Friday, April 29, 2011

Madison Craft Beer Week Starts Today

Hey everybody! Today is the official start of Madison Craft Beer Week.* We've been on the TV, we've been in the paper, we've been on Twitter and Facebook. Heck, we even have a commercial on YouTube:

There's over 100 events stretched out over a week for you to choose from. Keep an eye out around town for the Madison Craft Beer Week Field Guides that will help guide you through the week. Of course, you can just download the guide to your phone, too.

We (Robyn, Bill, and I) have spent a lot of time putting this together. We are eternally grateful to our sponsors. We are amazed at the reaction that we've received for this inaugural edition of Madison Craft Beer Week and we, literally, can't wait to get started on planning next year's. Seriously. We need more lead time for planning this stuff.

Please enjoy the week responsibly. Jump in a cab, grab a bus, call a friend, walk - whatever you have to do to avoid driving. The last thing we need is for someone to get a DUI or someone gets hurt. So, please, don't drink and drive. If you're a dude, the general rule is 3 in a two hour time frame. If you're a girl, two max in a two-hour time frame.

But most of all, have fun! Post back about the events and with any comments you might have. I'll try to be out taking pictures and talking with folks. Feel free to come up and say hi.

** There was a pre-party event last night at Drackenberg's that was awesome that you probably missed. You should have checked the website ;)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What You Should Read

This is just a few of my favorite "new" beer blogs.

The first is called BeerGeekUSA and it's written right here in Madison, Wisconsin by UW chemical engineering student Victoria. Yay! Another beer writer in Madison! There are not nearly enough girl beer writers in the universe. Craft beer, somewhat surprisingly (to me) has more female drinkers than you might think. Unless you're a girl. Then you probably think there are quite a few girl beer drinkers who simply get drowned out by moron boys yelling loudly at each other about silly things like IBU and Cascadian Dark Ales and any number of other stupid "debates" that have raged. This is an overlooked and under-marketed class of consumers that can and will become a powerful force in the growth of the industry. That she's a Chem-E student makes her musings that much more intelligent than mine. Hmmm...maybe I should hire her and eliminate the competition.

The second is another female "blogger" who "writes" a "blog" called Pints and Panels. I met "M" (Emily) at Great American Beer Fest last year; she was a blast and definitely has a different take on beer and blogging. For one, she doesn't write so much as draw her blog. She's a cartooning student. Cartoons! And Beer! And Girls! Come on, it doesn't get much cooler than that. For two, she has, what I find very refreshing and often missing in beer writing (including myself), this great ability to completely ignore hype. In a four-panel comic she manages to do what girls have this innate ability to do and what guys, like me, can't seem to do for the life of us: be concise and manage to find exactly the right, most-efficient, way to provide intelligent commentary in a fun and amusing way. Me? I prefer to circumlocute and equivocate and find the most esoteric polysyllabic, multi-clause, rambling, indirect way to almost, but not quite, make a point in a manner that causes you bring into question my very competence at constructing an intelligible sentence. You will surely prefer her way of doing things.

Finally, a dude blogger from Illinois who probably has too many credentials to be properly called a "blogger" - he writes for Beer Connoisseur and other fancy-pants magazines about beer. And gets paid for it! (I say, partly, in jest since I, myself have appeared in fancy-pants magazines and on TV and radio to talk about beer - that's right Mr. Connelly, I AM a multi-media threat; you should be very, very afraid for your job. Punk.) Anyway. For whatever reason, I've just stumbled upon his blog, though, I actually think I had found this blog a while ago, and somehow unsubscribed by accident, forgotten about it, and then just "rediscovered" it a few weeks back and think it's awesome. Anyway. The Beer Philosopher. Read it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Complications Arise Around Public Homebrew Consumption

***NOTE: The following is not legal advice. It is intended solely for informational purposes. If you have any questions please contact an attorney.***

