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Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Future Battlefield is "Local"

A couple of days ago in Pittsburgh, Donald Trump sounded a theme that seems to suffuse, like the scent of smoke, every corner of our world. “It is the consequence of a leadership class that worships globalism over Americanism ... As a result, we have become more dependent on foreign countries than ever before.” Voters in the UK felt their country had lost its sovereignty and chose to leave the EU. Politicians from Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn to Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders argue for more local control. I'm sort of joking, but only halfway, when I point out that there's a similar mood in beer: people have adopted a new skepticism to big breweries, even when "big" may be a craft brewery from a neighboring state.

I identified one data point for this trend yesterday when the Oregon Brewers Guild released statistics for 2015. Today we have more. Lagunitas' Tony Magee, in the midst of a world-conquering push that includes new brewery openings and a partnership with Heineken, today unveiled a go-local initiative. As with everything Magee writes, there's a lot more light and heat than clear explanatory prose, but the upshot looks not terribly different from AB InBev's own High End portfolio of craft breweries. In a far clearer and less self-congratulatory post, Michael Kiser and Matthew Curtis describe what's going on:
Announcing on his blog yesterday, Lagunitas founder Tony Magee reveals that he has purchased stakes in three US craft breweries. These are Moonlight Brewing Company of Santa Rosa, CA, Independence Brewing Company of Austin, TX and Southend Brewery and Smokehouse of Charleston, SC. The latter of which will be turned wholly into a Lagunitas branded brewpub.

Magee also commented that his company, which sold a 50% stake to Heineken last year for a reported $500m, is to open two ‘non-profit fund raising community rooms’ in Portland, OR and San Diego, CA.
(It's a wonderful piece: go read it.) They continue:
Citing the new brewpubs from Goose Island and 10 Barrel as examples of his competitors working the “local” angle around the country, Magee seems compelled to follow in their footsteps as he has in the past — but puts a different spin on it. As much as he derides his largest competitors, he tends to follow their lead often, as he does with his efforts to consolidate distribution and control store shelves and retailers' buying behaviors by creating recommended "shelf sets." But in this case, Magee is nervous about watering down the Lagunitas brand by appearing to do the same things that Goose and 10 Barrel have. So it’s through these local brewery acquisitions that Magee hopes to earn local relevance and growth, which positions him in a role more akin to AB-Inbev than Goose Island in his own metaphor.
And the final data point I'll offer is the quick and steep decline of national independent craft brands like Sierra Nevada Pale and Sam Adams Boston Lager as well as large brewery craft brands Blue Moon and Shock Top. All of this is happening even while growth in non-mass market lagers continues to be robust.

And now we come back to Trump, globalization, and localism. We have entered a moment in beer where quality and availability has reached a point of saturation. For decades, most markets had deficits in one or the other category. If drinkers wanted a quality beer, they often had to turn to a Sierra or Sam Adams. That's no longer true. In nearly every town of any size, you're going to be able to buy tasty, well-made pale ales, IPAs, and amber lagers. In another era, you might have valued Sierra Nevada's pale as much as your local brewery's, but we're not in that era. All things being equal, people seem to be gravitating to local beer--at least within the craft segment.

The big breweries know this, which is why everyone from ABI to Constellation Brands to Lagunitas/Heineken has been investing in local brands. The big craft brands also know this, and they still appear to be developing a strategy for how to handle it. Pay attention to this word--"local"--because it will define beer over the next half-decade or so. (At some point we can assume the word will be drained of all meaning, like "craft," and the battlefield will shift.)

