Friday, February 26, 2010

Quasi-Press Release Friday: Upcoming Beer Dinners At The Old Fashioned

So, normally, I don't publish this kind of material without an "official" press release. I don't really see my job as a PR flack for companies too cheap to hire their own PR flack. But, sometimes events are too awesome to wait around for someone send me a press release about it, and I feel like I just need to tell you about it so that you can plan your week around attending it.

The Old Fashioned, in conjunction with Harvest, is doing two more dinners over the next couple of weeks that you are going to want to attend. I went to the one this past week with Titletown, and it was phenomenal. Unlike other beer dinners that I've been to, you definitely don't leave hungry and you definitely aren't getting taster-glasses of beer. It is a full dining experience.

Harvest's chef, and the folks at the Old Fashioned, did a fantastic job of pulling together food that thoughtfully complimented each of the beers - from a simple pilsner to a big, hoppy IIPA to a dopplebock, to an Alt.

Next week is a beer dinner for Potosi Brewing Company. And the following week is Red Eye Brewing Company. So, give Old Fashioned a call and pray to God that they have openings, because these dinners promise to be worth every dime you'll shell out.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Press Release Thursday - Small-Scale Hop Production Workshop

This program just keeps growing. From meeting in coffee shops with three dudes that thought hops was code for "pot", they're now showing people how to grow pot, er, hops, at the Monona Terrace. It's great to see so many Wisconsinites are interested in growing hops. It doesn't require a ton of land, they can be a little finnicky, but prices are good, it's a great use of open land, and it stabilizes our own prices and access to a key ingredient in the production of beer. Plus, sometimes you might get free beer out of the deal. How sweet is that?
----------------START PRESS RELEASE----------------------------

Introduction to Small Scale Hop Production workshops have filled up despite added space and dates to accommodate overflow attendance. Interest is still growing as over 250 currently registered.

The two workshops will be held at the Monona Terrace in Madison, WI on February 27 and March 6, 2010. A Hops Production Technical Workshop will be offered April 24 for attendees of the first class.

MAZOMANIE, WI (February 22, 2010) – Gorst Valley Hops of Mazomanie, WI has closed out registration for the two upcoming Introduction to Small Scale Hop Production workshops despite the addition of the second workshop and a change of venue to the Monona Terrace to increase class capacity.

“We are absolutely delighted by the interest in our courses.” stated Gregg Baimel, Gorst Valley Hops Director of Business Development. “Since the publicity we received in January, we’ve been fielding 5 to 10 contacts a day asking for additional information on growing or to register for the workshops. We love the enthusiasm and are doing everything we can to educate those interested in growing hops. For that reason we added the second course, increased the capacity and are looking at future dates for additional courses. We are also planning to roll out a web-based course in the near future.”

In addition to the workshops offered in Wisconsin, primary instructors James Altwies and Daniel Dettmers have just completed a second session in Michigan and will be leading a course on March 20th hosted by Cornell University and the Northeast Hops Alliance at the Saranac Brewery in Utica, NY. Much like the effort started in the Midwest, New England is working to restart a hop production industry to support their craft brewing market.

Daniel Dettmers, GVH’s engineer says, “The energy and enthusiasm at these courses is fantastic. The first courses were filled with brewing enthusiasts, homebrewers and those dreaming to put an acre or two to profitable use. They were not necessarily people from the mainstream agricultural community. Now our workshops are filled with farmers who have decades of experience growing corn, mint, tobacco, soybeans and other crops that are more common to the upper Midwest. The shift in the audience shows us that the prospect of growing hops in this region as more than a niche crop is gaining acceptance.”

To help speed the flow of information, the Gorst Valley Hops website ( is in the process of a major redesign. The new website will offer access to a vast array of information from the history and chemistry of hops to growing and drying processes. The website will also continue to offer back copies of the GVH newsletter, All Hopped Up, and be a resource for those curious about hop production as well as seasoned growers. GVH Director James Altwies further explains, “To meet the rising need for education and training, we will be offering a web-based adaptation of the introductory workshop. Participants will be able to log into our website at their convenience and receive a self-directed version of our popular Introduction to Small Scale Commercial Hop Production course. ”

In addition to the introductory workshops, GVH is planning an intermediate level course, Hops Production Technical Workshop, for April 24th at the Monona Terrace. To attend, participants should have participated in one of the introductory workshops or have extensive knowledge and some experience with hop production. Registration information will be on the GVH website soon.
GVH will also be speaking at the American Homebrewer’s Association’s 32nd annual National Homebrewers Conference June 17-19, 2010 in Minneapolis.