There are two provisions of the Wisconsin Statutes that provide exemptions for homemade fermented malt beverages and/or wine, commonly called "Homebrew". The first is Wisconsin Statute §125.06(3) which states:
No license or permit is required under this Chapter for: ... The manufacture of wine or fermented malt beverages of any alcoholic content by any person at his or her home, farm, or place of residence if the wine or fermented malt beverages is [ed note: sic] to be consumed by that person or his or her family or guests, and if the person manufacturing the person manufacturing the wine or fermented malt beverages receives no compensation.
We'll come back to this in a minute. The other relevant statute prevents homebrew from being taxed as other alcoholic beverages are. Wisc. Stat. §139.04(1):
No tax is levied ... in respect to: ... Making of wine, cider, or fermented malt beverages at home solely for consumption therein and use thereof in such home by the family and guests without compensation.
Taken together, these law comprise the Homebrew Laws of the State of Wisconsin. Interestingly, the tax code cleans up a "problem" of the license code. If you notice, the license provides an exemption for beer made at home and states that it must be consumed by the family or guests, but does not state that the consumption must take place at the home. Though this is strongly implied, a strict reading of the statute says only that the beer must be manufactured at a home, farm, or residence and that it must be consumed by "that person or his or her family or guests" - the consumption is not linked the place of manufacture. The tax code makes this more explicit by requiring consumption "therein." However, consider the following situation:

A homebrewer makes 2 5-gallon batches of beer at home and one batch is consumed (a) at home and the other is consumed (b) not at home (at, say, an art gallery where the homebrewer provided the beer for a private art-show by the homebrewer's wife). In neither instance would the homebrewer need to be licensed by the state. However in the second instance, the homebrew might be taxable (at $1 per barrel or about $.15 for a standard 5 gallon homebrew size), where in the first instance it would not. Strange result.

So, what is the point in all of this? Homebrewing has become increasingly popular. So popular in fact that the Roster for the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild, Milwaukee has multiple homebrewing clubs, and even towns like Sun Prairie and Mount Horeb have sizable and active homebrewing clubs. According to (itself run by a Milwaukee homebrew club) there are around 27 homebrewing clubs around the state.

As a celebration of this fast-growing hobby, the Great Lakes Brewfest in Racine, WI had held a homebrewing demonstration where it invited homebrew clubs to come and share their enthusiasm for homebrewing and serve samples of their brews. This has gone on every year, but this year the Brewfest got a message from the State of Wisconsin Department of Revenue stating that homebrew could not be served. Indeed, MHTG events have, not surprisingly, regularly featured homebrew (though not at the Great Taste of the Midwest).

In planning events for Madison Craft Beer Week we had numerous requests for homebrew demonstrations. These requests, by places such as Whole Foods, The Madison Club, and The Malt House, resulted in consulting the Department of Revenue Alcohol Tobacco Enforcement Division for an Official Comment regarding serving homebrew in public places. The official position is this: You can serve homebrew at private events held at facilities that do not hold a liquor license.

You can see how this reinforces the statutes, but seems to follow the more lenient licensing statute. It is not entirely clear what the tax implications would be since complying with the official position would technically allow you to serve homebrew outside of a home (e.g., at an art gallery) thus pulling the homebrew outside of the tax exemption. Admittedly, it would difficult to monitor and enforce such events and the amounts that could be recovered would hardly be worth the effort.

In the meantime, homebrew clubs around the state are looking to band together to reform the laws to allow homebrewing demonstrations and serving homebrew in public places. This could be problematic since these are not government inspected or licensed premises or products. Though careful wording of waivers could help to alleviate some of the concerns. Moreover, common sense, and, frankly, quality, would help to mitigate any issues with "competition" that distributors might have.

Finally, keep in mind - demonstrating how to homebrew is not against the law. Only serving the homebrew itself. Arguably, fermenting (what makes beer a regulateable "fermented malt beverage") cannot be done anywhere other than a residence, so public homebrew demonstrations might have to work-around that. But this is not the death of homebrew demonstrations, only the death of serving homebrew in public.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Five Gallons At A Time: Controlling Fermentation Temperature