_________

I suppose I should use this occasion to direct your attention to my manifesto, which keys on this very point: Buy Local, Buy Good, Drink on Tap.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How Big Will Craft Get? Oregon's Numbers are Suggestive

The Oregon Brewers Guild released the latest juicy batch of beer consumption and brewery statistics for the state, and it is as ever quite fascinating. Let's start with a few of the topline numbers and then jump into some thinking about what they mean.
  • 22% of the beer consumed in Oregon was brewed here--and with the exception of 10 Barrel, these all conform to the general sense of "craft breweries."
  • 63% of draft beer sold in Oregon is brewed in Oregon. (63%!)
  • The amount of Oregon-brewed beer consumed in Oregon increased 11% in the past year, even while...
  • The amount of beer brewed in Oregon increased only 3.5%.
  • Oregon had 206 brewing companies operating 246 brewing facilities in 72 cities at the end of the year.
  • Portland has 65 breweries and there are 95 in the metro area.
Lets break all this down a bit. The Oregon Brewers Guild is not concerned with craft beer, it's concerned with Oregon's breweries. As such it does not try to gather stats for "craft beer," which would include some portion of imported beer and craft beer made in other states. To make the Guild's stats consistent with the Brewers Associations', you'd include craft beer brewed in other states. Let's be extremely cautious and bump the "craft" share of the Oregon market up from 22% to 25% then. How does that compare with national stats? Oregon's market is twice as large: nationally, only 12.8% of beer sold is "craft."  The US market for beer is roughly 200 million barrels and if the country drank beer at Oregon's rate, that would put it at 50 million barrels.  














That's good, but the stats that most interested me were these: Oregon's consumption of craft beer--already the highest in the nation--continued to grow at an 11% clip. But its production only grew at about a third as fast, at 3.5%. Most of Oregon's beer production comes from just a handful of breweries--breweries that sell regionally or nationally. While breweries like Deschutes, Craft Brewers Alliance, Full Sail, and Ninkasi sell a lot of beer locally, they sell way more of it out of state. We can take this to mean that they're having a harder time selling their beer in growing markets outside Oregon.

I think we're seeing this reflected in recent stories about slowing sales for the big flagship brands even as the craft segment continues to grow. The craft segment is changing and becoming more local even as many big brands are expanding and trying to grab a piece of that ever-expanding pie.

I used to think Oregon was a cultural anomaly and that our progress in developing beer culture would not be replicated elsewhere. But I started thinking that when craft brewing had a 4% market share and Oregon was at 12%. Oregon is likely always going to be one of the national leaders in craft beer consumption and production, but it isn't anomalous--it's just ahead of the curve. And it's growing. What proportion of the national beer market will the craft segment on day occupy? At least 25%, I'd guess--and possibly well north of that.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Incredible, Shrinking Glassware

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 An article by Fritz Hahn over on the Washington Post highlights a phenomenon to which I have been insensitive: shrinking glassware. (If I search my mind, I see that a dimly-dawning inkling of this phenomenon is present, but fetal.) Since I'm quoted in the article, I might as well comment on it.
But where craft beer is the focus, the pint is under threat. In the area’s beer bars and beer-focused restaurants, it has become next to impossible to find anything served in a 16-ounce glass. Go into ChurchKey, the Sovereign, Pizzeria Paradiso, City Tap House and RFD, and the scene resembles that notorious Budweiser ad: Guys swirling craft beers in snifters, pinkies aloft, because there’s no way to hold the stem of a nine-ounce snifter without your pinkie automatically popping out.
Hahn runs through some history of the pint and then comes to the key point.
The truth is, bars like smaller glasses because they create the illusion of lower-priced beer.... At Pizzeria Paradiso, at least a quarter of the beers sell for $5 and $6; the difference is they come in 12-ounce glasses. “Our goal at Pizzeria Paradiso has been to make craft beer more accessible, and that starts with the pricing,” says Fernands. Deciding to set beer prices by the ounce “allowed us to pick up more esoteric and expensive stuff, because we can put it in a smaller glass.”
Long ago, I made a quixotic charge at bringing clarity to glassware sizing by promoting the Honest Pint Project, and at the tail end of the article, Hahn mentions me and this. But what he's talking about is actual a new and different phenomenon. The Honest Pint Project was an effort to get publicans to serve a pint when they called a beer a "pint." What Hahn's identified is something else--keeping prices down by shrinking the size of the package. This has been going on for years in food packaging, and it makes sense it would come to beer, as well. People go to the store or pub and they expect a unit of goods to be roughly a certain price. Raising that price means the customer buys less, so if you can fudge the size and keep the price low, voila!--you've raised prices without alerting your customer.

