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DonRocks

Craft Beers: Lies, Marketing, and Public Relations

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17 hours ago, pras said:

I think the sour/wild beer craze is about to hit or soon will hit the point of saturation of the IPA/hazy IPA trend.  Everyone now has a "sour" beer, but few do it well.  I think the trend is going to mature though.  You will see malt forward beers, and more nuanced beers make a comeback--Octoberfests, pilsners, kolsch, etc.

While I would love to see it happen, I don't share your optimism about where brewing trends are headed in this country.  We're into the second or maybe even third decade of "extreme" beers being all the rage in the beer geek world, and I don't see that changing; somebody will just find another boundary to push.  Nobody is reviving classic styles and seeing them flourish as is.  Walk into any well stocked beer store and count the number of goses on the shelves this season ("What is a phrase I never thought I'd ever utter 5 years ago?", Alex).  Now count how many of them are just classic interpretations of the style as opposed to a fruited or adjunct-flavored version.  I would bet the ratio is at least 5:1, probably closer to 8:1, in favor of adjunct recipes (locally, Union Brewing's Old Pro gose is a nice classic rendition; Anderson Valley's The Kimmie, The Yink and the Holy Gose was one of the first widely distributed U.S. goses and it still holds up very well).  It mirrors the hazy IPA trend I noted above where the style rose to prominence quickly and then was almost immediately dragged into a race to "innovate".  And then there are the myriad versions of regular IPAs with fruit adjuncts that have popped up, mostly "citrus IPAs".  That doesn't even touch the Imperial Stout trend where it's getting to be hard to find one that has not been "enhanced" with coffee or cocoa nibs or aged in bourbon barrels.

Could a U.S. brewery even survive just by producing traditional German or English beers?  I'm not so sure anymore.  Some older breweries still produce a primary portfolio of these styles (locally I can think of Oliver off the top of my head), but have moved beyond that to stay relevant.  It's more likely that brewers with an interest and a taste for bocks, mild ales or dunkels will brew them in smaller quantities alongside a more diverse, trend-friendly selection (see: Bluejacket).  I just don't think anybody goes into that thinking they will be best sellers, or that they'll get free publicity from the "haze bros" on Instagram.

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2 hours ago, TedE said:

Could a U.S. brewery even survive just by producing traditional German or English beers?  I'm not so sure anymore.  Some older breweries still produce a primary portfolio of these styles (locally I can think of Oliver off the top of my head), but have moved beyond that to stay relevant.  It's more likely that brewers with an interest and a taste for bocks, mild ales or dunkels will brew them in smaller quantities alongside a more diverse, trend-friendly selection (see: Bluejacket). 

Sigh. These are the two beers in my refrigerator right now - I don't love them, but I like them: There's no substitute for drinking at or near the brewery.

Beers.JPG

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When I was at the Maine Beer Company a couple of weeks ago their fridge case had bottles to go, all had been capped about a week prior (per the date stamp), and those were some really nice beers, the Lunch in particular, and I'm not a big hop guy.

But in general, I prefer a good brown ale or Porter. Currently drinking some Elle's Brown Ale from Avery.  

 

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Not to completely derail the thread, but last night I had my last bottle of Flying Dog Snake Oil.  I post this here, because this is one of those wacky new fangled concepts--a smoky and spicy beer.  Now, there is a story behind it--it uses fish peppers which were brought to the eastern shore by slaves and are still grown there today.  Snake Oil refers to Spike Gjdre's hot sauce from Woodberry Kitchen which also uses fish peppers.  The beer is probably not suited for most palates, and really is not what you would expect of a beer, but for whatever reason I really liked it--smoky and spicy (perhaps a bit too spicy, which is probably why I liked it).   In fact, it was so "out there" that Flying Dog was giving the beer away by the case.  Never-the-less, sometimes something works for one person's palate and not others.

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On 7/24/2018 at 11:21 AM, TedE said:

While I would love to see it happen, I don't share your optimism about where brewing trends are headed in this country.  We're into the second or maybe even third decade of "extreme" beers being all the rage in the beer geek world, and I don't see that changing; somebody will just find another boundary to push.  Nobody is reviving classic styles and seeing them flourish as is.  

I"m torn on this one. In Chicago, there are several local breweries doing traditional styles only (or the overwhelming majority of their output) and doing quite well. They are decidedly not trying for national market domination though. That being said, there's a real market for traditional beer done well, even if it just means you're a medium fish in a large pond. If anything, I'd say the biggest hurdle is that making a damn good kolsch is waaaaay harder than dumping a shit ton of hops in your batch and chasing the dragon.