If you ferment your beer in a refrigerator with an analog temperature controller, you may be tempted to submerge your controller's probe in water or rig up a system to base its feedback on your beer temperature. After all, it's the beer temperature that matters - not the ambient temperature - and measuring a liquid temperature will extend the life of the fridge by reducing the number of times it cycles on and off. Unfortunately, measuring a liquid instead of the ambient air will result in a loss of temperature control. Why? If you tell the fridge to turn off once your beer temperature drops below a certain temperature, say 68 degf, the air surrounding the beer will still be cold - probably in the upper 30s - and continue to cool your beer. Instead, you should control your air temperature to offset the heat generated by fermentation. For 5-gallon batches with healthy fermentations, ales tend to peak at 8-10 degf above ambient temperature while lagers peak at 2-4 degf above ambient. Your mileage may vary, so you should stick a thermometer strip on your fermentor to know for sure. Once your airlock begins to slow down, I recommend raising the ambient temperature to improve diacetyl reduction and ensure adequate attenuation. For ales, you can simply move the beer to a room temperature location. For lagers, I like to set my controller to the upper 50s and postpone lagering until the beer is fully fermented. Oh yeah, don't worry about cycling your fridge. It was designed to be opened frequently, thereby requiring a lot of cycling, and its internal temperature controller works the same way as your external controller.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cask Beer (or, What You Didn't Know You Were Missing)

So, this is a first in MBR history. A reprint, or rather an edit of a post from an earlier date. This won't be normal here, but as I was contemplating writing an article about cask beer, I realized I had already written a really good one.

What would prompt such a seemingly random, but apparently urgent, need for an article about Cask Beer you ask? I'm glad you asked.

Madison Craft Beer Week is right around the corner, yo. And one of the events that MBR has had a heavy hand in producing (in conjunction with Dane 101) is a Cask Ale and Music Festival to be held on Thursday May 5 starting at 6pm. Here's the deal: 3 bands, 10 casks, and unlimited beer. For $25.

Here's the deal. High Noon Saloon on May 5, 2011. Taps open at 6pm. Music starts at 8pm. For $25 you get a wristband that gives you unlimited sampling and amazing music from: Aaron Williams and the Hoodoo, Mama Digdown's Brass Band, and the Kissers. All perfect beer drinkin' music to throw you an All-American party. But, if you don't have a wristband, don't fret! Come on down and you can buy half-pints ($3) or full pints ($5) of any of the cask beers on tap.

Tap List:

Furthermore Proper or Knot Stock (this is the first cask for any Furthermore beer! [ed note: I suck])
Bell's Hopslam
Bell's Porter
New Holland Mad Hatter IPA
New Holland Poet Stout
Summit Oatmeal Stout
Vintage Hibiscus Saison (recipe by MBR Contributor and MCBW Organizer, Robyn Klinge; based on a homebrew recipe by MBR Contributor Joe Walts)
Southern Tier 2X IPA
Great Dane Potter's Run IPA
Great Dane ESB

You can buy your $25 wristband at Brown Paper Tickets.

HBG: Tapping a Firkin of Bell's HopslamThis article is about why that's a ridiculously good price for beer that you can get few other places in Madison (to my knowledge, Maduro has the only regular cask beer). Edited from the Hey Barkeep! Article of August 28, 2009.

First, it's important to get some terminology right.

Cask Ale: beer, typically an ale, served from a naturally carbonated keg
Firkin: The wooden cask itself

You might hear the phrases "from a firkin" or "on cask" - these are different ways of saying that the beer is a cask ale. You might also hear the phrase "real ale" - this is a British-ism for cask ale.

Obviously, this raises more questions.

What does "naturally carbonated" mean? We've talked about ways to carbonate beer before (here and here). Basically, CO2 is a byproduct of the fermentation process, prior to bottling the CO2 from the fermentation process is let off into the air and the liquid stays flat. However, most of us prefer to drink carbonated beer.

The two primary ways of carbonating beer are "force carbonation" and "natural carbonation." Beer is force carbonated by sealing the beer in a tank (e.g., a keg) so that air can't escape and force CO2 into the tank. The CO2 has to go somewhere, and the liquid absorbs it. When you open the bottle, the CO2 escapes and you get bubbles and head.

Natural carbonation occurs by adding active yeast to the bottom of the vessel (either a bottle, or in this case a keg) and letting it eat some of the residual sugars (fermentation) and produce CO2 which gets absorbed into the liquid because it has nowhere else to go. If you see a bottle that says "bottle conditioned" this is what happened. Over time the bottle/keg will become more carbonated and (slightly) higher in alcohol.

Cask conditioned beer is beer that has been naturally carbonated in a keg.