If you buy a sixer of beer for ten bucks, you're getting your beer at about 14 cents an ounce. If you buy a pint of beer for five bucks, you're getting it for a bit more than twice that--31 cents. But if you buy a "glass" of beer, you have no idea how much you're paying.
Five Dollar Glasses
Imperial Pint - 26 cents/ounce
US Pint - 31 cents/ounce
12-ounce glass - 42 cents/ounce
8-ounce snifter - 63 cents/ounce

Six Dollar Glasses
Imperial Pint - 31 cents/ounce
US Pint - 38 cents/ounce
12-ounce glass - 50 cents/ounce
8-ounce snifter - 75 cents/ounce

Seven Dollar Glasses
Imperial Pint - 36 cents/ounce
US Pint - 44 cents/ounce
12-ounce glass - 58 cents/ounce
8-ounce snifter - 88 cents/ounce
 To the punter, the difference is a buck or two a pour. To the publican, it's a good deal more than that. If a pub pours imperial pints, the retail value of a standard keg at six-dollar pints is $619.50. If they're pouring US pints, it's $744. If they're pouring 12-ounce glasses, it's $992. Kegs come in different sizes and prices, and often publicans have to charge and arm and a leg. I'd love it if the US just backed away from standard pricing. I've never understood why you pay the same amount for a 4.5% kolsch as you do for a 7.5% IPA, which has twice the malt and many times the hops. If we got used to paying different amounts for a glass of beer, we'd be better consumers.

And in any case, it's worth at least thinking like better consumers. Imagine if a $6 US pint were a standard measure. This is what you'd expect to pay for the following measures if pricing were linear:
Imperial pint: $7.20
12-ounce glass: $4.50
8-ounce glass: $3.00
I actually love smaller glasses. I'd prefer it if ten-ounce glasses were offered everywhere, at roughly linear pricing. That would set me back about $4 a glass, and I could have four in a sitting for a reasonable price. Better yet, if pints of low-abv beer were cheaper, I'd buy more of those, too. So consider this a vote for both--cheaper small-pours and different prices per beer. There, it's only Monday and I've already solved your worst problems.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Wait, There's Corn Sugar in My IPA??

When I posted a link on Facebook to the hop-degradation piece I did earlier this week, Pete Dunlop wrote:
No mention of the corn sugar, huh? Hmmm.
And then a few minutes later, in response to another question...
I don't have an objection to this post or to the use of dextrose. I just think it's important for people to understand how dextrose is being used in their fancy IPAs. I've discussed it with Jeff. I'm baiting him to write about it.
Well, consider me baited, Pete. 

____________

Sugar is Kosher
It turns out using sugar is a somewhat under-discussed widespread practice, so let's discuss it. I think we should begin with the obvious question: who cares? The reason Pete even brought it up is because the use of sugar in beer was originally and ignorantly tarnished by craft brewers who considered its use purely a way to save money, with the added bonus of making the beer taste cheap and thin. In fact, sugar is a big part of the brewing traditions in Belgium and Britain, and it's used to enhance those beers. 

It does a few things. Because sugar is easily digestible by yeast, it thins a beer and adds crispness. This is a huge benefit in stronger Belgian ales. If you brew an all-barley beer to eight or ten percent strength, it will be both heavy and sweet. There are just too many unfermentable sugars in barley to get really attenuated beer. Let's take Duvel at not-quite random. It's a burly 8.5% beer, but it is incredibly lithe and drinkable. In fact, the name is a reference to that ease of drinking; like a Devil, it coaxes you into over-indulgence. Brewers at Duvel do a multi-step mash to get the most fermentable wort possible, but they also add sugar, perhaps 15%, and this pushes the beer to a finishing gravity of 1.5 Plato (1.006), which is astonishing. A regular pale ale will finish out at 3 Plato (twice as sweet), and an all-grain 8.5% stout might finish at 5 Plato--more than three times as sweet, and with a dense body. 