Gorst Valley Hops is committed to providing high quality pelletized and leaf hops to everyone from craft brewers to home brewers while maximizing environmental stewardship through sustainable growth and processing of our product and that of other hop growers throughout the upper Midwest. Gorst Valley Hops can be contacted at:

Gorst Valley Hops
info at

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Big Beer Week(s) - Capital US Pale Ale version 2.0

A little birdy whispered into my ear that Capital might be changing the recipe on the US Pale Ale. Really? That sounds interesting. A General Beverage rep was quoted as saying that the hops in the recipe have gone up "on a 1 to 10 scale, from a 3 to a 6 or 7." What? Not 11?

I sent my best buddy Kirby Nelson, Brewmaster of Capital Brewery, an email asking what was up and he was kind enough to respond.
Those rumors are true and yet that has been the case since this beer’s beginnings. Understand we don’t pilot brew per se, any ideas we come up with we produce in our brewhouse (except for the occasional Dane brew) and 1,200 pounds is the minimum amount of grain we can use. So we will end up with about 40 ½ bbls on the average of any trial we do.
I find this to be relatively fascinating. No pilot batches. New recipes are all or ... well ... all. Minimum batch size: 40.5 bbls. And it better make it into a bottle.
We have always prided ourselves on selling every “trial” we have done. So whenever I formulate something I tend to approach the first brew on the conservative side, knowing the flavor profile we are after and tweaking/evolving the brew as we feel it needs it. And to be honest at the risk of sounding arrogant (which I am) the majority of the brews we do are usually pretty much as I want them out of the chute. You do something long enough you better know how to hit what you are targeting without a whole lot of fucking around.
And, not to poke a sleeping liger, but "Capital Experimental"? Nailed that one, eh.
With U.S., we did a brew basically for the hell of it and served it at our retailer appreciation party. And all of the attendees seemed to really enjoy it. So we decided to release it. The first brews got the majority of their hop character from dry hopping, which I am not a fan of (although I am very proud of the Hop Bazooka I invented to disperse the hops in a horizontal tank). So over time I replaced the dry hopping with post boil additions.
I found this pretty interesting at first blush. Not a fan of dry-hopping. I didn't really think it was something you could be a "fan" of. I mean, it's a technique for deriving aroma from hops without isomerization of the alpha acids and causing increased bitterness. But, it turns out, dry-hopping is a mess and steeping, or whirlpooling the hops, is equally effective at deriving the desired aroma and flavor without increasing bitterness or causing such a damned mess.
I was very happy where that was heading (even though I recall some fuck [ed note: I think he's referring to me] saying after reading Robin’s review in the Isthmus [ed note: Robin Shepherd, beer writer for The Isthmus] that the approach I took towards this product made for really boring beer).
My stance on this hasn't really changed. I still contend that the biggest problem that I had with the first incarnation was that the body was too thin. A thin body, combined with less-than-aggressive hopping, makes for a boring beer. Not that that is a bad thing. Kirby and I have talked about this - not every beer needs to be a flavor monster that leaves the kids moaning in perpetual orgasm. But, it's also not really worthy of spilling bytes of data writing about, either. But, even still, I thought the body was a little thin for what he was going for.
Then last years Cascade crop was a bit of an anomaly in that the alpha acids were about 30 some per cent higher than normal. So to keep the same bittering the amount of post boil hopping had to decrease, moderating the hop flavor.
In other words, the hops became more bitter, so he had to decrease the amount he used. Good for the pocket-book, but makes recipe consistency difficult. But, this is where the light-bulb comes on.
Although this beer sells okay, it is far from being one of our best sellers. And with the audience for Pale Ales really enjoying elevated hopping levels we decided to continue the evolution. The OG has been boosted and a bit more specialty malts added to the grain bill. The bittering has been elevated via post boil additions and the dry hopping rate is being increased.
So, basically, they kept the increased-bitterness hops, but went back to the original hopping schedule. The "specialty grains" he's referring to are caramel grains to add a bit of complexity and robust sweetness. And the body was increased to support the increased hoppiness. This man is speaking my language.
And to make things more interesting in a couple months we will be into the ’09 crop of Cascade (the only hop used) which has the alpha acid level back to the low 5’s, giving me the ability to jack the post boil amounts but if we are happy with where it is before then I will probably not take advantage of this opportunity.
So, it's an evolving process that could have the hop profile even more up-front, depending on where the balance for this beer levels out. Kirby and Carl invited me out to the brewery to try a bit of the new recipe (and the new Hopbock) before it went out to the canning facility. And while what I had was relatively young and straight out of the fermenter, it is much more in-line with what I like about Pale Ales.