But there's a problem here that you may not have picked up. The vast majority of beer served on-tap in the United States (and throughout the world for that matter) is via a CO2-based tap system (or CO2/Nitrogen mix for you nitro nerds). Subjecting a naturally carbonated beer to a CO2 system would cause some problems (not the least of which is that all the yeast would be flushed out of the system in the first pitcher!) Thus, there are two types of Cask serving methods, which we'll talk about in more detail later: gravity system (where the barrel is tipped up and the beer is poured out of a tap physically located on the keg) and a hand-pump (which works a bit like an old water pump would).

Bill Rogers, owner of The Malt House here in Madison, all-around genius beer guy, is a big fan of cask beer and one of the organizers of the Cask Beer and Music Festival.

MBR: Do you have a cask at The Malt House? If you don't, do you intend to put one there eventually?
Bill Rogers: We don't have cask ales now, though I've thought about how to do it. I think that gravity fed casks above the large ale cooler might work.

MBR: What do you think is the biggest reason against adopting casks? Is it supply side (breweries don't package in casks) or is it demand-side (consumers don't ask for it) or is it simply too big of a pain (different plumbing and training)?
Bill Rogers:I think you've hit on both of the issues with casks. First, even at The Great Taste of the Midwest, where there are 700 different beers, we only have about 50-60 casks and many of those are filled specifically for the fest. Most brewers don't use that kind of packaging, and those who do usually only have a few casks in their cooperage inventory. They're afraid to let them get too far afield for fear that they'll never see that keg again.

On the other hand, it takes specialized equipment to be able to serve casks, there are not many places that sell the gear, and fewer still who know how to install and use it.

There are two ways to serve cask ale as you've no doubt seen. There's the gravity feed mechanism used behind the bar at the downtown Great Dane, and the hand-pull from the cellar method [ed note: the Hilldale and Fitchburg Dane uses this type, or at least they did]. Each requires special equipment.

Gravity feed casks often (as is the case with the Great Dane) have a spring loaded bed that each cask rests on. As the cask empties, the spring slowly and gently raises the back end of the cask so that all the beer can drain from the faucet on the bottom of the front face. The casks also need some degree of chilling, because the ambient temperture in the barroom is too high for a pleasant draft. This is usually fixed by placing a stainless steel web of tubing over the top of the cask and running chilled glycol through it. Then you cover the whole thing with an insulated blanket to keep in the cold.

Hand-pull casks are usually kept in the basement, in or out of a walk-in cooler. You probably need a separate walk-in cooler for cask ales, because they should be dispensed at 45-50 degrees instead of the 38-40 for normal draft systems. The Map Room [ed note: in Chicago] has its own cask cellar separate from the draft celler, and separate from the bottle cellar. Those kept outside a cooler may need the same stainless chilling saddle as the barroom variety.

The hand-pull actually pumps the beer up to the serving faucet. It's just like an old-fashioned well water pump. No gas pressure can be applied to the keg to move the beer. That's the important part of cask ale service. The only allowable force for dispensing the beer is gravity or the bartender operating a hand pump. CAMRA does not even allow taverns to top off the cask's head space with CO2 if the pub wants to call it cask ale or real ale. All CO2 in the cask must be naturally produced by the beer, in the vessel it's served from, according to them.

[ed note: CAMRA is the CAMpaign for Real Ale; it is a UK-based organization that educates consumers and publicans on the benefits of cask/real ale]

That works fine for many UK pubs, but cask ale goes flat and oxidizes if not finished within 3-5 days of tapping. Many pubs, especially here in the US where CAMRA does not operate, prefer to top off the cask with CO2 using a device called a cask breather. The cask breather sits atop the cask in the place of the spile (the semi-porous plug at the top of a tapped cask) and allows up to 3psi of CO2 to replace the beer as it's poured. Spoilage is averted because CO2 is pretty inert. The low level of CO2 applied also does not affect the natural carbonation level. So, there's another special piece of equipment needed...the cask breather.

In short, it takes a dedicated publican or cellarman to properly install, maintain and use cask ales.

MBR: What do you think is the biggest reason in favor of adopting casks?
Bill Rogers: They're cool. They harken back to simpler times centuries ago when ale was delivered in its finishing vessel, was placed on the bar, tapped and drained. Flavors are often fresher and the beer is softer on the palate.

