Thursday, April 30, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On part two of this weeks show we discuss Capital's new experimental beer and the recently released lists of the 50 largest breweries and 50 largest craft breweries in the US.

Here's the mp3


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beer Review: Tyranena Dirty Old Man

The subtitle on this bad boy is a mouthful: Imperial Rye Porter Aged In Rye Whiskey Barrels. It is the latest Brewers Gone Wild series (or is the Paradise by the Dashboard Light the latest?) that seems to have settled into cold-weather porters and warm-weather IPAs. This is a list of the last few BGW:
Who's Your Daddy? Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter
Bitter Woman from Hell Extra India Pale Ale
HopWhore Imperial India Pale Ale
Spank Me Baby! Barley Wine-Style Ale
The Devil Made Me Do It! Imperial Oatmeal Coffee Porter
High Class Broad Imperial Brown Ale Aged in Brandy Barrels
Stickin' It To The Man Extra India Pale Ale
Re-release of HopWhore Imperial India Pale Ale
Dirty Old Man Imperial Rye Porter Aged in Rye Barrels
Devil Over A Barrel Imperial Oatmeal Coffee Porter Aged in Bourbon Barrels
Scurvy IPA brewed with Orange Peel (Now our Early Summer Seasonal)
Re-release of HopWhore Imperial India Pale Ale
Re-release of Devil Made Me Do It! Imperial Oatmeal Coffee Porter
13 beers, 5 porters (one brown ale), and 6 IPAs. And a barleywine. I suppose Central Waters kind of has a corner on the stout market and Capital's carving out a niche in the dopplebock market. Tyranena is claiming porters and IPAs as theirs. And, a damn fine job of it they've been doing. I love that porters, like stouts, are so versatile. No quite so huge as a stout, porters maintain a sessionability that imperial stouts frankly just don't have (but aren't intended to have). Though, despite the semantic differences, can someone really explain the differences between an imperial brown and a porter, or an imperial porter and a stout?

Nomenclature aside, I'm excited about the recent obsession with Rye. I love rye beers. Bear Republic's rye IIPA, the Hop Rod Rye is one of my favorite beers. Founders also makes both a Black Rye and a Red Rye. Rye provides a dry, grainy, earthy flavor that almost seems gritty or musty. Some people really don't like it, but me and rye get along well. And rye're speakin' my language - good stuff. Good stuff indeed.

So, a rye porter aged in rye whiskey barrels? Yeah, I'm all over that like a fly on shit. And the new (wasn't in stores last week at least, but should be coming soon) Rye IIPA, RyePA?

Like all of the Brewers Gone Wild series, a hand-drawn (by Rob?) stick figure of a person with a goatee adorns the label. This one, hunched over with wild hair and a cane, implores the drinker: "Gimme a sponge bath!" Ah. Childish humor about fondling naked old men. Gotta love it.

Tyranena Dirty Old Man (BA: A-; RB: 98)
Appearance: pours somewhat oily, but a thin, solid line of brown head; a dark brown or black body with mahogany coloration at the edges
Aroma: a mix of different aromas at once sweet and whiskey-like and then roasty and bread-like; a slight chocolatiness as it warms up; I'm trying to pick up some of the hops, but either I can't figure it out or they are hiding in one of the other aromas
Flavor: the flavors continue the complexity of the aroma with a sometimes whiskey, sometimes rye, sometimes roasty, sometimes malty, always heavy flavor; the rye makes this beer, a big, malty beer, seem drier than it is which is a pleasant remixer and re-balancer of the flavors going on here.
Body: a long, alcoholic finish that retains the rye and the whiskey flavors and a hoppy bitterness sneaks in there somewhere; the body itself is quite dense, if not completely full-bodied
Drinkability: It would be hard to drink too many of these at one time, it is not particularly sessionable - but, to throw this into the mix every now and then seems the perfect fate for this four-pack; for an air-conditioned dinner it wouldn't really be too out of place at a summer supper table (though I'm not sure I'd bring it to a picnic)
Summary: Another win for Tyranena in a Brewers Gone Wild series that is beginning to really bloom for Rob Larson, head brewer there. I'll be curious to see how long he stays on the Porter/IPA kick, and, really, the only thing missing from this series is some indication of order or release date. I have a few of these in my cellar and I'll be damned if I can remember the order in which they were produced or how long they've been in there.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

In Part One of this week's podcast we have news in 60 seconds, covering New York's new UPC law proposal which Yuengling says would cause them to leave the state, a new beer from Summit, a new formula and packaging for Miller Chill, and an update on New Belgium's introduction in Wisconsin.

Here's the mp3


Monday, April 27, 2009

Craft Light

This isn't a fully-fleshed-out idea or anything, but I wanted to get your opinion on things. I'm not a fan of light lagers, or as we Americans call them "Lite" lagers. They don't really do much for me. And, I suspect, they don't really do much for most dedicated craft beer drinkers, either.

Think, for a minute, about what your "swill" beer is. Probably a lite lager. And then think of the craft beer you drink. Probably not a lite lager. In fact, very few craft brewers make proper lite, or we'll switch back to "light" now, lagers. I mean, you have a handful of cream ales (Lake Louie, New Glarus) and a few wheat beers (Island Wheat), but very few light lagers: helles, dortmunder, export. We have munich and vienna lagers out the wazoo. But not a lot of light lagers.

I think there's two and half basic reasons for this: 1) the competition is pretty much over on light lagers - the big guys make them and we're never going to dent their market share, so let's just capture all of the non-light-lager drinking instead; 2) they aren't that exciting and the corollary, 2b) they aren't easy to make.

I mean, think about it, you are going to tie up your fermenters for at least four weeks. For what? For a beer that is not particularly easy to make. For a beer that no one will appreciate your making. For a beer that in order to compete you have to sell in, at least, cases for a decent price.

So, just leave it to the big guys and make an ale or something right?

Well, I had an Augustiner Edelstoff over the weekend and I'm starting to change my mind. It was such a clean, crisp, beer. It made me think about Joe's "conventional wisdom" about how modern American craft brewers mash at higher temperatures which leaves a higher final gravity, and, hence an overly-sweet malty profile. The Edelstoff was clean, crisp, dry, but lightly bright in finish - a sturdy but light body. It was a supremely drinkable beer and I can't think of a single American craft lager that even comes close to it. Even Great Lakes' Dortmunder Gold is more malty and not as dry with a more pronounced hoppiness to it.

But the Edelstoff was worth every penny; and at 5.7% ABV, it's sessionable while still giving a good bang for the buck. So much so that a friend of mine has declared that he will be buying it by the case and it is now his go-to beer. Which is fine, except that it's also A) very hard to find (Woodman's West sometimes has it and they are the only place in Madison, I've seen it) and B) it's pricey - $10.99 for a six.

So, there's the kick too - at the end of the day, how many people will, or can, spend $10.99 for a six-pack of a light lager. Well, if you want to drink six of them at a time, it makes for a mighty expensive barbecue.

