Monday, November 19, 2012

Five Gallons At A Time: Stir Plate Yeast Growth

If you're not familiar with the work of Kai Troester at, I suggest you catch up and keep up. His pursuit of brewing knowledge is academically rigorous, and he doesn't give free passes to conventional wisdom. I don't think his experiments are perfect, but he's currently doing more than anyone I can think of to explore new territory in brewing science in ways that are relevant to home and craft brewers.

A month and a half ago, he wrote an article about yeast growth (here) that destroyed the credibility of my calculations for stir plate starters (based on predictions of the Wyeast Pitch Rate Calculator, I had simply taken the growth rates of non-stir plate starters and multiplied them by 2). His experimental results were all over the map, though, so I didn't feel comfortable adopting his conclusions (which are presented here) or drawing my own conclusions from his data (which I did with his mash pH experiments).

While digging into the typical growth rates of large-scale commercial yeast propagators, I came across the following two articles in the MBAA Technical Quarterly that either discuss a pair of overlapping experiments or refer to the same experiment:

-"Yeast Management Under High-Gravity Brewing Conditions" by Mike Cholerton (2003).
-"Control of the Yeast Propagation Process - How To Optimize Oxygen Supply and Minimize Stress" by Olau Nielsen (2005).

The articles deal with batch-fed propagations where oxygen is continuously added via mixing, which are essentially large-scale versions of yeast starters on stir plates. Both articles mention that big commercial operations typically limit their propagations to final cell concentrations of 100 million cells per mL to maximize yeast vitality, which most homebrewers lack the means to do, and imply that letting their experimental propagations continue beyond that point resulted in final cell concentrations around 170 million cells per mL. The Cholerton article also stated that his experiments were carried out with 12 Plato wort, which means that the final cell counts of the non-arrested propagations were around 1.35 billion cells per gram of original extract.

It could be the case that Kai is mistakenly focusing on new cells created per gram of extract instead of final cell count per gram of extract, but I suspect that both considerations - and countless others - contribute to how life actually behaves. I also feel that if the experimental data represents reality, i.e. sample sizes are significant and measurement errors are minimal, mathematical analysis will take both approaches to the same endpoint. With that in mind, I like the simplicity of "if I want X billion cells, I need X/1.35 grams of extract in my starter" and I'm currently using that calculation in my brewing spreadsheets.

However, the assumption is invalid for high pitch rates (i.e. lots of yeast in a small volume of starter wort). According to Yeast by Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff, which I very much trust (it's Jamil's leap from the book's data to his stir plate calculations that Kai doesn't trust, and I agree), pitching 100 billion viable cells into a 500-mL starter with an OG of 1.036 - which contains 47 g of extract - will result in a final cell count of 112 billion cells. To achieve the same cell count with a stir plate, I'd predict an extract requirement of 112 / 1.35 = 83 g. Knowing that adding a stir plate should never increase the required size of a starter, and acknowledging that Chris White's left foot knows more about yeast than I do, the band-aid I applied to my stir plate calculations was to simply defer to the book's predictions in those instances. I'm fine with that because oxygen is probably not a growth limiter when there's so little extract.

In the long-term, I hope to perform a series of experiments in the Ale Asylum lab that will complement Kai's work and hopefully make us all smarter. It's not going to happen until our bottling line is operational and production settles into a comfortable routine, though, so I may have to wait a while.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wisconsin Conquers Denver

The Great American Beer Festival was held this past weekend in Denver, Colorado. Lots of people attended, mass quantities of beer were consumed. Awards were handed out. The following awards were handed out to Wisconsin-based brewers.

Gold Medals:
Point Oktoberfest - Steven Point Brewery (American-Style Amber Lager)
Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale - Stevens Point Brewery (Field Beer or Pumpkin Beer)
Hometown Blonde - New Glarus Brewery (Bohemian-Style Pilsner)
Uber Bock - Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co (German-Style Dopplebock or Eisbock)
Fourteen Fourteen - Central Waters Brewing Co (Wood and Barrel Aged Strong Stout)

Silver Medals
Staghorn - New Glarus Brewing Co (American-Style Amber Lager)
Fixed Gear - Lakefront Brewery (American-Style Amber/Red)

But the big winners were Great Dane Pub and Brewing Co and its head brewer Rob Lobreglio who won Brewpub Goup and Brewpub Group Brewer of the Year. Congratulations to everyone involved at the Great Dane!

And Miller won some awards for Miller Lite, Mickey's Malt Liquor, and Leinie's Summer Shandy

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Capital Brewery Looking For New Brewer

To cap off an event year (or years) for Capital Brewery, add "Head Brewer" to the list of problems. Kirby Nelson, formerly of Capital Brewery, will (re)join Carl Nolen at the new Wisconsin Brewing Co down the street in Verona.

Whether this is a good move, a good brewery, a good idea, only time will tell. I like Carl. I like Kirby. 300,000 barrels is a LOT of beer (indeed 3 times the size of New Glarus - or a little smaller than the size of Leinenkugel's). Wisconsin Brewing Co will instantly become the second largest brewer in the state and one of the 10 largest craft breweries in the country. How they will accomplish that is anyone's guess. But, if I were to guess, it will be heavy marketing of light lagers, combined with aggressive pricing. Presumably, by hiring Kirby, they are signaling that the intent is that Wisconsin Brewing Co be a craft brewery. But the sheer scale of the enterprise makes that a difficult business proposition to say the least.

Doing this without becoming (or being) Minhas, will be a challenge. Regardless of the technical competency of the folks in Monroe - all great people, I am sure - the reputation and flavor profiles of the output from Minhas leave a lot to be desired.

Meanwhile, Capital is left holding the proverbial bag. A difficult, highly custom brewing environment. A fractured and indifferent customer base. New management.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sixpoint Brownstone

I have to admit that I'm not a fan of brown ales. Never have been. I love English Porters. I love Ambers/Reds. But the brown, nut or otherwise, have never been a great love. In fact, they have been the opposite of love. The brown ale is one of those styles that I've just never been able to get with. But, like many styles that I don't like - I keep trying them anyway, because you never know.

So, when I was out the other night and met the Sixpoint rep, I was excited to try the Sixpoint Crisp (a pilsner much in the style of the inimitable Victory Prima Pils). Jake (that's the name of the Sixpoint rep, by the way) then recommended that I try to the Brownstone. While I reluctantly obliged, I warned him that I'm not a fan of the brown ale.

At the time I had a sampler glass, so I had a sample. I can happily report that I was pleased with the results. Surprising not only Jake (who, really, wasn't all that surprised) but me.

Sixpoint Brownstone
BA(89). RB(91).

Appearance: A healthy, dense, tan foamy head sits regally on a body of tanned leather; the lacing is very pretty.
Aroma: I could smell the hops and brown sugar as it poured out of the can. The typical American aroma hops are front and center while the malt slips through cracks and smells of ginger snap cookies and multi-grain bread
Flavor: The hops are, again, front and center but the malt sweetness, caramel flavors, and slight nuttiness come through strongly in the finish
Body: A nice strong medium-ish body, the finish is a mixture of the hoppy resin and the caramel malts which leaves a nice, sweet, residual flavor but is never cloying
Drinkability: A typical fall-time beer; you probably aren't going to drink 8 of them, but 3 of them while gathered around a bonfire is certainly within the realm of possibility
Summary: Finally! A brown ale I can get with! This will definitely be in a regular rotation, and would fit right in with some of my other favorite fall and winter brews such as Surly's Furious, Bear Republic's Black Bear Stout, and Augustiner Doppelbock.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Five Gallons At A Time: Turbid Mashing

I don't have the vengefulness or organizational skills to maintain a list of pending threats, but I do remember them occasionally. Like this one about turbid mashing (side note: a follow-up on my daughter is here). Mwahahahaha!