MBR: Favorite cask beer?
Bill Rogers: Not sure I have one. The only beer (outside the Dane) that's regularly available here is Two Hearted. I get mine at Maduro. The Great Dane had a beer once called 7 C's that I seem to remember being great on cask. The 7 C's were seven different varieties of American hops that started with the letter C. Potter's Run IPA was always a great cask ale too.

[Ed note: casks are becoming more widespread across the country. I have spoken with a number of cellarmen who are telling me that it is becoming more common for the bar or the distributor to actually own the cask; they send it to the brewery to be filled. This eliminates one of the problems with casks - bars stealing/not returning/sitting on them]

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

More on Goose Island

I agree, for the most part, with what Matt said on Monday about this. Goose Island has every right to sell its business and it isn't, in and of itself, a bad thing. Those of us who follow such things, and probably even those who don't, saw this coming a mile away.

But, Goose Island's claim that this is a "capital" issue is ... to be frank ... a crock. Or rather, it's only half a crock because, yes, capital plays a part in this, but it's really a distribution/production issue. Goose Island had a problem - through years of focusing on its brewpubs and the Chicago market, it became third fiddle throughout the Midwest to Bells and Great Lakes. There is not much room in the market for two regional breweries and one quasi-regional that removes an entire state from the equation (New Glarus).

So, for Goose Island to grow in the ways that it wanted to, it had to either take on Bells and Great Lakes head-on in a brand war, or it could take what it has in the Midwest and move on to bigger and better markets - namely, the rest of the known universe. This presents two problems for Goose Island: 1) how to distribute beer to the rest of the known universe and 2) how to brew enough beer to meet that demand.

Goose Island could have done what Boston Beer did: go public, release stock for a big equity boost, invest in contract breweries across the United States, hire a bigger sales force, and go on its own. It appeared poised to start doing this through its explorations with brewing at Red Hook to serve the East Coast market. It could have done what New Belgium did and sell more stock to its employees keeping the company private, increase its local capacity, hire a bigger sales force, focus on distribution efficiencies, and go on its own. It could have done what New Glarus did: be content with the Chicago/Illinois market, get a loan from a bank, increase its capacity and be happy being the biggest game in a big pond. However, Goose Island's owner decided "I don't really want to deal with this" and leveraged a current business asset - a partnership with Anheuser-Busch - to meet his goals.

AB/InBev is perfectly placed to solve the production and distribution problems facing Goose Island in its efforts to expand its brand outside of the Midwest. Moreover, this move doesn't dilute Goose Island stock or increase Goose Island's debt load. Indeed, AB/InBev gets a relatively lean company with an expanding brand and portfolio that it can leverage with its own breweries around the country/world to brew 312/Honkers/etc and leave the Chicago brewery to produce the high-end stuff. Moreover, AB/InBev already have distribution and sales networks established throughout the world that is just itching to sell real craft beer.* So, in one easy move, Goose Island expands its capacity and distribution without burdening the company to take that on.

In my own opinion, the real test will be whether AB/InBev can leave well enough alone and let Goose Island make its own production choices. I'm not entirely sure I agree with Andy Crouch (I rarely do); I don't think the acquisition itself indicates that AB/InBev or Miller or Coors are suddenly realizing that others do craft better than they do. I do think it shows that they are open to this possibility, though. It is entirely possible that AB/InBev want to (or at least will) muck-around with the recipes for different markets, turn them fully into a corporate brand that has no distinct identity, and derail efforts to make truly "craft" beer like Goose Island has shown some interest of late in actually doing. This was the downfall of Leinie's vis-a-vis Miller.

However, if AB/InBev can leave Goose Island to do its thing, then I think other breweries will see acquisition as a viable exit strategy to ensure long-term growth of a brand. And, if this can happen, we will start to see a lot (LOT) more investment in craft brewing.

* We'll ignore for the moment that most of these distributors do, indeed, already distribute "real" craft beer - but it doesn't pay nearly as well (including above-table and, ahem, below-table deals) as A-B does.

