Monday, June 29, 2009

A Patent For An Integrated Substantially Thermally Sealed Insulated Keg

Apparently Nathan Mhyrvold, former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft, Bill Gates, you all know who Bill Gates is, have invented a "temperature stabilized storage container." These two articles are big on gossip and "haha beer" kind of stuff, but are light on the actual technology (a pet peeve of non-beer writers that write about beer and technology writers in general).

The Patent Application basically says it's an insulated keg.
Systems described herein include integrally sealed containers. An integrally sealed container may include one or more segments of a first ultra efficient insulation material having one or more surface regions, the one or more segments principally defining at least one storage region; and one or more regions of substantially thermally sealed connections between at least one of the one or more surface regions of the one or more segments wherein the one or more regions of substantially thermally sealed connections and the one or more segments form an integrally thermally sealed storage region.
I love that a keg is a "system" - but that's patent-ese for you. "Integrally sealed" means the seal is part of the keg itself and integrated into the keg. In this case, basically, an insulation sleeve is welded to the outside of the keg.

They have welded a can koozy on to their keg.

Good idea. But, keep in mind that you are now on notice that if you decide to weld some insulation to your kegs, you are now infringing Bill Gates' patent.

Friday, June 26, 2009

What Kind Of Story Are You Telling?

AdAge has a rather confusing, but ultimately spot-on, article about marketing. Ignoring all of the confusing stuff, there's two basic points to be taken out of it that I think are important.

Point 1. Sometimes there's no need to spend a gazillion dollars marketing a product that everyone's going to use anyway.
   Corollary to Point 1: If you know your product sucks but you spent a lot of money on it and want to re-capture as much of that money as possible, try not to show it to anyone until you actually launch the product and hope to grab as much money as humanly possible until the word-of-mouth catches up to it.

In support of Point 1, the author points to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. First, the author points to Michael Bay's incessant whining about the lack of marketing support of his movie; then, AdAge notes (via that, despite the lack of a huge marketing spend, Transformers still "raked in a record $16 million last night, the most ever for a Wednesday midnight run." AdAge pointed out that while Paramount may not have spent a lot of money, it spend it in the right places to make sure its core audience knew it was coming out (e.g., KMart, Burger King, and Candy Bars)

Point 2: Successful marketing is less about the product and more about telling the product's story.

"Optimus Prime is one badass character, sure, but the novelty of seeing characters develop and being able to essentially market that is far more enticing than trying to just market how awesome shape-shifting cars (and Megan Fox) look in the sand. ... Sony [ed note: Harry Potter] was able to flog a summertime blockbuster and compelling characters not played by the annoyingly twitchy, one-note ham Shia LaBeouf."

Leinenkugel's doesn't claim it has the best beer in the world, it attaches itself to the idea of the Northwoods and the stories of good times in a location where Leinenkugel's happens to ... ummm ... have an almost complete monopoly. Thus, your good times there were most likely had with Leinenkugel's in hand. But, nonetheless, Leinie's was there and they tie themselves to that story.

And before you say "My story is my quality." Ford had "Quality is Job Number One" and where did that get them? A recall of 10,000 Jaguars. Face it, everyone has made a beer they aren't proud of, or at the very least, has the potential to make a beer that slips through the cracks - Capital "Experimental", Lost Abbey's Angel Share, Bud Chelada, just to name a few. We, consumers, understand that everyone strives for quality and we also understand that everyone screws up - just don't make a habit of it, but you don't need to say "we care about quality" either.

It's the underlying story that consumers connect to. We drink Leinie's because it reminds us of the Northwoods (or, to be more precise, of the loose, come what may attitude of rustic vacations that says "hey, I'll try anything, I'm on an adventure"). And, when I talk about Capital being "confusing", this underlying story is exactly what I'm talking about. Capital's marketing has been very un-focused (are you golfers? are you beer geeks? are you "rustic"? are you arrogant? I've seen advertising that attempts each of these connections.) and scattershot - like they're throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. As a brewery you can't be all of these things. [Ed Note: Personally, I think the golf thing is a good place for them - it is not only upscale, but it's multi-generational and has a strong cultural connection with their suburban location and good natural compliments like boating and other luxury sports.] Sure, you can have some variation within your individual brands, but your underlying message, the house brand, needs to be consistent. And, say what you will about Leinie's, but their underlying message is consistent and we know what they are trying to say as a brand.

Stone's "attitude" works because it is not only honest (which is very hard to pull off when you pose an affront to your consumer), but it is consistent. Sam Adams' Northeast Americana works because it is consistent. Furthermore's quirkiness works because it is consistent. And the sum of the consistency across the brands tells the story that the consumers attach to.

Black pepper. Belgian and American ale. Apple cider and beer. Coffee and Mexican lager. Organic beets. These tell a story. They tell a story not only about the beer, but about the brewery. It's a story that the slogan reinforces: "Ready. Fire. Aim." It's a story that the labeling reinforces. And it's a story that the barn parties and midwest music reinforces. And that's how you tie your product to a story, make it consistent and reinforce it. I don't mean to single out Furthermore, but they do a really good job of this. But there are lots of other breweries that do a really good job of this as well: New Belgium, Three Floyds, and Sierra Nevada, among others.

"Will Harry Potter magically walk away with as much box-office loot as Sam Witwicky will? Probably not. But you're also not going to see seven installments of Transformers, either."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On part two of this week's podcast we continue our discussion with Randy Thiel, the Director of Quality Control for the New Glarus Brewing Company and former Brewery Ommegang brewmaster. We discuss brewing with sugar, the New Glarus grand opening, the new R & D series of beers, the Knights of the Brewers Mashing Fork, some Brussels history, and his go to cheap beer.

