Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rush River Brewing Company Double Bubble Imperial IPA

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Rush River began brewing in 2005. Located close to the Minnesota boarder in River Falls, Wisconsin, they focused on the Twin Cities as their primary market, but made their way to Madison not too long afterward. Maybe this was just my own perspective, but at the time they seemed to be overshadowed by two other newcomers to the Wisconsin brewing scene: Ale Asylum and Furthermore. Those two both had Madison as a primary market, and seemed to be doing things with their beer that others in the state were not (focusing on aggressive beers and "outside the box" beers respectively). By comparison, Rush River seemed to be playing it safe and making fairly standard craft brew fare: Golden Ale, Porter, Amber and IPA. But as the years have passed Rush River seems to have gained more traction and respect among beer folk. The Unforgiven Amber has a hop-forward, west coast IPA attitude similar to Ale Asylum's celebrated Ambergeddon, and the Bubble Jack IPA is as good as any IPA being brewed in Wisconsin. Recently they have begun stretching their brewing muscle by releasing a "small batch series," with beers like a Winter Warmer and Chocolate Oatmeal Stout. It was the newly released Imperial IPA that piqued my interest. It is brewed with malt, wheat and honey and clocks in at 9 percent ABV.

Appearance: Golden, very cloudy with a huge foamy head. Visible floating chunks, presumably of yeast, heavily saturate this beer. Unfiltered indeed.
Aroma: Equal parts citrus and grain, with a hint of honey sweetness.
Flavor: The wheat and malt hit you up front with a strong grainy presence, followed by a hint of honey and a strong bitter hop finish. It has a very creamy mouthfeel, not unlike a British Ale. Honey in an Imperial IPA suggests Bell's Hopslam, one of my favorites, but the grain character reminds me more of another one of my favorites, Russian River's Pliny the Elder. While Pliny masterfully balances the grain and hop flavor with a lean body and stern bitterness, this beer favors the grain much more and has a fuller body. The bitter finish is there, but I could use a bit more hop flavor and aroma up front rather than a strong taste of wheat.
Drinkability: A relatively full bodied, 9 percent ABV Imperial IPA? One pint is perfectly drinkable, but this is, by design, not a session beer.
Summary: A very strong effort from a nice brewery, proving they can step out of the safe zone and still hit the mark. I could use a bit more in the way of flavor and aroma hops, but all the flavors present are quite nice. Also, I really like the re-designed labels; much improved.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Another Post Inspired By Chicago

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Two thoughts on my recent trip to Chicago. I know, I've been accused of selling-out Wisconsin beer for Illinois beer before, so those accusations will be nothing new. But nonetheless, here they are:

1. Chicago beer is good, but like beer elsewhere, most of it is just pretty OK. Look, Goose Island is fine; but frankly I don't prefer most of their beer. It's just not my thing; I find most of it pretty boring and one-note. Occasionally I'm happy to have it, heck, might even voluntarily order it every now and then; but it's simple preferences and I don't really feel that Goose Island makes a single "must have" beer. Half-Acre is good. Metropolitan is good.

Even the new gleam in everyone's eye, Haymarket Pub & Brewery, is just OK. We went to Haymarket on Friday night and had a good selection to choose from - everything from a brown, a pale ale, a blonde, and a couple flavors of IPAs. If you aren't aware, Haymarket was started when the brewer from Rock Bottom bailed when Rock Bottom sold out to Gordon Biersch and decided to consolidate recipes in favor of a more "cohesive" nationwide experience. Of course, the slobber on Haymarket's knob is thick and sticky from local love. But hype is hype and the quality is there, even if there doesn't seem to be anything distinctive about the place.

Again, all of this is fine. Most beer is average. But, average today is significantly better than average even 5 years ago. We're lucky that here in Wisconsin we have a significantly greater proportion of "better than average" beer than the rest of the country. My only frustration (and the points of prior posts) is merely that it is shouting in a windstorm. In the long run, obscurity is a bigger problem than the occasional supply shortage.

2. Quality beer in Chicago is freaking expensive. Interestingly, Haymarket had multiple pour sizes and prices. For example, you could order 4oz, 12oz, 16oz, or 20oz of almost any beer on the menu. Which is great because you could try most beers for fairly reasonable prices. Our trip to The Publican and Bluebird was a little more expensive. In both locations, relatively widely-available good beer was around $9 per glass. Publican had one bottle for $62 (a gueze).