To me, Pale Ales are about balance and flavor. One component shouldn't shine more than another, but each should be present and accounted for. In this case, you have a nice malty body that is noticeable and flavorful, and a Cascade hoppiness that provides a citrus nose and slightly pine-y flavor. The bitterness is fairly moderated, but the hop flavor is more present here, which is more pleasing than just plain bitterness.

The other thing we, Kirby and I, talked about was the point. That is to say, what's the point? This beer is not about being showy; it's a work-day beer. A beer you buy by the six or twelve pack and just keep around. I've been talking about this a lot lately, with Dave's BrewFarm Select in particular. To me it is far more difficult to make a beer that has the flavor and complexity to hold up to scrutiny, but that is subtle enough, is moderated enough, that it can be ignored. Stone cannot be, will not be, ignored. Even Sierra Nevada Pale is big enough to warrant attention. Imperial Pale Ales, if you will. Hopalicious is, to me, a slightly more moderated version of Stone's Pale with a slightly hoppy balance that is quenching and enjoyable. The US Pale is more malt-forward and overall balanced.
Is it a Pale Ale? An IPA? Fuckin’ swill? I’ll leave that to the great beer rating minds of our times to tell me……………

Monday, February 22, 2010

Big Beer Week(s) - Ale Asylum Satisfaction Jacksin

This week and part of next week we'll be looking at some "big" beers. 4 of the 5 are "Imperial" beers and the 5th is a sneak peek at the new, re-designed, Capital US Pale Ale. So, for the next two weeks, we'll contemplate the meaning of "imperial" and what it means to be a "big" beer.

The Imperial India Pale Ale, along with the Imperial Stout, are two stalwarts, The Who and The Beatles of the beer world. If you look at the lists of the Top 100 beers in the world, by far the two largest genres of beer are Imperial IPAs and Imperial Stouts. For example, of the Top 10 of BeerAdvocate's Top Beers on Planet Earth, eight are Imperial Stouts or Imperial IPAs. Indeed, number one, Pliny the Younger, is an Imperial IPA. Then, six of the next nine are Imperial Stouts. You can do the same analysis with RateBeer's Top 50: 8 of the top 10 are Imperial Stouts; 15 of the top 20 are either Imperial IPAs or Imperial Stouts.

So, clearly these are the royalty of the beer universe. But, why?

That's a good question, really. Maybe you have a better answer than I do. But, I have a theory and it's a rather cynical theory, but bear with me. My theory is this: the vast majority of people have no idea what they're talking about. But, if you get enough people who have no idea what they're talking about together and ask them a collective question, such as to rank things, the collective group will often, unwittingly stumble on the right answer. This is called "collective intelligence" and we see it all over the animal kingdom from bacteria to beer geeks.

In this case, I'd argue that the answer is "mostly right" as it is pretty hard to argue that any of the beers in the Top 20 of any of these lists are unworthy of the title "great" or "amazing" or "phenomenal" or even "one of the best in the world." Of course, to call a particular beer #1 is only a label, the reality is that any of those top 20 could easily be #1.

But, there's also a pretty noticeable lack of subtlety in either list. If you look at the Top 20 of either list you'll find that the only non-Imperial, beers with "Imperial" in their style definitions fall in to one of two categories: Westvleyteran, and sour. In the case of BeerAdvocate's list there is one English Barleywine, though at 13.5% ABV, one would be hard pressed to make a case for subtlety there. And, in the case of RateBeer's list there is Kuhnhenn's Raspberry Eisbock, which is also above 10% ABV, and not exactly subtle.

Where are delicate Belgian blondes, complex porters, velvety dopplebocks, quenching helles lagers, or the perfect dunkelweizen? Well, I would argue, nuances of texture, body, and light complexity are simply too difficult to make a case for. Put another way: these lists are the collective thoughts of non-expert, mostly mid-20s, mostly male inputs. So, what these lists should really be are "The Top 100 Beers For Mid-20s Males." If you were to poll a similar collection but reversed the male/female percentages, or a collection of "experts", or a collection of 50-year-olds, I assure you the lists would be very, very different. I put "experts" in quotes because I do believe that some people are far more experienced than others; some people, through their experience and/or superior senses, are simply better tasters than you or I.