Here's the mp3


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Heineken Taking It To SABMiller

In anticipation of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Heineken is about to open a brand new brewery in the home of SABMiller. The new plant will brew Diageo and Heineken products like the pilsner flagship, Amstel Light, and "Ireland"'s Guinness Stout, brands that are much more popular with Europe's soccer crowd than SABMiller's American and South African-focused brands. There are some discussions to also partner with A-BInBev to brew Budweiser at this facility for the Cup. The brewery should open in Q3 or Q4 of this year. Also being added to the plant is a new barley malting facility.

Interestingly, an additional benefit of having a brewery in South Africa is the access to the returnable bottles that we despise here in the US, but are so prevalent throughout the world. "Once constructed, the brewery would allow access to a returnable bottle pool, potentially making it more affordable as well as freeing up money for investment behind the brands."

For Those Of You In Northwestern Wisconsin

If you're anywhere near Minneapolis-St. Paul this weekend, make sure to head over to The Muddy Pig or Four Firkens to meet and learn from Father Isaac from La Trappe/Koningshoeven Brewery, the only Dutch Trappist Brewery.
At the seminar you will learn about what it means to be a member of the order, what it takes to make real Trappist ales and what the future holds for these amazing products.
Tickets for the seminar at The Muddy Pig are $30 and apparently are already sold out (I've found just showing up and pretending like you're with the crowd often works). He's at The Four Firkins on Friday from 4-6pm, presumably it's just an appearance and anyone can show up.

So, what's the big deal you say? Well, I promise you that at some point in the future I will talk exhaustively about Trappist Beers. The legal foundation of the Trappist certification mark is one of the most over-looked areas of trademark law and is ideally suited for the growing craft industry. In the meantime, it suffices to say that only a very, very few breweries in the world can call themselves "Trappist".

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On this week's podcast we interview Randy Thiel, Director of Quality Control for the New Glarus Brewing Company and former Brewery Ommegang Brewmaster. In part one we discuss his beginnings as a homebrewer right here in Madison, his beginnings with Ommegang, the "slightly pornographic" Three Philosopher's essay contest, what his job and New Glarus entails, his favorite New Glarus beer, and the New Glarus Unplugged Imperial Saison.

Here's the mp3


Monday, June 22, 2009

This Is Something That You Need - The Go Plate

Here's a little write-up on a new entry in the "Eat-While-You're-Drinking" technology department.

The Go-Plate. I think a picture is worth a thousand words in this case. $50 for a pack of 42 of these bad boys.

Letting Someone Else Do The Work - Top 10 Summer Beers

A fun article from TMRZoo listing 10 beers you MUST drink this summer. I agree: Saison Dupont, Erdinger, Prima Pils. I disagree: Landshark Lager, Sam Adams Summer Ale. It pains me to remove a recommendation for the Sam Adams Summer - it, and the Pete's Wicked Summer, was one of the first seasonal craft beers I can remember really enjoying. But it's just too darn sweet for my taste these days - it doesn't warm up well at all. And while Summer beers are almost always great cold-drinkers, they warm up quickly so they can't taste BAD when they do get a little warm.

My own Summer Top 10 (in no particular order):

Furthermore Fatty Boombalatty, Lakefront Organic ESB, Saison Dupont, Stone IPA, Erdinger (hefe or dunkel), New Glarus Imperial Saison, Surly Furious, Coors Banquet, Great Lakes Burning River, Bells Oberon

I'll Keep It Brief

I think I wrote something like 4000 words about beer and the brewing industry last week, so I'll keep it short and let someone else do the talking today.

Gelf Magazine interviewed Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery. Two of Brooklyn's beers were in my 2008 Top 10: The Local 1, a sophisticated 9% ABV Belgian Blonde with a sweet, dry finish and earthy, spicy German hops; and the Brooklyn-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse, a collaboration with Germany's Schneider brewery that birthed a signature Schneider weizenbock with the American-hops twist of Brooklyn's India Pale Ale.

Oliver has become something of a Statesman for the sophistication of the American Craft Beer movement. While he sometimes comes off as stiff and snooty, it's good to see the wine-snob stereotype play out in the beer industry and let people know that a nice hoppy weizenbock can be equally refined as a California pinot noir.

So, check out the article.
Garrett Oliver: ... The more people are exposed to good beer, the more they come to like it. It's becoming a new affordable luxury. It might cost a dollar for a bottle of Budweiser and $1.50 for a Brooklyn Lager, and it's a completely different experience. In the same way that people are willing to pay more for better coffee and better chocolate, we're starting to see that people are willing to pay a little bit more for better beer as well. We're up about 20 percent this year to date, which isn't bad for a 20-year-old company. There is a movement for quality food and beverage in this country, and we're a part of it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Keeping Track of Kegs, Pt 2

On Wednesday we talked about how New Belgium is using RFID (radio frequency identification) to track kegs through their supply chain. Keg loss, which results in millions of dollars of loss per year, is a signification issue to the brewing industry. In the case of RFID, the brewery is able to track the exact location of the keg and thereby reduce loss; the technology also adds some benefits like enabling tracking metrics and increased keg efficiency which reduces the total number of kegs in circulation. But, RFID technologies are expensive and can be prohibitive if the brewery doesn't have cash on hand to pay for it and all of its attendant costs.

Another option that completely eliminates keg loss is the use of PET recyclable kegs. The keg itself is a pressurized PET plastic ball that can fit inside of a an easy-to-transport lightweight box. The ball has a flexible inner liner which contains the beer. The beer is dispensed by forcing a gas into the ball but outside of the bag, like squeezing toothpaste, so it never comes into contact with the beer. Pretty cool, eh?