Monday, April 11, 2011

When Selling Out Isn't Selling Out

A shock wave went through the world of craft beer last week, when Anheuser-Busch InBev bought out family owned Chicago brewery Goose Island for $38.8 Million.
Or, at least, there should have been a shock wave, right? When an innovative craft brewery like Goose Island gets bought out by the world's largest brewer, it should be surprising.
But it really wasn't.
They were already a part of the Craft Brewer's Alliance, a distribution network partially owned by AB-Inbev (so I guess I fibbed about that "family owned" thing in the first paragraph). And this isn't the first such purchase in recent weeks, as Anchor was recently purchased by large beverage company the Griffin Group.
The reason for the purchase is supposedly simple: Goose Island's brewing capacity was maxed out, and to meet increasing demand, they needed an influx of new capital. They had already cut out some of their core brands (namely their Nut Brown Ale and Oatmeal Stout) to increase production on brands like 312 Wheat, Honker's Ale and IPA, and demand was continuing to grow. Also, founder John Hall is 68 years old, and can't be doing this forever. This purchase is seen as one of the few viable exit strategies available for a craft brewery business.
Some agree with the move and see it as a positive sign for the future of craft beer. Beer writer Andy Crouch argues that not only will the purchase help Goose Island expand their distribution, but it shows a shift in the way large breweries like AB-Inbev look at the high-end beer market. Rather than trying to win customers by pimping fancy imports and "cartoon" craft beers like Shock-Top Belgian White and Budweiser American Ale, the purchase shows that AB-Inbev feels it is better to buy up and support craft breweries then try to compete with them with their own products. This is echoed by what Dave Peacock, president of Anheuser-Busch's U.S. division, told the Wall Street Journal last Monday: “We really needed to radically change our position in the high end."
There is one question Crouch and others putting a positive spin on the sale aren't asking: does a brewery have an obligation to meet their demand? What if Goose Island didn't get an influx of cash and had to limit their distribution? Many other breweries are making that choice. Stone, Boulevard and Dogfish Head have all recently pulled out of Wisconsin. Certainly all of those breweries could sell beer in Wisconsin, but they don't have the capacity to meet all of their demand and are choosing to shift their sales to places where they feel the demand is higher or the sales will come easier (which is the same thing, I suppose). And then there are breweries like New Glarus who choose to limit their distribution specifically to stay small and avoid losing the family-run aspect of the business they built from the ground up.
That's not to say that every brewery should limit their distribution to one state as New Glarus does. I for one am glad I can buy Goose Island beer, and am sad to see breweries like Dogfish Head leave the state, but the fact remains that this was not the only choice they had.
Goose Island had a tasting at Star Liquor last Friday, and I asked the rep who was hosting what his thoughts were on the sale. He echoed the statements made to the press that it will help with capacity issues. My fear, I told him, was that AB would shift focus to their big sellers, leaving their more innovative beers (especially the very limited release beers like the excellent vintage reserve series) on the chopping block. He told me that he thought the opposite would happen, adding that AB will likely take over brewing 312 (which amounts to over half of their sales), allowing the Goose Island brewery to put more focus on their specialty beers.
I hope this is true, but there is reason to have some doubts. Longtime brewmaster Greg Hall is leaving his position April 30th, and will only have an advisory role after that. And we don't know if AB will take a hands-off approach with their new acquisition or attempt to streamline the brand.
I'm a bit torn on whether to keep supporting a brewery once it has been bought out but a behemoth like AB-Inbev. Say what you want about Goose Island selling out, they are undoubtedly one of the pioneers of the craft brewing movement and over the years have continued to be one of its greatest innovators. With Bourbon County Stout they invented the bourbon barrel-aged aged imperial stout, which has become almost ubiquitous among "serious" craft breweries. If Matilda wasn't the first beer brewed in the US with Brettanomyces in it, it was one of the first and certainly one of the best. And this innovation hasn't slowed down since their entrance into the Craft Brewers Alliance in 2006. Since then they have introduced a number of new beers, including variations on Bourbon County and the great barrel-aged sour beers of the Vintage Reserve Series. Now they're brewing a beer with kombucha cultures in it, and it actually tastes good! Supporting small local companies is undoubtedly a big part of the appeal of being a craft beer drinker, but if Goose Island continues to put out innovative and delicious beer, it will be very hard for me not to support them.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