There, That Should Fix The Problem

Just got in from out-of-town and may have something more up later this afternoon, but I thought you folks might get a kick out of this:
Now MillerCoors, a joint venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors Brewing Co., is revamping Chill to make it more competitive with low-calorie Bud Light Lime. The recently released version of Miller Chill has fewer carbohydrates and calories.
Because the problem with Miller Chill was just that it had too many carbs and calories.

Is it Miller Lite Chill? Or Miller Chill Lite?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hey Barkeep! Have You Heard Of This High-Gravity Brewing Thing?

Last week, I wrote a review of Ravinder Minhas' book "Brewing Up A Damn Good Story." In that review, I said the following:
The beer is diluted with water. Not blended with lower-alcohol beer. Not brewed to a lower alcohol level. The beer is diluted with water to bring down the alcohol level. Maybe this is more common than I know, but in speaking with craft brewers all over the country, I am unfamiliar with this technique. Maybe Dogfish Head actually brews the 120 IPA to 30% ABV and dilutes it down to 18% by adding water? Maybe New Glarus dilutes the Spotted Cow with water? I don't know for sure. I doubt it, though.
Clearly, a dismissive and derogatory condemnation of the brewery and the beer there. It was at once a condemnation of their own practices and a mocking derision of their own delusions of being a "craft" brewery.

It turns out, maybe I'm the delusional one.

I freely admit, I don't know everything there is to know about beer and the brewing process. I'm learning though, and I want to learn. And every time I think I know more than I do, something like this comes along and reminds me that sometimes I don't know what I'm talking about.

This is interesting to me because my initial reaction on this is one that I think even a lot of knowledgeable beer geeks would have as well: shock and abhorance. The very idea of diluting beer is, on its face, pretty shocking. There's the age old college-isms about the local bars diluting their craptaps for the Thirsty Thursday $.25 plastic cups. There's the colloquialisms of macros tasting watery. In general, the whole idea of diluting beer with water seems, somehow, abhorrent to those of us who like beer.

But, it turns out, diluting beer isn't really all that unusual. In fact there are a number of benefits. I was surprised at this, so I sent out an email to every brewer in the state of Wisconsin that I know with a brief survey about the practice of high-gravity brewing. I'll turn the rest of this post over to them.

Real quick: it was an anonymous survey because I wanted to get some thoughtful answers and not marketing positioning.

Collection of Anonymous Brewers' Comments:

-Miller wants to brew 500 gallons of beer with an OG of 12 Plato (about 1.049 in SG).
     -The last I heard, wort for high-gravity brewing was around 18 Plato (about 1.074 in SG). That would result in a fermentation volume of 284 gallons.
     -To produce a high gravity wort, last runnings must be reduced. In other words, the reduction in volume comes primarily from sparging less. That reduces lautering efficiency (think homebrewed barleywine), so slightly more malt will be needed for a batch of high-gravity wort. An upside is that the wort will have a lower concentration of last-runnings undesirables, such as barley tannins.
     -Yeast will be more stressed out than they would in a normal-gravity fermentation, so more fermentation flavors will be produced.

-I suspect that dilution would expose the beer to more oxygen, but not by much. Maybe it's offset by having to aerate a smaller quantity of wort before fermentation.

-The big breweries employ both highly-trained tasters and lab equipment to determine the chemical makeup of their beers, and they probably wouldn't change the processes for producing an established brand unless they were able to keep the "major factors" the same. I doubt that a consumer would be able to tell the difference between Miller Lite brewed before and after the high-gravity switch.

-If my late-runnings pH rose above 6, which should only be a concern for session beers, I'd stop the lauter and top up the kettle with water to reduce the extraction of grain husk tannins. The traditional British practice of repeating the mash/lauter process several times (also known as batch sparging), instead of continuous sparging, eliminates this problem altogether.

-I'd never brew a high-gravity wort and add the remaining water between boiling and fermentation. It would result in lower lautering efficiency, poor hop isomerization and additional kettle caramelization (something I forgot to mention before) without the benefit of using less fermenter space.

-This is really a consistency issue, not a watering down issue. Watering down would be taking a beer that gains a reputation for fitting into a particular category of body, mouth feel, or flavor, and then cutting back on ingredients (or adding water for increased volume) and thus weakening the umph of the final product. If the packaged product is always consistent, then the consumer has not been given a "watered down" product.

-In order for a brewer to give the consumer what they expect with consistency, it is far easier to choose to err on the side of adding water rather than removing it. So, if your Spotted Cow was found to be far thinner at packaging time due to process variability, it would be very difficult to beef it up. For the brewery to ensure that thinner, weaker beer is not to be an issue, they would always brew the beer to be bigger, then dilute.

-All that being said, if the issue is not one of beer quality but of craft versus liquid widget manufacturing, then a strong lean toward volume efficiencies might indicate a slight lean away from a craft mentality. If it seems that a brewery is trying to capitalize on a consumer trend rather than create a consumer turn-on, then "crafty" is probably a more accurate descriptor. I think that can be said even for those with rickety equipment and less than efficient processes.

Start Ed Note:
So, those are some comments about the process of High-Gravity Brewing. Basically, the arguments in favor are two-fold: 1) it saves fermenter space - you can ferment 258 gallons of wort in far fewer fermenters than 500 gallons of wort; 2) it results in a more consistent product - if you desire a final product of, say, 5% ABV in a variable process, then it is easier to brew to 8% knowing that the process will result in anything from 7.5% to 8.5% and then calculate how much you need to dilute it to get a consistent 5% than to have the problem that you brew to 5% and end up with 4.5%.

The disadvantages as I see them are: 1) it is less efficient - in other words, it takes a lot more grain and you get less efficiency out of the grain in high-gravity brewing, so the commercial advantage of fewer fermenters has to outweigh the commercial disadvantage of inefficiency and this simply doesn't work out mathematically until you get to high enough volumes; 2) product inconsistency is, in some respects, a desired component of craft beer - I like that not every batch tastes exactly the same, I like that I can taste differences from year to year in the bottled product; I can taste the brewer getting better at his skill or playing with the art of brewing; of course, this doesn't apply to quality inconsistency, I expect quality to not be a problem, but rather the subtle differences you get between a beer that turns out at 5.5% or 4.5% ABV instead of 5%; by using high-gravity brewing, you get rid a lot of this interestingness inherent the very idea of craft brewing.

As a consumer of craft beer, I don't expect that every single batch will taste exactly the same. In fact, I expect the exact opposite. I expect that this year's bourbon barrel stout might turn out a little different from last year's. It's why I get excited to try this year's and to age last year's. It's why I try both Tyranena and Central Waters' IPAs. It is craft and it is art and it is expression. Conversely, the practice of high gravity brewing results in a product that is indistinguishable and uninteresting.

The Survey
Finally, here's the results of my survey. I think the broad range in the responses is probably representative of the perception and practice of high gravity brewing among craft brewers. The survey I sent out was a simple 3.5 question survey:

1) Do you approve of the practice? A simple yes/no is fine - no explanation is needed.
2) Do you practice high-gravity brewing? Why/Why not?
3) Does the practice result in a significant, or even insignificant, change in the beer flavor profile?