When I brewed my first lambic in the summer of 2011, I used Wild Brews as my guide. The book is great, but feeding its turbid mashing instructions to my calculations resulted in wildly different mash temperatures:

Book                        Me
113 degf          113 degf
126 degf          149 degf
149 degf          172 degf
162 degf          182 degf
172 degf          181 degf

I ended up following the book's strike volumes but ignoring its strike temperatures, and I'm glad I did. By trusting my math and adjusting my strike temperatures accordingly, my mash temperatures turned out very close to the book's recommendations. The only issue, which I've had with both of my batches to-date, has been removing enough wort from my mash tun for the first stage of enzyme destruction. In both cases, I tried a bunch of methods before settling on pressing down on the mash with the lid of a wide pot and pouring the pooled wort into the auxiliary kettle. The first time, it was simply messy and frustrating. The second time, it was messy and frustrating and my final lauter got stuck. Next time, I'm going to ignore the book's strike volumes and dough in with enough water to perform all of the lauters without special equipment. My turbid mash calculations (Turbid_Mash.xlsx at the usual place) are already configured as such, but you can adjust the rests if you want to be a hard traditionalist.

Aside from reading Wild Brews and using my mash calculations, my only other recommendation is to heat the wort in your auxiliary kettle as quickly as possible. The goal of turbid mashing is to ensure that your final wort is starchy, and having the wort in your auxiliary kettle spend too much time at starch conversion temperatures will defeat that purpose. I may have made that mistake with my second batch, but time will tell. For what it's worth, my first batch tasted like flat Cantillon Gueuze after a year in a carboy. Much better than I expected! If the second batch doesn't turn out as well, I'll keep it out of my gueuze blend and either find another use for it or dump'er in the name of hack science.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

No, Seriously, It's Not A Joke

What do Portland (OK, technically Eugene) hipster brewers do to be more hip than Portland hipster drinkers? Make Midwestern beer.

Monday, September 3, 2012

End of Summer Summer Beer - O'So 3rd Wheel

O'So has a new bottle on the shelves called "Third Wheel". The label has a picture of some "dude" (you can tell because his O'so hat is backwards) doing an endo with a three-wheel bike. The yellow, orange, and red label calls it a Belgian-Style Blonde.

I like blondes (the beer, not the girls; I mean, I like blonde girls, too, but Mrs. MBR is not such a girl); or, I like the theory of blondes. In practice, I find I'm not as big of a fan as I think I should be. So, why? Well. I like flavorful light beers. The English Mild, the Kolsch, and the Pilsner are among some of my favorite styles. But I also like my beers dry. And American-ized versions of Belgian beer tend to be very sweet.

This is strange, but I think there's a few reasons for it. First, and I'm sure some technocrat will correct my horrible science, I think we over-do the "Belgian-y-ness" (is that a word??). In other words, Belgian beers, from Belgian, rarely taste like Americans think they do or make them as. Maybe it's our weird adherence to "style" maybe it's the fact that we only have access to a small (very small) handful of "Belgian" yeasts. But, most American-Belgian beer tastes the same to me; American Tripels often taste like little more than "Imperial Blondes". Whereas, Belgian beer rarely has the sameness that Americanized versions exhibit.

So, all of that is a weird introduction to a beer I haven't tasted. But, I do keep trying American Belgian Blondes because, well, I want to like them.

O'So 3rd Wheel
BA (NA). RB (NA).

Appearance: Poured into a classic tulip glass, the head disappeared before I could get the bottle turned upright, but for a brief moment it was white and foamy; otherwise, a dull straw color in the glass with decent clarity; barely noticeable carbonation
Aroma: Strawberries and peaches are first, followed by a slight bread crust aroma
Flavor: Bright and flavorful with hints of strawberries and raspberries, a mild aged grassy hoppiness is definitely present
Body: light, but does retain some sweetness in the finish
Drinkability: it would be way too easy to drink a six-pack
Summary: I'd like a little more carbonation to break up the sweetness, but it is definitely not overly sweet and cloying like what I mentioned above; while I like the six-pack I have, I probably won't rush out to buy another (it didn't grab my attention that much), but I'd definitely not shy away from telling someone they should grab some and would more than happily drink more!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hops and the Weather

James Altweis posted a great read over at the Gorst Valley Hops blog. You should read it. the sea ice is melting and the glaciers are thinning out. The sea is becoming less salty and ocean currents are fluctuating. We knew this would happen based on the hotly debated data sets over the last 10-15 years.

What we didn't anticipate is the RATE at which this would happen. In the last 2 years the globe has experienced the beginning of nearly every predicted change outlined in these data...except that it was to happen over the next 50-100 years.
The gist of James' article is a very salient one. Hops are not exactly the most resilient and tolerant plant out there. Indeed, while hops do grow wild as a weed in some places, growing them on a commercial scale is not easy.

If you'll recall, a few years ago (2007-ish) there was a hop shortage and prices for hops were all over the place. Most of the blame, at the time, was put on craft brewers and the sudden surge of hoppy beers. This impacted in bottom line and made the price of beer go up [ed note: I noticed that when hop prices decreased, the cost savings weren't exactly passed on to the consumer].

As I understand James, you can expect the prices for hops to be all over the place in the next few years. Indeed, if I think I understand James correctly you can expect the prices for hops to be all over the place for the next ... well, forever.

Translating that for you, Mr. and/or Ms. Beer Drinker, you should expect to see beer prices continue to increase.

Yes. That's right. I'm a genius. I predicted that prices for beer will increase.

But, more particularly, the availability of some hops that simply aren't as drought resistant will be extremely limited. So, which hops are more drought resistant? Well, we can start with the proprietary, genetically modified selectively bred, hops (Amarillo, Citra, etc.). But not anyone can grow these patented hops; you need a licensed rhizome. Moreover, the patent holder often also insists on being the sole source of processing and distribution for the hops once they are picked.

So, if we keep going down this rabbit hole: the hops most likely to withstand drought are those that are most expensive and most difficult to distribute. Those IIPAs are about to get much more expensive.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Only A Little Silly

OK, I admit, I don't get Twitter. Nonetheless, here at Madison Beer Review we dutifully have a Twitter feed that you can follow if you like:

Well, if you'll recall from this post there's a new tween sensation named Madison Beer (that's her real name, I guess) - she's even got the Justin Beiber stamp of approval. Well, guess who's Twitter profile is @MadisonBeer ?

I get some weird Direct Messages...some samples:

@JaiLukeBrooks69: @MadisonBeer What you do when you bored?
[ed note: I drink beer.]

@Amandaaaxox: Hanging out with @MadisonBeer at @thewantedmusic love this girl so much!
[ed note: I don't remember going to that show...probably drank too much beer]

@VogueSimpson: #IdLike2WakeUpAs either @selenagomez, @MadisonBeer or @CodySimpson's girlfriend.
[ed note: I'd like to wake up as Selena Gomez, too!]

@MorgynCallaway: @MadisonBeer please followw mee please please please!!:)
[ed note: two things, 1) "Morgyn"? Really? Are you in Lord of the Rings? Come on; 2) well...if you insist, but I don't think you're going to like it]

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Audience Participation: Home Brewing

Just out of curiosity - how many of you out there homebrew? Most of the MBR staff has, whether regularly or not. And, of course, Joe Walts writes our Five Gallons at a Time homebrewing column. Plus, believe it or not, homebrewing is hitting the big time as the White House has (re)started brewing!