I don't see this as a bad thing. At a nice restaurant we don't blanche to see a $9 glass of wine, or a $62 bottle of wine. Why should high-quality beer be any different? Interestingly, as if to emphasize this connection even more, Publican advertises that all of its servers have completed the first level of the Cicerone program, a Sommelier-like certification program for beer. Indeed, our servers were able to provide reasonable recommendations, describe beers and styles, and seemed generally knowledgeable about pairings and presentation.

Do all restaurants need such quality?I can tell you that it can be frustrating when a server at a "beer restaurant" doesn't know what s/he is talking about. Is the Cicerone program even indicative of quality? Maybe, maybe not. Good questions that maybe we can play with in the comments. Nonetheless, having such expertise does demonstrate that these restaurants are taking their beer seriously. I'm not saying that restaurants here don't take beer seriously; not by any stretch. It's just an example of what is going on at the "front wave" of beer restaurants in large metropolitan areas.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Five Gallons At A Time: Water Chemistry, Part IV

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The content of this page was updated on 9/7/2012.

According to A.J. deLange, slaked lime can remove total alkalinity to about 1 mEq/L (50 mg/L as CaCO3) if sufficient calcium is present. For all of my batches, I like to treat my mash and sparge water (usually as one bulk volume to reduce measurement errors) to that level before I worry about mash pH. That way, the pH rise during sparging will be minimized regardless of what I'm brewing. Today, I'm going to show you how to do so with either lactic acid or slaked lime.

Acids, which contribute hydrogen ions, lower the alkalinity of water via the following reaction (simplified from A.J. deLange's Alkalinity II article):

H + HCO3 -> H2O + CO2

Note that both the free hydrogen ion and the bicarbonate ion cease to exist. The late brewing scientist Jean De Clerck seems to have made a mistake by claiming that acids counteract carbonates without eliminating them (I say "seems" because I've heard this attributed to him as an argument against using acids, but I haven't read it in the original source).

Diving into the math, let's start with the same source water profile as Part III:

Calcium = 3.992 mEq/L
Magnesium = 3.702 mEq/L
Chloride = 1.016 mEq/L
Sulfate = 0.354 mEq/L
TA = 6.78 mEq/LRA = 6.78 - 3.992/3.5 - 3.702/7 = 5.111 mEq/L

Let's also assume your total water volume is 35.6 L (9.4 gallons). To calculate the required acidity, all you need to do is replace your desired total alkalinity drop with an equivalent mEq/L of hydrogen ions:

Required Acidity = TA Drop1 = Water TA - Target TA = 6.78 - 1 = 5.78 mEq/L

From there, acid chemistry can be complex because the number of hydrogen ions released by a mole of weak acid (such as lactic acid) will decrease as the pH of the environment drops. Luckily for us, each molecule of lactic acid only has one hydrogen ion to keep track of. For lactic acid in Madison water, it's fair to assume that 99.5% of the acid's hydrogen ions will be released at any given time. For 88% lactic acid, which is the most common strength sold at homebrew shops, 99.5% dissociation means that each mL of acid will contribute 11.39 mEq of acidity. Therefore, the amount of lactic acid to add can be calculated as follows:

Lactic Acid = Required Acidity x Water Volume / 11.722 = 5.78 x 35.6 / 11.39 = 18.1 mL

Slaked lime additions are more difficult to calculate than lactic acid calculations. For starters, Madison city water doesn't have enough calcium for slaked lime to reduce its total alkalinity to the desired level. Calcium chloride and/or calcium sulfate will need to be added, and my starting point is usually 250 mg/L of calcium chloride and 150 mg/L of calcium sulfate. To figure out the weights of your salt additions, multiply the concentrations of your additions by the volume of water to be treated:

Salt Weight = Concentration x Water Volume / 1000
Calcium Chloride Weight = 250 x 35.6 / 1000 = 9 g
Calcium Sulfate Weight = 150 x 35.6 / 1000 = 5 g

To calculate how your salt additions will affect your ion concentrations, you can use the following formula:

Ion Shift (mg/L) = 1000 x Ions per Salt Molecule x Salt Weight x Ion Molecular Mass / Salt Molecular Mass / Water Volume

Here are the molecular masses of the compounds you'll be dealing with:

Calcium (Ca++) = 40.08 g/mol
Chloride (Cl-) = 35.45 g/mol
Sulfate (SO4--) = 96.06 g/mol
Calcium Chloride (CaCl2*2H2O) = 147.02 g/mol
Calcium Sulfate (CaCO4*2H2O) = 172.17 g/mol

Therefore, the salts will add the following ion concentrations to your water:

Calcium Shift = [1000 x 1 x 9 x 40.08 / 147.02 / 35.6] + [1000 x 1 x 5 x 40.08 / 172.17 / 35.6] = 69 + 33 = 102 mg/L
Chloride Shift = 1000 x 2 x 9 x 35.45 / 147.02 / 35.6 = 122 mq/L
Sulfate Shift = 1000 x 1 x 5 x 96.06 / 172.17 / 35.6 = 78 mg/L

Here's what your water will look like after adding calcium salts:

Calcium2 = 80 + 102 = 182 mg/L -> 182 x 2 / 40.08 = 9.082 mEq/L
Magnesium = 3.702 mEq/L
Chloride2 = 36 + 122 = 158 mg/L
Sulfate2 = 17 + 78 = 95 mg/L
TA2 = TA1 = 6.78 mEq/L
RA2 = 6.78 - 9.082/3.5 - 3.702/7 = 3.656 mEq/L

I usually like to keep chloride below 250 mg/L and sulfate below 150 mg/L, and your ion concentrations are still well within those ranges. I also like to have at least 1 mEq/L of calcium for yeast nutrition, which is currently the case but may not be after a lime treatment. Here's how much calcium your water will need to ensure that enough will remain after adding slaked lime:

Required Calcium = TA Drop1 + Minimum Calcium = 5.78 + 1 = 6.78 mEq/L

At 9.082 mEq/L, you'll have plenty of calcium. Next, you'll need to know your water pH. 7.5 is common for Madison city water, so we'll go with that. Now for the fun stuff: determining the molar concentrations of bicarbonate and carbonic acid in your water supply. The calculations, taken from Understanding Alkalinity and Hardness - Part I by A.J. deLange, are as follows (brackets designate millimoles of a substance):

[HCO3-] / [H2CO3] = 10^(Water pH - 6.48) = 10^(7.5 - 6.48) = 10.471
[CO3--] / [HCO3-] = 10^(Water pH - 10.33) = 10^(7.5 - 10.33) = 0.00148
Bicarbonate (HCO3-) = Total Alkalinity / (1 + 2 x [CO3--] / [HCO3-]) = 6.78 / (1 + 2 x 0.00148) = 6.76 mM/L.
Carbonic Acid (H2CO3) = Bicarbonate / ([HCO3-] / [H2CO3]) = 6.76 / 10.471 = 0.646 mM/L.

Understanding carbonate chemistry is important because the activity of slaked lime (Ca(OH)2) in the presence of calcium and a carbonate buffer system is governed by two chemical reactions (from Understanding Alkalinity and Hardness - Part II by A.J. deLange):

1. Ca++ + Ca(OH)2 + 2HCO3- -> 2CaCO3 + 2H2O (2CaCO3 drops out of solution as a solid)
2. Ca(OH)2 + 2H2CO3 -> Ca++ + 2HCO3- + 2H2O

The first reaction describes the precipitation of calcium carbonate, which removes calcium and bicarbonate from the water and results in a lower residual alkalinity. The second reaction describes the conversion of carbonic acid to bicarbonate, which adds calcium and bicarbonate to the water and results in a higher residual alkalinity. The first reaction has a far greater impact than the second, but the second reaction is significant enough that we need to account for it. For mathematical simplicity, you can assume that carbonic acid is converted to bicarbonate before calcium carbonate is precipitated.  Knowing your concentration of carbonic acid, you can calculate the impact of reaction 2 as follows:

Calcium3 = Calcium2 + Ionic Charge x (Carbonic Acid / 2) = 9.082 + 2 x (0.646 / 2) = 9.728 mEq/L
TA3 = Initial Total Alkalinity + Carbonic Acid = 6.78 + 0.646 = 7.426 mEq/L
RA3 = 7.426 - 9.728/3.5 - 3.702/7 = 4.118 mEq/L

Finally, here's how to calculate the amount of slaked lime to add:

TA Drop2 = TA3 - Target TA = 7.426 - 1 = 6.426 mEq/L
Slaked Lime = 0.037 x TA Drop x Water Volume = 0.037 x 6.426 x 35.6 = 8 g

...and here's what your water will look like after the treatment:

Calcium4 = Calcium3 - TA Drop2 = 9.728 - 6.426 = 3.302 mEq/L
Magnesium = 3.702 mEq/L
Chloride4 = Chloride2 = 158 mg/L
Sulfate4 = Sulfate2 = 95 mg/L
TA4 = Target TA = 1 mEq/L
RA4 = 1 - 3.302/3.5 - 3.702/7 = -0.472

In the next post, I'll discuss how to treat your mash water to achieve an appropriate pH.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Send-Off beers, Part 1

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Every vacation has it’s to-do lists- remember to pack this, don’t forget to turn that off, pay the bills, etc., but a two month vacation has this extra little item called, “oh crap, I need to clean out my refrigerator or my house is going to smell like a********* when I get back.” What better way to accomplish this than to have your friends over to do it for you? In my case, my refrigerator also contained copious amounts of beer (more beer than food, to be honest) that I’d been saving for just such an occasion. A snippet of the beer menu for you:

Boulevard's: 21st Anniversary Fresh Hop Ale, Sixth Glass Quad Ale, and Seeyoulator Dopplebock

Upstream Grand Cru (aged 3 years)

Russian River Consecration (aged 1 year)

Biere de Yarde w/ Brett (homebrew by Mark S. & Patrick H.)

Schwartzbier (homebrew by Joe W.)

New Glarus Enigma, Berliner Weiss and Old English Porter

Great Divide Yeti, IPA, Scotch Ale

Others: Great Lakes, Left Hand, Sierra Nevada, Three Floyds, Lake Louie


The highlights for me were easily the sour beers (yes, I’m on the sour beer bandwagon. Love.): the Grand Cru from Upstream was fantastic and I had to fight the 3 year-old in me going, mine, while sharing it with my friends. Aged in chardonnay barrels for a year, it’s the perfect white wine lover’s epiphany beer. A cloudy golden ale with little head, it’s all sour, fruit and citrus in the nose, while light, crisp and tart on the tongue. The oak and buttery (not dialcytl) flavors from the chardonnay barrels paired with the apricot fruit flavors balance out the acidity of the citrus and tart sourness. Big fan.


And what Upstream’s Grand Cru will do for white wine lovers, the Consecration from Russian River will do for the red wine fans: aged in oak pinot noir barrels with currents, Consecration has the bold fruit flavors of a pinot combined with the tartness of a sour. Ruby red in color with little head, the oak and dark fruits are prominent in the nose, with sour cherries, currants and raisins dominating the palate. I could and would drink this beer every day for the rest of my life, given the proper budget and availability.


Also notable in the sour category was the Bier de Yarde from Mark and Patrick. No, that’s not a typo folks: intended to be a bier de garde, there was a bit of a mishap where the mash for this beer ended up all over my front yard. But hey- it still needed to be boiled, still needed to be lautered- what the heck? Mark added some brett and it actually turned out quite nice, though not terribly replicable (please don’t start dumping your mash in my yard).


It saddens me that Boulevard is leaving Wisconsin- they sure make some fine beers. They also have one of the most beautiful breweries I’ve ever visited (and are some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet). The only beer from above that I hadn’t had the opportunity to try before was the Anniversary Ale and to be honest, didn’t really expect to like it (you know, that whole not liking hops thing- see Supertasting post), but wow! Brown and cloudy in appearance, it’s relatively subtly hopped and oh-so-smooth. The balance between the malts and the hops is perfect and it’s really wonderfully fresh tasting.


My final love affair of the evening: Great Divide’s Yeti. God I love this beer. There is nothing I want more on a cold winters’ night in front of a roaring fire than this beer. Almost black in color with a nice, dark brown head, this beer is all coffee, chocolate and strong roasted malt flavors. It has a big velvety mouthfeel and a bittersweet chocolaty and roasty finish. It’s the perfect winter warmer.


I will have to restock my fridge upon my return, of course- hopefully with some nice New Zealand beers (I’ve already been promised a case by Luke Nicholas from Epic Brewing Co [you may know him from the Discovery Channel’s Brew Masters series. The Portamarillo will be included!]). But how to get it all home….