These kegs are recyclable just like any PET plastic is. Moreover, the use of these kegs reduces the amount of transportation required in the beer supply chain. In this case, the entire return trip from the retailer to the brewery is eliminated. This not only gets rid of the keg loss, but reduces the beer's carbon footprint. The downside is that the brewery needs a new keg every time it needs a keg. Thus, a brewery that produces on 500 barrels per year would need to purchase 1000 of these kegs every year. Although KeyKeg, one manufacturer of recyclable kegs, claims that its kegs hold 25% more beer than traditional kegs.

So, what's preventing the instant adoption of these recyclable kegs? Well, believe it or not, it has nothing to do with the kegs themselves, but rather how the finances of the brewing industry work.

Consider the following example:

Brewery A puts its fancy brown ale into two kegs: one a stainless steel, traditional, keg that we'll call KEG S; the second is a recyclable plastic keg we'll call KEG P. The brown ale sells to the distributor for $90 a half-barrel. The plastic keg costs the brewer $30. In the case of KEG S, the keg sells to the Distributor for $90 plus a $30 deposit to ensure the return of the keg. In the case of KEG P, the keg sells for $90 plus $30 for the plastic keg. The distributor estimates that it requires a 25% markup in order to cover its costs and ensure a tidy profit. So, when the kegs are sold to the retailer, the retailer pays $120 ($90 plus 25% markup) plus a $30 deposit for KEG S. The retailer pays $160 ($120 plus a 25% markup) for KEG P. On the retail side of things, the retailer has calculated that its costs plus profits come out to around a 5x multiplier on the cost per pint for a beer. The retailer estimates that it gets 100 pints out of a keg. So, KEG S has a per pint cost of $1.20, while KEG P has a per pint cost of $1.60. Thus, the retailer will sell beer from KEG S at $6 ($1.20 time 5) while it will sell beer from KEG P at $8. Given that this is exactly the same beer, which price do you think the customer would prefer?

Well, them's the breaks you say. You can't expect these companies not to markup their products to make money; that's how business works right?

Sort of. Let's really look at what's going on here for a second. Does it really cost $40 more dollars for the distributor to transport KEG P as opposed to KEG S? Of course not. It costs exactly the same amount. In fact, it probably costs less to transport KEG P because the distributor does not have to pay for someone to pack, un-pack, re-pack, and re-un-pack empty kegs as the keg goes from the retailer back to the brewery. The same is true of the retailer. Does it really cost $2 more PER PINT to pour out of KEG P than KEG S? Of course not.

Let's reverse-engineer this markup for a minute. This 25% is really a shorthand for the amount that the distributor estimates it will cost to transport (distribute) a keg and receive a nice profit. And that amount is somewhere near $30 ($120, the amount it charges the retailer, minus $90, the amount it pays the brewery). Let's further assume $10 of that $30 is profit (about 10% of the cost of the keg) and $20 is actual costs and overhead (gas, wages, etc.). But it doesn't “magically” cost $40 to markup a plastic keg. It still only costs $20 to move the keg. And, in fact, because it only makes the half the trip, it probably only actually costs $15. Plus profit.

The same is true on the retail side. Does it really cost $2 more PER PINT to pour of a plastic keg? Of course not. For the most part (cask and nitrogen might be exceptions), there is some amount that it costs to sell a pint of beer regardless of whether the beer is Miller Lite or South Shore Cream Ale or Palo Santo Marron.

I'm going to make one guess here and the guess is for purposes of illustration, the actual number is somewhat irrelevant. Let's guess that it costs the retailer $2.50 in costs (not including the cost of the beer) and overhead to pour a regular pint of beer. Now, let's re-do the hypothetical.

Brewery A sells its beer in two kegs KEG S and KEG P. The brewery sells KEG S for $90 plus a $30 deposit and KEG P for $120 including the $30 cost of the plastic keg. The distributor adds $20 for the transportation and a 10% profit and so sells to a retailer KEG S for $120 plus a $30 deposit and sells KEG P for $152, let's call it $155 to add some free profit and get a round number. The retailer then adds its profit, say 10%, and arrives at (rounding up) $135 for KEG S and $175 for KEG P. To arrive at a per pint price the retailer estimates that each keg will produce 100 pints for a per pint, plus profit, cost of $1.35 for KEG S and $1.75 for KEG P. If the retailer's cost to pour the pint is $2.50, the retailer would sell beer from KEG S at $3.85 (or, more likely, $4) and beer from KEG P at $4.25. Well, that's certainly not the $2 per pint difference that we saw earlier is it?

The brilliant thing is that pricing like this would make craft beer considerably more competitive against the macros. Sorry for all the numbers, but let's look at Miller Lite real quick. Let's assume the retailer pays $70 for a keg of Miller Lite and $120 for a keg of South Shore Cream Ale. At a simple 5x multiplier you get $.70 times 5 to get a per pint cost of $3.50 for Miller Lite and $1.20 times 5 for a per pint cost to the consumer of $6 for the South Shore. Using the alternative method, you get a $.77 plus $2.50, or $3.27 (round up to $3.50) for Miller Lite and $3.83 (round up to $4) for South Shore. A mere $.50 difference.

Just for kicks, let's do this for a high-end craft like Cantillon. Cantillon sells to retailers for, let's say, $300 per half-barrel (I think it's actually a little higher, but I don't have the number in front of me). $330 covers profit, divided by 100, is $3.30 per pint, plus $2.50 is $5.80, rounded up to a $6 pint. When was the last time you paid $6 for 16 oz of Cantillon? Heck, even if we add a full $1 per pint for a luxury premium we only get a $7 pint.