A few years ago I would have been tempted to rail about availability. But, it seems as if availability (or even lack of availability) is hardly a pre-requisite. Many of these beers are only available in particular regions of the US. But a not-insignificant number have pretty general, national, availability.

So, what do you think? Why are these things so dominant in the Top 100 lists?

Ale Asylum Satisfaction Jacksin - Imperial IPA
BeerAdvocate(B+). RateBeer(89).
Appearance: crystal clear burnished copper with a foamy, pale head; one interesting thing about IPAs is that they can sometimes be cloudy because the filters don't capture all of the hoppy floaty bits before they get into a bottle; that is definitely not the case here; a gorgeous looking beer served at 56.4 degrees
Aroma: citrus and floral hoppiness with a strong malty, sweet presence that is very promising
Flavor: hoppy; very, very hoppy; not overly, intensely bitter - this is not a Ruination clone by any stretch of the imagination - but it has great bitterness and strong hoppy flavor; the malt is present, but the hops are really the star here
Body: piney and resiny, the body itself is somewhat medium, but the finish is long and lip-smacking; if you let the beer dry on your lips and then lick it off it's like a treat that you've saved for later, reminiscent of hard candy or something
Drinkability: Rather than an amped up Hopalicious or even Ballistic, this beer reminds me most of New Glarus' Hop Hearty, with its strong hoppiness, but great all-around drinkability
Summary: The marketing copy on the neck of the bottle calls this "slightly punishing" but if this is punishing, I must be a masochist because I really like this punishment. It also says that this is "unfiltered" which, given its sterling clarity, I find to be a stunning statement, next time I see Dean or Otto I'll have to ask them how they get such amazing clarity without a filter; for a so-called "big" or "over the top" style, this beer is surprisingly approachable, it has a fine balance of hops and malt; yet, I wonder how this beer would fare in a "Top 100" list because it isn't a brash, showy beer; which is another reason to question the mob-mentality of these Top 100 lists.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Celebration of American Distilling

First, some disclosure: for the second year in a row I've been given tickets to this event from the fine folks at the Madison Malt Society. In exchange, I print some press releases and generally help them to raise awareness for the event and for fermented and distilled malt beverages. While this piece is certainly, in some ways, an advertisement for the event (occurring tomorrow, Thursday, February 18th at 7pm at the Edgewater Hotel), its genesis was more in my own curiosity surrounding these beverages; this disclaimer was more of an afterthought than an attempt to sit down and right an advertising piece for them. So, with that said, thank you to Madison Malt Society and I hope you, the fine reader, learn a thing or two.

------------END DISCLOSURE-------------------

Just some of the beverages made from malted grains:
- bourbon (corn)
- whiskey (any grain)
- scotch (barley)
- rye (rye)
- vodka (grain-neutral)
- gin (grain-neutral)
- akavit (aka "aquavit", grain-neutral)
- absinthe (grain-neutral)

Obviously, we can split these into two main categories: whiskey/whisky and grain-neutral. In the case of whiskey, it is distilled to 80-90% alcohol in order to retain some flavor of the base grain. Grain-neutral spirits are distilled between 90-95.6% alcohol, then, often flavor is added through any number of processes. As a side note: above 95.6% ethanol and water are an azeotrope.

Whiskey is a general term used to describe any grain-based distilled product that is not not grain-neutral (yes, technically, vodka/gin/absinthe/etc are not entirely grain-neutral, but for these purposes we'll throw them together as "non-whiskey" and cross that bridge when we get to it). This means that the whiskey retains some flavor of the base grain. Bourbon for example, has a grain-mix of at least 51% corn. Rye, at least the American version, is at least 51% rye.

In fact, we can break "whiskey" down into "single-malt" and "everthing else". Single-malt whiskeys are whiskeys that have only one type of malt in their grain profile. While not uncommon, they are the exception to the rule, particularly in the United States. But, within "Single-malt" we do find the occasional rye whiskey, but more usually it is Scotch. So, what is Scotch? The Scotch Whiskey Order of 1990 spells it out:
1. whisky
2. produced at a distillery in Scotland
3. from water or malted barley (no adjuncts)
4. processed at that distillery into a mash and fermented by only adding yeast
5. less than 94.8% ABV
6. Matured in oak casks smaller than 700 litres (approx. 184 gallons or 6 bbls) for not less than 3 years
7. No substance other than water or "spirit caramel" (a coloring additive) has been added

So, what is a product that meets all of those requirements except #2 (made in Scotland)? Whiskey. Indeed, many of the whiskey types have very strict rules. Indeed Federal Regulations, 27 CFR 5.22, set out the specifics for a variety of distilled spirits.

