The Battle For Who Could Care Less

Friend: What do you think of Alaskan?

A.E.: They’re a solid, venerable brewery. Worth visiting if you can, and worth drinking when you can.

Friend: Ah, I didn’t know if…well…not that I care all that much…but is it craft?

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An ancient woodcutting depicting the first beer snob.

Well, is it? As I had this discussion with a friend, I assured him that Alaskan was craft, even while I wondered why he expected me to…if he didn’t care all that much. Again, we struggle with the necessity of this definition, and is it any wonder? We really are a bunch of hipsters, aren’t we? We look askance at what others have in their glasses if what they are drinking is not truly “craft.” But what, again, is the definition of craft? Continue reading

Are we asking the wrong question?

In Douglas Adams’ seminal series Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a story is told about creating a computer who was able to find the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. They were looking for THE answer. And they did it. They came up with an amazing computer, called Deep Thought, who ran a program for many years and came up with The Answer. The Answer was 42.

The administrators of this computer freaked out. What kind of answer was 42? How could that help anyone? The computer observed that perhaps they did not know what the question was. It is a profound observation. To make sense of the answer we need to ensure we know and are asking the right question(s). Continue reading

Alaskan releases their coffee brown!

I hope this is as good as it was int he brewery. Easily the best coffee beer I've had.

I hope this is as good as it was int he brewery. Easily the best coffee beer I’ve had.

I’ve shared the story on the podcast, I believe, but I can’t believe this is happening.

In 2008, when I was on a cruise to Alaska, I had the opportunity to visit the Alaskan Brewing Company brewery in Juneau. While I was there, I had a sample of what they had on tap there. One of the beers they had on tap was a coffee brown ale. I had my doubts that it would be worth drinking, but it really was!  The rich, sweet brown melded perfectly with the warm, lightly roasty notes of the coffee.  I’ve tried several times to recreate it, and I do think I’ve found the proper recipe, but I’ve always wanted to try it again.

Sadly, they said it would never see the light of day. That tap was for experiments, and they’d never brew it. Well, apparently, they figured out a way to bottle it, because they have released their Heritage Coffee Brown ale, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a bottle. Here’s to hoping they didn’t have to modify the recipe too much to make it profitable!

Read the details here – http://www.brewbound.com/news/alaskan-brewing-releases-heritage-coffee-brown-ale

Is Craft Beer dead?

Goose Island was the first bomb to drop. They would not be the last.

Goose Island was the first bomb to drop. They would not be the last.

I’m not trying to be Chicken Little and shout that the craft beer sky is falling, but it’s just one acquisition after another these days.  And they’re not over, my flavorful-beer-loving friends. I think we can expect this trend to continue for a lot of different reasons. From aging founders looking for that payoff to help them in retirement, to jaded business-owners who see their competition being snagged for large sums of money, to people starting breweries just hoping to be bought out, I think we can see the trend continue, and at a faster rate than before. I’ve shared the articles with you, my craft beer brothers and sisters. Craft Beer is undergoing a major upheaval, and it’s coming from those brewers which craft beer has always struggled against: The Macros.

Soon to follow was 10 Barrel...this trend certainly wasn't slowing down...

Soon to follow was 10 Barrel…this trend certainly wasn’t slowing down…

The first harbinger of the winds of change was Goose Island. When this deal went down, I’d really only heard of their Bourbon County Stout. In fact, I’d actually had it, and really thought it was something special. What the bourbon barrels did to this stout was amazing, and I’d never had anything like it. Some time later, they purchased 10 Barrel Brewing out of Bend, OR, which I’ve still never tried (and won’t), followed a couple months later by Elysian Brewing out of Seattle, WA. The Elysian deal hit me harder, as I’d actually been to one of their pubs in Seattle, and really liked their pumpkin beers.  In fact, until that point, the Elysian Pub experience was one of the more enjoyable craft beer experiences I’d had. How these brewers could sell out to what had been the enemy prior to this was unthinkable. Elysian’s motto had been “Corporate beer sucks!” How do you lose track of this, I wondered. It just didn’t make sense.  You quit your (potentially more lucrative) day job (which possibly had benefits and some sort of retirement package), and start doing something you’re passionate about. Clearly you’re not in it for the money. I mean, obviously you have to pay the bills.  Obviously, you have to live. But when many of these breweries started, craft beer was not the booming market that it is today.

I was hit hard with this news. No more fine pumpkin ales for me...

I was hit hard with this news. No more fine pumpkin ales from Elysian for me. The truly sad thing is now that they’re AB InBev, they’re more likely to be seen in the Central Valley, tempting me to ignore my inconvenient principles.

And I guess that’s what has really changed over the years.  Many of these breweries did not start out when craft beer was in its infancy. I mean, we’re talking the 80’s at that point, which was really a lot longer ago than I care to admit, apparently. When companies like Sierra Nevada Brewing started out, they were not meeting a need, they were showing people they had needs that were not being met. They were truly evangelizing what full-flavored beers could actually be. Things are significantly different now. While not in the same league as macro beers, craft beer is the only market segment which is growing. The fact of the matter is that these days, there IS money to be made in craft beer. Some companies are starting out hoping to make it big, and be the next success story in craft beer. But what does that even look like today?

Another acquisition, though perhaps a less distasteful one, but one which was MUCH closer to home.

Another acquisition, though perhaps a less distasteful one, but one which was MUCH closer to home.