When I first started getting into craft beer is when I first started homebrewing. I had these grand delusions of making amazing beer that would stand beside Dogfish Head and Stone and New Glarus. What I quickly realized is that I'm not nearly as good of a brewer as Dan Carey or Sam Calagione. 

But, it is a fun way to kill a Saturday morning. The amount of beer I brew, unfortunately, is directly related to the number of Saturday mornings I have to kill. Not only is it a good hobby, but, it's also the best way to learn how to taste beer, what each component brings to the flavor profile, what each step of the brewing process brings to the flavor profile; and, it gives you a full appreciation for the hard work that goes into keeping all of the equipment clean.

So, as I was ramping up to get back into home brewing and planning my first recipe in a few years (likely an Oktoberfest), I was wondering how many of you out there homebrew? How long have you been doing it? What's your favorite recipe that you've made?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Five Gallons At A Time: Lautering Wort Losses

Based on figures from the Siebel Institute of Technology, I've assumed for years that each pound of dry malt in a mash retains about 0.185 gallons of water. After taking a handful of measurements at home and at work, I concluded that the actual value is closer to 0.155 gal/lb (to Siebel's credit, my old assumption was based on their value for spent grain water retention plus a fudge factor-y variable of theirs that I accounted for in the same place). The obvious use for this variable is to help plan how much water you'll need for brewdays, but it affects other parts of the brewing process as well. For example, the gravity and volume of each runoff in a batch sparge is a direct function of how much wort is reatained by the grain. Because I use batch sparge simulations to generate my brewhouse efficiency table, its accuracy depends on spent grain wort retention. The values in the table have been updated accordingly.

For water planning purposes, it's important to differentiate between lauter tun deadspaces that contain mash and deadspaces that contain wort. In a lauter tun with a pipe-like manifold, the volume below the manifold contains mash. Because a mash will compact if you keep lautering after adding all of the sparge water, you can assume that all of your wort (aside from what the grain retains) will be squeezed out of the deadspace. In other words, these types of losses are included in the 0.155 gal/lb number. The space underneath a false bottom, on the other hand, contains mostly wort. Even if your lauter tun drains from the bottom, the grainbed will try to hold the wort beneath the false bottom like a finger covering a straw. If any wort manages to escape, it'll be grainy and shouldn't be lautered anyway. As such, the volume beneath a false bottom should be treated as a deadspace regardless of your vessel's outlet location(s). These deadspaces represent equipment losses, and I assume that wort lost to equipment geometry is equal to the total volume of deadspaces that contain primarily wort. To calculate total wort loss for a given mash, I add the equipment loss to the volume of wort retained by the spent grain.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Narragansett’s Move to Wisconsin

As was reported last week, Narragansett Brewery is now shipping its beers, both cans and draft, to Wisconsin in its first move away from the East Coast.  I was lucky enough to have a few questions answered by CEO Mark Hellendrung regarding the move into Wisconsin.  In case you are looking for a little background on the company, here is some info from the Facebook page: “Narragansett Beer is New England's oldest beer, founded in 1890. It was the #1 beer New England from 1919 through the 1970's and the official beer of the Red Sox for over 30 years. It's now the 50th largest brewing company in America and was winner of the Bronze Medal at the 2008 World Beer Cup and First Place at the Great International Beer Festival in 2010.” It also has a rather famous moment in Jaws.

One of the interesting things noted in the press release was that Mark has family history in Wisconsin, so adding that to the overall craft beer climate and it’s no surprise that Narragansett is choosing to expand into the state.  “I think beer drinkers today are looking to experience different beers more than ever.  The choice to start in Wisconsin was based on my personal affection for the state and the tremendous distributor partner we have in Beechwood,” Mark said, adding, “I know firsthand the great beer tradition in Wisconsin, probably greater than any state in the country, and I trust Wisconsinites will appreciate the great quality and tradition from our company.”

I had to ask him to briefly reflect on his experience in Wisconsin and it was clear that he had a lot of fond memories in southern Wisconsin and Madison. “My Mom's family is from Watertown and my Dad’s family is from Oconomowoc.  Both of them went to UW-Madison, as did my brother. Every summer we would drive there for two weeks of vacation.  My Grandpa Schmidt’s favorite beer was Blatz, and, when I was young, lunch was summer sausage, limburger cheese, and I’d split a Blatz with my Grandma Schmidt.  To be honest, growing up I was as much of a Brewers fan with Harvey's Wallbangers as I was a Red Sox fan. There aren't many big college football programs here in the east, so the Badgers are still the team I follow.”

So what can we expect from Narragansett? Mark tells me that the beer geeks will “respect the quality of our craft styles and then choose our lager because they're somewhat tired of the mega mainstream lagers.” In case you are wondering, Narragansett currently brews a Fest, Porter, Bock and Summer in addition to their lager, light and cream styles.

Narragansett has been undergoing rapid development in the last few years. Back in January, Brewbound reported that the brewery would be hopefully open by December, and, in an update on that progress, Mark tells me that they “hope to have a big announcement in the next month or so” regarding the brewery. “We've accomplished a lot of great things since we got the beer back seven years ago, and re-building the once-proud brewery will be the ultimate achievement on our comeback trail.”

Thank you, Mark, for taking the time to answer a few questions! Everyone out here is going to be looking for their chance to grab a 'Gansett.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Great Taste Pre-Parties - The Final List

So, if you didn't know, The Great Taste of the Midwest is next week. Maybe you've heard. Anyway, some people are getting kind of excited about, so below is a list of all of those places where you can find said people.

[ed note: this list has been updated, and will continue to be updated from this point out, so bookmark it, keep coming back, whatever it is that you do]

Do you want proof that Madison Beer Review has the best readers in the world? BAM! Thank you John Parker!

View Pre-Great Taste of the Midwest: Friday in a larger map
Wednesday Night

Tallgrass Brewing Co. (KS) at The Malt House (starts at 6pm, 2 casks tapped at 8pm - 8-bit w/ Peach & Mt. Hood; 8-bit w/ Apricot, Liberty, & Mt. Hood)

Oskar Blues (CO) at Dexter's (Bourbon Barrel Ten Fidy and food prepared with Oskar Blues Hot Sauces)

Thursday Night

Furthermore Beer (WI) at Star Liquor (Free Tasting; 4pm - 7pm)

Summit Brewing Co (MN) and B Nektar Mead (MI) at Dexter's (3-5 taps of Summit and 4 of B Nektar)

Founders (MI) at Coopers Tavern (5pm)

Oskar Blues (CO) at Up North Pub (7pm)

Lagunitas (CA) at Jordan's Big 10 Pub (7pm)

August Schell Bus Tour (7pm - 12am): 7-8pm: Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry; 9-10pm: Schellter Bar n Grill; 11-12am: JB’s Italian Grille

Friday Night

The Beer Spot at Brickhouse BBQ with Central Waters (WI), Shorts (MI), and Nebraska (NE). (Central Waters and Shorts are each planning on filling 15 lines (Imperial Spruce Pilsner, Snozzleberry Griffen, and Soft Parade, among others), with Nebraska filling 10 again this year (Barrel Aged Hop God, Romancing the Cone, among others))

Pearl Street Brewery (WI) at The Majestic (w/ Sexy Esther, T.U.G.G., and DJ Nick Nice; raffling off a pair of tix to the Great Taste!)

