Category Archives: Beer

Second Quarter Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer

The year started with the highest of hopes to consume beer that was brewed locally, purchased directly from the brewery, and packaged in such a way that no waste was created.  Coronavirus pretty much killed that goal in its sleep.  A lot of breweries closed entirely, although some stayed open to provide direct sales of packaged beer.  Growlers and other reusable containers were prohibited as potential virus vectors.

Plus, when a person is staying at home all day and night there seems to be little reward to kicking back with a cold beer at the end of the day.  Days and nights, weekdays and weekends, workdays and holidays just seem to kind of meld into one long slog of Zoom meetings, squirrelly children, and longing for something that approximates normal.

Here is what my beer purchasing looked like in the second quarter:

Second Quarter Beer

No real surprises.  The Sierra Nevada Brewing purchases are a little random.  Along with Summit Brewing, Sierra Nevada is a nostalgic brewery for me as it is one of the first IPAs that I can remember drinking back in the…1990s.  You know, that same period of time when Republicans were up in arms about a President having lied about an affair.  Oh, the good old days…

I did get a chance to visit my favorite brewery on the planet—Outer Range Brewing Company in Frisco, Colorado—during a trip to complete some trim carpentry on a friend’s vacation property.  Yes, the same trip where my truck decided to become a gigantic paperweight on the side of the interstate following a catastrophic water pump failure.  Can you tell that I am still a little bitter about that repair bill?

Some beer made it home with me and will have to be an occasional treat until I can hopefully make it back for the Christmas holiday and some skiing.  I have the sinking suspicion that the current spike in coronavirus is going to put a damper on any skiing this year.

First Quarter 2020 Beer Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral

Here is what my beer purchasing history looked like for the first quarter of 2020:

Q1 2020 Beer

In terms of drinking “local” I only purchased one beer that was not produce nearby.  At a hotel bar in Davenport my choices were fairly limited, but for some reason Summit Brewing’s very good Saga IPA was on tap.  I will admit that I am conflicted when it comes to large-ish regional breweries like Summit in St. Paul, Minnesota.  It is not local to me, but it is definitely still more of a craft brewery than something owned by the giant brewers.  Nonetheless, one beer from a non-local brewer over the course of three months is pretty good.

I was doing really well buying beer that did not produce any packaging waste, but then coronavirus upended all of my plans.  Before leaving for an aborted ski trip to Colorado I stocked up on some local beers from Big Grove Brewery and Iowa Brewing Company.  Big Grove Brewery’s Easy Eddy has become my “go to” beer over the last six months or so.  Available in twelve packs widely across my metro area it is an easy pick-up.

In Colorado I found myself really digging the beers made by the folks at Hideaway Park Brewery.  On the Saturday that the state of Colorado effectively closed all ski resorts for the season—only two hours or so after I arrived in Winter Park—I was sitting on barstool at Hideaway Park enjoying several draft beers.  I also bought two six packs to take back home and hunker down for a period of isolation.  Damn coronavirus.

If there is one thing that I can ask everyone and anyone who ever drinks beer it is to support the local breweries in your community any way possible during this really shitty period of time.  A lot of the business that these breweries count on is gone.  There are little to no commercial account activity in bars and restaurants.  On site draft and merchandise sales are gone.  It is hard times.  Buy a six pack if you can.  Hell, buy a case if you can.  Even if it sits in the refrigerator for several weeks that is okay because the cash flow might just help your local brewery make it through until we can all raise a glass again at the bar.

Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer

The “middle” of the craft beer market is dead.  Successful craft brewers caught between the mega corporations like AB InBev and the nimble locally focused brewers are either selling to the big boys (e.g. New Belgium Brewery) or downsizing (e.g. Boulder Beer).  Heck, even the big boys are getting out of the craft beer game after realizing that nationally distributed craft beers are not really attractive to a consumer with hyper local choices.  Yes, I am looking at you Constellation Brands.

Instead of forking over money to a faraway brewery that might actually just be a faraway mega corporation, make your beer consumption as local as possible.