Neutral-grain spirits, such as vodka and gin, are made using grain-based mashes but are distilled to the point where all, or most, of the flavor has been removed. It is then cut with water to the desired alcohol level. These can then be flavored in any number of ways. For example, neutral-grain flavored with juniper and other botanicals is "gin". If spices such as caraway, or anise, or cardamom or fennel are used it can be "akavit". Though many American producers still just call it "vodka" because consumers know what "vodka" is, and have never heard of "akavit" or "aquavit".

It is interesting to note, or maybe specifically point out, that in all of these cases, there is very little difference between a grain mash that gets fermented and turned into beer and a grain mash that gets fermented and distilled into spirits. Thus, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that more and more breweries are starting to take on some interesting side-projects. Rogue Brewery in Oregon makes a fantastic whiskey, New Holland Brewing in Michigan makes an excellent gin, Dogfish Head in Delaware makes an amazing chocolate vodka (and I don't like chocolate or vodka).

So, given that the only difference between beer and vodka is distilling, how does distilling work? The answer is more complex and scientific than I could even begin to explain in any amount of detail. But the gist of it is this:
- pot distillation: also called "batch distillation": a large onion-shaped kettle is fired causing the liquid (basically, beer), called "wash", to boil; the vapor produced from the boiling contains a higher-concentration of alcohol, and is routed through coils to cool to form a low-alcohol liquid (about 25% ABV or so). This first-distillation is then boiled again to create a high-alcohol liquid. At this point, if it is above 90% ABV, it would be filtered and called "vodka", if below 90% it is aged in oak barrels, where it gets its dark color, and called "whiskey"
- column distillation: also called "continuous distillation" consists of two vertical columns. The first column has a series of steps where liquid, wash, can condense; this condensed liquid is recirculated through the second column until the proper alcohol percentage is reached. The condensation at the highest point of the column is highest in alcohol concentration.

Lew Bryson had a fantastic article in Ale Street News about microdistilling that is a must-read for anyone interested in getting into these beverages. One, ummm..., brewing controversy is the use of pot stills v column stills. The big-guys almost universally use column-stills, the little guys almost universally use pot-stills. Lew does a great job of unpacking that discrepancy. There's also some controversy over using pre-made grain-neutral spirits and simply adding your own aging or flavoring additives.

Here in Wisconsin, breweries can't also be distilleries. However, Capital Brewery, in Middleton, does make the mash for many of the Wisconsin-based distilleries. So, head on over to the "Celebration of American Distilling", try some samples, talk to some of the master distillers and find out what these drinks are all about.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Audience Participation: What The Heck Does "Specialty Grain" Mean?

So, as you're probably already aware by now, I drink and discuss beer quite a bit with my brother who lives back in Cleveland. In fact, many of these conversations turn into blog posts. Normally, I write it up a little differently because I take some time to do some research and to make it more "article-like". But, I thought this was an interesting conversation as it is, and I wanted to invite you in on the conversation. So, rather than CC everyone on the emails, just post some comments.

hey - I was at La Cave last night and had a New Holland Charkoota Rye, which is a Smoked Rye Dopplebock. Meaning, it could realistically be classified as a: 1) rauchbier, 2) specialty grain, or 3) dopplebock.

RateBeer classifies it as a specialty grain. I guess by their definition the moment it has rye in it, it becomes a specialty grain, whereas I would've thought the same would hold true for having smoked malt and being immediately called a rauchbier. But at the same time, the basic recipe is that of a dopplebock. So really it could go either way.

It's funny how some beers are supposed to be great examples of specific styles (which I'm starting to appreciate much more than these other beers that are usually all over the place and so much less focused), but in America as the melting pot of world beer continues, and the unspoken contest to make the biggest, boldest and weirdest beers ever goes on, fewer and fewer beers are remotely classifiable into any single category.

