Sunday, June 30, 2013

Four milestones made U.S. the world's craft beer champ

From Bloomberg News:
The Brewers Association, the main trade group for U.S. beer-makers, announced June 20 that the number of American breweries had surpassed 2,500, more than at any time since at least the 1880s and more than in any other nation. 
The vast majority (more than 2,300) are craft breweries, independently owned companies that make beer on a small scale using traditional ingredients. There are also, according to the association, as many as 1,559 breweries in the planning stages, most of them craft.
This growth shouldn't be surprising, given that craft beer's share of the $99 billion U.S. beer market increased to $10.2 billion in 2012, from $8.7 billion in 2011.
Go America! Go!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

All Hail the King

Pliny the Elder does it again. From the American Homebrewers Association:
For the past 11 years, we've asked Zymurgy readers to share a list of their 20 favorite beers that are commercially available in the United States. We tallied the votes, and here are the results for the 2013 Best Beers in America survey. 
Top-Ranked Beers 
For 2013, we have a five-peat! Russian River's Pliny the Elder, a double IPA, claimed the top spot for the fifth straight year. Finishing second for the fourth straight year was Bell's Two Hearted Ale, an IPA.
Top-twenty pasted below; for the complete list, visit Homebrewers Association.
  1. Russian River Pliny the Elder
  2. Bell's Two Hearted Ale
  3. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
  4. Bell's Hopslam Ale
  5. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
  6. Founders Breakfast Stout
  7. Arrogant Bastard Ale
  8. Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye IPA
  9. Lagunitas Sucks
  10. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
  11. Stone Ruination IPA
  12. North Coast Old Rasputin
  13. Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA
  14. Stone Enjoy By IPA
  15. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  16. The Alchemist Heady Topper
  17. Firestone Walker Double Jack
  18. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout
  19. Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale
  20. Firestone Walker Wookey Jack

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Bikes and Beer

I'm sure the 2 people that read this will remember when I recently wrote about beer-oriented development and mentioned some of the great synergies between biking and beer (disclaimer: ride responsibly). I even concluded with the suggestion that Surly Brewing and Surly Bikes team up, not aware at the time that Surly Bikes is also a Minnesota company. Well, I'm proud to say that our new home state of Wisconsin is a place that embraces this idea whole-heartedly. The state is famous for its long tradition of beer-centric culture. Perhaps you've heard of our professional baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers. The name is not for coffee like some probable PacNW minor league franchise (though I could see the name working in Portland for several reasons), we're talking about beer here. WI ranks 9th in the number of craft breweries per capita and is home to Macro-brewer Miller and Pabst (formerly). The state has even received some recent negative attention for the amount of drinking, beer or otherwise, that its residents do. We continuously rank high for binge drinking frequency and number of drinks (recent MMWR on alcohol consumption). Not exactly a point of pride but you can see how beer is a part of the life here. See if you can find Wisconsin on this quickly-becoming-classic map of (county-level) grocery store to bar ratio.

Wisconsin is also home to several well-known bicycle and bike parts manufacturers, including Trek, Saris, Planet Bike, and Pacific Cycle which now owns Schwinn and Mongoose. Though it has slipped recently, the state is still in the top 10 nationally for overall bike-friendliness. There are networks of trails that connect cities through natural prairies and along classic Midwest cornfields. The state is also relatively flat, but not as boring as, say Kansas (sorry Kansas). This makes it a great state to tour by bike, and when you combine that with great craft breweries sprinkled across the landscape it can make for a epically delicious trip.

Now while I'm gushing about this state, I should disclose that I've lived for less than a year, but you find out about these things pretty quick here. Sure, I'm into beer and bikes but they're also a big part of life here. When I recently became a member of the Wisconsin Bike Federation I was also given a free copy of their new quarterly(?) magazine. There was a great piece in there about a brewery tour across the state by bike (found here) which prompted this post. An interactive map of their trip is below. Now, who else is thinking DSBC outing?

View Badger Craft Brewery Trail in a larger map

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Madison Craft Beer Week

Sunday wrapped up Craft Beer Week in Madison. I was able to make it to several events and learn about many new breweries, most from this neck of the woods. The whole 10-day 'week' kicked off on Friday the 3rd with several Fish Fries around town. The Friday evening Fish Fry is a tradition in Wisconsin. I'm embarrassed to say that we haven't really made it to one of these since we got here. We chose to head a bit out of town and try Quivey's, a great beer restaurant housed in some old barn buildings about 5 miles outside Madison. We still haven't been to a WI fish fry. By 5:30 the wait was estimated around 45 min and with hungry toddler at the end of the day we opted to head home.

