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:

06/2/12

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.

08/14/09

Finally, a Beer Fit for Breakfast!

Reports are coming out of a very unique beer in the works from the Brooklyn Brewery. My hope is that it finally makes drinking beer before 10 AM a socially acceptable, respectable act. It seems that brewmaster Garret Oliver is looking for ways to get bacon into beer.

The reports are sketchy at best, but it appears the beer is starting out with two parallel threads that will be blended at the end. As Garret puts it  “Either this will be the most amazingly disgusting thing you’ve ever tasted in your life, or I shall rule the earth.” I must agree, but how’s he doing it?

  • A barleywine has been brewed using malt that was smoked in the same room as a batch of Benton’s bacon (Allan Benton is apparently a legend among bacon producers).
  • A brown ale is being infused with the essence of bacon fat by a process known as “fat washing.” This process has already been used to produce bacon flavored rum and bourbon apparently (who knew?). The fat is heated until completely liquid, then mixed into the beer. Then the whole thing is chilled until the fat congeals back to a solid state and rises to the top of the beer, where it’s skimmed off. In the process, the non-fat goodness of the bacon is left behind, dissolved in the beer, while the fat is removed from it. This keeps the beer from developing a greasy mouthfeel (also lipids in beer have a nasty effect on head retention as they interfere with the formation of the protein matrices that form bubbles). The brown ale will then be aged in Bourbon barrels.

In the end, these two forces will combine like antimatter to produce a beer that may very well change the world as we know it. I wait with bated breath, very excited and a little afraid…

08/4/09

Jurassic Pub: Truly Ancient Ale

Mad scientists extracting ancient DNA molecules from fossilized amber, resurrecting long dead beasts and unleashing them on an unsuspecting modern world as part of some half-baked, twisted commercial scheme. Hollywood horsepucky you say? Think again my friend. Truth, you see, can be even stranger than fiction. A certain hybrid, made possible by frightening science, has recently come to my attention: The Tyrannosaurus Rat. No, not the ones living in the sewers under Manhattan; I’m talking about a beer, one unlike any the world has ever seen.

The first batch was brewed in 2006, when Peter Hackett of northern California brewpub Stumptown teamed up with famed mad scientist (and real-life inspiration for the Michael Crichton novel Jurassic Park) Raul Cano of California Polytechnic to brew a hybridized version of his Rat Bastard pale ale that is nothing short of an abomination. What was so different about this simple pale ale? It was brewed with yeast that had lain dormant for 45 million years, buried deep in amber – fossilized tree sap – from an age before man, at the dawn of modern mammals.

Cano had generated a great deal of interest and controversy in the mid nineties by claiming to have cultured microorganisms (thousands in all) from the remnants of amber. Among the many species in his catalog were several strains of yeast closely related to Saccharomyces cerevisiae-he had found ancient ale yeast and brought it back to life! Cano never intended his research to create tasty beverages. In fact he had started his company, Ambergene, with the far loftier goal of synthesizing new antibiotics from the microorganisms, but the company later folded by 1997 when the investors (among them several major pharmaceutical companies) lost patience in the lack of progress. The only marketable idea that seems to have come from the venture was when a homebrewer on Cano’s staff decided to culture up some of the ancient yeast and brew a series of beers from it: T-Rex Lager, Stegosaurus Stout, Jurassic Amber Ale, and Ancient Ale. These beers were served at the wedding of Cano’s daughter, as well as the wrap party for Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World.

So how do you bring bugs back to life after 45 million years? Many microorganisms (including yeast strains) actually go into a state of deep hibernation when they run out of the things necessary to sustain life. If they are preserved from exposure to the elements, say by being trapped in virtually air- and water-proof fossilized amber, they can apparently stay alive and hibernate…for a very long time. This makes it relatively simple (I’m sure!) to reconstitute them; simply sanitize the bejeezus out of the outside surface of the amber (Cano used disinfectant, ultrasound, ethanol, and fire) to prevent modern contaminants from interfering with the sample, then dip it in liquid nitrogen to make it brittle, break it into many small pieces, and then stick it in a solution of microorganism chow and other nutrients and wait. The controversy I spoke of wasn’t so much over the risk of culturing some sort of andromeda strain from the amber or other ethical concerns, but more about the risk of modern contaminants. Most of the bacteria and other microorganisms Cano found were actually closely related to modern species, and considering 95% of modern bacteria has not been identified, let alone studied by scientists, it was hard to say whether Cano’s bugs were coming from inside the amber or outside. Even Cano initially thought the cultures growing in his petri dishes were contaminations that were keeping him from studying the dead bugs he was looking for, but with time this hypothesis changed, he isolated thousands of species, and his work was peer reviewed, replicated on several occasions by other teams, and eventually published in the journal Science.