The following is the response.

Question 1: 16.67% said "no" they do not approve of the practice. 83.33% said "yes" they approve of the practice. Although one of the brewers qualified his response: "If other brewers want to do it, it's fine with me. So Yes", which is sort of a yes, with a strong negative implication.

Question 2: 0% of the respondents actually practice high gravity brewing.
- "No. Laziness, mostly. Doing it at [my brewery] would require a lot of effort for a relatively small return. I'd save way more money by improving water consumption."
- "No, Makes the beer thinner and more flavorless. Got to go with the Germans here, made correctly the first time not watered down to make extra money."
- "I do a variation of this on the hot hot side, dialing in wort collection to give a higher than intended gravity so that target gravity can be reached by topping up with water. If water volume is overshot (wort is more dilute than intended), then the only solution is to boil longer (reduce rather than dilute) the beer. That is a shitty waste of time and energy. If I wished to avoid adding water to the kettle, I would have to instead add the same water to the mash tun and let it slowly trickle through the bed of (what is at this point) spent grain, babysitting the kettle and its preboil gravity while hoping that at the end of the day, I do not incur fees for late pick-up at daycare."
- "No, it doesn't work with my system."
- "No - it is tough to do without getting oxygen in the beer so I don't allow it here"

Question 3: Some variables in the response, so it can't be quantitatively analyzed, but here's a sample of responses.
- "Probably, but adjustments can be made to counteract changes in the beer flavor (alpha acid absorption is lower at a higher gravity (but probably not much different in the gravity ranges they are producing at), etc.)"
- "Beer is a cold, carbonated consomme. It is mostly water, and the complete water volume is added through a dozen or more times through out the process. Sometimes the volumes are insignificant, like the Southern Wisconsin brewery's use of a water jet at the end of the bottling line to cause foaming which in turn purges oxygen from the bottle prior to capping, or the frequent hose sprays to keep a raging boil from topping its kettle. Other times the added volume is material, such as a Central Wisconsin breweries method of adding dry hops by soaking hops in water then pumping the hops (along with the water) into the fermenter. It seems that the how and when of water addition is quite varied."
- "It can, if you want it to."
- "Yes. If nothing else in the process is changed, I think the difference would be significant. However, I think the brewers who dilute high-gravity worts have figured out how to make the changes either insignificant or nonexistent."
- "Yes, Done incorrectly it can add oxygen and chlorine (local water), but most of all it will reduce the mouthfeel. Makes it real easy to drink but I would rather water down vodka if I just wanted a buzz."
- "If you get oxygen in the beer, it will change the flavor. This process will only hurt the beer flavor, not make it better."

Finally, I want to end with a comment from the post that started all of this and the reason why I sent out this survey and looked into it - unfortunately the poster is Anonymous, but I want to thank him or her for making it because it's a constant reminder against the snobbery that we, craft beer consumers, can inadvertantly adopt:
The craft beer culture seems to me to be mostly about keeping an open mind to innovation. If we turn into a culture of process Nazi's, we will end up like Germany, stuck in a rut that started in 1516 and continues to this day. Rheinheitsgebot was put in place as essentially a protectionist act posing as a "purity" law and the Germans make great beer under it, but Germany has essentially no presence in modern craft brewing. They have been making fundamentally the same beer for half a millennium. To riff on your closing sentence. If brewing style rigidity is so important, why are we drinking any style except German?

I think that "if it's such a great idea, why doesn't everyone do it?" is intellectually lazy. Take the evidence (as any good lawyer would) and then draw the conclusions. Go get some high-gravity brewed all malt beer and see how you like it. See if you can actually discern a flaw that was caused by the process.

Every good idea starts with nobody doing it. Popularity of a brewing process is not at all wedded to it's worth. If that were the case, brewpubs would have never come on the scene as an alternative brewing process to regional and national brewers.
So, there you go. Everything you wanted to know about high gravity brewing in the Wisconsin craft brewing industry.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On part two of this weeks podcast we continue our talk with Paul Graham, president of Central Waters Brewery. We talk some more about bourbon barrel beers, his new IPA, his experience with the "hop shortage," and why he's just as obsessed with stout as we are.

here's the mp3


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

From Our International News Desk

A big post on Friday, but I'm still waiting for responses to trickle in, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here's some information from the MBR International News Desk (aka, "Google News"):

Item 1: From We all know that we, American taxpayers, have paid billions of dollars to banks to bring them on solid footing. We also know that the brewing industry is one of the very few industries that is managing any growth at all, let alone actually doing pretty well. Well, combine the two and what do you get? You get seven banks going in to fund a "private equity firm" (in the 80s we called them "Junk Bond Traders" and "Hostile Takeover Specialists"), KKR, to purchase the Korean brewery Oriental Brewery. The brewery is currently owned by AB-InBev and produces the most popular beers in Korea: OB, Cass and Cafri lagers. You want to know what "the Industry" thinks of the rapidly growing, but still small, craft beer segment? Let's ask Gerard Rijk, an analyst for ING in Amsterdam: "Oriental makes sense for KKR because this is a cash-flow generating business in a duopolistic market." It's hard to know here whether the "market" he speaks of is "Korea" or "Asia" or "Global", but the point is still valid: there's two players (for those a little slow on the draw: AB-InBev and SABMiller). Which only begs the question - if it's a duopoly and KKR's purchase spins off to a third, what do you think the two duopolists are going to do? "Crush the third guy" is a valid answer to the rhetorical question.***

Item 2: From Reuters UK: African breweries are doing alright. Despite war-ravaged nations and a global economic downturn, beer in Sub-Saharan and Eastern Africa is doing well. This is causing even more money to come in from global brewery holding companies like Heineken, Diageo and SABMiller.
Higher consumption of nearer 60 litres per year in wealthier African countries such as South Africa and Gabon demonstrates the potential for growth as average incomes in Africa rise.

Brewers are also moving into the low-cost end of the market, hoping to pick up some of an informal alcohol market which SABMiller reckons could be worth $3 billion a year.
Moreover, "Innovations include substituting local barley, sorghum and cassava for imported barley to make European-style lager more cheaply, as well as more traditional cloudy brews to compete with local artisanal brews at 30 percent or more below the $1 average price of a lager, SABMiller said." Which is interesting, local breweries are using imported European barley, but the European breweries will be using local ingredients. It's kind of hard to tell who the "bad guy" is here.