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Celebration of American Distilling

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This Thursday, February 17th, is the 3rd annual Distill America: A Celebration of American Distilling. More info on the event can be found here and here. (Full disclosure: Madison Beer Review received a pair of tickets to this event)

Why are we talking about a distilling event on a beer blog? Well, as we mentioned in our interview with Yahara Bay owner/distiller Nick Quint a few years back, and in our post on this event last year, there are a number of obvious and not so obvious connections between brewing and distilling. In the last few years there have been quite a number of small distilleries popping up around the country, looking to replicate the success of craft brewing by creating small local and regional markets for unique, small batch spirits.

You hear a lot of comparisons between the current craft or artisan distilling industry and the beginnings of craft beer, with some industry observers saying that distilling is currently where brewing was twenty years ago. In some ways this is true. According to the American Distilling Institute, there are around 200 artisanal distilleries around the United States, a small number compared to the nearly 1,600 craft breweries. It would seem that this young industry has room for a lot of growth, and I think that it does; but there is also one huge difference between artisan distilling now and the beginnings of craft beer: industrial distilleries make some good hooch.

Unlike Bud, Miller, Coors etc. who came to dominate the beer market by marketing the the heck out of one bland product, big spirits companies like Diageo and Beam Global figured out a long time ago that more money could be made by owning a whole bunch of different brands of variable quality and price; in other words, market segmentation. Beam, for example, owns not only brands like Jim Beam, Old Grand Dad and Sour Apple Pucker, but highly regarded products like Laphroig Scotch and Booker's Bourbon. When craft brewers began making Pale Ale and Porter in the 1980's, it was as a reaction against a severe lack of choice and quality that was then present in the American beer marketplace. In the spirits industry, the situation is much less severe as far as lack of choice is concerned.

Not that there isn't plenty of room for innovation and experimentation in the spirits category. While there is a large variety of brands offered by the big spirits companies, they produce a relatively small number of styles. It's also important that the styles themselves are quite narrowly defined, so while there are certainly variances in quality and character, those variances are limited by standardized, and often government mandated, methods of production. For example, for a spirit to be labeled "Bourbon" or "Bourbon Whiskey" it must be made in the United States, be distilled from grain, contain no less than 51% corn in the grain bill, be distilled to no higher than 160 proof, and be aged at no more than 125 proof in brand new, heavy char American oak barrels. Put the word "Straight" in front of "Bourbon" and you add a bunch of aging requirements onto that list. The large spirit companies know there is value in the name "bourbon" and thus are motivated to make whiskeys that fit within those parameters (or the parameters of other recognized and regulated categories such as Scotch Whiskey, Tennessee Whiskey, etc.).

While there is certainly room for creativity within those rules, what if a small distillery, content with a much smaller piece of the market, decides it doesn't need to fit one of the specific categories and instead decides to simply make a "whiskey"? Now the US Government simply says it needs to be fermented from grain, distilled at less than 190 proof, stored in oak containers and bottled at no less than 80 proof. The room for experimentation is much wider. Want to use different grains, like oats, spelt or sorghum? Go for it. Want to age the whiskey in oak barrels with different toast and char levels? Why not. Finish the whiskey in a used brandy cask, or with other types of wood such as maple or apple wood? No one is stopping you. The possibilities are endless, and a similar story can be told for other spirits categories like Gin, Rum, Brandy and liqueurs. Right now there are small distilleries experimenting with all of the things I just mentioned and more, and many of those distilleries will be at Thursday's event.

Distill America: A Celebration of American Distilling represents both the best of the old guard (Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, Four Roses, Jim Beam Small Batch), the most successful, nationally distributed craft distillers (Tuthilltown, Stranahan's, Clear Creek, Hangar One) and newer local and regional brands (Old Sugar Factory, Yahara Bay, AEppelTreow, Great Lakes, Death's Door). I'm excited to try the new Ouzo from Old Sugar Factory, Yahara Bay's distilled cherry spirit, Kirschwasser, Koval's Lion's Pride Oat and Rye whiskeys, and the Dry Fly Single Malt whiskey.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Epic Adventure Down Under

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So guess who's about to embark on a two month trip to New Zealand, Australia and Tahiti? It's ok to be jealous. Now, I know they won't exactly be Madison beer reviews, but I'm going to write about the beers down under anyway. Deal with it.

First stop on the trip: LA. My co-traveler and I are currently enjoying the patio at Belmont Brewing Co. in Long Beach, CA. First and foremost, you can't beat this view. The patio is directly above the beach overlooking the Pacific, with glass panels up to break up the wind coming in off of the ocean. And the temperature in the upper 60's right now (negative windchill in Wisconsin?)- I am one happy girl right now. But what about the beer??