Sours and stouts have their place in the food chain but there's always going to be people for each who just can't get into them for various reasons. I know too many people who love one and can't stand the other. 

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On 7/25/2018 at 10:07 AM, pras said:

Never-the-less, sometimes something works for one person's palate and not others.

Funny, I was at Woodberry Kitchen about a month ago, and they were selling that Snake Oil in abundance.

I'm with you on individual palate preferences - not everyone likes cilantro, for example - I had exactly one DC Brau "Thyme after Thyme" in a restaurant a few years ago, loved it, and have searched for it ever since. It may not live up to my memories, but the taste of that beer just clicked with me that evening. 

If anything, I'd say the biggest hurdle is that making a damn good kolsch is waaaaay harder than dumping a shit ton of hops in your batch and chasing the dragon.

There really aren't that many good Kolsch's (Kolschen?), are there - I keep trying them, and most of them have a distressingly clipped finish.

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16 minutes ago, DonRocks said:

There really aren't that many good Kolsch's (Kolschen?), are there - I keep trying them, and most of them have a distressingly clipped finish.

Kolsch is really hard to make well.  It needs to be served fresh and once poured it needs to be finished quickly (that's why in Germany, they are poured in small glasses).

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20 minutes ago, pras said:

Kolsch is really hard to make well.  It needs to be served fresh and once poured it needs to be finished quickly (that's why in Germany, they are poured in small glasses).

Maybe Kolsch is like tempura, or sushi, or numerous other things that need to be had "hot off the griddle" - either do it well, or don't do it at all? (I understand that eliminates 99.99% of all examples, so this is largely an academic question). I don't know much about Kolsch, only that it's sometimes offered as a Session beer (I guess because it's the only thing a place serves that's below 6% ABV).

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Off-topic, but since I *love* German beers in Germany (my beerginity was lost in Heidelberg in 1989), really like English beers, and to my dismay, can't cozy up to the majority of Belgian beers, would I enjoy visiting Prague?

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Even more off-topic: I've been holding off reviewing two meals during which I was served beer damaged beyond comprehension, but I think it needs to be written due to the entirety of the situation (including some really disturbing responses from some supposed "beer experts").

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4 hours ago, DonRocks said:

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Off-topic, but since I *love* German beers in Germany (my beerginity was lost in Heidelberg in 1989), really like English beers, and to my dismay, can't cozy up to the majority of Belgian beers, would I enjoy visiting Prague?

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Prague is known for Pilsner which is a crisp slightly bitter style, which you may enjoy.  

As far as English style IPA/beer, if you are ever in Syracuse, check out Middle Ages Brewery, which makes English style Ales.  You can find them in the shelf at some places outside of Syracuse, but not outside of New York State.  

When I was studying at Syracuse University, the most popular class was Wine and Beer Appreciation, which was on Thursday evening.  (as an aside I was warned that it was a difficult class and I should take it pass/fail--this was a huge mistake.  The first half of the class covered wine and I got an A.  If I got an a on the wine portion, I was assured to get an A on the beer portion!!)  Now, back to the story.   One week featured Middle Ages Brewing.  The owner showed up with a cask, and a bunch of other offerings.  We first cycled through the line and each took a pump from the cask and tried it.  As we discussed the other beers, he invited us to take another pump from the cask.  At the end of the class, a bunch of us were milling around, not ready to leave and he said "I am bringing the cask back with me when I leave.  It will either be full or it will be empty."  He didn't have to explain further!  I guess that I am one of the few people who can honestly say that they killed a keg in a college class for credit!

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On 7/27/2018 at 11:37 AM, ad.mich said:

I"m torn on this one. In Chicago, there are several local breweries doing traditional styles only (or the overwhelming majority of their output) and doing quite well. They are decidedly not trying for national market domination though. That being said, there's a real market for traditional beer done well, even if it just means you're a medium fish in a large pond. If anything, I'd say the biggest hurdle is that making a damn good kolsch is waaaaay harder than dumping a shit ton of hops in your batch and chasing the dragon.

That is what kills me: the stuff that is hardest to make well (pick any traditional lagered beer) will never be an "it" beer in the beer hype machine that is currently driving sales and trans-continental beer trades.  Part of that is perfectly OK; variety is the spice of life and all that.  The bleeding edge gets the ink.  But a batch of Kölsch is never going to sell out in an afternoon for $25-30 a 4-pack in this country. To a new-ish micro trying to pay the bills, why would you try to brew one??  I fear as time goes by that these regional breweries will get succumb to increased pressure, but a large part of me knows that these beers will survive in some shape or form because they are generally approachable and have stood the test of time.  I don't foresee any drastic increase in their popularity, though.