Item 3: From BoingBoing: In a not-so-surprising leap, it appears European wine retailers have finally jumped the proverbial shark. "Tesco and its rival Marks & Spencer, which sell about a third of all wine drunk in Britain, now invite critics to taste their ranges only at times when the biodynamic calendar suggests they will show at their best." So, let me get this right. Wine taste better on certain days, or even at certain times of the day, because of a biodynamic calendar or lunar cycle? To be fair, even many in the wine industry think this stuff is nuts. But, still, one has to wonder whether retailers are more concerned with educating or confusing consumers. It is my theory that confused consumers are better customers - confusion results from a discrepancy in knowledge, an attempt to bridge this knowledge gap breeds curiosity, curiosity results in sales. Thus, by keeping consumers confused, retailers set themselves and their knowledge as the bar that the consumer must reach to "fully understand" wine; to obtain this knowledge the customer must seek out the retailer who can then, conveniently, suggest the appropriate product to try. But it's a fine line between keeping customers curious and turning them off because of the sheer complexity of it all. And then there's whole batshit crazy thing ...

***Some Wisconsin related trivia: KKR, Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts, now a private equity firm, was a major player in the private equity blow-up in the early 1980s and was the firm that completely bungled the RJR Nabisco takeover that put the final nail in the coffin of corporate raiding - they are the subject of the movie/book "Barbarians at the Gate." KKR got much of its "financing" for the RJR deal from Drexel Burnham Lambert, the undisputed kings of the 1980s junk bond market, and subject of the movie "Wall Street". DBL would later bring the entire bond (and stock for that matter) market down with it when its primary investor, Michael Milken, was arrested for securities fraud. DBL was dissolved in 1991 and one of its traders, Mr. Mark Attanasio, left to start Crescent Mezzanine, a Dallas-based junk bond firm. After selling Crescent Mezzanine in 2001, Mr. Attanasio purchased the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005. What will Lehman Brothers traders do with their ill-gotten trading cash and bonuses do you think?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

This week we speak with Paul Graham, President and Brewmaster at Central Waters Brewing Company. In part one, we talk with Paul about Central Water's origins, his start as a brewer, a bit about the business, and begin discussing the bourbon barrel aged beers. Where do they get their bourbon barrels? How do they use them? Where is Amherst Wisconsin? How did they get 25% of the taps at the Church Key? Listen to find out.

Here's the mp3


Monday, April 20, 2009

Local Bar Review: The Draft House - Verona, WI

The Draft House - Verona, WI

Basically: Don't Bother. Close But No Cigar [ed note: see comments below]
Honest Pint: No
Why: While its beer list is uninspiring, the reason I won't be going back is more food-related. It is not hard to make a hamburger - pretty simple really. So, there's no excuse for a non-fast-food restaurant to not make their own burgers. Cheaping out and using Sysco-ish pre-formed frozen hamburger patties like I would get a high school cafeteria or at a fast food chain is not what I need. If I want that, I'll go to a fast food chain and get a beer at home.

And the beer list doesn't really offer any reason to go, either.

Tap List***: Miller Lite (SABMiller), Bud Light (AB-InBev), Miller High Life (SABMiller), Shock Top Belgian White (AB-InBev), Blue Moon (SABMiller), Capital Amber, Capital Maibock, Leine's Honeyweiss (sic; SABMiller), Leine's Creamy Dark (sic; SABMiller), Leine's Seasonal (sic; SABMiller, I think it was 1888 Bock?), Spotted Cow, Newcastle Brown (Heineken), Anchor Steam (at least it's not Bells), Lake Louie APA, Bass (SABMiller), Guinness (Diageo; corporate home to Guinness, Harp, Red Stripe, Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, Jose Cuervo, and Dom Perignon, among others)

For those counting at home:
South Africa: 7
Belgium/Brazil: 2
Netherlands: 1
Mexico: 1
WI Craft: 4
Non-WI Craft: 1

*** Note: The website lists Ale Asylum Hopalicious, but this wasn't actually on tap, the menu card at the restaurant and the waitress both said Bass instead.

Bottle List: more of the same frankly, without Anchor Steam; the only bottle of interest is the Lake Louie Tommy's Porter (not a single Capital or New Glarus bottle)

So, as you can see - nothing here that you can't get at any other nameless, faceless, distributor-run tap in the world. Anchor Steam is interesting, but not really that interesting. The Lake Louie is nice to see. But, seriously, 16 taps - 4 locals, 3 of which are the same, expected, Capital and New Glarus taps that every bar in greater Dane County has, and Anchor Steam (what's up with that?? at least it's not Bell's I guess).

One craft bottle. One.

Instead of Guinness, why not New Glarus' or Furthermore's Stout? Instead of Newcastle, why not Tyranena's Rocky's Revenge? Instead of Shock-top how about Central Waters' Happy Heron? None of these are even super-premium seasonal beers.

Sadly, they can, and probably do, advertise that they offer "OVER 40 BEERS ON TAP AND IN BOTTLES!!!!!!!! COME SEE OUR HUGE SELECTION!!!!!"

The pricing on the beer was bizarre. Mrs. MBR ordered the Capital Maibock and it was $4.25. I ordered the Lake Louie APA and it was $4.50. I wonder why there is the price discrepancy even among local premiums.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Book Review: Minhas Brewery - Brewing Up a Damn Good Story

It was mere few weeks ago and I was sitting at home, typing an homage (paean?) to the barley nectar when Mrs. MBR, in a shimmering glimmer of radiant light and angel trumpets (honestly, that's how she always enters - I have no idea how she does it) holding aloft a rather large and, from the strains on her biceps and lower back, heavy package.

"This is for you"

"What the hell is that?"

"My guess? A book. It's from Minhas."

"What? Why the hell is Minhas sending me a book?" As you can tell, I say "hell" a lot - which is, oddly true. I also say a lot of other words a lot, but I try to keep it clean around here.

"How would I know?" Ah, the literal-ism of two attorney attempting to engage in conversation.

Of course, never the one to leave a rhetorical question alone, especially a rhetorical question phrased as a response to a rhetorical question, I replied "Because you are Ravinder Minhas' sex slave. Admit it! I know it's true! I want, nay, demand a divorce!!"

To which her only response was to roll her eyes and hand the book to me. Another argument won! Woo-hoo!

Inside the package was, yes Mrs. MBR was correct, a book. It's called "Brewing Up a Damn Good Story." With the subtitle, "Youngest Brewery Owners In The World, The Oldest Brewery In The Midwest And A Whole Lot More." Except it said it in all CAPS, which I will spare you. Also included in this package are two copies of the house bi-monthly newsletter called "Brews & News" and six flyers for the brewery tour. Not free passes for the brewery tour, mind you; just six flyers advertising the $10 brewery tour. To be fair, the brewery tour does include an eight-pack of Minhas beer, though it could debated whether the retail value is "in excess of the tour entry fee paid."

Qualms with the marketing speak on the tour pamphlets aside, I turned my attention to "Brews & News" the four-page bi-monthly newsletter. I was sent the Spring 2009 newsletter. The front page story is about the "Fighting 'All-Malt' Billy Bock." Which, given Wednesday's statistics that conspicuously left Minhas off of the "Craft Beer" listings because it doesn't conform to the definition of craft requiring an all-malt flagship, makes the 'All-Malt' in the "Fighting 'All-Malt' Billy Bock" even more glaring.