And what about the beers? Cano’s Fossil Fuels Brewing Company is currently working with two northern California brewers: Hackett at Stumptown Brewery is producing a pale ale, and Joe Kelley at Kelley Brewing makes what can be referred to as a “Belgian” hefeweizen. Neither are available outside of northern California at the moment, but reports from the field indicate that the yeast features clove and other unique phenolics that gives the hefeweizen a bit of a “Belgian” feel. The strain has also been described by hacket as having a “gingery” tang, and several sources make mention of smooth fruity notes, citrusy but not overly sour. Either beer appears to be a must-have if you can get one.

So when will we get it on the east coast? Hard to say. They are expanding draft offerings (with presumably fake amber chunks in the tap handles) throughout California as we speak, and are in talks with contract brewers to ramp up production of bottles for wider distribution, but considering the fledgling brewing company has taken nearly three years to get this far, there’s no telling how long that will take.

So in the meantime, us Punks will have to wait (or pull together funds for that Pacific Coast Highway road trip we’ve always wanted to take) and see where this truly unique yeast will show up next. Reports indicate that Joe Kelley of Kelley Brewing would like to see it in a scottish wee heavy, so you’ll likely find it there before you find it at our local Sunset Grill and Tap, unfortunately.

If you want to listen to me geek out on this truly astonishing yeast strain from the perspective of a knowledgable homebrewer, don’t forget to check out my Technical Addendum.

08/4/09

Jurassic Pub: Technical Addendum

In another post, we’ve told you all about the ancient yeast Raul Cano resurrected from fossilized amber, and the very special pale ale and hefeweizen that were created with it. Now down to business…time for this homebrewer to geek out on what makes this ancient yeast so very unique, and why the entire story is so special to begin with.

It should be noted right from the start that creating beer from ancient yeast was quite a long shot from the very beginning, and Peter Hackett of Stumptown knew this when he signed on to collaborate with Cano on the project. Even though we speak of ale yeast as a species (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), there is a great deal of variation within that species; the very variation that helps gives rise to the plethora of variety present among ales brewed the world over. Many strains of the yeast simply don’t perform well in the hostile environment that is wort, with its alcohol and acidity, not to mention the limited availability of oxygen. Any homebrewer knows that viability (health) of the yeast is very important, even with modern yeast…what effect would 45 million years in amber have on the viability of the strain? The bottom line is, this yeast was very unlikely to create a reasonable beer at all, let alone a critically acclaimed one which Hackett himself said was like nothing he’s ever had before.

To his credit, Hackett decided to press on, and found that this was indeed a very unusual strain. When first pitched, the yeast takes longer than most modern ale yeast to kick in, but when it does – make room. It has a very vigorous, even violent, top-fermenting initial phase that creates a very thick foam at the top of the fermenter. Then it does something I’ve never heard of in an ale yeast. It drops to the bottom of the fermenter, leaving the wort nearly clear. Normally this would be called flocculation and mark the approximate end of fermentation, when the yeast goes dormant to wait for more food (though more accurately a small portion of the yeast would remain in suspension and keep working longer, after other cells had flocculated). But Cano’s yeast doesn’t stop working. It keeps going, fermenting on the bottom of the vessel like a lager yeast would. Eventually, when fermentation slows to the point where the brewer is ready to put an end to it, they “crash” the yeast by cooling it to near freezing temperatures, causing any remaining yeast in suspension to finally give up and flocculate to the bottom so that they can be removed and the beer can be bottled. But here again, Cano’s yeast had other plans; refusing to crash, it simply keeps going – for another month! Apparently a 45 million year nap leads to an epic case of the munchies…

There are two other unique features about the yeast I’d like to mention. One is that it likes to work hot, even for ale yeast. It’s been used in a pale ale that ferments above 70 F, and a wheat beer that ferments at 68 F. My sources suggest that typical temperatures for these two styles would be something around 67 for a pale and as low as 62 for a hefeweizen (though there is some debate that would place it as high as 67, but I’ll go with Jamil Zainasheff on this one). I would speculate that this is because the Eocene epoch from which the yeast hails had a much warmer, tropical climate than the one we currently inhabit, and the yeast was evolved to this climate. My intuition would be that this higher temperature would mean more esters and phenols (fruit and spice) in the finished beer, and tasting notes of others (which were discussed in our other article) seem to bear this out.

Another unique feature is that the strain is apparently unable to digest any but a small range of carbohydrates, far fewer than modern brewer’s yeast. Cano believes this also contributes to the spicy character of the finished beer, though I’m not sure why since I’ve never heard of unfermentable sugar lending a spicy character to beer. On the other hand, unmalted wheat and rye are often described as lending a unique spiciness regardless of the yeast used, so maybe he is on to something. This does remind me of something I read recently about the difference between beer yeast and wine yeast. Apparently wine yeast also works with a smaller range of carbohydrates, and this gives beer made with wine yeast a cloying (overly sweet) finish, unless it is coupled with a beer strain or enzymes are added to the wort to break up the larger carbohydrates into simpler ones. They seem to have gotten around this for the Pale ale by using a lower starting gravity instead – less sugar in the beginning means that even though less is eaten, there is still less residual sugar at the end. A typical pale ale would start at a specific gravity of about 1.058 to 1.065, but the pale ale brewed by Hackett starts at only 1.050, which means that there is roughly a fifth less sugar dissolved in the wort at the start of fermentation.

