07/12/14

The Trend Making American Beer Great Again (and why it went so wrong)

I recently came across the headline “Number of U.S. Brewers Exceeds 3,000“, a level suspected last seen in the 1870′s. This statistic is another piece of anecdotal evidence that beer’s heyday–in the U.S.–occurred well before prohibition, followed by its dark ages in the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s.  With the American beer industry now entering its age of enlightenment, I wanted to find a simple way to tell the whole story that wasn’t a one-off statistic.  Enter the Beer Institute.

The Beer Institute publishes an annual brewers almanac chock full of raw data dating all the way back to the late 1800′s.  Using this resource I was able to produce a chart that I think clearly shows the trends in the U.S. beer industry since 1887.   In 1887 the U.S. had 2,269 brewers producing on average 10,190 barrels of beer per year.  I suspect there were a large number of small local brewers producing  a lot of great beer. Even before Prohibition the number of brewers in the U.S. began to slide. I imagine there were many reasons for this including improved shipment methods, allowing some of these smaller brewers to extend their reach, acquiring or putting less successful brewers out of business.  What this means is while Prohibition was a catalyst to to moving beer toward its Dark Ages it was not the cause.  This trend rapidly worsened and by 1979 we had just 44 brewers in the U.S. producing on average over 4 million barrels of beer per year.  Beer production shifted from quality to quantity, good for the brewers but terrible for the consumers. Lucky for us today, beer was about to enter its Renaissance.

Beer Advocate has a fantastic timeline illustrating how this Renaissance was born, but some key events include the legalization of home brewing in 1978, the first ever Great American Beer Festival in 1981 and the birth of the brewpub in 1982.  Today, while craft beer still makes up a relatively small amount of market share there has been an obvious shift back to quality.  As of 2012–the most recent almanac data–there are 2,751 breweries operating in the U.S., producing on average 71,152 barrels of beer; 98% below the 1979 level.  While we will never know what we missed in the late 1800′s, if you are a fan of beer, now isn’t a bad time to be alive.

Here is the chart:

06/22/12

Rogue Moves From Beard to Beer…

Photo by kynan tait

Mild nausea isn’t a feeling I expect while discussing the habits of some of the world’s top brewers, but it does occur on some rare occasion. The last instance I can recollect was upon learning that Brooklyn Brewery was adopting a process known as “fat-washing” to create a bacon flavored beer. The fat-washing process includes soaking heated bacon fat in beer before it congeals at which point it’s removed while the flavor and only the bacon flavor supposedly remains.  We wrote about it on Trappist Punks a while back. LINK

Well last night it happened again, and this time caused by one of my favorite brewers, Rouge… Rogue is in the process of trying to find new wild yeast strains from their hop yards to create new truly local beers, a very honorable effort.  While they’ve succeeded in uncovering a new strain it wasn’t from their hop yards. Here’s two quotes that sum up the discovery process quite nicely, “In cooperation with White Labs, samples were collected from Rogue’s hopyard and sent to White Labs for culture and testing.” OK quite normal, but then, “As a joke, nine beard follicles were carefully cut from the beard of Rogue Brewmaster John Maier. The follicles were placed in a petri dish and sent in for testing.”

By now you’ve probably figured it out, the samples from the hop yard, all negative, the sample from John’s beard, which he has been growing since 1978, positive.  The result, “The beard yeast is currently being used in test brews to determine the perfect style & yeast combination. The beard beer, New Crustacean, will be released in early 2013.”  Possibly more disturbing than my original bilious reaction is that I still wanted to try Brooklyn’s bacon beer, and now I look forward to tasting a brew from the yeast discovered sitting in John’s 34 year old beard…  Luckily Rogue is available here in Hong Kong thanks to HopLeaf.  The article: Beard Beer

06/2/12

This Week Needs Only One Headline & It Involves Gatecrashing Cows…

A recent AP article picked up by a few local media outlets turns our attention to one of the new most serious dangers of hosting an outdoor summer barbecue with free flowing cold beer: roving herds of cattle.  That’s right — roving cattle herds are now a clear and present danger to all those partying outdoors.  Let me explain.

The South China Morning Post headline goes like this: “Gatecrashing Cows Sour the Mood at Backyard Party”.  But once you read the succinct 127-word story, you realize this title is quite tame compared to the actual events.  Apparently, a herd of cattle in Massachusetts crashed a backyard BBQ. Then, like an American version of Pamplona’s running of the bulls, they chased the attendees away from the party and began drinking their beer:  “the cows had knocked the beer cans over on a table and were lapping up what spilled… they even started rooting around the recycled cans for some extra drops.”  Here is a version of the article published by The Herald.