On Saturday I made plans to join recently knighted friend Dr. Andrew Stuhl (the leading candidate to start up the MadCityBeerClub with me if he weren't leaving) at One Barrel Brewing Company for an early opening and free pint glass+2 beer deal before 4PM. We made it around 3, but they were out of pint glasses. We enjoyed some of their small batch beers, had good conversation, watched the fake Kentucky Derby, and learned to shoot dollar bills into the ceiling.

I took a few nights off before heading out to Harmony Bar for rare beer night. I was using it as an excuse to check out the neighborhood we were thinking of moving to. But the bar was hosting a couple interesting breweries as well, including gypsy brewers Evil Twin and Stillwater. Bridgeport was also there, as the relative old timer of the craft beer game, along with two local new comers Hophothesis and St. Francis. A good variety. The bar has a great reputation as a classic family/bar atmosphere (very WI), and we are moving basically across the street. If (when) you come visit we'll go there for sure.

On Thursday the family made it to a happy hour at the Old Fashioned on the Square to celebrate the previously mentioned Dr. Stuhl's successful defense. The event coincided with a beer event by another WI newcomer, 3 Sheeps Brewing from Sheboygan. They have a small beer lineup at the moment, but it is filled with great and interesting session beers, like the Baad Boy Black Wheat Ale. The brewery's founder told me that this is exactly what they were going for with these first releases.

All in all the week was a success I would say. It got me out to places I would not have otherwise gone, and had me trying beers I would not have otherwise tried. Someone complained to me recently that they said it had become too popular and every event now is packed. Indeed, we had to pass on a fish fry because it was too well-attended and lost out on a pint glass because of high demand. If hops don't kill the craft beer movement (I could see the changing climate's impact on hop production playing a role), maybe it will be crushed by its own popularity.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Your Brain Loves Beer

New research has found that drinking beer releases pleasure chemicals in the brain and makes you happy. Makes sense, pleasure chemicals (beer) go in your mouth and seconds later glands in your brain produce more pleasure chemicals (dopamine); and in fact it has been known for awhile that when you get drunk you feel pretty good (until you don't, when you're no longer drunk). This new research found that just the first sips of a beer can lead to the dopamine release.

When the men tasted the beer, their brains released much higher levels of dopamine within minutes, compared to when the same test was conducted on the subjects at other times with both water and Gatorade.

This finding is important for describing why some folks are more prone to alcoholism than others. The dopamine response is highest is those with a family history of alcohol abuse and addiction. Differing physiological response to beer may help explain why it is harder from some people to stick with sobriety. I found it weird that the study singled out men. Also, there was no examination of the effect of different tasting beers. So no explanation for what might explain how DSBCer's come to discover their affinities. Still, how do I get involved with this research?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Beer Oriented Development

Cross-posted at vargocity

Twin Cities' Surly Brewing recently won a plea to change a law that allow it to sell beer in its Brewery. Prior to the ruling makers of beer could give out glasses of beer for free during tours but could not sell and make beer in the same place. This prevented them from opening a restaurant or bar in the brewery. The Brewery's owner, Omar Ansari, petitioned the state to change the law. It's a law that is on the books in about half the states.

The ruling paved the way for more of Omar's business ventures, including looking for a site to open a new brewery and restaurant. This week, it was announced that Surly bought a site in St. Paul. It moves them closer to the city(s) and allows them to create a "destination brewery." Making the site of beer production one that is more connected with other businesses and communities in the St. Paul area. Surly also choose a brownfield site that is eligible for grants to assist with environmental remediation. The site's proximity to existing and planned neighborhoods and economic centers also makes it elegible for transit-oriented-development grants from the county. The national, state, and local laws that incentivize remediation of industrial locations, develop sites near transit, and encourage awesome local beer production (and drinking) came together to produce a great example of a new economic development model for cites. That model is based in beer.