As for those bottles they intend to roll out to the rest of the country…Cano has patented the yeast strain, and sequenced its genome so that he can enforce the patent. This would prevent unauthorized brewers from conjuring up cultures of the stuff from the dregs of these bottles (apparently Cano doesn’t intend to filter the product). I am ambivalent about this, because while I respect his right to protect his “babies” as he calls them, I’d like to see such a unique strain be as widely available as possible to further the cause of innovation and creativity with its use. However, I suppose this is where homebrewers come in to play; after all, Rogue’s patent on its PacMan yeast hasn’t stopped many a homebrewer from trying their hand with a sample.

07/30/09

Jim Koch Responds to President Obama’s Beer Choice on CNBC

Earlier in the day it was announced that President Obama would be drinking Bud Light, Professor Gates Red Stripe, and Officer Crowley Blue Moon. The issue CNBC raises is that none of these beers are actually produced by a fully owned US company. Anheuser-Busch is now run by Belgium’s Inbev, Blue Moon is produced by the Molson Coors Brewing Company in Toronto, and Red Stripe is a product of Jamaica.

07/27/09

A President, A Professor, & A Police Officer Walk into a Bar, What Do They Order?

Unfortunately, this isn’t the start of a joke.  As many of you know President Obama has recently invited Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Officer Jim Crowley to the White House for a beer to resolve differences stemming from Professor Gates recent arrest.  This Punk has no intention of supplying any additional social commentary, but may have found the perfect beer for the occasion.

Let’s start with something all of these men have in common, that’s Boston (or more accurately Cambridge).  President Obama is a graduate of Harvard Law, Gates is a Professor at Harvard, and Crowley is a Cambridge Police Officer.  Now we all know Boston has its fair share of great beers.  The beer which immediately comes to mind, and most people’s obvious choice, would be Sam Adams,  but despite my love for Sam this beer isn’t really brewed in Boston anymore. The showpiece Boston brewery is only used as a research and development facility, with most of their brewing taking place in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

So we move on, the next choice would likely be Harpoon, another solid Boston brewery, but somehow this just doesn’t seem to fit the bill.

This brings us to my nomination…

The Cambridge Brewing Company produces a beer not only aptly named for the occasion, but holds a complexity of flavors that merge together to make for a wonderful outcome. This beer is Benevolence

Benevolence: (noun) a desire to do good to others; goodwill; charitableness.

Is this not precisely the President’s intention for the meeting?  So there we have it.  A beer from Cambridge, complex in its flavor, with a fantastic finish.  For me a clear winner for the matters at hand.

07/22/09

HopHead ThrowDown at Publick House in Brookline, MA

I found something from Beer Advocate in my inbox the other day that nicely illustrates the point I was making in our recent article about IBUs, so I thought I’d just share it.

It’s an invitation to a benefit for the Multiple Sclerosis Society being held Sat 7/25 at the Publick House in Brookline, near where I live. I fully support the cause and encourage any hop heads out there to attend and do your part, and greatly respect that BA often throws together and promotes events like this in support of various causes.

What I’m less enthused about is the way it is being presented. “Enjoy insane IBUs and food that burns” … “demonically inspired, insanely-hopped abominations” … “depraved self-abuse of your palate” … honestly guys, who finds this appealing? Not to pick on BA here, because they aren’t the only ones guilty of such transgressions, they’re just catering to a subset of beer drinkers, and I’m just trying to enlighten those same drinkers as to what IBUs and bitterness really mean in the greater context of beer.

Again, please come out to support this cause, especially if you are a hop head, but while you’re tasting these abominations, remember that there is a difference between hop flavor and bitterness, and that balance goes much farther than intensity when it comes to good beer; at least that’s this Punk’s opinion. Ignore the numbers, just taste the beer.
Here’s the details for anybody who didn’t get it:

Join The Publick House in Brookline, MA _this_ Sat, Jul 25 as they host year six of this epic assault on your palate! Enjoy insane IBUs and food that burns … all in a benefit for The Multiple Sclerosis Society.

# DETAILS

* 20 (or so) tongue-numbing IPAs!

* Super spicy menu!

* Special guest appearances by the brewer, who will be laughing at the depraved self-abuse of your palate, lovingly inflicted by their demonically inspired, insanely-hopped abominations!

* Noon to 5pm. $15 charity cover at the door. Cash bar.

* 100% of the $15 cover goes directly to the MS Society, as does all proceeds made by the donated kegs.

Prepare to ThrowDown!

For updates, the list of beers, to tell other BAs that you’ll be there, and to see who else is going …

http://beeradvocate.com/events/info/26397

Cheers, hope to see you there, and spread the word!

Respect Beer.

Jason & Todd (Alström Bros)
Founders, http://beeradvocate.com