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.
Posted in Beer, Challenges, Uncategorized
Tagged aluminum, beer, bottle, brewery, can, craft, direct, glass, growler, kWh, local, macro, meowler, micro, middle craft, packaging, PakTech, plastic, recycling, reduce, reuse
Here is how my fourth quarter 2019 beer consumption worked out:
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.
Posted in Beer, Challenges, Uncategorized
Tagged beer, Big Grove Brewery, brewery, cans, Colorado, craft, draft, hard seltzer, Iowa, local, macro, White Claw
Here is how things shook out for my goal of drinking local in the third quarter of 2019:
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.
Posted in Beer, Uncategorized
Tagged ale, Balashi, beer, cans, Carib, Caribbean, Chango, Code Beer Company, Firetrucker Brewery, IPA, lager, Lincoln, local, Nebraska, package, Polar, Venezuela, White Elm Brewing
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.
Posted in Beer, Uncategorized
Tagged AB-InBev, Arms Race, beer, Big Grove Brewery, Boston Beer, Citradelic, craft, Dale’s Pale Ale, Des Moines, Dogfish Head Brewery, Iowa, Iowa Taproom, IPA, Lion Bridge Brewing Company, macro, New Belgium Brewery, Oskar Blues, publicly traded, Sam Adams, small business, Tag
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:
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.
Posted in Beer, Uncategorized
Tagged Barntown Brewing, beer, Big Grove Brewery, Bonfire Brewing, Cedar Rapids, Clock House Brewing, Coralville, craft, Denver Beer Company, Des Moines, Exile, Green Tree Brewery, Iowa, Iowa City, Lagunitas, Lion Bridge Brewing, local, New Belgium Brewing, Outer Range, resolution, Reunion Brewery, Roadhouse Brewing, SingleSpeed Brewing, Solon, Surly
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:
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.
Posted in Beer, Uncategorized
Tagged ale, altitude, beer, Belgian, brewery, Colorado, craft, farmhouse, Frisco, hazy, In the Steeps, IPA, New England IPA, Outer Range Brewing Co., Quiet Depths, saison, The Ski Doctor, Water Colors