The text tauts this beer as "what we believe to be the finest American Bock beer being made today." I haven't had the "Fighting 'All-Malt' Billy Bock", so I can neither confirm nor deny this assertion. I just note that "American Bock" is not a recognized style by either the BJCP or the Brewer's Assocation (warning: PDF) - and we're talking about an organization that officially recognizes "American-Style Amber (low calorie) Lager" as a brewing style. So, they are the finest representative of a style that no one else officially recognizes? Congratulations?

Page 2. Interestingly, more information that attempts to link the "Fighting 'All-Malt' Billy Bock" to the 160 years of bock-making at the brewery. As if, since people liked the "Blumer '99 Bock" (that's '99 as in 1899, not 1999), that people today would, obviously, also like the "Fighting 'All-Malt' Billy Bock." Page 3 celebrates Doane Distributing in Ashland, WI as Distributor of the Month.
An interesting aside: as a bi-monthly publication, how do the distributors who win the award in non-published months find out they've won?? I guess "Distributor of the Bi-Month" doesn't have the same ring to it.
And finally, Page 4 congratulated Kathy Jones for 17 years of service (3 different owners: Huber, General Beverage - yes, the distributor - and now Minhas; coincidentally, GenBev as they are lovingly known in the industry, own the licensing/manufacturing rights to the Berghoff brand). Page 4 also promotes the Mutt of the Month in tribute to the dreadful "Lazy Mutt" beer and Chihuahua Rescue USA.

OK, sorry for the diversion. On to the main show here - the book. The first thing I noticed when researching this book, by the way, was the few places where you can actually purchase the thing. Presumably, you can get it at the brewery, but Amazon has only one copy and another site requires you to fill out a form and mail them a check. In any event, the book is $40; let's crack this bad boy open and see if it's worth $40.

I will say, the book is high quality - production, I mean. The cover is solid, the pages are crisp and glossy, the font is easy to read and the colors are bright. I do find it interesting that in the Authors' Note, they start off with "Minhas Craft Brewery is a small, independent and traditional 100% family-owned craft brewery." Not surprisingly, the definition for "craft brewery" that, as we saw leaves out Minhas under its definition, is "small, independent and traditional." Funny, huh?

The book starts with an homage to the beautiful, traditional, cheese-and-beer Wisconsin, Town of Monroe. The next part of the book talks about the "craft" side of the Minhas Brewery; namely, Lazy Mutt, Fighting "All-Malt" Billy Bock, 1845 "All-Malt" Pils, and the Swiss Style Amber. I'm not familiar with "Swiss Style" Ambers and a review of style guidelines, unfortunately, leaves this one out. But, I am assured that "Swiss-Style" beers are fine representations of the Swiss Culture and Neutrality.

But, it's pages 40 and 41 that give me great pause. A big layout of the Minhas brewing process, it's pretty interesting in how uninteresting it is. Surprisingly, they show a direct-fire kettle, but instead taut the kettle's steam coils as the primary heating source. Direct-fire kettles are not the norm these days; so I would expect some attention to this historical detail. But, alas, we are left with "the boiling process darkens the color and caramelizes the wort to give caramel, toffee and licorice notes." Which is true for direct-fire kettles, which is why they are so cool. Then they describe what goes on in the "Government Cellars" (I assume this refers to the bond tanks/bright tanks where beer sits before being bottled):
The alcohol in the beer is adjusted to the exact alcohol per volume as per the recipe by adding pure water ...
The beer is diluted with water. Not blended with lower-alcohol beer. Not brewed to a lower alcohol level. The beer is diluted with water to bring down the alcohol level. Maybe this is more common than I know, but in speaking with craft brewers all over the country, I am unfamiliar with this technique. Maybe Dogfish Head actually brews the 120 IPA to 30% ABV and dilutes it down to 18% by adding water? Maybe New Glarus dilutes the Spotted Cow with water? I don't know for sure. I doubt it, though.

The next bit of the book talks about the Minhas family. Starting a liquor company in Alberta at 19 years of age. Starting "Mountain Creek" at Minnesota Brewing in Minneapolis, then City Brewing in La Crosse, then finally purchasing the Blumer/Berghoff/Huber Brewery in Monroe.

Intermixed in the Minhas family history is an awesome history of the brewery itself. Starting from Page 55 to Page 95, basically the second half of the book, there is a compelling history of Bissinger and Esser and Hefty and Blumer and Huber. It quotes Michael Jackson at length about Fred Huber's love of wheat beers (what would Mr. Huber think of this wheat revival?). Finally the purchase of the brewery in 1994 by GenBev and the expansion of the Berghoff line. It's a compelling story of brewing at the Monroe facility and the pictures are plentiful.

The book then goes on to talk about the brewery's "rescue" of brands: from Hans Kestler's Augsberger (a Chicago mob beer later brewed in Potosi and then Monroe) and Berghoff (trivia: originally brewed Fort Wayne, Indiana; the Berghoff Brewery was purchased by Falstaff which was later purchased by Pabst) and Potosi (though, curiously, the Potosi Brewery is again open but it can't brew Potosi Beer because it doesn't own the rights).

I have an undecided stance on the "rescue" of brands. To one extent, I think it's neat that I can drink a Fauerbach or Esser's Best or Augsburger or Falstaff or Rhinelander. But on the other hand, brewing is a very different beast now than it was then and frankly most (though not all) of those beers are awful. In very few instances does the family still own the brand, so there is no care for the brand, just sheer exploitation. These were, for the most part, beers from a day when workers, and we were all "workers", had beer for lunch and no one noticed a little (or a lot) corn in the grain bill.

Unfortunately, for the most part, we (the royal "we") didn't stop drinking these brands because we found better beer to drink - if that was the case I'd be much more firmly ensconced in the "let 'em go" camp. But we stopped drinking these beers because the brands were purchased and then dropped by bigger and badder breweries - Pabst, Miller, Anheuser-Busch, et al. We stopped drinking these beers because the bigger guys fought dirty (pipe bombs through windows of bars that wouldn't stock their beer: seriously). But when a brewery admits to diluting its own beer, I shudder to think what they are doing to other brands - so I lose a lot of trust in that brewery.

The end of the book is a trip through beer marketing. The Molson ads telling people not to be "Canfused" are pretty humorous (they show a Molson can and a Mountain Creek can next to each other - and they do look awfully similar - but if they looked similar enough to be legally confusing, the courts would put an end to it; my guess is that there is a trademark suit out there that has resolved this issue in favor of the Minhas'). And the boasting of free swag makes me hope that a poker-chip set is in the mail next. (ahem: hint, hint ;)

The final pages are basically advertising for the brewery tour and some of the off-brands that the brewery produces: Hooch Hard Lemonade holds a special place in my heart because their bottle caps, sold at discount price, were the first I used for bottling my homebrew.

So, what comes out of this and would I recommend the book? If I were in a library or at the brewery or sitting in a coffee shop somewhere, I would pick this book up and not feel like it was a waste of my time - the pictures are great and the information is compelling. Would I pay $40 for it? Mmmm...probably not. I'm not a huge fan of coffee table books to begin with, but I can't help feeling that the book is somewhat intellectually dishonest. Not that I'm being lied to, I don't think that at all. But rather that the book is conveniently leaving out the whole story: like the ratio of "Mountain Creek" made to "Fighting 'All-Malt' Billy Bock." And that, as a craft brewery, they are exceedingly lacking.