It's an interesting issue. But it's crazy how well I predicted the smoke and rye trend. I'm telling you now, the next trend will be ESBs. There's a brewery here making a rye ESB that's fantastically drinkable. [ed note: Red Eye's RyeESB] As for "style", it's ridiculous. I'm actually giving a talk in March where I'm going to discuss this exact issue and I'm going to trace beer style in Wisconsin (which mimics beer styles in the US) from the 1850s to today. You started out with a very monochromatic marketplace: ale, lager, and porter. [ed note: technically tri-choromatic, I guess] Ales were, pretty much, ESBs or simply pale ales (although, I got in this discussion with another beer history geek, "pale" would have been closer to our "amber" because they hadn't perfected malting processes; nonetheless they would not have been hoppy at all). Lagers were pale lagers, but not pilsners; a similar issue with "pale", think along the lines of an Export or non-Export Dortmunder. And porter would have been closer to our modern day "stout", but more "burnt" and less "roasty". Through the late-1800s and early-1900s we gradually introduced more styles - bock, pilsner, IPAs (I have an ad from the 1880s for an IPA made in Janesville!), dark, stout, - and then in the mid-1900s they all went away again and we were left with pilsners and stout. Starting with the craft revolution in the 1980s we started seeing more styles emerge again - dopplebocks, "American IPA/American Amber", etc. And, of course, now we have these beers that aren't styles at all - a smoked rye dopplebock - there is no basis in the dopplebock style for smoke, let alone smoked rye, so it's not a "dopplebock"; it's more like an "Imperial Dark" or something.

And trying to shoehorn style on RateBeer/BeerAdvocate is silly. "Specialty Grain"? Really? If you were searching for this beer by style, would you really look under "Specialty Grain" first? No. You'd look under "Dopplebock".

I can't say I prefer one form (strict style) over another (free form style), but I will say that a brewery like New Glarus that does both very well is extraordinarily rare. The problem in the first case is that if you "miss" the style, it's held against you. The problem in the latter case is that it is really easy to make shitty beer and just cop-out with "oh, we don't brew to style" or the age-old "you can't say it's bad, you just don't prefer it."

Hey would you mind if I posted your email (edited) and my response to MBR?

You surely can post it if you'd like. One thing to clarify ... it definitely had a backbone of a dopplebock. Very sweet and clearly a lager. The rye was less noticeable. I have to admit I laughed out loud when I read that part you wrote about the "specialty grain". It's such a stupid classification for beer. Not to mention it's silly in the first place to categorize the stuff they make now. They should classify anything that is really specific to a style as that style, but outside of that, everything should just be "strong/dark/amber/pale lager/ale", etc.
One thing that really has interested me lately is the so-far rather unnoticed difference in beer circles in a beer that's big and done well as opposed to a beer that's just big. There's nothing inherently great about brewing a beer that's 100 IBU or is 16% ABV or tastes like liquid chocolate. Everyone has these now. But there are great beers like this due to their balance and complexity. These are the types of beers I've been searching for more lately.

I think this is a great point and evidence of just how quickly the craft beer world is changing. Two years ago I could count on one hand the number of breweries that used rye in their in their mashes; it would have been considered "unusual" or "creative" to use rye in a dopplebock. Today, that's a very different situation, and while it's still far from the norm, the "shock and awe" of such juxtapositions has been eliminated.

So, how would you respond? Do breweries get credit just for trying? Is creativity worth anything anymore? If a smoked rye doppelbock is passe, what do breweries have to do to capture the attention of craft beer drinkers? How do you even begin to classify these things? Is classification necessary and what's the point? If the smoked rye doppelbock were entered into competition where would it be entered? How could you even judge it, what would be your basis of comparison?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

MBR and Cheese Underground Present ...

... A night of beer and cheese pairings. Jeanne Carpenter of Cheese Underground and I are teaming up on March 9th, 2010 at 6:00pm at The Malt House to present a program on cheese and beer. We'll be featuring Wisconsin cheese and beer as we trace the history of local production. We'll feature craft beer and styles from a number of decades that represent a wide range of Wisconsin beer.

This event is free of charge, though it is part of The Literacy Network's Literacy 24/7 series of events, so donations are very welcome.

Hope to see you there. Sorry for the lack of posts, I promise to catch up one of these days soon!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today - Surly Brewing Co.

On Part Two of this weeks podcast, we continue our discussion with Surly Head Brewer Todd Haug, as he shares his thoughts about what inspired Surly's core beers and the ups and downs of internet buzz.

the mp3


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Madison Beer Review Presents Beer Talk Today - Surly Brewing Co.