Bell's (MI) at Maduro (of course)

Capital Brewery (WI) at Capital Tap Haus (6pm; Autumnal Fire release)

Revolution Brewery (IL) at Essen Haus (Polkaholics and $2 half-liters of Revolution beers)

Great Lakes (OH) and Lakefront (WI) at The Rigby

Furthermore (WI) at Natt Spil (5pm; Natt Stock, Oak-Aged Fatty)

Three Floyd's (IN) at Argus

Founders (MI) at Glass Nickel Pizza (Atwood; for sure on tap: Frangelican Brown, Devil Dancer, and 2011 KBS)

O'So Brewery (WI) at The Malt House (6pm - 9pm; oud bruin) and Forequarter (9:30pm – close; Oud Bruin, Grand Cru, Rusty Brett, Bourbon Barrel Night Train; Lemongrass Wit)

Red Eye (WI) and Bull Falls (WI) will also be at The Malt House (6pm - 9pm; lots of special barrels and special batches including a Lemongrass Rye from Red Eye)

Potosi Brewing Co (WI) at The Harmony Bar (5pm)

Tallgrass Brewing Co (KS) at The Up North Pub (5pm; Area 51 IPA, 8-bit w/ Raspberries cask, Nintendo and Bluegrass; Tallgrass owner and headbrewer also on-hand)

DeStihl Brewing (IL) at Brasserie V (6pm; St Dekkera Reserve, Black Torrent, Hopweizen, others)

Dave's BrewFarm (WI) and Lake Louie (WI) at The Old Fashioned (6-9pm; brewers outside; music and $3 taps inside)

Central Waters (WI) at Star Liquor (Free Tasting; 4pm - 7pm)

Goose Island (IL) at Madison's (6pm)

Toppling Goliath (IA) at Dexter's Pub (11am; 8-10 taps, a firkin of Rover Truck Oatmeal Stout [3pm], and a special 1/6 bbl of Morning Delight [9pm])

Vintage (WI) "Rarities and Archives" at Vintage Brewing Co (3pm - 7pm; Whitney Way; featuring a new Blackberry Tart; Sun D’Appled; Oude DeVille #1 – a soured Belgian barleywine aged in rye whiskey barrels, Oude DeVille #2 – aged in apple brandy barrels, Alpentraum – a smoked weizenbock, and scores others)

Lagunitas (CA) at Coopers Tavern

Oskar Blues (CO), Hinterland (WI), and New Holland (MI) at Tipsy Cow

Sand Creek (WI) at Genna's (4-6pm) and Drackenberg's Cigar Bar (7pm)

Left Hand (CO) at Come Back Inn

Sixpoint (NY) at Merchant (Spice of Life Single Hops)

Dark Horse (MI) at Alchemy

Summit Brewing Co (MN) at The Echo Tap (7pm)

House of Brews (WI) at House of Brews (Tours starting at 3pm) and also Lucky's on Regent (7pm)

Blind Pig Brewery (IL) at The Mason Lounge (7-10pm; Raspberry Wheat, Belgo-American IPA, The Mysterious 200th Brew - an Imperial stout with vanilla, bourbon oak, and coffee)

August Schell (MN) at Dotty Dumpling's Dowry (7-10pm; cheese and sausage pairing at 9pm; Meet and Greet 5th and 6th generations of owners)

Summit Brewing Co (MN) at Echo Tap (7pm)


Vintage Shuttle to Great Taste (11:30 and 12:30; Whitney Way)

Vintage After Party (Rarities and Archives; 5pm - 8pm)


Vintage "The Day After" Brunch and Growler Specials (10am; Whitney Way)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Great Taste Pre-Parties #3

The pace of returns is slowing to a trickle ... I will post a comprehensive list when I think all that are coming in will be in.


Dave's BrewFarm (WI) and Lake Louie (WI) at The Old Fashioned (6-9pm; brewers outside; music and $3 taps inside)

Great Taste Pre-Parties #2

Wednesday Night

Oskar Blues (CO) at Dexter's (Bourbon Barrel Ten Fidy and food prepared with Oskar Blues Hot Sauces)

Thursday Night

Furthermore Beer (WI) at Star Liquor (Free Tasting; 4pm - 7pm)

Summit Brewing Co (MN) and B Nektar Mead (MI) at Dexter's (3-5 taps of Summit and 4 of B Nektar)

Founders (MI) at Coopers Tavern (5pm)

Oskar Blues (CO) at Up North Pub (7pm)

Lagunitas (CA) at Jordan's Big 10 Pub (7pm)

Friday Night

Central Waters (WI) at Star Liquor (Free Tasting; 4pm - 7pm)

Goose Island (IL) at Madison's (6pm)

Toppling Goliath (IA) at Dexter's Pub (11am; 8-10 taps, a firkin [at 3pm], and a special 1/6 bbl of Assassin [late night])

Vintage (WI) "Rarities and Archives" at Vintage Brewing Co (3pm - 7pm; Whitney Way)

Lagunitas (CA) at Coopers Tavern

Oskar Blues (CO), Hinterland (WI), and New Holland (MI) at Tipsy Cow

Sand Creek (WI) at Genna's (4-6pm) and Drackenberg's Cigar Bar (7pm)

Left Hand (CO) at Come Back Inn

Sixpoint (NY) at Merchant (Spice of Life Single Hops)

Dark Horse (MI) at Alchemy

Red Eye (WI) and Bull Falls (WI) will also be at The Malt House (6pm - 9pm; with O'So; lots of special barrels and special batches including a sour wee heavy from O'So and a Lemongrass Rye from Red Eye)


Vintage Shuttle to Great Taste (11:30 and 12:30; Whitney Way)

Vintage After Party (Rarities and Archives; 5pm - 8pm)


Vintage "The Day After" Brunch and Growler Specials (10am; Whitney Way)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It's That Time Again - Great Taste Pre-Parties #1

Wednesday Night [ed note: what!? sweet!]

Tallgrass Brewing Co. (KS) at The Malt House (starts at 6pm, 2 casks tapped at 8pm)

Friday Night

Yet again, The Beer Spot are the first to report [ed note: thanks guys for kicking me in the butt and reminding me it was about time to start posting this stuff]. And, yet again, The Beer Spot is at Brickhouse BBQ with Central Waters (WI), Shorts (MI), and Nebraska (NE). "[W]e're planning on filling all of the available 40 tap lines. Central Waters and Shorts are each planning on filling 15 lines, with Nebraska filling 10 again this year. Rumors are that we'll have some cask beer this year as well, and we've been talking with a fourth brewery about taking a couple of lines."

Pearl Street Brewery (WI) at The Majestic (w/ Sexy Esther, T.U.G.G., and DJ Nick Nice; raffling off a pair of tix to the Great Taste!)

Bell's (MI) at Maduro (of course)

Capital Brewery (WI) at Capital Tap Haus

Revolution Brewery (IL) at Essen Haus

Great Lakes (OH) and Lakefront (WI) at The Rigby [ed note: great pairing]

Furthermore (WI) at Natt Spil (5pm; Natt Stock, Oak-Aged Fatty)

Three Floyd's (IN) at Argus

Founders (MI) at Glass Nickel Pizza (Atwood; for sure on tap: Frangelican Brown, Devil Dancer, and 2011 KBS)

O'So Brewery (WI) at The Malt House (6pm - 9pm) and Forequarter (9:30pm - close)

Potosi Brewing Co (WI) at The Harmony Bar (starting at 5pm)

Tallgrass Brewing Co (KS) at The Up North Pub (starting at 5pm)

DeStihl Brewing (IL) at Brasserie V (starting at 6pm)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Investing in Breweries - A Sample Treatment

So, posting around here has been a little slow lately. A lot of that is related to a busy personal life and a busy professional life. Luckily, we have a new writer, Kevin Ramakrishna, to pick up some of the slack. He's written two great articles about two great bars in the Madison area. He's got some more stuff in the works that I hope you'll like.