It's this dogmatic adherence to the markup that is really preventing wide-spread adoption of recyclable kegs. If the industry would look at its true costs and profits instead of blindly marking up, we'd arrive at a much more competitive landscape, have much less transportation of empty kegs, and far happier consumers who buy far more beer. And what's not to like about that?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Press Release Thursday - 12% Imports Tasting at Barriques on PD

Sorry for the lack of a Beer Talk Today Podcast, it hasn't gotten up yet. In the meantime, here's some info about a tasting tomorrow at Barriques on PD in Fitchburg.

Do you ever have one of those days that you don't have anything going on, so you're excited you can finally do some things that you don't get to do because you're always busy - and then the day fills up and you can't do all of the cool stuff that you wanted to do? Yeah. That's tomorrow for me. It sucks.

---------------START PRESS RELEASE------------------

Barriques Market in Fitchburg is hosting a tasting this Friday, June 19, 2009 from 5pm-7pm. Cost is $5/person and includes beer samples and a few cheese pairings.

Reservations are not required.

We will be tasting through 6 selections from the 12% Imports portfolio. They are a newer importer of Belgian Beers and have found several amazing small breweries with high quality beers that combine the traditions of Belgiun brewing with modern inovation and attitude. 12% Imports has recently expanded their range of beers. This is one of the first chances to try some of these beers which have very limited distribution. It is a great time to be a beer lover in Wisconsin.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Keeping Track of Kegs, Pt 1

Today is the first of a two-part series meant to look at two initiatives in the brewing industry to address the costs associated with draught beer - in particular, the costs associated with transporting draught beer. Today we will look at how breweries are implementing RFID systems to track kegs as they move around the country. On Friday we'll look at disposable kegs that would eliminate half of the movement a keg makes in the supply chain.

Both issues address keg loss. A keg is considered lost when it is stolen and turned in for scrap metal or when, for one reason or another (e.g., never-ending frat parties, like the one pictured to the left there), it doesn't make it back to the brewery. A big round of state legislation helped to address theft. In late 2007 and 2008 states passed laws requiring proof of identification and proof of ownership when turning in kegs for scrap metal. Here in Wisconsin, these laws are codified in 895.09 and 134.405.

In 2007 Sierra Nevada estimated that it loses 3% of its keg inventory each year. Moreover, because craft brewers in particular do not order in sufficient quantities, waitlists for new kegs can be months long. When a brewery, like say MillerCoors, has as many as 800,000 kegs in circulation, 3% represents a loss of 24,000 kegs. Some industry analysts estimate that total kegs lost in a given year number almost 400,000. At 30 pounds worth of scrap-metal per keg and somewhere near $.80-$1 per pound for scrap stainless steel those 24,000 kegs represent about $720,000. Not to mention the hassle of losing the keg and having to replace it.

Some groups have suggested that one way to address the problem of kegs walking away is to raise the price of the keg deposit. Of course, as the Brewers Association suggests, using internet forums (or, indeed, any forum) to get together and decide on a price to raise deposits is a bad idea. Moreover, as the music and film industries have found out, it doesn't pay to treat your customers like criminals, even if they are. Another option is to track the kegs as they leave the brewery, go to the distributor, to retail, back to the distributor, then back to the brewery.

New Belgium has chosen the latter course and is implementing RFID devices in their kegs to track them through the supply chain. The RFID system will allow New Belgium to not only track the kegs, but will also provide some key customer metrics such as fill-to-fill cycle times, keg turn rates by distributor, how long the keg sits with the distributor, and keg location and status. Thus, New Belgium can know that Specialty Beverage has 10 empty kegs sitting on a dock outside of Milwaukee waiting to be returned. Knowing this information will not only reduce keg loss, but can reduce keg inventory because of increased efficiency in use.

Of course, this information can be tracked with any number of tracking solutions. Not only does RFID work, but so would more simple, less expensive (at least for initial technology costs) bar-codes. The devil, of course, is in the details. And in this case, it requires attaching an RFID tag to each and every keg and populating databases with information such as what's in the keg, batch information, where it's headed, and tracking numbers, but it also requires RFID scanners not only at the distributor but at retailers such as bars and liquor stores as well. Although, one advantage of RFID over say bar-codes is a simple RFID interrogator can be installed at the distributor's docks without anyone taking extra steps, like scanning the keg or pallet. Also, once installed the RFID, unlike bar codes, can be combined with GPS systems to provide real-time monitoring solutions.

On the other hand, these RFID systems could be difficult to install internationally. Standardizing on an industry-wide RFID system would make adoption by smaller breweries, those most hurt by keg loss, an easier and less expensive option.

RFID systems are also not cheap. In addition to the obvious technology costs like RFID tags, scanners (called "interrogators"), GPS systems, and high-end computers and databases, there are also IT costs such as development and customization efforts, database development and non-IT costs like training a keg-filler how to put the information into the system and convincing your distributors and retailers to let you install hardware and/or software and, possibly, train their people how to use your systems.

So, it's great to see a brewery like New Belgium, a leader in brewing industry innovation, using RFID to control its processes and make its business more efficient. Ultimately, if not immediately, they will see returns on the bottom-line through lower incidence of keg loss and lower inventory carrying costs. Not to mention the better sales information that can be gained through the data-mining and application of the data to get the right beer to the right people.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On the first part of this weeks podcast, Jon and Kyle do some house keeping, plus news in 60 seconds, including Molson retiree's anger over reduced beer pensions, plus a study finds beer is better at re-hydration than water.