What worries me the most is that out of all the states in the U.S., Massachusetts has the fifth fewest number of cows. If cows can organize there in such small numbers, what can they do in states where their numbers are higher? Massachusetts is home to a meager 41,000 cows; there are 30 states in the U.S. with over a million.  Looking at the data and assuming this trend persists, outdoor BBQs may be most at risk in California, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas — all states with over 5 million cattle each.  Alaskans and Rhode Islanders may be the safest from cow-crashers as neither of those states has over 15,000 cows.  If you happen to live in a high risk state, then BBQ with caution and keep those beers locked up. You can see the number of cattle by state here to see how at risk you may be…

 

05/27/12

This Week’s Global Beer Headlines (with Commentary)

*I spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out if Guinness really built a submersible pub to celebrate its 250 year anniversary, or if this is some sort of strange internet marketing prank, so far it seems legit. In any case you can judge for yourself here is one of the articles from Arch Daily. It is being billed as a “Deep-Sea Bar”, photos are included, there may even be a video.  According to The Drink Nation, “The steel-shell sub is stationed in the Baltic at Stockholm, and has already made its maiden voyage.”  Go figure.

*Beer may help lay in-roads for trade between India and Pakistan. According to an article on the NY Daily News website, less than 2% of Pakistan’s trade was with India in 2009, but thanks to a Pakistani beer now becoming available India this figure may soon grow. Apparently Pakistani beer, which does exist, hasn’t been sold in India since the countries where partitioned in 1947.  The article goes on to discuss how this trade may also improve ties between the nations given their sometimes volatile relationship, but I think for the brewer it should do wonders for demand.  Take this point from the article, “In Pakistan, people ordering beer via room service in smart hotels have to sign a form declaring it is “for medicinal use only”. Officially, only Christian and Hindu Pakistanis (about 3% of the population) are legally allowed to drink.”  While I haven’t tried this Pakistani beer, Kingfisher hasn’t set the bar too high leaving the Indian market ripe for the taking.

 

05/26/12

The Fall of Mankind, Natty Ice in Space

In Star Trek the Motion Picture an unknown distant alien species discover a Voyager satellite, upgrade it and sends it back in Earth’s direction. In a nutshell, thanks to the alien upgrades, it became self-aware on its journey back to Earth and it turns out the Universe’s emptiness and lack of purpose can be quite depressing on self-aware space probes. In its depressed state it began blowing stuff up, including three new Klingon spaceships. In the end the Enterprise was able to resolve the problem before things got too far out of hand.

But, this irate space probe made me ask myself what grudge were the very hostile aliens from the movie Independence Day holding against the human race. The only alien to speak in the movie, using someone’s lifeless body as a puppet, said one thing, we want you to die. What could have possibly caused this visceral reaction across an entire alien species? The aliens mercilessly flattened our planets greatest cities killing millions of people without even the courtesy of a hello.

Today I found my answer. As the aliens in Star Trek discovered and upgraded Voyager Six, I fear the Independence Day aliens may have intercepted the amateur space program’s biggest mistake, launching Natural Ice into space. Imagine the delight on the aliens’ faces first realizing they have an opportunity to try one of Earth’s greatest creations, but it was the sound of that can opening that likely sealed mankind’s fate.

05/19/12

This Week’s Global Beer Headlines (with Commentary)

*A beer crime may have been committed at this year’s Preakness–I don’t mean the reported thirty minute waits to top up the $20 refillable beer mugs–apparently the mugs were being filled with Budweiser: Baltimore Sun

*Speaking of crime and beer, Darrin Annussek, a protester who apparently walked to Chicago from Philadelphia to take part in a NATO summit protest, was arrested this week.  During the raid the home brewing equipment of the out-of-towner’s host was confiscated by police, seemingly being confused for a Molotov cocktail workshop.  According to Kris Hermes, of the National Lawyers Guild, “There is absolutely no evidence of molotov cocktails or any other criminal activity going on at this building.” (Home brewers beware.) CBS Chicago (NBC Chicago also had coverage with a great headline “Beer Not Bombs”)