I can forgive a craft brewery for just having beer that I don't like (Lazy Mutt). But to make a token amount and advertise with your left hand in order to claim that you then run a "craft brewery" while your much, much, much larger right hand is brewing Mountain Creek and Mountain Creek Lite and Hooch Hard Lemonade and shipping it off to Canada to undercut the Molson crowd? That just seem disingenuous to me. So, ultimately, my problem is less with the book, and more with the brewery.

One of these days I'm going to put Leinie's 1888 Bock up against the "Fighting 'All-Malt' Billy Bock" and the "Lazy Mutt" up against "Spotted Cow" and "Sunset Wheat" up against "Island Wheat" and we can all-low-end craft segment battle.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

Part two of this weeks podcast continues our interview with Mark Duchow of the Grumpy Troll Brewpub in Mount Horeb, including audio from the brewing of Mark's Stein Beer.

Here's the mp3


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Some New Brewers Association Numbers

Some statistics from the Brewers Association, via Jay Brooks and the Brookston Beer Bulletin:

First, the Top 50 US Breweries, by production:
        Top 10: Anheuser-Busch In-Bev, MillerCoors, Pabst, Sam Adams (Boston Beer Co), Yuengling, Sierra Nevada, Craft Brewers Alliance (Red Hook/Widmer/Kona/Goose Island), New Belgium, High Falls (Genesee), Shiner (Spoetzl).
        Wisconsin Breweries in the Top 50:
          14) Minhas
          32) New Glarus

Second, the Top 50 US Craft Breweries (according to the Brewers' Association definition of "craft brewery"):
        Top 10 Craft: Sam Adams (Boston Beer Co), Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Shiner (Spoetzl), Pyramid, Deschutes, Saranac (Matt Brewing), Boulevard, Full Sail, Magic Hat.
        Wisconsin Craft Breweries in the Top 50:
          21) New Glarus
*** Note: Minhas does not meet the Brewers' Association's definition of "craft" brewery.
The definition of a craft brewer as stated by the Brewers Association: An American craft brewer is small, independent, and traditional. Small: Annual production of beer less than 2 million barrels. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition. Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer. Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewer's brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.
I don't know if Mr. Minhas' ownership disqualifies the brewery (I don't think it does), or the lack of an all-malt flagship (their beer is pretty heavy on adjuncts like corn and/or rice)

Third, breweries per capita (warning: PDF). The top 10: Vermont, Montana, Oregon, Maine, Colorado, Alaska, Wyoming, Washington, Delaware, Wisconsin. So, Wisconsin sneaks into the top 10. Only 5 of the top 15 have more than 31 breweries; so, as you've guessed, the other 10 snuck in because no one lives there. The Top 5 with more than 31 breweries: Oregon (93), Colorado (103), Washington (100), Wisconsin (66), Michigan (70). As you can see, we still have quite a ways to go; Wisconsin has around 800K more people than Colorado but 39 fewer breweries.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On this weeks podcast, those crazy cats over at Miller Coors just won't stop with their "triple hops brewed" Miller Lite campaign, which Kyle explores further. Then, we discuss historical brewing techniques and move on to part one of our interview with Mark Duchow, Brewmaster at the Grumpy Troll Brewpub in Mount Horeb.

Here's the mp3


Monday, April 13, 2009

The Beer Tax Propaganda Is Resorting To Forced Populism

Seems inevitable, I guess, but over the weekend the State Journal ran yet another editorial attempting justify support for a beer tax.

I'll be relatively brief this time, I just wanted to point it out. But here's the reason why they felt this deserved another editorial:
UW Health commissioned a statewide poll of 500 likely voters. The Mellman Group conducted the survey in late February and early March.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they favored an increase in the state beer tax if the proceeds were dedicated to stricter enforcement and prevention of drunken driving.
If you want to know more information about the Mellman Group, check this out:
During his time at The Mellman Group, Henry has developed substantial expertise on tobacco-control issues. ... In addition to his anti-tobacco work, Henry has conducted research for several other non-profit organizations and corporations, including the Sierra Club, the Trust for Public Land, Dr. Pepper/7Up, T-Mobile, and the American Medical Association’s Office of Alcohol and Other Drugs. ... He also served as a policy advisor and legislative aide to former Representative Doris Hanson in the Wisconsin State Assembly, working primarily on issues dealing with the state budget, tax policy and the state’s budget stabilization, or “rainy day” fund.
Thus, you can see, Mr. Mellman's an expert in using tax and budget policy to influence social policy. Not to mention that the report was commissioned by UW Health, conveniently, a group that would benefit pretty greatly under a system that gives tax funds to hospitals for prevention and treatment.

A higher tax on beer -- as well as wine and booze -- would simply charge a small user fee on drinkers to help pay for all the costly damage a small yet significant number of them cause.
At least they got the "wine and booze" in there - but this tax doesn't really address wine and booze, it is solely a proposal to increase the excise tax. Moreover, there's no mention of how much the increase would be. The 1100% that Oregon is proposing? If so, it's more than mere "pennies" but it's not just the "pennies" that are on the brewery costs. I hope Rob Larson, head brewer at Tyranena, forgives me from cutting and pasting liberally from his April e-newsletter:
Yet Higher Beer Prices Ahead? I hope not... Not after last year when exploding raw material costs raised the price of a 6-pack of our beer by $1.00. But if members of the State Legislature and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have their way... it could go up another $0.50 a six pack! These individuals are advocating raising the excise tax for beer from $2.00 a barrel to $10.00 a barrel to fund various alcohol abuse and law enforcement programs. They claim this tax increase will only add 2.4 cents to the cost of a bottle of beer... Of course, excise taxes are taxes paid by the brewery and passed along through the distribution chain. This would require us to charge $0.56 more per case... but since we price everything if $0.50 cent increments... it will ultimately be passed along to our wholesalers as a $1.00 increase (after all, we don't want to eat these increased costs). And, of course, our wholesalers and retailers will then pass along the increased costs along with their margins. So, our $1.00 per case increase will really show up to you, the consumer, as a $2.00 per case increase... or the $0.50 a six pack I previously mentioned. And then add another $0.03 for the additional sales tax!

Quite frankly, I don't think responsible beer drinkers should have to bear the burden of financial mismanagement... or excessive regulation. Instead of raising our taxes, perhaps they should try cutting costs. Novel thought... Might be easy to cut the total cost of law enforcement if 18 year olds were able to drink legally again... and probably eliminate 80 percent (made up that number) of underage drinking charges, which also cost dollars to prosecute.
Well said Mr. Larson.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ramblings That Aren't So Random

As you can tell, it's been a pretty random week at Casa de MBR. Pretty darn random.