Here's the mp3


Monday, June 15, 2009

More On Pearl Street Brewing

We've talked a little recently about the new addition to the Madison-area retailers, Pearl Street Brewery. Over the weekend, MBR stopped in to the brewery to have a look around. Tucked into a shoe factory, a laid-back atmosphere in a modern industrial tasting room adjacent to the brewery, beers are inexpensive and the ping-pong is free.

A new addition to the lineup, is a smoked porter with crushed hemp seed steeped in the mash. Thick, but easy-drinking, the smoke is pronounced but not meaty and the hemp provides a woody, tart graininess. Also on tap was the Dankenstein IPA, a big, bitter beer that isn't really overpowering on the citrus, but provides a mouth-puckering finish.
As far as we got for a brewery tour. Unfortunately, the only person around was the bartender and, well, the bar was kind of full. Oh well. Looks like a brewery from here.


I just heard that there are going to be tastings of Pearl Street beer at Star Liquor and the Steve's on Mineral Point here in Madison on June 26th from 4-7.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Brewery Awaits

Sorry for the lack of posting today, but I took some time off and drove up to the La Crosse/Eau Claire area to visit some breweries and friends and family. Today, Friday, I hit up Dave's Brewfarm in Wilson, WI. Wilson is about 30 minutes West of Eau Claire. I've talked about Dave's Brewfarm on a number of occasions.

Well, it looks like this thing is really starting to come together. Dave will be starting to brew shortly, in the short terms cans (a la Surly) will be produced in Stevens Point and bottles at Sand Creek. 750s and draught will come from the brewfarm's 7 barrel system. I'll have more on this as it comes together, but let's just say I can't wait to take my tent up for Brewstock.

In the meantime, here's some un-retouched pictures of the place as it's coming together.
Some of the brewing equipment just came in. We were told "later this week this stuff is going to get installed. Oh. Wait. What is today? Friday? Maybe next week, I guess." As a sign of the recycled nature of brewing equipment, this particular stuff (kettle and mashtun it looks like) started its life at Avery Brewing Co in Colorado.

This big empty spot is where everything will eventually get installed. To the left, off-screen, is where the wooden barrels and tasting room will be, to the right is the fermentation room and possible aging caves (the brewery is built into the side of a hill). You can see the test-batch system in the background.

Horizontal fermenters from Germany in the fermentation room. There are some vertical fermenters behind the photographer. This room is built into the side of a hill, and eventually (in an unknowably distant future) some of the wall might be knocked down to do some proper cave aging.
The windmill that will power the brewery. About 100 yards (maybe 200? 300?) from the brewery, it currently provides the brewery income for the surplus energy it adds back on to the grid. To the right, off-screen, is a large geo-thermal heat-exchange field that heats and cools the brewery.
Although certification is too expensive, these organic hops (centennial, fuggle, a few others, and some crazy experimental hop from New Mexico) are growing in organic soil. They are in the first year of a three-year growth start process, its future yield is unknown right now, but could eventually make some great fresh hop beers. Unfortunately, the barley growing and malting process is too much to take on right now.

Dave and his wife Pam are hopeful that all the necessary paperwork will be completed and the first batches of beer can be done by mid-August. If so, I hope you'll join me in the tasting room to open this place up.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Press Release Thursday - Vote For MBR

From your friendly MBR marketing director:

I wanted to remind all of the readers that The Isthmus is holding their annual Madison Favorites poll right now. It ends June 18th. Just thought that people might want to oh, say, vote for their favorite local blog and blogger. They do have to have at least 20 “favorites” so it also a great time to support some of the great local microbreweries, beer bars, outdoor patios, etc.

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On part two of this week's podcast we continue our discussion of craft distilleries with Nick Quint from Yahara Bay distillery. We ask Nick about the connection between craft brewing and distilling, what distinguishes distilleries like his from the big guys, and details about the various products made at Yahara Bay.

Here's the mp3


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Excuse Me Sir, May I See Your License?

Bill Gurstelle, a guest blogger at BoingBoing and author of Absinthe and Flamethrowers, commented on an interview with ex-University of Colorado Chancellor Dr. Roderic Park wherein Dr. Park suggests that maybe we should license those under 21 to drink. From Dr. Park:
There is no reason to assume that people suddenly and magically become mature or wise or thoughtful at any arbitrary age. Nevertheless, in a kind of simplistic hypocrisy, the age of 21 law has become part of our culture's "solution" to the problem of irresponsible drinking. ... Well, it is clear that the minimum drinking age of 21 is not working. ... We should consider establishing a type of "learner's permit" for limited alcohol consumption, similar in concept to the driver's permit. ... One prerequisite for receiving the card would be passing a course on the expectations of responsible use of alcohol, what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable conduct, and the consequences of alcohol abuse.
Mr. Gurstelle agrees:
While it may sound counterintuitive, would it not make sense to lower the drinking age from 21 to 20 or even less, provided the less-than-21-year-old imbiber obtains a separate license for drinking. And in order to get the license, there is a "drinking skills" program to pass. Not how to drink more, but how and why to drink like a mature grown up.
I'm not convinced. It's an idea that seems great on its face. Hey, let's allow people who pass a test have a license to buy alcohol in limited circumstances. Sure. Fine. But, what happens when they turn around and then give (or sell) that alcohol to their unlicensed friends? What's been accomplished? Sure, the seller is liable for sale to a minor, but as a minor themselves, how harsh can that penalty really be? Are you going to be an 18 year old in jail for 30 days for buying his buddy a beer?