Better yet, make your beer consumption a direct affair.  Buy your beer directly from the brewery.  Do not involve a distributor or a retailer.  Make every dollar go to the brewery.  It can make a difference.  The most successful new breweries—over the past five years or so—seem to be the ones who operate with a taproom as their primary source of revenue.  Why?  It cuts out the middle man and avoids the headaches of distribution.

Even when you buy local beer at the grocery store it potentially involves a number of middle men.  In some states it is possible for your local brewery to “self-distribute” but this is a hard road and really only works in a hyper local type of market.  Even in this instance there is the retail outlet’s need for some level of profit.

Going further, make your beer consumption a packaging neutral affair.

The old saw about recycling an aluminum can is that it saves approximately 95% of the energy compared to creating an aluminum can out of virgin ore.  This is usually equated to running a light bulb for an entire day or watching a television for a couple of hours.  Calculate a different way, recycling one pound of aluminum (approximately 33 cans or a “dirty thirty” of PBR) saves around 7 kWh of electricity.

However, even recycling that aluminum can uses energy and contributes to a global supply chain that uses a lot of energy.  The aluminum supply chain, unfortunately, does not have a 100% recovery rate as evidenced by the number of cans I pick up along my usual cycling route in a given week.  Removing any volume from this supply chain is an environmental win.

By utilizing a reusable package, in this case a glass growler or “meowler,” removes aluminum packaging from the waste/recovery stream.  I am sure that there is a calculation to figure out how many times I need to use a growler to compensate for its own production costs in terms of energy, but given that I have owned the same growler for almost five years I am going to consider those costs accounted for several times over.

The goal is to buy beer that is made locally, purchased directly from the brewery, and in packaging that is reusable.  Local, direct, and packaging neutral.  It’s the future.

Drinking Local in the Fourth Quarter of 2019

Here is how my fourth quarter 2019 beer consumption worked out:

Q4 Beer.png

You will notice two trends: heavy on the Big Grove Brewery and a tilt toward Colorado beers at the end of the year.

The emphasis on the Big Grove Brewery beers was due to holiday parties and wanting to be a crowd pleaser.  The three six packs ended up as mixed six packs—two of each kind—for a gift exchange.  Needless to say, my gifts ended up getting “stolen” the most.  Genius.

The Colorado tilt is all about location, location, location.  I spent Christmas break in Grand County, Colorado and these were the beers that were on tap or in the small liquor store by our condo.  I was said to not see any Outer Range Brewing on tap anywhere, but I managed.

It was a “no claws” kind of year as I managed to avoid the hysteria and mania of the summer of hard seltzer.  Seriously, does anyone actually enjoy those monstrosities?  The number of times someone has introduced a White Claw with the statement, “It doesn’t taste that bad” is staggering.  This is like people telling me that they chase a workout with a couple of Michelob Ultras.  What is the point of drinking a beer after working out if it does not actually taste like beer?

For 2020 I have some goals regarding beer buying and consumption that is going to up the ante from just being about “drinking local.”  Stay tuned.

Drinking Local in the Third Quarter of 2019

Here is how things shook out for my goal of drinking local in the third quarter of 2019:

Drink Local Third Quarter.png

Pretty good, I think.

Really light on the packaged beer for home because I did not drink much out of cans and I had “forward bought” some beer in the second quarter that sat in my refrigerator into the third quarter.  This might change in the fourth quarter.

About the only beer that was not “local” was the Firetrucker Brewery Cloud City, but that came from a brewery just two hours away in Ankeny, Iowa.  Over the Labor Day weekend I was drinking local in Nebraska with Lincoln area breweries including stops at both White Elm Brewing and Code Beer Company.  I am hoping to make a return trip to try out a wider selection of beers and breweries.

As a note, I did not record the beers that I drank during a trip to the so-called ABC islands.  Throughout the week I drank quite a few Balashi, Carib, and Polar lagers.  The joke in my house is that the beer does not matter since it all tastes the same.  Just order a Chango.   Now, drinking Polar lagers was interesting since the company is from Venezuela so it felt a little bit like I was breaking with protocol given the state of relations with the United States.