Earlier this spring I walked into Right Proper and noticed that they had a hazy DIPA on tap. My heart sank just a bit.  Even though it was a very good beer it was like an unwelcome intrusion from the World of Hype.

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Apparently today is National IPA Day. 

Fortune Magazine with some stats

"Last year, dollar sales of Lagunitas IPA were up 2.1%, while Founder’s All Day IPA saw a 15.3% jump, according to market research firm IRI. And Bart Watson, staff economist at the Brewers Association, says the American IPA style is the primary driver of growth in the craft beer industry.

IPAs weren’t showing any signs of slowing popularity, but they’ve gotten a renewed push in the past year or so, as hazy New England-style IPAs have spread in popularity. As of May 20, that very narrow offshoot of the category has claimed 1.4% of all craft beer dollar sales. That’s more than the entire pilsner style."

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I have a simple question: Is the difference between an "ale" and a "lager" still that the former is fermented top-down, and the latter is fermented bottom-up?

That's the way it used to be, anyway.

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I had forgotten all about this.

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On 8/2/2018 at 2:18 PM, DonRocks said:

I have a simple question: Is the difference between an "ale" and a "lager" still that the former is fermented top-down, and the latter is fermented bottom-up?

That's the way it used to be, anyway.

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I had forgotten all about this.

Yes, that is true, however another way to think about it, is that ales ferment at room temperatures, while lager ferments at lower temperatures. 

I had the privilege to guest brew (or maybe you would call it help) at Flying Dog today.  We brewed a kolsch on their 15 barrel pilot system (which generates 30 half kegs)(this is the size of the main system at many of the new breweries sprouting up!).  The brewer that I worked with doesn't just do this because it is a job, he does it because he is an enthusiast and enjoys the science of brewing and monitoring trends, etc (he home brews on the weekend!).  It is his opinion that the industry is making a turn towards more traditional styles.  Also, as an aside, something I learned today was that all of their fermenting vessels are jacketed and they can pump cooled glycol through the jacket to maintain temperatures.  The brewer told me that there is a need to maintain temperature to some extent in all of their fermantations be it a lager or an ale (kolsch yeast is actually a hybrid as the characteristics of the resulting beer have both lager and ale qualities).  

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11 hours ago, pras said:

It is his opinion that the industry is making a turn towards more traditional styles.  Also, as an aside, something I learned today was that all of their fermenting vessels are jacketed and they can pump cooled glycol through the jacket to maintain temperatures.  The brewer told me that there is a need to maintain temperature to some extent in all of their fermantations be it a lager or an ale (kolsch yeast is actually a hybrid as the characteristics of the resulting beer have both lager and ale qualities).  

I would love to see the industry buck the hype trend on a large scale, but I guess we'll see.  It's interesting reading about the rift that hazy beers have exposed in some corners of the brewing industry.  Clarity is often seen as one of the hallmarks of traditional beer craftsmanship, and deliberately promoting haze or suspension is seen as downright lazy in some circles.  Especially when adjunct material, usually flaked oats, is thrown in with the express purpose of making it look like pulp-heavy OJ.  The beers often also have an extremely short shelf life; they oxidize very quickly and are prone to fall out of suspension or undergo severe flocculation after canning.  "But it's a new style!  You have to judge it for what it is!", the proponents say.  They're not wrong, but it ignores the criticism regarding how they are often made.

Built-in glycol chillers have been standard for at least a couple of decades now; it's the best way a small operation can cost-effectively control fermentation.  And those things really work!  Last year I was at a nano-brewery outside of Tampa and their entire brewing system was outside, with nothing but a corrugated metal roof protecting the tanks from the South Florida heat.

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21 hours ago, TedE said:

Built-in glycol chillers have been standard for at least a couple of decades now; it's the best way a small operation can cost-effectively control fermentation.  And those things really work!  Last year I was at a nano-brewery outside of Tampa and their entire brewing system was outside, with nothing but a corrugated metal roof protecting the tanks from the South Florida heat.

The brewer was telling me about a contraption he has at his house to maintain temperature during fermentation--a temperature probe which also activates a freezer that kicks on when temperature rises.  He said there is a new glycol home brewer rig that costs about $400, which would be better and based upon the price, he may consider it.  

As another aside, we discussed the hazy IPA rage, and his answer was brewing a pilot batch of glitter beer with purple glitter (in honor of the Ravens).  Not to worry, he used food grade glitter and "pitched" the beer at a marketing meeting--needless to say his "pitch" didn't go very far!

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