I just don't see the point. Besides the inconvenience of having to carry around yet another card, what does it really accomplish? An 18-year old can drink under "monitored" conditions? What's the point? Who wants to party with a "monitor"? Besides, we have "monitored" situations now (e.g., parents buying cases for the high school graduation or what-not) and it doesn't really seem to help. Sure, we might get rid of writing the underage drinking ticket, but it doesn't really address the damage done when the kid drives home or trashes a neighbor's yard on his walk home from the party. Is a 20 question exam really going to provide enough education to teach an 18-year-old not to play mailbox baseball after pounding a couple of 40s? No. You know what provides a deterrent to that? Punishment for the action of playing mailbox baseball and driving drunk.

If we want to eliminate the hassle of writing underage drinking tickets, just stop writing them (i.e., lower the drinking age all-around to 18). Why go through the state administrative overhead of developing, issuing, and grading tests and licenses? Why not move the driving age up to 18 (something that keeps those most at-risk of accidents off the road until they've practiced for a couple of years) and add alcohol-education questions to both temporary and permanent driving license exams? It's a far simpler solution that accomplishes much of the same thing.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Press Release Tuesday - Proposed Increase of Federal Excise Tax a Serious Threat to Small Brewers and Your Beer Choice

From the Brewer's Association:

--------------START PRESS RELEASE----------------
Proposed Increase of Federal Excise Tax a Serious Threat to Small Brewers and Your Beer Choice –
Contact Your Senators Now

Small brewers are facing an imminent and extremely serious threat to their businesses. The consequences of remaining silent have the very real potential of reducing your choice of beer and dramatically increasing the price of any beer that you purchase.

The Senate Finance Committee in Washington, DC is currently considering a proposal to increase and equalize the excise tax for alcohol beverages as part of healthcare reform deliberations. This proposal would triple the excise tax for 4.5% ABV beer and impose even higher excise tax rates for higher ABV beers.

If such a proposal becomes reality, there is no question that many small brewery businesses will suffer, some will close and consumers will face higher prices and diminished choice in the marketplace.

The Brewers Association brewery members and leadership have been actively engaged in building the case against an excise tax increase, recently submitting a letter to the Committee outlining our opposition.

We need you to speak out now. Today or tomorrow at the latest.

If you live in the following states it is most urgent that you contact your Senator who is on the Senate Finance Committee:

New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Dakota
West Virginia

If your Senators are not members of that committee, ask them to contact their Finance Committee colleagues and express their opposition to this proposal moving forward.

Your ask of them is simple:

Oppose the Tax Increase. Let them know that you oppose, in the strongest possible terms, raising the federal excise tax on beer because of the serious consequences it would have on small brewers and the craft beer they brew. Additional talking points appear below.

Once again: If one of your Senators sits on the Senate Finance Committee (roster of members below), urge them to oppose this proposal in committee deliberations.

If your Senators are not members of that committee, ask them to contact their Finance Committee colleagues and express their opposition to this proposal moving forward.

Take Action - Call and/or email your Senators’ Washington or district offices and make your personal case against this massive excise tax increase.

As always, thanks for your support.

Charlie Papazian

President, Brewers Association

Senate Finance Committee Members:

Baucus, Max (MT), Chairman
Bingaman, Jeff (NM)
Bunning, Jim (KY)
Cantwell, Maria (WA)
Carper, Thomas R. (DE)
Conrad, Kent (ND)
Cornyn, John (TX)
Crapo, Mike (ID)
Ensign, John (NV)
Enzi, Michael B. (WY)
Grassley, Chuck (IA), Ranking Member
Hatch, Orrin G. (UT)
Kerry, John F. (MA)
Kyl, Jon (AZ)
Lincoln, Blanche L. (AR)
Menendez, Robert (NJ)
Nelson, Bill (FL)
Roberts, Pat (KS)
Rockefeller, John D. (WV)
Schumer, Charles E. (NY)
Snowe, Olympia J. (ME)
Stabenow, Debbie (MI)
Wyden, Ron (OR)


Small brewers are small Main street businesses, typically employing 10 to 50 employees.

Small brewers represent only 4% of the entire U.S. beer market by volume, with 95% of them being very small businesses (producing 15,000 barrels or less per year).
We strongly oppose proposals to increase the excise tax on beer.

Proposals to increase and equalize the tax among all types of alcohol will tax small brewers at the highest rates because our specialty, gourmet and innovative beers typically have higher alcohol contents.

Brewers already pay a disproportionately higher share of taxes compared with other products – federal, state and local taxes represent over 40% of the retail price for beer while the same taxes equal nearly 24% of the price for all other purchases.

Higher taxes will worsen the economic recession – resulting in less competitive products, reduced sales and revenues, lost jobs and, for some small brewers, business closures.

$1 per case excise tax increase will typically cost the consumer at least $1.69 due to successive mark-ups as the case moves from brewer to wholesaler to retailer.

Many small brewers are struggling to deal with the consequences of the 2008 spike in ingredient and operational costs.

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

We at Beer Talk Today have started to notice more and more breweries moving into distilling, as well as more small "craft distilleries" opening up. So this week, we focus on distilling, including an interview with Nick Quint, owner/distiller at Madison's own distillery Yahara Bay. On part one, we talk to Nick about the name Yahara Bay, how he got started distilling, the distilling process, vodka with fewer hangovers, the distribution process, and changing laws for distillers.

Here's the mp3.


Monday, June 8, 2009

It Reminds Me Of Home

As I may or may not have mentioned here before, I'm not a native Madisonian - having moved here a few years ago from, most directly, Chicago - but having grown up all over Northern Ohio. It wasn't until I moved out of Ohio that the concept of "regional" beer really meant anything to me. Because some brands were so pervasive, it was hard to believe that they simply weren't available everywhere. Of course, today Great Lakes is a good example of this, but when I was in Cleveland, Great Lakes was a good brewpub and that was about it. They didn't, as the kids say, "blow up" until I had left.