In British ales, sugar does something like the opposite--it allows very light ales to express their ingredients cleanly and clearly. Since a cask bitter or mild is made with so little malt (these beers are in the 3-4% range), they can't pack much flavor punch. By adding sugar, it lifts them up and exposes them a bit more. Hops are always perceived as stronger in thinner beers--it's why Belgian ales so rarely have much hoppiness--and in cask ales, that means those lovely East Kent Goldings really pop.

Sugar can even add its own flavor component. British brewers use a form called "invert sugar," where the sucrose molecule has been cleaved into glucose and fructose—two highly-fermentable forms of the sugar molecule. In Britain, invert sugar comes in a range of colors and can, in beers like stouts and milds, add color along with high fermentability. I interviewed local homebrewer Bill Schneller for my forthcoming book, because he's a big fan of invert. He told me, "You just can’t get the flavors of invert from crystal malts. [Invert gives you] richer color, different dried fruit flavors than crystal alone, plus a drier, easier-drinking beer than if you use all crystal malt. It adds complexity and flavors you just can’t get anywhere else."

What's Dextrose?
There are lots of sugars out there, and they'll all work in a beer--sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose (of course), and so on. Some of them are disaccharides like sucrose and maltose, composed of two monosaccharide molecules (like fructose and glucose). Dextrose is a starch-derived monosaccharide that comes from, ta-da!--corn. It's chemically extremely close to glucose. 

We have this second bias, probably a good one, against corn sugar. Even the phrase "corn sugar" can be easily turned into an epithet. But the use of corn in beer is not only old and completely respectable (I commend you now to Stan Hieronymus' forthcoming Brewing Local, which will fully and permanently exonerate our only native grain), but it's something even the Belgians do. Indeed, in many breweries you'll find this little side-vessel that you might mistake for use in decoction, but is in fact called a cereal cooker because it mashes corn. No less than Rodenbach does this. You want to tell Rudi Ghequire his beer uses cheap additives? Good luck with that. 

Dextrose is the most common sugar used in modern IPAs (I think), but I wouldn't bet even a nickel that it's the only sugar. Either way, it's fine.

Sugary IPAs
Okay, so now we come to the point of all this: do American brewers regularly dump corn sugar into your IPAs? You bet they do, and good thing. This is no secret. When I interviewed Vinnie Cilurzo for The Beer Bible, he readily described why he used sugar in the grist of Pliny the Elder when he first made it 13 years ago:
“If you want to know the difference between it and a barley wine, it’s got 3.5-4% crystal malt in it.  So having a low level of crystal malt you really let the hops come through.  They’re not being muddled by the caramel character of the crystal malt.  Also, we’re using a lot of sugars in the fermentables, dextrose sugar, so it’s drying the beer out and giving the beer a nice light, dry body.  Super crisp, but really dry yet really bitter.  And like you said the malt just lays the foundation and it’s just there to keep the hops in check without being sweet, malty, biscuity.  It’s a real simple malt bill and the hops are the shining star in that beer.”
That is about as clear a description of why brewers do this. When you're making an American IPA and you want a bit of caramel malt for sweetness, which can inflect hop flavor, you don't want to add unnecessary body. That's especially true if you're getting up there around 7% or more, when it's impossible to keep the sweetness and body at bay without sugar. The whole thing about American IPAs is that they're a vehicle for all the flavors and aromas of hops. Everything else--water, yeast, and malt--is there just to serve the hops. Sugar is invaluable, just as it is in strong Belgian ales, in this regard. 

So enjoy your IPA and know that it is in very good beer company. Corn sugar's fine!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Bringing Us Together Through Beer

I spend about half my internet time reading about politics, and this is shaping up to be one of the grimmest, most divisive elections in my lifetime. But then I run across something like this and I think: "There is hope." That hope is beer.
OHIOPYLE, PA.- Judy and her husband Phil, who is in his 29th year of service in the military, along with three other couples who ventured from Pittsburgh to attend an annual craft beer festival held on the fringes of the Pennsylvania state park, all sat in folding chairs, waiting for the event to begin.