One of the things that I am working on is a handbook. Since it's about beer, I thought you might be interested in reading what I have to say about beer. This particular sample section is about investing in breweries; namely the complex IRS rules around what happens when you invest in multiple breweries. There are a lot of other things to note about investing in breweries, as well; for example, return on investment isn't nearly as awesome as other industries because of the high capital costs and low margins.

Keep in mind, this is still a draft and will likely change considerably to its final form.

Also, please note: this is not legal advice and me writing this and you reading this does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. If you have any questions and need legal advice about investing in breweries - please talk to an attorney.

Investing in Breweries

Brewing Groups

It is entirely feasible that someone will have a financial stake in multiple breweries.  If that someone owns a large enough stake in the breweries, the State of Wisconsin calls them a “Brewers Group” or “Brewpub Group”, the federal government calls them a “Controlled Group”; for the sake of simplicity we’ll call them “Brewers Groups” because it makes more sense and the Wisconsin definition merely references the IRC definition of “Controlled Group”[1]. Brewers Groups are treated as breweries and must abide by the same rules as if all of the breweries under management were the same brewery.

For this section, a hypothetical might be illustrative: Sam, Miller, and Bud love beer and have money that they want to invest in Wisconsin breweries. They have identified 2 breweries across the state, Brewery A and Brewery B.

A Controlled Group is a term of art defined by the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) for the purpose of determining who owes taxes where a group owns multiple companies[2]. The theory is that if there is a sufficient nexus of ownership, the Controlled Group owes taxes for the sum of the companies under management of the Controlled Group; in other words, for tax purposes, all of the companies under management are considered the same company. The IRC defines 3 types of Controlled Groups: Parent-Subsidiary Groups, Brother-Sister Groups, and Combined Groups.  

Parent-Subsidiary Group

A Parent-Subsidiary Group exists where the parent company owns more than 50% of the voting stock or more than 50% of the total value of shares in each subsidiary[3].

Turning to our hypothetical: our group of intrepid investors forms a company, InvestCo Inc in which all three investors own an equal share. InvestCo invests in Brewery A (5,000 bbls) and Brewery B (10,000 bbls). In exchange for their investment, InvestCo receives 50% of the common stock of Brewery A and 60% of the common stock of Brewery B. In this first example, InvestCo is not considered the Parent of Brewery A (not more than 50%), but would be considered the parent of Brewery B; InvestCo is thus responsible for ensuring Brewery B’s taxes are paid for 10,000 bbls of output. If we change this example, so that InvestCo receives 51% of the common stock of Brewery A, then InvestCo is a Parent of both Brewery A and Brewery B, and would pay taxes on 15,000 bbls of beer.

Controlled Groups particularly become an issue where the excise taxes are stepped or tiered. For example, in Wisconsin, a brewery under 300,000 bbls only pays $1 per barrel on the first 50,000 bbls, and the $2 per bbl over 50,000 bbls[4]. If the brewery is over 300,000 bbls, it owes $2 per barrel on every barrel produced.

Returning to our hypothetical: if Brewery A produces 25,000 bbls and Brewery B produces  25,000 bbls, the InvestCo owes taxes on 50,000 bbls ($1 per bbl). However, if Brewery A produces 30,000 bbls, and Brewery B produces 40,000 bbls, then InvestCo owes taxes as if it produced 70,000 bbls. In other words, while independently each brewery would only owe $1 per barrel (total $70,000), together InvestCo (as the Parent) owes $1 per barrel on the first 50,000 bbls ($50,000) and $2 per barrel on the remaining 20,000 bbls ($40,000), for a total of $90,000. You can see how this only multiplies if the Brewers Group is pushed over 300,000 bbls.

Brother-Sister Group

A Brother-Sister Group exists where 1-5 individuals[5] cumulatively own more than 50% of the voting stock or more than 50% of the total value of shares in the companies. This rule comes with a caveat: the ownership interest is considered only to the extent that the stock ownership is the same for each investment[6].

Hypothetical: Sam, Miller, and Bud decide not to form InvestCo because they don’t want to risk being a “Parent” to their investments. Instead, they each decide that they will buy stock in Breweries A and B individually. Sam buys 10% of the common stock of Brewery A and 20% of the common stock of Brewery B. Miller purchases 30% of the common stock of Brewery A and 20% of the common stock of Brewery B. Bud purchases 20% of the common stock of Brewery A and 20% of the common stock of Brewery B.

Brewery A
Brewery B

Under the IRS definition, Sam, Miller, and Bud do not constitute a Brewers Group because, to the extent the stock ownership is identical, the common ownership does not exceed 50%, even though all three have the majority of common shares of both breweries. If Sam had purchased 11% of Brewery A instead of 10% (or Miller had purchased 21% of Brewery B), the group would be considered a Brewers Group because the Group would cumulatively own more than 50%.

Combined Group

A Combined Group happens when a company that is part of a Brother-Sister Group is the Parent in Parent-Subsidiary Group. Then, the Subsidiary is also considered part of the Brewers Group.

Our hypothetical hits the big stage here:  Sam, Miller, and Bud went in and purchased Breweries A and B as shown in Table 1, except that Sam actually purchased 11% of Brewery A, thus making a Brewers Group. Breweries A and B are swinging along nicely; Brewery A produced 110,000 bbls, and Brewery B produced 150,000 bbls. Brewery B is looking to expand to the East Coast, but rather than open a new brewery there, Brewery B chooses to just purchase 55% of Brewery C, a 30,000 bbl brewery that is currently operating under-capacity. Brewery B has an additional 20,000 bbls brewed at Brewery C to kick-off its East Coast distribution. Under the Combined Group Rule, Brewery C is considered part of the same Brewers Group and Breweries A and B, and the combined barrel production is 310,000 bbls.

The excise tax math follows:
Brewery A (if independent): 110,000 bbls: (50K * $1) + (60K * $2) = $180,000
Brewery B (if independent): 150,000 bbls: (50K * $1) + (100K *2) = $250,000
Brewery C (if independent): 30,000 bbls + 20,000 bbls (contracted by Brewery B): (50K * $1) = $50,000
Total as independents: $480,000

Combined Brewers Group: 110K + 150K + 50K = 310K bbls: (310K * $2) = $620,000

One final note: this treatment has only dealt with Wisconsin taxes. Federal excises taxes, which also have to be paid, are stepped as well.

[1] Wis. Stat. 125.02(2d)(2p)
[2] 26 USC 1563
[3] In the usual case, the rule is 80%, however, 26 USC 5051(a)(2)(B) amends this to 50% for Brewer Groups.
[4] Wis. Stat. 139.02
[5] Or estates or trusts.
[6] 26 USC 1563(a)(2): “…taking into account the stock ownership of each such person only to the extent such stock ownership is identical with respect to each such corporation.” For comment and explanation see: COMMENT: Proposed Revision of I.R.C. § 1563(a)(2): A New Definition for Brother-Sister Controlled Groups., 34 Hastings L.J. 665

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: Brasserie V

Brasserie V doesn’t necessarily represent something entirely novel or innovative but it is something cohesive, interesting, and polished. From the chalk boards noting the specials to the distressed wood floors, it doesn’t feel like I’m leaving the Midwest but, instead, like a place I could linger at for hours.

Of course, if I had my way, I would be doing my drinking at home and perhaps cooking. Invariably, Katie does not much care for my attitude, and, quite frequently, I find myself actually having to interact with society.  In this case, however, Brasserie V was a place I had read about for some time before moving here and passing it up would have been a huge mistake.