The "destination brewery" that Surly hopes to create is perhaps the new 'must-have' storefront for thriving downtown revival. I love that they chose a site that is strategically placed to be transit-(and maybe bike)-friendly. Omar, says the craft beer business is booming in the Cities and hopefully they can create the type of bike and beer atmosphere that already exists in a couple of places (if it hasn't already). In some cases, like in Portland and Asheville, the beer and bike culture has spurred more economic development in the city. The combination of biking and breweries is one that has caught the attention of more than one travel writer(Portland (again) and Madison (maybe). Asheville has even branded itself Beer City USA after winning a 2010 poll of craft beer aficionados. So, generally I love this move by Surly and the city and state. The only question I have is how long is it gonna take until the brewery realizes this obvious corporate partnership?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Great American Beer Fest Winners Announced

The 2012 Great American Beer Festival®(GABF) competition awarded 254 medals to some of the best commercial breweries in the United States. Presented by the Brewers Association, GABF is the largest commercial beer competition in the world and a symbol of brewing excellence. View the 2012 winners.
Award-winning brewers received prestigious gold, silver and bronze medals in 84 beer categories covering 134 different beer styles (encompassing subcategories), establishing the best examples of each style in the U.S. Winners were chosen from 4,338 competition entries from 666 breweries, hailing from 48 states, Washington, D.C. and Guam.
Matching its largest field of entries to date, this year’s GABF competition saw its biggest panel of judges ever, with 185 beer experts from 11 countries participating, with assistance from 120 competition volunteers.

Operation Teapot: The Effect of Nuclear Explosions on Commercially Packaged Beverages (March 1956)

cross-posted at snarglr weeks ago.

In 1956, amidst concerns of domestic nuclear fallout, the FDA and Federal Civil Defense Administration undertook a study and released a report covering the exposure of commercially packaged beverages -- including soft drinks and *beer* -- to nuclear explosion.

Mind blown. This is real. Packaged drinks, like beer and soda in cans and bottles, were placed at varying distances from a nuclear detonation. Following the mushroom cloud, their fitness for consumption and taste were evaluated.

Typical of sci-yunce, they evaluated a number of metal can types and glass bottles (all closed). The cans were either 12 or 16 ounces; glass bottles ranged from 6-28 ounces. Various combinations of bottles and cans were placed between 0.2 and 1 mile from ground zero. They were either buried, placed on the ground, or embedded loosely in earth.

So what happened?

Most of the bottles and cans lived through the blast overpressures. Most of the container failures were caused by "flying missiles" of debris, severe crushing due to structural collapse, and falling from shelves.

The ones closest to ground zero were marginally radioactive. Of course, marginal radioactivity is concerning, but the scientists state

Even the most [radioactive] beverages were well within the permissible limits for emergency use and could be consumed upon recovery...
The induced activity of the beverage container, whether metal or glass, did not carry over to the contents... Radioactivity of contents did not vary directly with radioactivity of the container. The beverages themselves showed mild induced [radioactivity]... Beer by reason of its higher natural salt content exhibiting a somewhat higher activity than soft drinks.

My favorite part, though, is when they evaluate the taste of the beverages.

Representative samples of the various exposed packaged beers, as well as unexposed control samples in both cans and bottles, were submitted to five qualified laboratories for carefully controlled taste testing. The cumulative opinions on the various beers indicated a range from "commercial quality" on through "aged" to "definitely off." All agreed, however, that the beer could unquestionable be used as an emergency source of potable beverages."

This story and study came to light by way of a blog post by Robert Krulwich that referenced a blog post entitled Beer and the Apocalypse by Alex Wellerstein. In that post, Wellerstein linked to the full report.

Wellerstein summed it up well, "For me, the takeaway here is that the next time you find yourself stocking up on beer, remember, it's not just for the long weekend -- it might be for the end of days."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Benton the Younger

Parallel posting at

Recently the Dirty South Beer Club pursued its second home brew project, again with the help of the pros at East Atlanta Brewery. The first one was a Russian Imperial Stout that was named for the arrival of the the Breed's first child, Frederick. The making of that brew was freezing and arduous, but the results were delicious. We enjoyed that beer for over a year and it kept getting better.