For example, I had a keg of Leinenkugel's Red at my 21st birthday in Toledo, OH. Because Leinie's was so widely available, it didn't really occur to me, at that time, that Leinie's was as rare of a treat as it really was. That maybe the people of Kentucky or even Pennsylvania had no idea what Leinie's was. Even today, Leinie's brews somewhere in the neighborhood of 200K bbl of beer a year - a significant number to be sure, but, for the most part its distribution doesn't leave the Midwest (though, as we've discussed in the past, this is rapidly changing as Miller is looking to exploit Leinie's for every last dollar it can possibly provide).

Another example of the opposite idea - a close regional brewer that I had no idea existed until much, much later - is Yuengling. Originally from PA, Yuengling never made it into Ohio, instead choosing to remain on the Atlantic Coast and into the South. Here I was, one state removed from a regional giant and I had no idea it even existed. As an interesting sidenote to my discovery of Yuengling, when I first ran across it I was in the deep South and had heard of their Florida brewery. Until last year I didn't know it was even a Pennsylvania brewery and the Florida location was just a satellite.

Other regional breweries abound: Alaska, New Belgium (recent expansion notwithstanding), Harpoon, Shiner, and Saranac just to name a few.

And, now, again, the first regional brewery I was aware of as a regional brewery: Genesee Brewing Company, Rochester, NY. Before Leinie's Red, my first beer experiences almost all involved Genesee Cream Ale. My uncle, living in Canton, OH, had (probably still has) a kegerator that was always stocked with Genesee Cream Ale. Light, sweet, and creamy, we would go down to the basement to ... ahem ... "check on ... uhhh ... something" and sneak a quarter of a pint glass of Genesee before anyone would think we were up to no good. Later, of course, we dropped the pretensions.

I have no idea if Genesee was brewing in the intermediate period between, say, 1996 and today. According to the article, in 2000 it was bought out by a regional brewing group called North American Brewing, which also owned Labatt's USA and Seagram's wine-cooler-like-things called "Escapes". The name was changed from Genesee to High Falls. Like Schlitz here in Wisconsin, Genesee is making a comeback. Where Schlitz was the go-to beer for millions of college students in the 50s and 60s here in Wisconsin and the Northern Midwest, so Genesee was the go-to beer for young adults in the Eastern Industrial Midwest of Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania.

The $10M renovations to the brewery are expected to boost the local Rochester, NY economy. A marketing push will remind those who paid $.25 for cans of Genny Light in the 60s that Genny Cream Ale and Genesee Brewing Company are a point of industrial New York pride at a time when Kodak (also based in Rochester) is hurting and Buffalo, just a few miles East on I-90, is devastated. Indeed, just in recent weeks the renovations have added dozens of new jobs in Rochester and Buffalo to the over 200 jobs that the brewery already provides.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Contemplating the Consequences of a Double Imperial Witbier

As I was a drinking a Great Lakes Grassroots ale the other day, and then discussing the beer with my step-brother, I got to thinking about spices and beer.

Spices, of course, have been used in brewing longer than hops than have. Indeed, hops were really just seen as another spice that has a preservative effect. It seems, however, that since the proliferation of German beer in the late-1800s and into the 1900s, that the Rheinheitsgebot and its proscription of any ingredient other than malt, hops, water and yeast has dominated. Since the American brewing history mostly comes from Germany and, at least a little, from England, where spicing was not favored for their clean-flavored beers, that adding spices, likewise, is not a foundational part of our brewing history. We, Americans, mostly tend to see spicing as novelty or "doing something different or unusual"; it's weird that a beer should be fermented with cracked black pepper or coriander or orange zest or chamomile or any other number of herbs and spices that we readily use for cooking but ignore in the brew kettle.

But brewing in countries other than England and Germany have a long history of using spices. The Northern Europeans have long brewed gruit and sahti with spices such as mugwort and heather and yarrow and juniper and caraway and coriander. Belgium and Holland and France have long brewed witbiers with coriander and orange and raw wheat. Not to mention fruit additions to krieks and lambics and wheat beers and berliner weisses.

Yet, Americans see spicing not as a foundational component of brewing. For some reason we stick with this overwrought notion that spices are just used to hide brewing flaws or lack of skill. Indeed, I've heard a number of people comment about how adding spices to witbiers is cheating since a "proper brewer" should be able to get those flavors from the yeast and minimal spicing. Or, that overly herby or spiced beers are somehow inferior since you can't taste the beer through all of the spicing. And, while this should be a simple issue of balance it comes off as an attack on the spices themselves.

I'll admit to some level guilt in these regards. I've often condemned and berated a beer for falling back on the "crutch" of artificial spicing. But, to some extent, I think I was falling prey to what I mentioned earlier - the failure to separate taste and balance from fundamental concept of spicing. In other words, I was trashing spicing as a practice itself rather than the particular brewer's application thereof in an unbalanced or unpreferable manner. Because, I admit, I don't typically like heavily spiced beers - holiday ales, witbiers don't tend to be my thing. However, there some beers that are spiced that I like quite a bit - the aforementioned Grassroots ale (nominally, a "saison" but it's more like a husky/grainy wit if you ask me), Furthermore's Knot Stock, and Tyranena's Scurvy are all beers that are high on my list of beers, even though they contain a significant amount of spicing.

Of course, there is a problem in that it is possible to use spicing to cover flaws or mere novelty. Where the flavor is so dominant or out of place that it takes over, it may be time to evaluate what exactly you are trying to accomplish and the balance that you are looking for in the beer. Which isn't to say that featuring the spice can't be done - Great Dane's Tri-Pepper Pils does a great job of focusing attention on the pepper while still retaining drinkability and the fundamental characteristics of the base pilsner.