*Twelve upping Darrin’s walk to Chicago, 12 beer fanatics in the U.K. have undertaken a 16,337 pubs 28-year pub crawl, and I can’t imagine they’re done.  The best quote for the article comes from one of the fanatic’s girlfriends, “When I started my relationship with Kelvin, it was clear from the start that beer was part of the package.”  Mirror

* In a story from Africa, a beer shortage received first billing in a set of calamities striking Harare, Zimbabwe beating out electrical blackouts and water stoppages. Well ahead of any quotes or mentions of the importance of electricity or water conservation was this, “What we are getting erratically are quarts and cans. Pints, which many drinkers prefer, are not available.”  The word disastrous was also applied, to the beer situation.   The Herald

* Finally an item from Taiwan has me ready to book a ticket across the Strait.  Apparently until around 2002 the Taiwanese government had a monopoly on alcohol production, which they had to give up in order to join the WTO; creating the genesis of the country’s micro-brewery movement. Today, while the the old state owned company combined with imports make-up 99% of the beer market, craft brewers like Quentin Yeh should soon change that statistic.  A quote from Quentin, “Our craft beer, unlike its filtered and pasteurized cousin that comes in cans, preserves the distinctive taste of yeast with a fresh finish,”     Taiwan Today

I hope you enjoyed the headlines.

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05/13/12

Maybe not Today, Maybe Not Tomorrow, But Soon Maybe We’ll see Dogfish Head in HK

HK BeerfestYesterday, while engrossed in beer conversation at the launch party for a new Hong Kong beer distribution company, this Trappist Punk sadly made two realizations: 1) We’ve allowed this site to become terribly dilapidated; & 2) I have an intense hankering for almost any Dogfish Head or similar top notch east coast brew.  This led me to ask the owner of what seems to be a very promising distribution company about the chances of acquiring said beer in a corner of the world mostly devoid of America’s finest brewed creations.  Sadly, he informed me that not only did this seem unlikely, due to capacity limitations Dogfish has actually stopped distributing in his home state, Wisconsin.  (This should be in another post, but if you are ever in Milwaukee, make sure you give the guys over at Lakefront Brewery a couple hours of your time.)

Well, I thought, at least I asked, and to the company’s credit their repertoire includes a robust selection of Rogue beers, which I quite enjoy.  For those reading this in Hong Kong, the company is called Hopleaf and they sell retail.

Today, sitting at my PC, I came across a headline that gave me a glimmer of hope that one day (albeit probably not until I move back to the U.S.), Dogfish may finally be able to service Hong Kong — and Wisconsin again, for that matter.  The headline read, “Dogfish gets OK for warehouse build.”  I know — not that startling. But the catch was deeper in the article:

“The brewery will produce 171,000 barrels of beer in 2012. While it hopes to expand to 500,000 barrels of production within the next 10 years, Benz said there are no business plans to do so at this time.”

That’s quite an increase and maybe enough to get a few bottles out to Hong Kong.  The bottom of the article also indicates that Dogfish recently received approval to expand their current facility, which maxes out at about 200,000 bottles of beer a year.   While I am not expecting to taste Dogfish Head at next year’s Beertopia festivities in Hong Kong, I do think that as Hong Kongers continue gaining a better appreciation of American Craft beer, in no small part thanks to the guys at Hopleaf, Hong Kong may become an attractive lucrative market for all those beers I miss so dearly. By 2015, Euromonitor data — quoted by the Canadian government, strangely enough — suggests that Hong Kong beer consumption will rise to 75 million liters from 73 million this year; I suspect with availability of the right American craft beers this could easily rise above 80. Here is a link to the original article.

01/12/10

Chelsea Brewing Company Tasting at The Stag’s Head in NYC Wednesday Evening

stagThe Stag’s Head will be hosting the Chelsea Brewing Company on Wednesday evening (1/13) from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.  Pat Greene of Chelsea will be on hand to answer any questions you may have regarding the free beer you are drinking.  I have been told the beers on hand will include:

  • Bourbon barrel aged Imperial Mild (barley Wine)
  • Hop Angel IPA
  • Blue Berry Wheat
  • Frosty’s Winter Wheat
  • (Possible) Sunset Red (Pin)- CASK
  • Chelsea Stout
  • Chelsea Blonde

The Stag’s Head is one of my favorite beer spots in New York, and I have always been a big fan of the reasonably Chelsea Stout. I am really look ing forward to trying some of the brewers other offerings.  I should also mention that Chelsea’s brews are the only beers made here on the island of Manhattan (on Chelsea Piers).