Brasserie V is a Belgian restaurant on Monroe Street on Madison’s near west side.  Built into a strip of commercial enterprises, it sits in the heart of the community a few blocks from Camp Randall.  The food is local and the beer is plentiful, with the menu listing options well into the hundreds.  Getting there early on a Saturday is a must if you want to eat. And eat you should.

We are seated at the first table in from the door. The wood floors and deep mahogany bar drip with invitation to stay, talk and slowly digest every morsel of sight and smell. The tap selection is robust with Belgians and my wife orders a SaisonDupont.  Drinking Belgian on a summer day is an easy decision, but I can’t ignore a special release and go with a Sixpoint Nugget IPA from their Spice of Life series, which is something I might not get a chance to try otherwise.  The Nugget is served in a proper snifter, with the cloudy gold and orange popping from the dark corner of our table.  The hops (nugget, from whence the beer’s name comes) here are primarily for bittering. Grapefruit on the nose with a touch of harshness on the tongue from significant spice notes.  A solid beer even if not my favorite, but where it shined was on the first course.

Beer and food are often talked about as being a great combination, but, much like with wine, only rarely do great pairings come together.  We go with a cheese course: blue, 10 year old cheddar, and a creamy cheese that was something like a harder brie. The Nuggets shined with the cheddar.   Allowing the cheddar to slowly melt and coat the palate with rich fat is the best way to sample the beer.  The hop bitterness subdues, shifting the flavor profile to the citrus grapefruit and wiping clean the remains of the nutty cheese.

And in case you were wondering, the Saison Dupont was exceptional.  Served in a proper Dupont glass the banana, apple and pear shine through. Saison Dupont never disappoints but this was the first time I had a draft version. As a rule, Dupont is recommended for any novice beer drinker looking to impress a snob but still actually enjoy the contents in the bottle.

My next beer was a Bockor Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge. An unblended lambic fitting the profile of a Flemish red. I won’t attempt to pretend that more than two flavors exist here: cherries and sour.  Deep rich cherry sitting in something akin to balsamic vinegar. Outside of a Cantillon, this is as sour a beer as I’ve ever had.  Absolutely superb and perhaps the only beer to truly make me pucker like I was biting into a lemon.  While this may sound odd for a beer, the sourness is a result of wild fermentation that’s as traditional as beer itself and difficult to emulate.  Months of aging are required to truly develop the flavor of a yeast strain called brettanomyces (brett).

The beer perfectly matched the rich meat of duck confit sitting on a bed of swiss chard with bits of rhubarb.  The duck confit was perfectly crisp and moist.  The sourness of the beer cutting through the oily fat and recharging the palate.

Brasserie V is doing everything right.  The food is fresh and simple but executed exceptionally well.   The beer is served properly and tasted phenomenal.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Madison Beer Review

Eh. She's OK. The Bieb likes her more than I do, but whatev.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Press Release Thursday: Bos Meadery


I have a love-hate relationship with mead - I either love it or hate it and there's very few that I'm indifferent to. Colleen makes the good stuff.

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

The Near East Side Has Another Addition to Its Vibrant Food and Drink Culture

Add mead—honey wine, the world’s oldest fermented beverage—to the growing array of craft beverages produced in Madison, Wisconsin. Bos Meadery, located at 849 East Washington Avenue, Suite 116, is Madison’s first meadery.

Mead is experiencing a renaissance in the US. In the past year The New York Times, Forbes and National Public Radio have all reported on the rise of mead as a growing trend in the world of craft beverages. As mead gains popularity on both coasts, Madison, with its community of locavores, craft brew drinkers, and beekeepers, is primed to welcome local mead. While a few wineries in Wisconsin produce mead, Bos Meadery will be the first facility dedicated solely to mead production.

Bos Meadery was founded by Colleen Bos, a long-time homebrewer and meadmaker who attended the world-renowned Siebel Institute’s Concise Course on Brewing Technology.  “Mead is similar to wine in alcohol content,” Bos notes, “but it lends itself to the same kind of creativity with ingredients—herbs, spices, fruits, and more—that craft beer offers” Bos has over 12 years of experience as a project manager in research and technology fields, and her background in medieval studies gives her a unique perspective.

“Our dry and sparkling meads are different from the traditional sweet mead of ancient and medieval lore,” she says. “These meads are a new breed of refined beverages that are lighter on the palate, and suitable for pairing with a wide variety of foods.”

Bos Meadery is committed to local agriculture and uses local and regional ingredients wherever possible. The honey used in the mead isn’t boiled, and is treated gently to maintain its natural aromatic qualities. Bos Meadery puts a great deal of emphasis on yeast science and nutrition to ensure the healthiest fermentation and a smooth drink.

Bos Meadery started production on July 13, 2012 and anticipates having mead available for sale starting September 1, 2012. The facility will produce about 1,000 gallons of mead in the first year. Tours and tastings are available by appointment, with a tasting room in the works. Bos Meadery is working with Beechwood Sales/Specialty Beverage of Wisconsin for distribution. It will be available at many local bars, restaurants, and retail locations.

Bos Meadery is also launching a Kickstarter campaign to help ensure it gets off to a good start. You can find the project at:


Sunday, July 15, 2012

The New Guy Finds His New Bar


Two months ago I moved here with my wife from upstate New York to be closer to family.  Moving across the country tends to bring about a small amount of upheaval and the need to find new norms for comfort.  I drink beer which means I have a need to slip into the local beer culture in order to get a sense of the community.  My first effort was to track down a new watering hole.  Luckily, I didn’t have to go far as Eddie’s Alehouse in Sun Prairie is stumbling distance from home.    

Eddies isn’t a classy, deep mahogany kind of bar. It’s a wood paneling and grease stain kind of bar. On my first visit I am accompanied by my wife, Katie, and her mother, a pseudo-Wisconsinite by way of Illinois after spending a life time in the Northwoods.  She brings with her the claimed knowledge of the video machines that actually pay out.  I’m skeptical, but to her credit, she tends to win…

We walk into Eddie’s to find a packed house. The bar is at capacity. Two girls are nearest the door drinking some golden elixir from Chimay glasses. Proper glassware is always appreciated. More of the same all the way down to the opposite wall where the kitchen opens to the bar. Tables here range from small and round to comfortable for six. The beer menu can be found on the dry erase boards mounted to the wall behind the bar or in a handy printed format, but beware, the print might be outdated. Either way, there are no prices, only ABV content for each selection.  There is no wait staff except to clear the piled up glasses. Drinks and food are ordered through the bar tender.

Eddies, interestingly reminds me of any towny bar except for the 140 beer selection and friendly service even to us new comers. The walls are lined with marketing pieces for the large breweries and a few locals. Nothing here is over stated.  The tin ceiling may seems a bit out of place with the wood paneling, but I can only hope it is the original. This place could exist in any town, anywhere, and it could succeed on the stripped down, no frills ambiance combined with a robust and frequently changing beer menu. 

We order a round and steal a vacated chair in the corner by the video gambling.  From what I can tell of my mother-in-law’s excitement level, these machines aren’t going to pay out. Surprise.

For me, I cannot pass on my first chance to try Bell’s Hopslam. Weighing in at 10% ABV but smelling and appearing like a sweet mango fruit juice.  It is a notable occasion when I find a “rare” beer to be worthy of the accolades but this is as good as beer gets. As the hops release their chorus of aromas, the mélange seems to hang just below the rim of the pint glass waiting to engulf your nose in a syrupy nectar of pine and pineapple and mango. Not a hint of the alcohol to provide fair warning of the danger that lies between you and the bottom of the glass.  