On the first part of this weeks podcast we talk with Todd Haug, Head Brewer of Brooklyn Center Minnesota's Surly Brewing Company. In this clip we discuss his origins as a brewer, the overall ideas behind Surly and why cans are better for some things and bottles are better for others.

Here's the mp3

Monday, February 1, 2010

Volume Caps At Risk?

What the hell does "Volume Caps At Risk" mean? Is that the sort of thing that makes sense to anyone? It's not even industry jargon. But I guess I'm not sure what else to call it. But let's define what I mean at the top here, and maybe some of our industry readers can tell us a better way to say it.

Volume Cap: a form of legislation that creates different rules for different sectors of the beverage industry based on the barrelage of output. For example, a rule that says brewpubs can't make more than 10,000 barrels of beer. Or, a rule that says that any brewery under 50,000 barrels only pays 50% of the excise tax. Those are volume caps.

Well, the First Circuit Court of the United States has ruled that such caps may violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. A Massachusetts law said that any winery producing less than 30,000 gallons of wine could sell direct to consumers and to wholesalers, while wineries over 30,000 gallons could sell direct to consumer or to wholesalers, but not both. Not surprisingly, according to the court "All of Massachusetts's wineries are 'small' wineries."

The Court held that "... § 19F violates the Commerce Clause because the effect of its particular gallonage cap is to change the competitive balance between in-state and out-of-state wineries in a way that benefits Massachusetts's wineries and significantly burdens out-of-state competitors."

According to the court, since Mass. wineries were only small wineries, all of them could choose to either sell direct to consumers or to sell to wholesalers at their choice. While only out-of-state wineries had to choose between the two options. In other words, "Massachusetts has used its 30,000 gallon grape wine cap to expand the distribution options available to 'small' wineries, including all Massachusetts wineries, but not to similarly situated 'large' wineries, all of which are outside Massachusetts. The advantages afforded to 'small' wineries by these expanded distribution options bear little relation to the market challenges caused by the relative sizes of the wineries. Section 19F's statutory context, legislative history, and other factors also yield the unavoidable conclusion that this discrimination was purposeful. Nor does § 19F serve any legitimate local purpose that cannot be furthered by a non-discriminatory alternative. ... The discriminatory effect is because § 19F's definition of 'large' wineries encompasses the wineries which produce 98 percent of all wine in the United States, all of which are located out-of-state and all of which are deprived of the benefits of combining distribution methods."

It is not entirely clear what the decision would have been if even one Mass. winery was over 30,000 gallons.

So, what does this mean for WI breweries? Do we have any laws that impose volume caps? Off the top of my head I can think of two: the 10K barrel limit for brewpubs, and the 50K/300K barrel limit for excise tax reduction.

Let's take the latter first because I think it is most similar to the Massachusetts law. The tax reduction in Wisconsin says that all breweries pay $2 per barrel of beer sold in the state. A reduction is available if your brewery produces less than 300,000 barrels; that reduction allows the brewery to only pay $1 on the first 50,000 barrels. With Miller's headquarters officially moving to Chicago, that leaves zero in-state breweries producing more than 300,000 barrels (yes, I know the physical brewing facility is still here, but I'm going to ignore that and we can argue over those implications in the comments). Thus, no in-state brewery is subject to the full tax, while all breweries subject to the full tax are out-of-state. Under the logic of the First Circuit this is an undue burden on interstate commerce and violates the Constitution. Thus, the cap must be removed or everyone must get the 50K barrels at the reduced tax. Which do you think is more likely to happen?

The Brewpub law is a bit trickier. In this case it seems to unduly burden in-state breweries. In this case, in-state brewpubs cannot produce more than 10,000 barrels. Yet, out-of-state brewpubs can produce more than 10,000 barrels and distribute into Wisconsin. Thus, it's a bit backwards, but if we simplify the language a little it make some sense. Let's call brewpubs under 10K barrels "small" brewpubs and everything else "big" brewpubs. In-state and Out-of-State "small" brewpubs can distribute here in Wisconsin. But only out-of-state "big" brewpubs can distribute here. This clearly discriminates against in-state brewpubs. One option might be to re-write the law to allow only 10,000 barrels to be used for restaurant purposes, but otherwise the brewpub can brew, and distribute (through the three-tier system of course), as much as it likes.

Some tricky stuff. You can read another interesting take on it here.