Drinking Local in the Second Quarter of 2019

Here is what my beer purchasing looked like in the second quarter of the year:

second quarter beer.png

I want to apologize to the brewers at Barn Town Brewing for forgetting exactly which of their beers I drank following a spring bike ride in April.  It was an IPA and it was hazy.  After that my  memory has completely failed me.

A couple of things stand out.  First, I went a little overboard with the cans I brought home from Summit County.  There is no way to get Outer Range Brewing or Broken Compass Brewing beers except in the high country.  Plus, I wanted to share the experience with some people back home so I loaded up the cooler and acted like an old school bootlegger.  Twenty four cans of beer does not exactly make me a bootlegger, but let me have my moment.

Second, I bought a lot of so-called “middle craft” beers from brewers like New Belgium Brewery, Sierra Nevada, Firestone Walker, and Lagunitas among others.  Normally I would have little reason to choose a national craft brewer over something more local but a combination of grocery store sale pricing and rebates via the iBotta app changed my behavior.  The combination of the two often meant that I was buying a twelve pack of Sierra Nevada Hazy Little thing for less than $14.  That would compare with a local beer selling for $18-20 for the equivalent number of cans.

Once the summer rebates and pricing go away so does my interest.  Plus, Big Grove Brewery is carpet bombing the retail beer landscape here in eastern Iowa with twelve packs now.

The Death of “Middle Craft” Beer

American craft brewing legend Dogfish Head Brewery, the mad geniuses from Delaware, sold to Boston Beer, the parent company that brews Sam Adams Boston Lager among many other beers.  Neither brewery should be considered a micro-brewery, but neither is a macro-brewery.  They both exist in some kind of middle ground.  Being in that middle ground may mean death or consolidation going forward.

Apparently, the top 50 craft brewers are having trouble with many posting severe year-over-year declines.  These are the craft brewers that I would define as “middle craft.”  The challenge for these breweries is giving you the beer drinker a reason to try them over, say, a handful of hyper local breweries that may only sell products from their own taproom or a few commercial accounts.

In the past—okay, the 1990s—middle craft was the place to be as beer drinkers sought out different beers and the quality control at a lot of craft breweries was just bad.  I cannot tell you how many small breweries were making beer that would make most semi-skilled home brewers spit out their stout.  You sought out a New Belgium Fat Tire or Boulevard Wheat because those were well made beers from breweries you trusted.  You knew you were not going to waste $8 on a six pack.  Heck, you might even pick up something a little unusual from the same brewery when you were in the mood for a change.

That dynamic is long gone.  Award winning breweries are scattered across this nation.  Between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City I can patronize a half dozen breweries putting out good and sometimes great beer.  Those same breweries have won medals at prestigious beer festivals and have reputations well beyond the borders of the state.  Expanding my field of view to the entire state opens up a whole host of small, innovative, and well regarded breweries making all sorts of different beers.  If you do not believe me just spend a minute perusing the tap list at the Iowa Taproom in Des Moines.

All things being equal, why would I buy a New Belgium Citradelic over a Lion Bridge Brewing Tag?  Or, why would I buy a Dale’s Pale Ale over a Big Grover Brewery Arms Race?  I like all four of the aforementioned beers.  I choose to buy the local products almost every time.

This is the reality for the beer business in 2019.

Drinking Local in 2019

One of my 2019 “resolutions” was to drink local.  Now, I already spend most of my beer dollars on local beer but I thought it would be instructive if I really went out of my way to drink local and record the results.

Here is how things shaped up for the first three months of 2019:

First Quarter 2019 Beer List.png

Big Grove Brewery, ReUnion Brewery, Lion Bridge Brewing Company, SingleSpeed Brewing, and Exile Brewing are all breweries from Iowa.  The six pack of Denver Beer Company Incredible Pedal was purchased in Colorado, so I am going to count that as local.  Therefore, the only non-local beer that I purchased for home consumption in the first quarter of the year were two six packs from New Belgium and Lagunitas.