While Hopslam is a double IPA, it is brewed with honey and uses its texture to provide richness and body.  Honey in beer is a complicated ingredient.  It is filled with fermentable sugars and can become a bittering agent if the yeast have their way with it. I’m not a brewer, so how Bells pulls this off so effectively is out of my expertise, however, I have had a few beers that use honey and only rarely does it work.  This is brewed once a year and most of the sales are done at the brewery in Michigan, thus making Hopslam difficult find under normal circumstances. 

As my pint glass finds its way to my lips at a far more rapid pace than I would normally allow the edges of the world began to soften. Soon I was staring at that last remnants of the laced foam on the glass.

This is actually an easy beer to ignore for the non-hop head.  Many who stick to Belgians and wheats are unlikely to give this a shot once they hear there are six hop varietals.  But IPAs in general have moved away from straight bittering hops to floral and citrus hops which make these massive beers far more approachable.

The drinking here is abnormally cheap for those coming from the east coast and the locals aren’t the “blogging while I’m drinking” crowd. Nevertheless,  I stole a picture of the Hopslam on my iPhone ever mindful of the eye-rolls directed at my back. It was a first for me, and posterity beckoned.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Catching Up On The News

- From the "Let Me Up I've Had Enough" Category: How do you keep your distributor from paying attention to someone else? Do what Anheuser-Busch ("A-B") is doing: flood your distributor with so much inventory that they don't have enough time or manpower to pay attention to anything else. "This accomplishes two things. One, it eats up space in the warehouse forcing the wholesaler to control what it can control and cut inventory levels from other suppliers which leads to recurring [Out of Stock] situations in the market and less competition at retail for [A-B]. ... Two, it takes the wholesaler focus away from competing brands as they struggle to find ways to get all that [A-B] product to market before running into code date issues."

- There are a ton of new breweries open - just in the vaguely Madison-ish area: House of Brews' tap room on Helgesen Dr is now open T, W, F from 3:30pm until the last person leaves; One-Barrel Brewing on Atwood has its doors open for good beer and snacks; Port Huron Brewing Company in the Dells has product rolling off the lines; frat boys and sorority girls, past or present, can throw on a "We'll Never Forget You Brent" t-shirt, some pink faux-RayBans, and quaff a Sconnie beer or seven; and, while it's nowhere near Madison, if you happen to be in Sheboygan the "hot-thing"-du jour is the new 3 Sheeps Brewing Co

- From the "Consumers Aren't Doing Their Job, Either" Department: Wisconsin beer sales for 2010 were the lowest in 5 years with tax revenue collected at a paltry $9.3 million. Rowland's Calumet Brewery in Chilton paid its fair share: "If (customers) are going to drink a beer in a bar, they are going to drink a craft beer," said [owner, Bonita] Rowland, who sells beers including Calumet Rye and Fat Man's Nut Brown Ale. The brewery was taxed $21 for 21 barrels." So, please, do your part to help the state economy and go to Chilton and make Rowland's brew more than 21 barrels so they have can pay more taxes, sheesh.

- Finally, two hop-related notes: first, Gorst Valley Hops has released its Bine 3060 a small-scale hop harvester; for a mere $13K around 3 people can pick and sort between 30-60 hop bines per hour instead of   6 people toiling for an hour on 1 or 2 bines. Second, New Glarus Brewing Co is planting their own hop farm down at the brewery in New Glarus; they are just making way for the rhizomes this year so it'll be 2 or 3 years before you can have a New Glarus beer that uses New Glarus hops.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Four Gallons At A Time

Behold! Krausen from 4.2 gallons of 1.121-OG Black Saison in a 10-gallon keg:

I took the picture 17 hours after I pitched the yeast, but I don't know when the foam became visible. I'm glad I didn't ferment the beer in a carboy. Anyway, I plan to add raspberries during the late stages of fermentation and mature the beer on oak chips. For the five or six of you who followed the RePublic weblog, this beer will be the sequel to my anniversary beer. My previous batch, which improved over the course of five anniversaries, died of oxidation last year while rescuing its family from the remains of a destroyed sinking battleship.

UPDATE: my last anniversary beer isn't dead! Over the last week, my wife and I cracked open three bottles so I could recover the glass. To our surprise, two of the bottles were good and one was heavily oxidized. Explaining the probable reason requires a little back story. Six years ago, the first bottle I opened was completely flat. After turning the rest of the bottles upside down to re-suspend the yeast and hopefully carbonate the beer, I noticed beer leaking through a few of the plastic Champagne corks. It turns out some the corks had holes in them, and the beer in the unaffected bottles was already well-carbonated. My new theory is that the oxidized bottles had corks with holes that were small enough to prevent beer from leaking out, but big enough to let in copious amounts of air and release some of the CO2.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Breweries vs. Distributors

Here is a relatively interesting blurb about an interesting fight playing out in Arizona between Four Peaks Brewing and their distributor Alliance Beverage Distributing.

As a general rule (indeed, I am unaware of any exceptions) distribution contracts are perpetual - meaning they have no termination date. They are for a defined geographical region, and they are exclusive to the distributor for the geographical scope and duration. Typically a geographical region is defined in counties, not in states, or even particular cities. This means that once a distributor agrees to distribute your beer in a particular region, they have the exclusive right do so for all eternity. Incidentally, this excludes even the brewery itself from distributing inside that territory.

As you can imagine, this sets up quite the conundrum for breweries. Unless they want (and are allowed) to set up their own distribution network, they need a distributor to get beer to the retailer and ultimately to you, the consumer. The price you pay at retail, let's say $9.99 for a 6-pack, represents not only the brewery's profit, but also a markup for the retailer and the distributor. Let's say the retailer is marking up 30% from distribution (x + .3x = 9.99), that means the retailer is paying something like $7.68 for that 6-pack. If we also assume that the distributor is marking up 30% that means that the distributor is paying approximately $5.91 for that 6-pack. Or, stated alternatively, the brewery is selling each six-pack of beer to the distributor for $5.91 and the distributor is making approximately $1.77 on each six-pack sold.

Thus, the brewery can only a make a profit out of the $5.91. Out of that must come cost of goods, marketing, administrative, and taxes. Unfortunately for breweries, this is also a relatively constrained cap, since consumers don't like to pay more than $9.99 for a six-pack; which means if their costs go up, the brewery can't really raise prices.

So, that is all a long-winded way to say that breweries give up considerable flexibility in pricing and profits by choosing to give up 30% of the retail price to distributors. So, when a brewery feels that the distributor isn't doing right by the contract, it makes for a very strained and difficult relationship. 

Admittedly, by engaging a distributor, breweries are also freeing themselves of the need to take on all the costs of getting beer to the retailer, including the costs of delivery reps, delivery vans, gas, storage and warehousing costs. This post is not saying that distributors don't provide value - they provide a lot of value. Except when they don't. 

The real point in all of this is how to resolve this tension - when the distribution relationship goes bad. The natural inclination is to say "find a new distributor" or "distribute it yourself". Except, the distribution laws have made this a false option. 

The brewery cannot simply unilaterally cancel the contract. In some cases, like in Arizona, the contract simply can't be cancelled without "good faith and with good cause". What does that mean? Your guess is as good as mine - it will probably take a court and 2 teams of lawyer to work that out in each case. And, that is exactly what the distributors want; the distributors know that, for the most part, the breweries simply cannot afford to litigate this point even if it might result in a favorable victory for the brewery [side note: distribution contracts tend to say that each side bears their own costs of litigation; in many other contracts, the loser may have to pay for the winner's attorneys fees, making this battle much more likely to be taken on]. 