Both the porter and the stout are solid. Nothing exceptional about either of them, but very good, very drinkable- nice, roasty and smooth, and relatively light bodied for their styles- which I think is a good thing considering the weather (we aren't dealing with Wisconsin winters here folks). My travel companion, JR, got the strawberry blonde and while I am not a fruit-beer fan, the strawberry is very subtle and really only in the forefront of the taste, while the blonde shines at the back of the throat and in the wonderful, bready aftertaste. Yum. The food here is also quite excellent: Asian-Mexican fusion seafood, which is apparently the big trend in LA right now. I got the Hawiian Poke wrap, with Asian slaw, avacado, ahi tuna and poke sauce with a mango salad on the side. So good (though probably paired better with the blonde than the porter). JR got the shrimp enchilladas, which were fantastic, though probably better paired with the pale ale. Eh- to each his own, right?

Tonight we're headed to Red Car Brewery in Redondo Beach before our 14 hours worth of flights to Auckland, NZ tonight. I'm skeptical about the beer options on the flights- may have to resort to vodka and sleeping pills. Happy travels!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Surly Expansion

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Tip of the hat to Mark G of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild for alerting me to this post from the blog of Minnesota brewery Surly: http://www.surlybrewing.com/brewersblog/?p=12

At their current location and rate of growth, the likelihood that we would ever see Surly beer in Madison is quite slim. Since opening in 2006, Surly has constantly added capacity, selling 12,000 barrels of beer in 2010. While still a fraction of the 89,000 barrels sold by St.Paul's Summit, it is an impressive number for the brewery's fifth year of business. As a comparison, Indiana's Three Floyds, which opened in 1997, didn't pass 10,000 barrels until 2009.

The other impressive thing about Surly's quick success is that, while brands like Summit and Three Floyds distribute across the midwest, Surly is currently only distributed in the Twin Cities. Surly had been sending small amounts of beer to Chicago, Sioux Falls, western Wisconsin and northern Minnesota, but as the demand for their beer in Minneapolis and St.Paul increased in 2010, they decided to pull out of all other markets to better meet local demand.

According to this article in Twin Cities Business magazine, Surly's current facility still has some room for expansion, but would max out at about 20,000 barrels. Rather than simply upgrade to a larger space, Surly has come up with an ambitious plan to create a "destination brewery" consisting of "a two-story, 60,000 square-foot building, complete with a roof deck beer garden, a 250-seat restaurant with mouth-watering view of our brewery, and a 30-foot bar."

Sounds great, but the only problem is that no brewpub in Minnesota can exceed 3,500 barrels a year, so Surly will have to get the state legislature to change the law if their plans are to move forward. Sound familiar?
Surly has been a favorite of many at Madison's Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival, and if these expansion plans go forward we may just see some pint sized cans hitting Madison shelves.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wisconsin's Brewer's [sic] Guild

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Ability to recognize proper grammar aside, what do you see as the role of the Wisconsin Brewers' Guild? It might help to know what a Brewers' Guild is, first. A "Guild", in its simplest form, is merely an association of craftsmen (craftspeople? craftspersons?).

An association for what end? Ah, well that's the question we're looking to solve. Why are we looking to "solve" this "problem" - another good question. Well, I suspect they might be interested in hearing what you have to say. I'm sure that the Guild has its own ideas of what purpose it holds for its members. But a nice check on whether that matches expectations might be useful, eh?

Associations exist for any number of reasons. Perhaps one of the most obvious is to pool resources. In the case of guilds, this can be monetary resources where a common fund is established to help pay for common costs. A classic example of a common cost is legal and lobbying fees to represent the guild and/or its members before legislative and judicial bodies.

But, it can also be a human resources pool, where labor is shared amongst those in the pool. This is commonly the case for apprentices in an industry; low-labor is pooled to ensure proper training in a broad application of areas and to determine fit with any given master.

Guild members might also pool raw materials. This is especially useful where a given raw material can be scarce or have scarcity problems; it can also be useful where there are particular advantages to group purchasing.