They were three hours early, the second in line and well stocked with sunscreen, bottles of water, string cheese, beef jerky, cold beers and a very happy state of mind. “We come for the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the music, the beer of course, it’s just a very good vibe here,” she said.
The article goes on to describe the couple and their political leanings and surfaces the rawness of the campaign. But I have a hunch that if I'd been standing next to them in line, we'd all have been happy to steer conversation straight back to the beer. What's that? Trump or Hillary? Actually, let's talk about IPA or pilsner.

Yes, that's much better.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Engineering an IPA That Lasts

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This has been in the inbox for far too long, so let's have a look at it now. Grant Golden sent me this question, and it is the key that opens a box of fascinating information.

"I was wondering if there is any chance you might be interested in writing about or even just shedding some light on what about Breakside's IPA woos judges in almost every major beer competition in the states. I think it is a solid built-to-style American IPA, however, I just can't see how it continues to shine through and dominate when there is a plethora of other very, very well-constructed IPAs out there."

As it happens, I've discussed this with Breakside's brewer, Ben Edmunds. In the months before Breakside won GABF gold for its flagship IPA, the brewers had set about re-engineering that beer so it was more shelf-stable. What people love about the best IPAs are their fresh hoppiness, which is that combination of aromatics, flavor, and bitterness and how those elements play off the malt bill and (in some cases) fermentation characteristics. One of my favorite quote comes from a technical paper on aging beer, and the writers put it this way: "However, the constituents of freshly bottled beer are not in chemical equilibrium. Thermodynamically, a bottle of beer is a closed system and will thus strive to reach a status of minimal energy and maximal entropy." 

The entropy happens faster in IPAs, and the qualities that make the best ones so good are also the qualities that dissipate the quickest. When you put an IPA in a bottle, you have a very narrow window in which it will still taste as it does on tap at the brewery, and then it begins to go through a change. If you haven't prepared the beer for how it's going to taste at 30, 45, and 60 days as it goes through those changes you're left with an empty, hollow space where the flavor and aroma used to be. Here's Ben on that process:
“You have 20 days of brewery freshness and then it begins to degrade. If you bottle condition, you might buy yourself a week. But by day 30 you’re dealing with a fundamentally different beer than you had at day one. When you’re building these beers you should know what that beer will taste like at day 30. You can lament that ‘oh, it doesn’t taste like it used to.’ But knowing what that oxidative curve is and what those flavors will be is really important. Some hop aroma and flavors that oxidize are more pleasant than others.” 
There's no research into the process Ben describes, and they've been approaching it through trial and error. One of the reasons Breakside's various IPAs do well in contests is because they taste better when flights are finally poured out for judges, weeks after brewing, than other beers. That's because the brewery isn't just trying to make the best IPA at day 15, but one that is still toothsome at day 90--which requires an entirely different recipe. Other breweries that ignore the changes their beers go through may be disappointed in contest results, but they're essentially being graded on different beers than they sent.

As we spoke, Ben described the sensory change their Wanderlust IPA goes through (it's not their flagship, which is just called "IPA") by way of description.
“If you take Wanderlust as an example, the first fifteen days is all Mosaic and then it goes through this adolescence and between day 15 and 30 and what’s happening is this weird interference with Mosaic dropping out, but around day 30 the Amarillo starts to come forward and it becomes this new beer around day 30. When you have that beer from day 30 to 45, it has a little bit of tropical dankness, but essentially all that Mosaic character is gone and it becomes more bright, citrus peel, marmalade. I like to think how a hoppy beer is going to last on a shelf, and I don’t mind it going through this evolution.” 
He added that in their experience, some hops have "more legs" than others. Not surprisingly, they're some of the classics--Cascade and especially Centennial. Amarillo are good as well. 