Thus, the first law of contracts: the contract is only as good as your ability to enforce it. Thus, in Arizona, unless you have "good faith and good cause" to get out of the contract, you are stuck for now and all eternity. [ed note: this isn't strictly true, but the costs of breaking the contract are extremely high and often require leaving, not providing beer to the distributor, for a significant period of time - generally a full year or more].

In Wisconsin, this devil's deal is a little more subtle. The distribution contracts here allow breweries to terminate the contract at any time, typically with a few months' notice. Yay! Except, see Wisc. Stat. 125.33(10) - Compensation for Termination of Wholesaler Distribution Rights. Without boring you with the technical detail, Wisconsin law basically says that any "Successor Wholesaler" must pay the "Terminated Wholesaler" for the "fair market value" of the terminated distribution rights. So, yeah, you can get out of the contract, but whoever your next distributor is (including yourself if you self-distribute) has to pay "fair market value" for the distribution rights to the distributor you just canned. 

You're probably asking what "fair market value" means. Well, good question. It's usually negotiated between the new distributor and the old distributor, but tends to fall somewhere around 3 times gross revenue of the brewery's brands. 

I'll finish with an example: Brewery signs a contract for distribution with Distributor A [ed note: we'll ignore for the moment that Distributor A rarely compensates Brewery for its distribution rights; I can talk about this stupidity for hours, but we'll ignore it for now because compensation might actually come in other forms than a simple lump sum payment]. After 3 years Brewery feels that Distributor isn't doing its job - Distributor A is not timely in filling retail orders, when it does fulfill orders the orders are wrong, and the product is out of date*. But, nonetheless, over the 3 years Brewery goes from $30,000 in annual sales to $100,000 in annual sales. Brewery finds Distributor B who promises to be the best distributor ever. Brewery wants to switch from Distributor A to Distributor B. 

Here in Wisconsin, Brewery is free to cancel the contract with Distributor A at any time for any reason (not true in Arizona, apparently). However, if Brewery wants Distributor B to distribute its beer, Distributor B must pay Distributor A "fair market value" for the distribution rights; in this case, somewhere near $300,000. 

So, how badly does Distributor B want to distribute Brewery's beer? This is a giant barrier, perhaps even a bigger barrier than the outright ban because Brewery needs to find a distributor willing to shell out $300,000 for the right to distribute its brands. Incidentally, even if Brewery wants to self-distribute, Brewery is considered a "Successor Wholesaler" and must compensate the "Terminated Wholesaler" for the right to distribute its own brands - hopefully Brewery has $300,000 laying around.**

* Note: most distributors are really good, knowledgeable beer people. To the extent they screw up, it's no more frequently than breweries trying to pass off a bad batch and all the other numerous ways that breweries screw up too. I'm not trying to paint distributors in a bad light; I'm just tying to point out the tensions that this law creates and how it ends up being, on a whole, worse for breweries than for wholesalers when the deals go bad.

** These are contended points and my positing them here doesn't necessarily mean that I'm willing to admit them as absolutes. My point is only that this is how the industry treats these rules and until a brewery actually sues a distributor over this, we'll assume this is how it works.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ale Asylum, Six Point, and the Brewer's Star

Last week I mentioned in passing that the Ale Asylum logo and the Six Point logo looked awfully familiar. I certainly didn't mean to imply that any copying had been done, or that one was infringing the other. It was only to note that two people who had worked together had independently arrived at similar logos.
Well, imagine my surprise when one of the comments mentions a "six-pointed brewer's star". What the heck is a six-pointed brewer's star? I'd never heard of this. So, I started to doing some research with the intent to write a nice article about the historical oddity called the Brewer's Star.

But, I guess, some others already beat me to it. I'm not going to replicate what they've done, so you can read about the Brewers Star




In fact, I'm so clueless, but ex-Huber Brewer Hans Kestler came up with this super-nifty visual explanation of the Brewer's Star

Monday, May 28, 2012

Speaking of Hipsters and Craft Beer - Six Point Bengali Tiger

You have probably heard by now that there's a new brewery in town - Six Point Brewery from Brooklyn, New York. You may have already had some of their beers; the Righteous (a hoppy rye Pale Ale), Bengali Tiger (an American IPA), and Resin (a uber-hoppy 103 IBU hop monster) all have fairly high availability at your local brew shop (as well as their other two core brands, but those these three seem to have the highest availability).

Indeed, you're probably also aware that Six Point head brewer and founder Shane Welch went to UW-Madison and honed his chops working with Ale Asylum's Dean Coffey at Angelic Brewing Company and probably even sold you some beer-making supplies during his days working at the Wine and Hop Shop. If you weren't aware of this, you can read plenty about it here, here, and here.

Six Point already has a bit of reputation as a hipster beer - earning their bona fides by showing off their chops at a Merchant beer dinner during Madison Craft Beer Week. Frankly, I think it is unfair to classify Six Point as merely hipster pablum. Mr. Welch likes hops; so does much of America outside of the Midwest. And while Wisconsin breweries seem content to brew a core set of styles (pale ale, amber, scotch ale, porter, and IPA, usually) with the occassional seasonal or specialty thrown in, only New Glarus has the commitment to experimentation and advancement that Mr. Welch has shown. [ed note: I know you will want to argue with me that your favorite brewery brews specialty beers "all the time", but unless your favorite brewery can count their styles and brands in the dozens, it simply doesn't compare] 

In addition to the six core brands, Six Point commits to four seasonals, and another 9 semi-regulars. But that's only just the beginning as Six Point's dogmatic sense of experimentation has resulted in three series that have resulted in virtually limitless styles (a Belgian golden with German hops and shiso grown on the brewery's rooftop?). So, next time your favorite brewery says that they simply don't have the capacity to experiment as much as they'd like, tell them should like to much more often and maybe they'd find the space.

Also, is it just me, or does the Six Point logo and the Ale Asylum logo look awfully similar? 

Six Point Bengali Tiger IPA
BA (88). RB (94).
Appearance: poured from a 16-oz can into a 20oz Sam Adams glass, the generous, white, foamy, sticky head quickly rises to a nice 2-finger perch on top of a hazy new-penny copper body
Aroma: juicy grapefruit and pine are predominate, without a hint of malt in the aroma at all; indeed, the aroma is surprisingly muted here, making me wonder whether the aroma is supposed to be muted, if I'm serving it too cold, or if this can might be a little old (though, the best before date on the bottom indicates that this should be good until January 2013)
Flavor: Although clocking in at 62 IBU, the bitterness is up-front but not overwhelming; the clear focus is on hop flavor, not hop bitterness; in this regard, the juiciness of the hops comes out clear as a sunny day in Madison; the flavor explodes with pine and ruby grapefruit; the malts are reserved and definitely take a backseat.
Body: medium to medium-thin, there is a big upfront hit of flavor, which goes away quickly, but then the citrus hop finish lingers on and on and the full bitterness starts to creep in.
Drinkability: hard to tell if I should drink this one fast or slow, but I would probably drink this four-pack entirely too quickly if I weren't paying attention
Summary: If American IPAs are your thing, and they are mine, then you'll like this; if you don't need malt in your beer, you'll like it even more; I'd say that this is a "west-coast style" but, really, at this point, breweries all over the country from Stone and Sierra Nevada to Surly to Coast to Fat Head to Six Point are all making beer like this, so maybe we should just say "non-Wisconsin American IPA". Personally, I find it refreshing and a nice change of pace from the "balanced" IPAs favored by Wisconsin breweries. Is it my favorite IPA ever made? No, but so what? It's a great change of pace and they managed to beat Surly to Wisconsin,