Lets all go out Wednesday evening, drink some free beer, and support the blossoming beer movement here in New York City.

The Stag’s Head Address:

252 East 51st Street @ 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10022  |  212-888-2453

08/25/09

The Beer Excise Tax – a Brief History and Perspective

beer taxEarlier this year H.R.836 was introduced to the House of Representatives, if approved this bill would it would reduce the federal excise tax on beer from US$18/barrel to its pre-1991 levels of US$9/barrel.  In order to better understand the history of beer excise taxes the Punks contacted our Capitol Hill liaison Jeffrey Last, and this is what he had to say on the matter:

Excise taxes on alcoholic beverages are amongst the oldest in the history of the United States.  The first federal tax was established in 1791 as a short lived budget measure to pay off our debts from the Revolutionary war.  This tax has been reinstated several times in our history, not surprisingly either after wars, i.e. the War of 1812, to pay off debts or in the run-up to arms, i.e. the Civil War, as a means to finance them.

It was when the tax was reinstated during the antebellum period, the years just prior to the Civil War, that it was extended from just spirits to all fermented beverages including those we know and love as beer and ale.  Additionally, this tax has prevailed to the present day (minus prohibition); where today it exists at a rate of $18 per 31 gallon barrel for large producers and at $7 per barrel for smaller producers, ones that produce less than 60,000 barrels a year.  This tax is universal, so foreign and domestic brewers are equally impacted by it.

While I am in no position to determine what impact this tax has on the domestic brewing industry, I can give you the numbers on the revenue it creates and leave the judging to you.  In fiscal year 2007 the federal beer excise tax generated $3.8 billion with $3.3 billion coming from domestic brewers, and $500 million from imports.  Keep in mind these are just revenues from the federal tax of $18 per barrel.  Each state has its own excise tax that ranges from the lowest in Wyoming of $0.62 to the highest in Alaska of $33.17(ouch).

While the federal tax isn’t earmarked for anything specific other than a revenue stream, the state taxes are usually levied as a means for paying for certain state programs and initiatives.  For example, Arkansas uses their excise tax to fund education and child care development funds.

There have been many justifications for having an excise tax, both federal and local, on beer.  Some argue that these so-called “sin taxes” are a great tool for curbing habits that are deemed less than healthy, while others see them simply as a tax on a luxury item.  However, there are those who feel the rate adversely punishes lower-income individuals and feel it should be lowered or repealed.  In fact, there have been efforts by Congress recently to halve the federal excise tax on beer.

Regardless of your personal views on the matter, keep this in mind. When you go out to the bar and order a pint of your favorite brew, between 40 and 44 percent of what you pay is the various excise taxes being passed on to the consumer.

Thanks Jeff!

08/13/09

Good News Seattle, Fremont Brewery to Celebrate Grand Opening

The Fremont Brewing Company will be celebrating its Grand Opening at the Latona Pub on August 17th.  For those long-time Punk readers you may remember us highlighting this brewery in my Seattle Beer-venture posting.  For those of you who are new or need a refresher, Fremont is a small scale family-owned start-up located in Seattle’s Fremont district. The FBC is dedicated to producing high-quality sustainable beer, and I can personally vouch for the fact that they do.  To help accomplish this onerous feat the brewer sources as many locally produced organic ingredients as possible.  This includes everything from using water from a nearby river in the Cascades to buying hops grown in the Yakima Valley.  The other half of the formula comes from the owners’ passion for making the best beer possible.  I had the pleasure of meeting with the owners during my visit, and I can assure you from what I saw these guys not only mean business, but should be around for a long, long while.  I should also point out that the FBC has a long-term goal of creating a neutral carbon foot-print, and brewing with sustainability in mind.

The opening event kicks off at the Latona Pub 7:00PM sharp when the first keg of Fremont’s Universale Pale Ale will be tapped at the bar.  Fremont’s founder, Matt Lincecum will be on hand to answer your questions regarding the beer and discuss the hardships of starting a small scale environmentally conscious brewery in the midst of a severe economic downturn.  Apparently, Matt is considered a long-time regular at the Latona Pub, which ironically will be celebrating its 22nd birthday at midnight on the same night.  My only regret is that I can’t fly out to Seattle to attend, so I hope all of you in the Seattle area attend, and have one (or many) on my behalf, and please be sure to say hello to Matt for us.  Also, in the future look for Fremont Brewery six packs at a grocery store near you (if of course you are reading this in Washington state).