Away from home things look a little different.  Most of the beers I consumed were either purchased at the brewery taproom (Barn Town Brewing, Lion Bridge Brewing Company, Big Grove Brewery) or close to the brewery (SingleSpeed Brewing, Clock House Brewing, Green Tree Brewery, Outer Range Brewing, Bonfire Brewing).

I did end up drinking some Lagunitas IPA at an event in Davenport.  This was the most “craft” option available and it goes to show how far beer has come in the last decade.  When you are somewhat disappointed that Lagunitas IPA is the best option you know things are pretty good right now in the state of beer consumption.

The only other non-local beers that I consumed away from home were a Surly Liquid Stardust that I was eager to try when it became available on draft at a local establishment and Roadhouse Brewing Mountain Jam that was recommended to me by a server in a Colorado stop.

Looking back I would say that my efforts were solid.  Only Lagunitas, owned by Heineken, would not be considered a craft brewer under the guidelines set forth by the Brewer’s Association.

Outer Range Brewing Co. is the Best New Brewery in America

Forget what the open poll from USA Today determined.  Despite what the voters said, I am crying “fake news!”  Outer Range Brewing Co. in Frisco, Colorado is the best new brewery in America.

High praise for sure, but I task you with finding someone who has actually sampled the beers in their small tap room or yurt that would disagree.  I will wait here for a few minutes while you try and find someone.  Bueller…Bueller…

The focus at Outer Range is on Belgian and IPA styles.  If you came looking for stouts or pilsners or marzens…you are out of luck.  That is okay because the beers being made by Outer Range are all excellent because of this particular focus.  Not every brewery should have a back catalog of thirty different beers and Outer Range shows just why this is true.

On my visit I had one glass each of In the Steeps, Quiet Depths, and Water Colors.  All three beers showed similar stylistic traits but was unique in subtle ways that get lost when a brewery is focused on a lot of beers.

If you get a chance to visit the taproom, do it.  If you see their beers on a tap list at a bar, order quickly because I have been sitting in more than one establishment in the high country when kegs have been cashed.

The only downside, if it is such a thing, is that the beers are usually clocking in above 6% ABV and do not drink as such.  If this is your first day or two at altitude and you are hitting the slopes after your visit be careful.  Moderation is your friend, but the guys at Outer Range can help you out by selling you a four pack of cans to take home.

I am such a homer that I bought the t-shirt:

IMG_1401

One of the best deals in the mountains happens at Outer Range’s taproom.  If you are a skier or boarder hop on the opportunity to get a “Wax + Beer” when the Ski Doctor is parked out front.  For $25 I got my Icelantic’s waxed and drank a glass of In the Steeps.  Rarely does something seem like a steal in the mountains, but this has to be the one time that it happened.

 

 

Paying More for the Growler Privilege

Lately, I have been getting my local beer fix via growlers filled when I stop in somewhere to have a beer and maybe eat some food.  If my son had his way we would eat at the brewery all the time because he gets to have a grilled cheese and a soda.  His motivation is always easy to figure out.

Something has started to gnaw at me a little bit when it comes to growlers.  I am paying more for the privilege of using a reusable container.  Hear me out.

On average a growler costs me $12 to $14 to fill.  Not bad for 64 ounces of fresh, local craft beer.  However, a six pack of 12 ounce bottles from a local brewery only costs $9 to $10 at the grocery store.   For the math challenged that works out to an average of $13 for 64 ounces of beer versus an average of $9.50 for 72 ounce of beer.  Or, on a per unit basis, approximately $0.20 per ounce for the growler versus approximately $0.13 per ounce for the six pack.  Therefore, I am paying more for less beer from the same brewery.  Why?

You could argue that the taproom has to be staffed to fill a growler, but I would counter that the same brewery has to staff a bottling line, pay for packaging, deliver the beer to retailers, and in a lot of cases share some promotional cost.  Never mind the costs of designing packaging, getting approval from regulators, and what not.  This is all for the same beer from the same brewer.

Thus, I am spending more money to use my own container, which is reusable a nearly unlimited number of times, to directly purchase beer from the brewer, so no retailer or middle man gets a cut.  What is up with that?