Like using spices in cooking, it is essential in brewing that spicing be balanced or the spice can easily overcome the beer. This is particularly true on the lighter end of the scale - witbiers don't need a ton of spicing to provide hints and suggestions of new and interesting flavors. Likewise, stouts and porters can hold up more and bolder spicing. Although, it makes one question whether an Imperial Witbier or a Double Imperial Witbier could be a spicebomb like Ruination or 120 or Harvest are hopbombs.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

A few weeks back we reported on some new projects the Jolly Pumpkin brewery in Michigan is working on, but unable to find enough information we decided to go to brewmaster and owner Ron Jeffries himself and find out exactly what he's up to. Are you ready for a Jolly Pumpkin pub or two? Non-sour Jolly Pumpkin beers? How about Jolly Pumpkin wine, spirits or coffee? Ron tell us about all his new projects and when we might start seeing some new things here in Wisconsin.

Here's the mp3.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Audience Participation: Non-Court-Ordered Drinking Abatements

In the wake of the IPA love-fest for the past few weeks, the MBR meet-up, and general carousing about town, I've, more or less, given up drinking beer for the past week. Last Friday morning, feeling a bit hungover from a night out at The Old Fashioned, I said "enough" and called it quits for a week in an attempt to recover my palate and my senses. I still have 2 days to go.

Since last Thursday, I've had two beers - strangely, both were half of a New Belgium bomber. In the one case, it was because I found a bar serving Fat Tire for $3.50 for a bomber; my wife and I split it, for a grand total of $1.75 per person for 11oz of Fat Tire. The other was a Mothership Wit that I split with the dinner that I cooked - I had half and used the other half as the base for a root vegetable stew.

A friend of MBR whose wife is pregnant agreed to the wifely demand for solidarity. This is a practice that I've seen more and more of: a husband forgoing the "luxuries" that his wife must also forego during the term of pregnancy - alcohol primarily. I didn't ask if he also gave up coffee or started eating pickles and ice cream.

What have I learned from my self-imposed cessation? First, it was surprisingly undifficult. Second, I can actually taste components other than hops again. Third, I saved some money. But, I also missed the curiosity, the pairings, relaxing on a lawn chair and sipping a cold one after a day at work.

Other friends have put alcohol on hiatus for any number of reasons: conflicts with medication, got too drunk, random test of self-control. Have you? Why? What did you learn from it?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today

On this week's podcast we discuss the results of our listener poll on what out of town brewery we should interview at the Great Taste of the Midwest this year. Then news in 60 seconds discusses a lambic tragedy in Belgium, a lambic being brewed in New Glarus, and whether the newest Great Dane in Wausau is a sign that they seek to create a brewpub empire.

Here's the mp3


Monday, June 1, 2009

The Attack On Your Glass Intensifies

More about beer taxes. If others would stop writing about them, I'd be able to. I don't like writing about taxes - they're boring and controversial all at once. No one seems to be able to say anything intelligent because the emotions around the issues cloud the discussion of the issues themselves.

A few weeks ago, I linked to a Stephen Colbert piece on US Senate proposals to raise taxes on soda across the nation. Much of the same logic for raising taxes on beer is being used to justify tax increases on soda - except instead of alcohol the soda demon is HFCS. Although, like beer, the tax isn't on the demon itself (alcohol or, in this case, HFCS), but on the best-selling representative of the demon.

And that is my problem with these proposals. I choose to ignore all of the surrounding issues and, quite frankly, am relatively ambivalent about taxes themselves. I fully agree that the programs that these tax increases will support are good and valid programs that will help our society immensely.

But, is it really soda that's a problem? Or is it HFCS (or calories). Is it really beer that's a problem? Or is it alcohol. And if it's HFCS or alcohol, we shouldn't discriminate between producers of HFCS products or alcohol products.

Both Lew Bryson and Richard Posner agree that the taxes are likely to have little effect on moderating consumption anyway.
Posner: The solution, though, is not a tax on sodas, as such a tax would have only a small effect. A ban on advertising would be preferable; it would probably impose only slight costs on adult consumers of such drinks, because the advertising of such drinks contains little information

Bryson: I'm already buying beer that costs more than 90% of the beer sold in this country. The beer I buy costs almost twice as much a case as the popular beers do. What purpose will increasing the cost of every beer sold serve when the people who buy the more expensive beers are already paying that much and more? Simple: it's about raising revenues, not moderating behavior. And at that point, sweetie, you should be talking income or sales tax, or I should be voting your thieving, lying ass out of office.

In other words, these taxes do not have at the root of their policies the desire to get rid of the problem, only to profit from the problem by the easiest means necessary. If the state and federal legislatures felt that alcohol and HFCS were actually problems they would tax alcohol and HFCS - thereby affecting all products containing the alleged evil.

Walk into any retail liquor stores and ask the person behind the counter which product causes the biggest problems. Is malt liquor really a problem? Or is it cheap brandy, gin and vodka? Is it really the homeless buying brown bags of malt liquor and drinking it in the parks that are the problem? Or is it the alcoholic father buying a gallon of cheap gin a week who sits alone for hours at a time and drinks in his recliner in front of the tv neglecting and abusing his wife and children? I'll tell you which one is more visible. But I also know which one harms society more. Unfortunately, these taxes impose the greatest burden on the former while subsidizing the mental and physical health challenges caused by the latter.

And that's ignoring the whole fact that most of us enjoyably drink in moderation with no ill effect on society at all.

So, no, I will not support your taxes until you address the core issue and treat all alcohol (regardless of producer or lobby) the same.