See, the fact is that everyone is hoping to be the next Stone or Sierra Nevada. Possibly, they even want to be the next Boston Beer Co. That ship has sailed, I think. Just as there was never going to be another Annheuser-Busch, companies growing up in craft beer today have thousands of competitors. As craft beer is proving to be more than just a fad, more and more breweries are entering the segment, and crowding it.  What do you have to do in order to make a splash in the craft beer world these days? Do you make a fine example of an IPA? White noise, especially on the left coast. Do you make a crazy 18% abv barrel aged imperial pilsener? You will likely be shunned by the beer purists who say your innovative concoction spits upon the tradition of fine Czech brewing. You can’t color outside the lines too much, because you will be shunned, but you

I'd seen Saint Archer on the shelves, but hadn't had the chance to try it. Won't get that chance now.

I’d seen Saint Archer on the shelves, but hadn’t had the chance to try it. Won’t get that chance now.

can’t just conform to the BJCP style guidelines or you won’t be distinctive enough to make that splash you need to guarantee your successful entry into the market. When was the last time you found yourself saying “Wow, that was just a consummate English Bitter?”  Shoot, when was the last time you found a brewery offering a to-style English Bitter? Or a mild? The craft beer landscape is crowded, and it’s getting more difficult to figure out what the next “big thing” is going to be in the market. What will set truly fine brewers apart in 5 years?

This is one that truly saddened me. I had just discovered their Gingerbread Stout and even more recently their Wolf Among Weeds IPA. I enjoyed it while it lasted...

This is one that truly saddened me. I had just discovered their Gingerbread Stout and even more recently their Wolf Among Weeds IPA. I enjoyed it while it lasted…

And that’s where we find ourselves today. There is money to be made in craft beer, but it’s increasingly looking like the MOST money is to be had by selling out to a big brewer. As jaded as it sounds, I guess we’ll see what brewery owners are REALLY in this business for in the coming years. Because *I*, for one, think that craft beer isn’t going anywhere. When craft beer started, it was all about the ingredients and the quality. Was Bud cheap? You bet it was. But was it quality? No. There is just nothing to compare to an all-barley beer when it comes to flavor. Yes, you can use rice syrup to up the alcohol without adding body, but what if I WANT body, flavor, and complexity? I think the distinction between complex/flavorful and shallow/sweet is still worth making. And as for craft breweries who sold out to the enemy (and to be clear, to me that’s AB InBev), I’m not buying your beers anymore. You sold out to a company who uses their distributor network to squeeze out small brewers and files lawsuits just to torpedo small brewers. I don’t and won’t support companies that pull that crap, end of story. I don’t think craft beer, with its original definition (which had more to do with quality than size or ownership), is going anywhere. But I certainly think it’s going to look different in the coming years.  It’ll be interesting to see where it goes. If you get tired of the money shenanigans, feel free to swing by and I’ll pour you a pint of something that was truly brewed the hard way: by hand, in my backyard.

Hop Shortage – The Sky’s the Limit for Craft Beer, but it’s falling…

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Beautiful Hops...don't worry, ultimately they're not going anywhere.

Listen, I’m not saying I’ve been around since craft beer was in its infancy. I turned 21 in 1998, and didn’t do much beer educating until after the turn of the century. However, I remember the last hop shortage, so when I saw this, I kind of laughed.

http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2015/06/hop-shortage-threatens-craft-beer/

As a homebrewer during the last hop shortage (circa 2008), I remember prices going up…and never really coming back down. I remember that in 2008, we had a hard time getting fresh hops for brewing at home. I remember predictions that beer was in trouble, and that we could never survive. And I remember the number of craft breweries growing…and growing…and growing. To the point where doomsday predictors were actually predicting that craft beer’s growth was unsustainable. (In fact, there has been a steady stream of articles since the great hop shortage of 2008 saying that very thing…it can’t last.)

The fact of the matter is that it CAN last, and it probably WILL last, for awhile…

See, what these shortage doomsday predictions forget is that the market adjusts.  Will every single craft brewery make it through this hop shortage? Probably not. Your favorite local place MAY just fold. Prices will go up. People will look for alternative goods. As was said by the more temperate craft beer news outlets in 2008/2009, there ARE styles which use few hops. Have a look at some of the traditional British beers, some traditional German styles. Heck, most things prior to the American craft beer revolution were much lighter on the hops than much of what is brewed today. Heck, I brewed a 60-shilling Scottish Ale last year which was consumed by beer drinkers and non-beer drinkers alike at a 60th birthday party for my in-laws. There are reasons why these styles exist and have survived.

Breweries which refuse to adapt will fold, but I predict that overall, craft beer will continue to rise. What I hope is that drinkers continue to educate themselves and refuse to drink mediocre beer just because it’s local, or just because it has the “craft” label attached. There’s a lot of crappy beer out there which people are drinking by the gallon, for some reason. I’ve tried some of it, and it’s just not good. In this day and age, there is NO reason to settle, people.

So yeah, I don’t doubt there will be years of hop shortage. And I don’t doubt that some brewers will fold.  However, craft beer is not in danger. Expect to pay a little more. As supply goes down and demand continues to rise, the intersection of those two lines will mean higher prices, certainly. But in response, become more discriminating. As we say on every show, life is short, so drink GOOD beer, and do it responsibly.

Soli Deo Gloria.