This time we sought to recreate what has often been referred to as one the best beers in the world: Russian River's Pliny the Elder. We got the recipe from this site which published a Russin River recipe for a home brew Pliny clone. We brewed it on Nov. 19th and were able to enjoy it in the first few weeks of the new year. This time, the group once again decided to mark the arrival of a new member by naming the beer in his honor. The beer is great, but still probably a runner -up to the original. However, I think the new label knocks the original out of the park.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Brew Gooders

Here's a repost from Bloomberg of a recent interview with the Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer for Molson Coors - a huge beer distributor - about environmental stewardship

Bart Alexander is Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer for Molson Coors, the product of a 2005 merger between the two North American brewers. He spoke recently with Eric Roston, sustainability editor.

 ER: Many people are still getting used to the notion, sometimes through caricature, of the “carbon footprint.” What’s a “beer print”?

 BA: When you put a bottle of beer down you leave a water mark on the coaster. Our company leaves a mark on the world and its people. The challenge of the “beer print” to our employees is grow our “positive beer print” and shrink our “negative beer print.” That idea came out of a bit of a crisis we had. We rolled out a very typical corporate responsibility agenda and people’s eyes glazed over. The company’s leadership team said this isn’t getting through to employees. It needs to, so fix it. A group of us went off to a little mini-retreat. After a day and a half we came up with an idea that we all looked at and said, Yeah. It’s all right. I’ll live with that if I have to…

ER: What was it?

BA: “Connecting for Good.”

ER: Yeah… That’s an issue with this whole space: It all sounds like do-gooder pablum. But really, how does this affect the stock price?

BA: Financial stakeholders ask if a company is looking at risks and opportunities in a qualitative way. At the start, we really couldn’t show our return on investment for our company itself. We did some benchmarking and had generic data. There’s some evidence that companies with corporate responsibility programs outperform the wider market. People care about whether we’re sustaining the availability of water around our facilities or we’re creating community problems. Those are business issues. That’s why we bring together the water stakeholders wherever we do business. We just had a forum in Tadcaster, a water-stressed area in the U.K. 

ER: So did Molson Coors go into this with just a sense, or was there a discrete event or study?

BA: I’m looking at our 2006 business case for corporate responsibility. It had about four pieces. A huge piece of it wasn’t driven by external metrics. It was driven by recognizing what we already felt was a part of our DNA at that point as a new company. Part of it was the no-brainer: all of the eco-efficiency measures. Employee engagement drove part of it. We had some evidence that companies with a high corporate responsibility performance have more engaged work forces. Also, we just looked at the trends: This is what’s expected of well-run companies.

ER: What’s all this look like on the ground?

BA: Here’s an example. There’s a fairly complicated system of reservoirs and pumps that deliver water to our Golden, Colo., facility. It used to run all the time, but didn’t need to. The water resources team said this is ridiculous. They requested capital expenditures to automate the whole thing, but got turned down that year. So they did manual charts to plot out by hand what the usage looked like and started turning pumps on and off. They came up with a significant reduction in both energy and water cost, just by using a back-of-the-envelope method.

ER: Is the management lesson to decline first-time requests for expensive capital?

BA: It’s to not let the lack of a sophisticated solution get in the way of a good and effective simple solution. ER: So how do you quantify fuzzy things that might affect reputation and standing? BA: This year we partnered with several organizations, including WWF in Canada to do what’s called the Red Leaf program. People can do shoreline clean-up or plant trees or event plant virtual trees through social media. Eventually we’ll be able to say how the Red Leaf program affects sales of Molson Canadian. It’s a little early right now to know that. It’s on our agenda for 2012.

ER: What peers have you learned the most from?

BA: When we started asking what guiding principles look like, we pulled a lot from the Cokes and Pepsi’s and the others of the world. Our head of supply chain had come from Campbell’s. I got to know the people at Campbell’s. I thought they were doing a fabulous job so we used them as a model. I particularly appreciated that they were reporting not just to the corporate social responsibility world but to the consumer.

ER: What are you reading?

BA: The Watchman’s Rattle. It’s a wake-up call book about what political, economic, and social challenges the world may be facing.

ER: Commodity prices are trending up globally. There are more consumers, but also staples cost more. How does that long-term trend factor into long-range planning?

BA: The beer business has fairly low profit margins, so the cost of goods is a huge driver of whether we have a good year or bad year. Not only in grains but aluminum and glass and other things. Risks in our supply of commodities are important. You look beyond just potential price and quality variations, and ask: What are some of the underlying factors that tell us a supplier has a handle on the future?

 A recap from Grist can also be found here.