RIP Pierre Celis

Brewing legend Pierre Celis, the man credited with reviving the Belgian Witbier style and paving the way for it's popularity world wide, died yesterday in Belgium at age 86.
Celis founded his first brewery in the town of Hoegaarden in 1966. Hoegaarden was once a center of wheat beer brewing, and the small town had over 30 breweries in the mid 1800's, all producing versions of a unique beer made from local wheat and oats, and often spiced with exotic ingredients like coriander and curacao orange peel. As with many local specialty beer styles, the popularity of Pilsener-style beers and the advent of large industrial breweries took its toll on the Hoegaarden brewers, and the last of the wheat beer breweries closed there in the mid-1950's. That may have been the end of the style if Celis had not decided to start up a brewery dedicated to reproducing the local Witbier that older townsfolk reminisced about. It quickly became a huge success. After a fire at the brewery in 1985, Celis sold the brand to Interbrew (now Anheuser Busch-Inbev) who continues to produce beer under the Hoegaarden name as one of their core products.
Celis then set is sights on the US craft beer market, and founded the Celis brewery in Austin, Texas in 1992, introducing many in the US to the Wit Bier style for the first time. The brand had a cult following but struggled financially, and in 1995 it was sold to Miller. It is now brewed by the Michigan Brewing Company.
More recently, Celis was brewing cave aged beers under the Grottenbier label.
On this warm, summer-like day, enjoy a refreshing Witbier in Pierre Celis' memory, and thank him for allowing us to continue enjoying this great style of beer.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Reflection on Craft Beer in the South

As you may be able to tell, last week MBR was on a bit of a hiatus. Two of us were out on vacation - one out west and points beyond and the other down south. Robyn has been posting about her travels, and she'll have some more posts for you about the nineteen breweries she managed to visit.

I was in the south - specifically South Carolina. When I was last in that foreign country south of the Mason-Dixon, about 7 years ago or so, the South was, to say the least, a vast wasteland of craft beer. Abita and Sweetwater were about it for generally available craft beer. Heck, until about 2006 or so, I thought that Yuengling was a southern brewery because it was, in many cases, the only non-macro beer you could find there.

That has changed drastically. Asheville, North Carolina was named America's best beer town in 2010. [ed note: Portland, OR ran a close second but, frankly, having been to both Portland and Asheville in the last year, I think Madison is right up there - we just don't feel the need to brag about it.] South Carolina itself has three breweries, two of which have opened in the past few years: Palmetto, Coast, and Westbrook. Westbrook is the newest of the three and Coast was started up by an ex-Assistant Brewer at Palmetto. Palmetto is sort of the "grandfather" of the bunch having started all the way back in 1994. All three make great beer.

Asheville's brewing culture has exerted itself on the rest of the south as well. Duck Rabbit, Highland, and French Broad all have high availability throughout the coastal south.

Charleston, SC is also a hotbed of craft beer in the south. All of the SC breweries are based there. Charleston Beer Exchange is, I kid you not, one of the best craft beer stores I've had the pleasure to step foot in. Tucked into a small storefront in the touristy area of historical Charleston, the place is chock-full of craft beer from all over the world - with bottle selections from breweries that are simply not available in the vast majority of "better" retailers. The wonderfully named "Closed for Business" beer bar was like stepping into a food-serving version of The Malt House with great, rare and excellent, beer from all over the country.

So, fear not. Or, maybe fear indeed, the South. Craft beer is making in-roads that even 5 years ago seemed almost impossible. While we (I) may have had this vision of the south as Budweiser-swilling NASCAR lovers, the reality is that much of the gains being made by craft beer are being made in the South.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Five Gallons At A Time: Dry Yeast

Ten months ago, I wrote an article for Oshkosh Beer about using dry yeast. Since then, I've used dry yeast in four more batches. The results were mixed, but I've had a breakthrough of late: assuming that a typical gram of dry yeast contains 14 billion viable cells instead of 20 billion. Using that estimate for my latest batch - a Summer IPA fermented with Safale US-05 - resulted in 84% apparent attenuation (with corn sugar providing 5% of the extract) and a super clean flavor profile, even at 7.5% abv. Well done, dry yeast!

Oh yeah, ignore advantage #4 from the Oshkosh post. I recently learned - or maybe relearned - that oxidation of alcohol isn't much of a concern. If it was, unsealed bottles of spirits would be far less shelf-stable than they are. Lipids and polyphenols, which are present in both wort and beer, are far more dangerous.