Joe Walts and his Republic Brewpub Blog points out something that's been bugging me for a while. It's fairly well-documented that my science knowledge is slim to none. Unfortunately that extends to the brewing universe as well. Like most science, I know the rule (soak grain at 150 -170 degrees to get the wort), but don't really understand the underlying science behind it. The bigger problem is what I call "The Professional Problem" - professionals in any industry do their job so often and so well and they cavort with other professionals in their industry so much that they either don't realize or completely forget that the rest of us have no idea what the heck they're talking about. Lawyers and Doctors are really bad at this. So are Brewers. But, what's really cute is that most Brewers I've met are super-self-conscious about it. Unfortunately, to the extent that they simply leave out a lot of key information assuming either that we don't know, don't care, would be really bored, or some combination of the three. It complicates things that beer is cool, science is not. Frankly, I think they underestimate science.

Anyway. I'll let Joe explain the really interesting thing:
It's become conventional wisdom in the U.S. that brewers should decrease the wateriness of session beers by mashing (mixing the grain and water) at higher temperatures. Doing so increases the ratio of unfermentable sugars to fermentable sugars, which results in higher final gravities ...
This explains my problem with so many craft low-alcohol session beers like Pale Ales and Pilsners and other session beers. In general terms, "final gravity" refers to the amount of unfermented sugars in the beer (as opposed to "original gravity" which refers to the amount of unfermented sugars in the wort before fermentation; note two: yes, I said "unfermented" not "unfermentable" - the sugar remaining in the "final" gravity is unfermented, it's possible, even probable, that it is unfermentable). Sugar is sweet. Have you have had super-sugary water? It's sweet and viscous. Like a lot of low-alcohol beer.

Speaking of super-sweet low-alcohol beers, want to bet Leinenkugel's "craft" never includes a Belgian Wit? I'll bet you a gazillion dollars. Sometimes it takes an explicit reminder that MillerCoors, parent of Leinenkugel's, also owns Blue Moon. As Andy Crouch points out, Blue Moon's been getting some of Miller's increased marketing dollars, too. Funny, I thought it was strange that the Leinie's rep I met the other day was talking about Blue Moon, but I didn't really put two-and-two together.

The same Leinie's rep said "If you think about it, all beer is craft beer." Which is patently absurd. Unless you mean "craft" as in "crafted" or strictly in the sense that something was "produced" - but this is an extreme bastardization of what we usually mean when we say something is "craft". Is Velveeta "craft cheese"? Of course not. (It's Kraft cheese! HA!) No, we generally think of "craft" as implying some quantum of artistic expression. In some general sense, the romantic notion of a brewer being inspired to create a beer that meets his tastes (or her tastes). Not, some lab sensor that analyzes beer style specifications and scientifically calculates a formula to derive a recipe that will result in a flavor profile that exactly matches what someone else thinks is an average for a given style. A practice that Leinie's freely admits is the crux of their very existence. They make a Russian Imperial Stout because they think consumers will see them as a craft brewery if they do. They make a "Classic Amber" that is only "classic" in the sense that it squarely replicates exactly what the BJCP suggests is the "middle" of the amber lager pack. And, it's why Leinie's will never be anything more than middle of the pack.

Finally, speaking of "crafting" food. Cool Hunting pointed me to a "craft food" website called Foodzie that is super-cool. Described an Etsy for food, there are two Wisconsin craft food-eries (Madison's Potter's Crackers and Tootski's Toffee). You can search the site by category or location which makes it easy to find "craft" food near you. Although, I guess under Leinie's definition, even Kraft would be "craft".

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Press Release Thursday - BeerWars! The Movie!

Since there's no podcast this week, the press release will go in the coveted 5:30 am slot.

Unfortunately there's only two places in Wisconsin showing this thing: Appleton and Kenosha. If you are going to go to Appleton or Kenosha to watch this, want to write a review for Madison Beer Review? If so, email me (jglazer at madisonbeerreview dot com).

Beer Wars LIVE

Thursday, April 16 -- ONE NIGHT ONLY
Live from Los Angeles, an evening dedicated to celebrating the world of craft beer and the American entrepreneurial spirit.

With over 95 million beer drinkers, beer is an American icon and is interwoven into our culture, yet the real story of these independent brewers has never been told. Beer Wars introduces the who's who in beer while following the journey of small, independent brewers who are challenging the corporate behemoths. The evening will feature the world premiere of the groundbreaking documentary Beer Wars, followed by a spirited LIVE discussion with brewers and experts from the film. Using clips and never before seen footage to spice things up, this inspirational event will cap a movement 25 years in the making at a time when everyone is looking for proof that the American Dream is alive and well.

Panelists include:

* Sam Calagione – Dogfish Head Craft Brewery founder
* Rhonda Kallman – Founder of New Century Brewing Company and co-founder of Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams)
* Greg Koch – Stone Brewing Company founder
* Charlie Papazian – Brewers Association president
* Maureen Ogle – Beer historian and author of "Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer"
* Todd Alstrom – Beer Advocate founder
Playing in 440 movie theatres nationwide on Thursday, April 16th, Beer Wars LIVE will begin a conversation about the future of beer in America.

Purchase tickets for the LIVE event on April 16th at 8pm ET/7pm CT/6pm MT/8pm PT (tape delayed) at

For more information, visit

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I'm Totally Calling The Cops

So, the Journal Sentinel linked to an article by the West Allis paper about an awesome program that your state is funding. Here's how it "works":

The police get a tip that a high school party is going down. First, they call the parents at the location and tell them. If they can't get a hold of the parents the cops put a sign out front in the yard that will mark the spot.

Seriously. This is your tax dollars at works folks.

First, how many times do you think cops will get prank calls about parties at some dude's house that just isn't happening? As further incentive, consider this: "The department will encourage students with information about parties to call Crime Stoppers, which awards cash for such crime-related information."

Second, a sign??? That's the best you can do?! How long do you think the sign will last on the front yard? Ten minutes? No way it makes it longer than an hour. What do you think "prize" is at the local high school for the student that "captures" the most signs? Why not a bat signal? Or burn a pentagram in the lawn? Heck, set a cross on fire and leave it in the middle of the driveway.

Third, it seems to me to be a far better use of money to just occasionally patrol the area and then bust the party. It's not like students are subtle or even particularly elusive. After two or three cars you can probably get a general idea of what's going down and you can bust the party before it really even gets started. Putting a sign out front will just encourage the party to move - and probably to a location that you won't know about - despite your professed "search for information using Facebook and other social networking sites."

So, there you go. If you live in West Allis, keep an eye out for the PARTY sign. You know there's a good time going on.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

No podcast this week. The damned flu and cold prevented a show from getting taped. Some great shows coming up in the next few weeks, though, so don't despair.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Catching Up On Some News

Some interesting stuff in the news:

One of those interesting things that I'd love to get all up in arms about if I could work myself to get up in arms about it is the airing of beer ads during college athletics. We, the royal "we", bitch about the amount of binge drinking that goes on at college campuses. We bitch about the amount of alcohol advertising that is imposed on the underaged. So, why do we allow beer ads on television for athletic programs where fewer than half of the participants can drink and a large percentage of the viewing audience is also under 21? The Atlanta Journal Constitution seems to be able to muster more rage than I can. Just be aware, here's the bio on the authors: "George A. Hacker is director of the Alcohol Policies Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Tracy T. Downs is manager of CSPI’s Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV."

