, the next day on the Music Exists podcast Chris Ryan and Chuck Klosterman discussed, “How much do you really need to know about music history?” Not really all that timely because they were talking about the December dustup that began when Jimmy Kimmell asked Billie Eilish to name any member Van Halen.
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First comes the e-nose, then the beer algorithm

Researchers in Australia have developed an “electronic nose” they say will help craft breweries monitor beer quality. Seems like it would work for other breweries as well.

This e-nose is a small circuit board that measures gases emitted from beer. It uses machine learning (magic words which we’ll get back to soon) to determine if a beer has unwanted aromas. The gases include carbon dioxide, ethanol, methane, hydrogen, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, ammonia and benzene.

The electronic nose has also been used by the researchers in conjunction with biometric indicators such as heart rate, body temperature, brainwaves and facial expressions to gather more information from consumers while tasting a product.

Basically, it is good at warning brewers there’s something about a beer that consumers won’t like. That’s a positive. However, directing consumers to a beer they will like or providing an idea of what it will smell and taste like is a different challenge. Aroma, and therefore flavor, remains something of a black box.

Kevin Verstrepen and Miguel Roncoroni at the laboratory at the University of Leuven’s Institute for Beer Research and VIB Center for Microbiology head up a project intended to match compounds that can be measured with sensory preferences. One result is a book, Belgian Beer: Tested and Tasted.
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Has hard seltzer given beer the ‘Cross Road Blues?’

Standin’ at the crossroad, baby, risin’ sun goin’ down
Standin’ at the crossroad, baby, eee-eee, risin’ sun goin’ down
I believe to my soul, now, poor Bob is sinkin’ down

– From “Cross Road Blues” by Robert Johnson

Lew Bryson, bless his booming laugh, has written about the soul of beer. In the first years I posted at Appellation Beer the tagline here read, “In search of the soul of beer.” I had to lean on the Wayback Machine to find a copy of the old logo.

Appellation Beer 2007 logo

I changed the tag to “celebrating beer from a place” because I thought it would result in fewer questions like “why appellation?” Also, a lengthy discussion here sometime later documents the sort of trouble a blogger can get into suggesting some beers might have soul and others could be soulless.

Anyway, Bryson writes, “Those pioneering beers were great because of the heart and soul of the people who made them. I don’t want to see the soul go away. I don’t think that the beer world as we know it today could survive that.”
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Why look for reasons not to like a beer?

In Drink Better Beer, author Josh Bernstein writes about spending a day with the sensory panel at Allagash Brewing in Maine, acting briefly as a panelist himself.

I ponder my sample of White, the brewery’s flagship witbier, which should taste slightly sweet and sour, mildly bitter, and faintly of minerals. “Tastes overly harsh,” I write in the iPad set up with sensory software from DaughtLab, which collects data on panelists’ impressions. “Too astringent.” I move on to the Belgian-style Tripel, a beer evocative of honey, bubble game, grapes, and green apples. “This is a sourness I don’t love,” I write. The coffee-infused James Bean, a triple aged in bourbon barrels, has a “drying sourness that turns me off,” while the smoothly malty House Beer hits its pear and grapefruit notes.

Whow, that was a lot of flawed beer, I think.

Except, it turns out only the Tripel was adulterated, dosed with acetic acid.

Later Bernstein tastes three different samples of White, and documents the flaws in each. Except, it turns out two are flawless, and in fact, the same beer. “It’s a combination that I use often with guests and new tasters to show when they are overly critical,” says Karl Arnberg, who manages the sensory program as Allagash.

Think about it for a moment. Why look for reasons not to like a beer? No doubt, quality is important. That’s why Bernstein invested a day in Portland, Maine. There’s good reason for those in the beer business to learn to identify what are classified as off flavors, and it useful to some to understand what causes them.

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