So there you go. Commercial breweries have different sets of challenges depending on when and how they sell beer. If you're a brewpub that can move a flagship IPA through the pub in a month, you don't have to think about this stuff. If you're sending it out in bottles, particularly if you're sending it throughout the country, you have to consider what violence age and oxidation will wreak. Or, I suppose, if you're sending it to Denver to win a medal in the IPA category.

Monday, June 20, 2016

And the Next IPA is . . . ?

Each year the homebrewing magazine Zymurgy polls its readers about their favorite beers. The results are in most ways no more interesting than the average Thrillist article. What do you care if a bunch of people you don't know say Bell's Hopslam is better than Lagunitas IPA? What is notable is how thoroughly IPAs dominate the list. Here's the top ten (of the list's top fifty):
1. Russian River Pliny the Elder
2. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale
3. The Alchemist Heady Topper
4. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
5. Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA
6. Founders Breakfast Stout
7. Three Floyds Zombie Dust
8. Bell’s Hopslam Ale
9. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout
T10. Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA
T10. Stone Enjoy By IPA
Humans are generally blind to their own culture. But if you want a mirror in which to examine your own weird ways, Americans, I give you this list. It's true that homebrewers are just one group among beer fans, and if you polled the American public, you wouldn't come up with this list. But as beer fans go, homebrewers are a great subgroup. They're not just avid fans, they're avid fans who know a lot about different styles of beer. Polls many times reflect the ignorance of the respondents. Ask a thousand Americans about how to handle, say, the Yazidi crisis, and you'll come up with a majority who select one answer category. That doesn't mean more than four of them have ever heard of the Yazidis. Homebrewers are a reflection of the most knowledgeable group of beer drinkers in America. If you were looking for a new trend in brewing that might refute the dominance of IPAs, it would be among this group. Gose? Zero beers in the top 50. Saisons? One. Wild Ales? Two. Hoppy American ales? 37. (Big black ales are a majority of the non-IPAs.)

I noted this trend a couple years ago, and tracked down a list from the first poll Zymurgy ever did back in 2003. Only half the top ten were hoppy ales then, and just two of what we'd call IPA or IPA-adjacent beers today (Sierra Nevada Celebration and Stone Arrogant Bastard).

If you're looking at these lists and still can't understand what I'm talking about, imagine if this were a German homebrewing magazine. Would you expect to see 82% of the top beers represented by IPA? Of course you wouldn't. Once you chuck light lagers out of the equation, the passion among beer drinkers is starkly clear. For anyone who's spent time looking at the development of beer styles, this makes complete sense, too. In other beer-drinking countries, the national or regional palate narrows and gets more specific, whether it's světlý ležák or abbey ale or kölsch. When we look in the mirror of this poll, our developing culture is staring right back at us.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Draft Beer State of Mind

Bart Watson and I were on the same page. Yesterday, I ran across this data set from My Beer Haul that shows the percentage of breweries in each state that bottle or can their beer. It all comes from internal data, and I can't verify whether it's accurate or not, but based on the brewery counts, it at least looks quite up to date. The national average is 45%. But when you start scanning the state-level data, you see incredibly wide variance. I dumped the numbers into Excel and did a few sorts. I quickly realized that brewery number really affects the percentages (only one of North Dakota's nine breweries bottles or cans--but all of Puerto Rico's four do), so I eliminated states with fifty or fewer breweries. Here's the variance at the top and bottom of the list

States With Highest Bottling/Canning Rates
76% - Massachusetts (109 breweries)
61% - Vermont (54 breweries)
60% - Wisconsin (139 breweries)

States With Lowest Bottling/Canning Rates
32% - Michigan (204 breweries)
29% - Iowa (54 breweries)
28% - Arizona (72 breweries)
There are a lot of ways you could slice and dice these data, and my crude cut-off doesn't capture much of the nuance. Sorting by breweries per capita would be more informative, but that would require me to find the populations of 50 states, and the benefit doesn't justify the effort. The upshot is evident in these numbers: there's huge variation state to state.