But there are other purposes that guilds can serve as well. For example, a guild can be a quasi-legislative body instituting its own rules for membership and production and thereby establishing norms that may differ from actual law. This is seen primarily in the European wine industry where, what began as guilds, associations establish production requirements for wine receiving a particular Appellation of Origin or Designation of Control. For example, the Champagne Guild determines what is, and is not, Champagne. Another example is the Business Software Alliance ("BSA") that enforces Software Licenses on behalf of its members - when you click "I Agree" you are agreeing to a set of rules different from (but fully within) the actual laws of the United States. The BSA undertakes to draft model licenses and enforces those agreements on behalf of its members. These are examples of quasi-legislative functions for guilds.

A guild can also serve a quasi-judicial function for resolving disputes amongst its members. This keeps such disputes out of the public eye and reduces tarnishing the industry's name because of petty squabbles. A good example of this is the NFL and NFL Players' Association, or really any League and/or Players' Association, where the Association itself metes out punishments for violating League rules.

A guild can also be a marketing body. This is a subset of the pooled-resources function but is a specific and rather large subset. In this case, members of an industry pool cash resources to market on behalf of the entire industry. This only works well if membership in the association is "mandatory", otherwise those paying members of the guild advertising on behalf of the industry would benefit, but so would those choosing not to become members of the guild (and, not contributing to the cash pool), so you have a free-rider problem. This can be a very effective form of marketing since it doesn't focus on the product differentiation of a specific producer (often seen as self-serving advertisement) but rather product differentiation for a whole class of goods and/or services. For example, "this is why Wisconsin beer is better than 'outsider' beer". A great example of this is the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board's "Wisconsin Cheese" brand and marketing. Indeed, this kind of branding often goes hand-in-hand - Idaho Potatoes being another classic example.

So, as you can see, a guild can serve a lot of functions. Which of these functions might be appropriate for the Wisconsin Brewers' Guild? And does the Brewers' Guild effectively meet or serve those functions?

One place that you can find out at the Wisconsin Brewers' Guild Technical Conference on February 19th from 8am-1:30pm. This opportunity is not only a good example of pooled resources (education), but also the marketing function (via the Wisconsin Beer Lover program) that a guild can perform. So, if you're interested in seeing the benefits of an association of people around a common industry, you should sign up for the Conference (rates are pretty reasonable, actually).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Even the President's Doing It

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Homebrewing beer, that is.

With his own cash, the President purchased a homebrew set-up, and had some of it on-hand for the Packers/Steelers game (along with beer from Green Bay-area brewpub Hinterland). The Honey Ale brewed for the President uses 1 pound of honey from bees kept on the White House property.

If the President would like to learn more about homebrewing, he should check out our "Five Gallons at a Time" column written by MBR's Joe Walts.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ooohh... 30 Taps of the Same Beer!

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Pet peeve: walking into a bar that advertises how many beers they have on tap and then looking at the list only to find all of the taps lead to the same keg. It goes something like this:

Miller Lite
Bud Lite
Coors Lite
MGD
Amstel Lite
Bud
Bud Select
Miller High Life
Bass
Heineken
Rolling Rock
Harp
PBR
Schlitz
etc., etc., ad nauseam.

I'm sorry, but 30 taps of light lager is nothing to brag about, let alone use as a tool to draw customers in.

Now, we are fortunate enough to live in a city where most bars also offer one or two craft options, usually Spotted Cow, pick-a-Capital, and lately Fat Tire, and I appreciate that fact- visit most other cities/towns and you won't even be that lucky- but is everyone else just as bored with those options as I am? As a craft beer lover, I go in with such high hopes! Scanning the beer list with eager anticipation only to be disappointed by the selection and forced to "settle" for Capital Amber. Again. If that's all you have. (Because none of the beers in the list above are really options.) (Sad face.)

The saddest part of this is that when some of these bars do branch out and offer something unique, it often doesn't sell. And then I come in and order it, only to find that it's been tapped for so long without moving that it's gone bad. Is this the fault of the bar? The patrons? Are staff not trained to sell the new beer? Do the bar owners think it will sell itself (craft beer is super trendy!)? Or is it only on because a distributor offered it for free with the purchase of a lifetime supply of Miller?

Point is, should we, as craft beer drinkers, make more of an effort to encourage these bars to branch out? (Would we frequent them enough if they did?) Or do we continue to retreat to our safe havens and let the light lager lovers continue their reign of supremacy? I think slowly but surely some of these taps will start to turn as consumer education/awareness increases and the demand for craft beers continues to increase, but for now I'll just have to drink my Fat Tire and drop a not-so-subtle hint about what I'd like to see on tap whenever a bar manager is around. And then I'll go to the Malt House.