An obscure law in Arkansas that affects pricing is interesting. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports on recent legislation that requires MFN pricing by breweries to distributors. For you non-legal-geeks out there "MFN" means "most favored nation" and it basically says you can't offer anyone better pricing than the best offer you give to someone else. It's a way of evening the playing field and preventing favorites. "Brewers will still be able to offer discounts by volume and other promotions, but they must be offered to all wholesalers. Factoring in differing freight costs also will be allowed." Basically, it prevents big breweries from offering steep discounts to distributors that are willing to "play ball" on their terms. So, it seems, probably good for small breweries, bad for big breweries.

Jeff Alworth's Honest Pint Project is going legal. The Seattle Times and the Associated Press reports that Oregon is introducing a law to require that pint glasses contain 16oz of liquid. [ed note: it's note a law that would require a 16oz pour, rather it is a certification program that bars/pubs could enroll in to certify that their pints contain at least 16oz of liquid; they would then be given a badge/sticker/certificate to display to customers] Think about your average pint glass - it hold 16 oz, one pint. But that includes, maybe, a half-inch of foam. This means you're really only getting 14 oz or so liquid. Yet, it's billed as a pint of beer. You are getting less than one pint of beer. I can see the point of getting up in arms over this. Alworth's solution: use the British pint glass that holds 20oz and only fill it up to a line on the side that marks the 16oz point. Simple enough. As a side note: a state legislator picked this up and ran with it without Jeff even knowing it was going to made law, but he's following its progress on his awesome beer blog Beervana.

And, finally, a bit of weird. I'll admit I am really bad at the science gobbledy gook. I wish I understood it, I really do. But I think it's the weird language that gets me. Like "Phase separation" what does that even mean? In any event, scientists discover that bird feathers are not colored by pigment, like skin is, but rather by protein nanostructures that self-assemble when undergoing phase separation. I have no idea what that means. But apparently it's also how we get head on beer.

Friday, April 3, 2009

What's The Point

We talk around here a lot about 22oz bombers. And the lack thereof in Wisconsin package sizes. I like 'em. I also like 750s and 300s and 500s. I'm not saying I don't like twelve ounces - I'm just saying that we should think outside the bottle a little.

Well, Pacifico's thinking outside the bottle, a little:
Pacifico Beer, an authentic beer imported from Mexico, is adding a new package with the introduction of the Pacifico 7 oz. bottle in 6-pack and 4/6-pack case. ... This new SKU is positioned to further Pacifico's efforts to increase trial among consumers via new opportunities and occasions. In bars, the smaller size makes it ideal for bucket specials. In grocery, drug and convenience stores, the 7 oz. complements the existing Pacifico package line-up and its on-the-go size makes it perfect for bringing to parties, cookouts and picnics.
I don't know about you, but I can't say I'd be super-excited about the tool that brings a sixer of Pacifico 7oz-ers to my party. But, maybe as the image shows, they have a different target market in mind?

I wonder whether the 6 7oz-ers will cost more or less than the Pacifico 40oz bottle that I can get at the Stop-And-Rob around the corner.

**note: is not the URL for the brewery.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

We continue our 2/3 blind Stout tasting. In this clip we drink Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, August Schell Stout, Beamish Stout, Three Floyds Black Sun Stout, Central Waters Peruvian Morning Stout, Youngs Double Chocolate Stout, Guinness Draft Stout, and Central Waters Satin Solstice Imperial Stout.

Here's the mp3.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The City Of Madison Wants To Ban The Sale of Singles

The State Journal ran an article yesterday about a proposal by District 18 Alderman Michael Schumacher to extend a District 4 and District 8 ban on the sale of single bottles of beer (and fortified wine).
Schumacher on Tuesday will propose a city-wide ban on the sale of less than a six pack of beer or malt liquor (except imports or microbrews), fortified wine and less than a pint of liquor.
I spoke with Mr. Schumacher yesterday about this proposal, which is only that right now, to clear up some of the issues. It was a summary call, so I won't detail it too much, but here's the gist:

- First, it would simply extend portions of the "Alcohol Beverage License Density Plan" (Mad. Ord. Sec. 38.05(9)(o)) city-wide
- "Import" means what you would expect it to; though whether "Guinness", or other 'foreign' beers that are licensed for production here in the states, would count is not immediately clear (sorry, I forgot to ask about this)
- "Microbrew" is a relatively novel definition - at this point it is defined as anything less than 150,000 barrels per year. This would mean that Leinie's is a "micro" but Sam Adams isn't - thus, retailers could sell singles of Leinie's, but not of Sam Adams. As a practical matter how is a retailer to know whether a brewery is 150K barrels or not. Quick a quiz - name all of the breweries that are under 150K barrels: Sam Adams, Leinies, New Glarus, Ale Asylum, Lakefront, Summit, Bells, Great Lakes, New Belgium, Stone, Goose Island, Avery.
- I'll save my ire for another day, because I don't think it's a good solution; but, admittedly, Aldr. Schumacher agrees that it doesn't address the root issues that it is trying to re-channel

So, what is the "issue" - what problem is this ordinance attempting to abrogate?

A good question. Alcohol-related crime primarily. Crime, generally defined, as "anything against the law" or even just "socially unacceptable" - which would include societal ills from theft, muggings, panhandling and fights to vagrancy and loitering. Last year, somewhat quietly, and to moderate skepticism a few downtown districts restricted the sale of single bottles of certain types of alcohol - we'll call it "brown bag" alcohol - ultra-cheap 40s, fortified wines, sampler-size liquors, etc. Not surprisingly, this was resounding success - people (the types who engage in crime after getting a little "liquored up" weren't buying these and the alcohol-related crime decreased in these districts.

Or rather, the alcohol-related crime moved to other areas where these could be purchased. So, the argument goes, if we restrict where people can buy this stuff then crime will go down all over the city - primarily in parks and other public areas where people congregate. It doesn't solve the problem; we still have fights (even alcohol-related) and thefts and loitering, but at least it isn't because someone spent their dinner money on a 40oz of Olde English on an empty stomach.

Other cities, like Seattle, have instituted similar measures to some success. In Seattle's case, rather than the import/micro distinction, the law simply names the specific brands. Obviously, this results in a situation where the brands are re-branded.

It's far from an ideal situation - and, to his credit, Aldr. Schumacher at least recognizes and acknowledges this. But, if you think, like he does, that something must be done it becomes a question of how: both in the short-term with stop-gaps like the current proposal and in the long-term to address the root causes.

I want to withhold my own "official" judgment until I see where this proposal is going. The libertarian in me recoils in horror, but I am sympathetic to the plight of city administrators who need to address issues and the sometimes-less-then-ideal world it results in.