Ramblings of a Craft Beer Addict

By Glenn DeLuca

For BeerNexus.com

Addiction is not usually a good thing but when we’re talking Made in USA Craft Beer;
hey I’m just trying to help the economy and besides I could stop any time I want. So
who wants to stop; Not Me.

I’m away the latter third of the month so need to step up and do my May Day article
early. And since I haven’t figured out exactly what I was going to do I thought maybe

I’d just do some “off the cuff” ramblings and spin them together…basically one after
the other. Could be all over the place but hey I’m game if you are…

We had our Draught Board 15 meeting yesterday with a guest speaker from Two
Roads in Stratford, CT. I’m the only one in the group who’s been there before and
that would be three times. They’re right of Rt 95 so an easy stop if you’re passing
through. I’ve always thought their beers were very good and he brought a great
selection for us to taste. One of them was a Passion Fruit Gose, part of their “Tanker
Truck Sour Series.” And there is a reason they call it that. There was concern having
sour bacteria around that could possibly contaminate other beers in the brewery. So
they came up with the idea of using an old milk tanker for fermentation to keep it out
of the brewery. Genius, as it solves a couple of problems; contamination and
storage. Amazing how you can come up with good ideas/alternatives when you think
about it…over a good craft brew of course.

Just read an op ed by Jim Koch titled “Is It Last Call for Craft Beer?” I’m a little
stunned reading the title as this is Jim Koch, one of the pioneers who made the craft
beer industry of today what it is. Now Boston Beer has been having its issues with
now thousands of competing craft breweries throughout the country, but the title
makes it sound like we’re doomed. I respect Jim so I need to know where he’s coming
from. Point 1 is that after 15 years of double digit growth it’s now single digit. I’m not
so worried about that as it’s easy to show great increase percentages when you’re
small, but as you get larger it’s not as easy, that’s just basic math, not to mention all
the in and out of who’s craft and who’s not, so the baseline keeps changing also.

Point 2 is the mega consolidations allowed by the DOJ which started in 2008, first
with MillerCoors followed by AB/InBev, at which point 90% of the world’s beer was
owned by two foreign companies. And the financial impact was a 6% increase in
prices and less jobs; neither good for US craft drinkers and our economy. There’s
also a second tier consolidation below that of wholesalers/distributors; where there
were 4,600 in 1980 and there are now <3,000, virtually all beholding to one of the
two megas, so craft beers can get squeezed in terms of time, attention, space,
promotion, etc. Point 3, the DOJ just allowed AB/InBev to buy Karbach in TX, one of
the largest craft brewers, where they already control 52% of the market.

Clearly Jim is not happy with our government’s lack of oversight/antitrust efforts and
points to China, South Africa and the European Union, which were tougher on
mergers in terms of control and jobs. And as the megas continue to buy craft
breweries, you may walk into your local bar to see a craft lineup of Elysian, Goose
Island, 10 Barrel, Blue Point, Karbach, Devil’s Backbone, Terrapin, Revolver, Hop
Valley, Saint Archer, Golden Road, Four Peaks and Breckenridge and not instantly
realize they’re all owned by the megas. Again Jim blasts our lack of antitrust oversight
as none are labeled as brands owned by either of the megas, so the unsuspecting
craft drinker may not know. And it does matter that “real” craft breweries continue to
flourish as they create beers for their local regions, they invest in their communities,
they employ local workers and yes they pay taxes — local, state and federal,
something the foreign megas try to do as little as possible.  Wow I need a beer -
make that a real American craft beer, brewed and owned by a hard working US
citizen. In this world of never ending new craft breweries and new beers on tap we,
the everyday consumer, don’t really see; much less understand the big picture. To
us it looks like more and more when the number of craft breweries is well over 5,000,
but how many new small ones does it take to replace a Devil’s Backbone or a
Terrapin when they’re bought out. In reality craft beer is just the tip of the iceberg.
Seems I’ll need to pay more attention to the ever growing list of mega craft beers.

I’m headed to Milwaukee this summer for a wedding; never been to Milwaukee, much
less Wisconsin, so I’ll be able to cross that off my bucket list. Since I was a Schlitz
drinker way back and that’s “the beer that made Milwaukee famous” this could be
fun. Just started to look at things to do and their visitor info does note their past and
current connection with beer. There is a tour of the Pabst Mansion, which I never was
a big PBR guy, but would be interesting to see where some of the profits went and
how they lived; I’m assuming pretty well. The old Schlitz brewery has been converted
to offices so nothing there. Think I’ll skip the current Miller/MillerCoors brewery, but I
may catch a game in Miller Park. I understand they have some of the best ballpark
food, and I would hope there’ll be a decent selection of libations. The city also has a
Riverwalk with lots of restaurants, bars and shops, so if the weather is nice some
strolling and stopping to check out the local brews will be a great way to spend time. I
think Lakefront is their largest craft brewer and maybe I’ll get to try some of their
brews that don’t get broad distribution. When is a Road Trip not fun!

Just listened to an interview/podcast with Stephen Hale; founding brewer of Schlafly
Beer (The Saint Louis Brewery).  I had the wonderful opportunity to be in St Louis
back in ’09 and check out their taproom and taste their fabulous beers. When in the
store I will always look to see what Schlafly’s are available and do pick one up from
time to time. I’m not a big pumpkin beer fan, but will have the Schlafly Pumpkin on tap
every year. I’ve not read or heard anything about Stephen but based on >25 years of
great beers I think he probably knows his stuff and I’m not disappointed.

Some of his thoughts:
On drinking; he always wants to see the “three columns”; style, ABV and IBU, and
he likes to start with the second column ABV. Starting with the lower alcohol beers
allows you to step up as you drink. As he points out our eyes can deceive us, when
we see a dark beer next to a light one and automatically think the darker one must be
heavier. The lower ABV beer typically isn’t as good as it could be after you’ve had
one of the big bold ones. He recommends we open our horizons and don’t be
intimidated; try styles we haven’t had; we may be surprised. And for bars and pubs
the importance of trained and experienced servers who can speak about the beers
and help guide us craft beer drinkers. Great start!
On brewing; that quality is the key. Brewers should understand their ingredients
because they’re not like manufactured goods; they can vary and you need to know
how to tweak them from time to time. And yes when you have a bad or off batch of
beer; do not serve it; you’re tapping your reputation and you want to make sure the
customer is getting your best and wants to have your beer again. And to those who
knock the mega brewers he does point out they have the resources to monitor their
quality, something not to be taken lightly.
On St Louis, the city. For a city so synonymous with American beer there was a
distinct change after the InBev purchase and many were affected. There was an
explosion of brewery openings after that which now number >60. He describes the St
Louis craft beer scene as rivaling that of some of the east and west coast breweries,
but “flying under the radar” because we’re in the Midwest.

Overall a very impressive interview. It’s good to hear an “elder statesman” of the craft
beer industry discussing issues in a positive light.
Enough rambling for now…time for a beer…

Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing thebigG@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
Outtakes from a life of beer.
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