Bart Watson, the Brewers Association's economist, posted a highly relevant article yesterday that further illuminates this phenomenon. He finds exactly the same thing.
The first note is that the size of the on-premise beer market varies wildly by state. This is due to a variety of factors: beer’s share of beverage alcohol, overall beer consumption levels, number of on-premise outlets, on-premise culture, consumer preferences and socioeconomic factors.... [T]he variations are pretty huge, ranging from almost 44 pints per 21+ adult in Colorado to 5.5 pints per 21+ adult in Mississippi. 
He then adds another layer, explains it in technical statistics-ese, and summarizes his finding this way:
In crunching the numbers, the size of the on-premise beer market appears to be far more important for brewery per capita numbers than the size of the overall beer market....  In layman’s terms, that means when you know both the size of the draught market in a state and the size of the total beer market, the size of the draught market is a much better predictor of the number of small and independent breweries.
(For you stats folk, his r-squared was a muscular 0.7, which ain't bad.) Watson has three cool graphs, so click through and read his piece.

The Big Upshot: Draft is Good
I have been promoting the maxim "buy local, buy good, and buy on draft" as a guide to developing healthy beer culture, and Watson's numbers back me up.
The data suggest that states where on-premise is more important to the beer market, craft does better in the off-premise. The logic is fairly simply: in places where more beer lovers are in bars and restaurants drinking beer and thus encountering craft, off-premise locations have better sales for craft brewers as well.
So there you have it. Drink on draft and you will create a virtuous cycle that buoys local breweries.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Chafing Under the Tyranny of Mosaic Hops

If you pay much attention to the hops in you beer, you will probably have noticed that Mosaic is one of the most common varieties listed. This is pretty remarkable for a hop released only in 2012. There were nearly 1,800 acres under cultivation in Idaho and Washington in 2015, which puts it out in front of varieties like Crystal and Willamette--and it well more than doubled in acreage last year, so the growth curve is probably going to push it up into Citra territory in the next few years. The reason, of course, is because these are the words people use to describe it:
Specific aroma descriptors include blueberry, tangerine, papaya, rose, blossoms, and bubble gum.
And:
“I really like that you can create sweet, fruity aromas with Mosaic but still have a dry beer. It’s sort of like gewürztraminer in that way,” says Jesse Friedman, co-founder and brewmaster for Almanac Beer in San Francisco.... “It has a big, fruity punch to it,” he says. “It’s tropical, but has a fruit punch note. There’s a little bit of bubble gum in there, some blueberry, but it also has really nice earthy quality. It’s definitely distinct.”
That sounds absolutely delicious. I would love a hop that tasted alternately of rose blossoms, blueberry, or mango. You know what I get? Caraway seed. Mosaic has a very distinctive aroma compound that my palate reads as savory. It's not actually terrible, but there's a reason brewers haven't rushed to make caraway beers. Mosaic is the daughter of Simcoe, and I think that hop is to blame. I don't dislike Simcoe nearly as much, but in my mouth it comes across as far more aggressively piney--it's like pine tar--than it apparently does in others'. That's not precisely savory, but it's related, and is what I think gets carried through in Mosaic. (Maybe it's the thiols.)

As we get ever deeper into the world of designer hops, I think these kinds of mismatches are going to be more common. Some hops seem to read as "true" across palates. They're often the classics--Hallertau, Cascade, Saaz. But others have this Jekyll and Hyde quality. Sorachi Ace track as lemony to many palates, but come across like dill to others. Summits can be juicy and fruity, or taste like onions, garlic, or durian. Nelson Sauvin taste like sauvignon blanc grapes (hence the name), or musky and sweaty. In each case, the alternative flavor/aroma does not constitute a reasonable substitution. (It's interesting that most of the alternate flavors, including caraway in Mosaic, are savory notes.) If you're not tasting the qualities in these hops those who love them are, you probably dislike them.

The upshot for me, as basically every brewer is rushing to get her hands on Mosaic, is that I wish there were more of us who got the caraway flavor. It might make them a more specialty hop--as Sorachi Ace and Summits have become. But my sense is that I'm a fairly rare outlier here. Ah well--I can always have a saison.