Tag Archives: craft

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:

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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.

A Seriously Large “Craft” Table

Sometime in the past my wife and I considered building a bar in our finished basement.  It is a large room—approximately 40 feet long by 16 feet wide with a nook that increases the space even more—that is used infrequently.  There is a large television, like every other house in America it seems, but it is turned on maybe once a week.

Our two kids have aged out of “baby toys,” so we sold the old play table that I built and the toy storage bins from IKEA that dominated one half of the room.  As it sat empty we returned our thoughts to building a bar.

Like every starry eyed couple on HGTV we discussed using the space to entertain, even though we do not entertain, and were hopeful that it would become a space where our kids would spend time as they grew up instead of disappearing to friends’ houses.

In reality, what we really wanted was a large flat space to contain art projects, wrapping at Christmas time, in-process LEGO builds, and whatever creation our son starts to dream up with whatever found materials he brings out of his room.  It was never about a bar, per se, but rather a large kitchen island that could serve multiple functions.

With that realization the discussion turned to building an ersatz kitchen island that would not require a major construction project (e.g. plumbing that required breaking concrete, flooring being removed, etc.).  Enter the Modern Craft Table over at Ana White.

This is the completed Modern Craft table:

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A lot of modifications have been made to this particular plan.  Let’s go over a few of the major differences:

  • Adjustable shelves:

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Each end—total of four—has two or three adjustable shelves that sit on ¼” chrome shelf pins:

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The holes were drilled using a JIG IT shelving jig.  If you are drilling shelf pins with any regularity get one of these.

  • Wider bases with a set of shelves on either end:

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This is a modification that was made by a number of people on the “brag board” on Ana White’s website, so I cannot take credit for the idea.  It does provide for a wider base, which allows for the larger top described below.

  • Larger top made with double stacked ¾” plywood that has been edge banded with runners underneath to provide additional rigidity and sag resistance:

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The top is similar in construction to what was used on a prior furniture project.  The 2”x2” runners along the bottom provide rigidity to the center of the top preventing sagging over time.  Like so many furniture projects we have built over the years this top got a little out of hand.  It weighs a lot.  How much?  It is well over 100 pounds.  This is not flat pack particle board construction.

The table is big.  How big?  The top measures 85.5” by 49.5” edge to edge.  Yes, that is almost the dimensions of a 4’ by 8’ sheet of plywood.  It is also double stacked for strength and stability.  This sucker is not going anywhere.

The end result is a craft table that can comfortably seat four at counter height chairs with plenty of room for whatever project is in process.  The real problem is now that the far wall looks a little bare with a floating shelf of kids’ artwork the vestigial reminder of pre-school classes.  We are already looking at a variety of plans to complete our basement build.  Stay tuned.

Drinking Local in the Second Quarter of 2019

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

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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:

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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.

What Makes Something “Custom?”

The temperatures started to really drop the past few weeks as a so-called “polar vortex” sent super chilled air through my part of the United States.  As I suffered through numb fingers in the garage putting the finishing touches on a large furniture project and my space heater failed to keep pace with the howling wind outside I wondered, “Why do I bother making furniture for my house?”

The initial answer is that it is my hobby.  There is a kernel of truth in this answer.

However, the real answer lies in what was the genesis behind the hobby.  After buying our first house, a Cape Cod style home built in the 1930s, we wanted furniture that fit the spaces that we had in a classic home.  In essence, we wanted custom furniture but we could not afford custom furniture.  We also wanted to replace damaged trim, crown molding, and casework with appropriate looking modern facsimiles.  When your trim is made from ¾” thick hardwood that is over four inches tall there is no lumberyard that stocks such a replacement.

I find myself two houses later making furniture in a freezing garage.  Why?  The answer is still that we want something custom to fit our space.  Our housing and economic circumstances have changed, but our motivation has not.

The finished basement in my home is the great example of this new reality.  Instead of vintage woodwork to accommodate, we were stuck trying to fit furniture to a couch that we had ordered.  With a maximum of naiveté, we ordered a custom sectional from a manufacturer in Indiana.  We liked the modern lines, choice of fabric, and overall size versus the easier to acquire mass produced versions available at the local furniture stores.

The problem with the couch is that clean, modern lines also mean that most commonly available furniture and furniture plans are not sized to accommodate.  What does this mean in practical terms?  Take an end table.  You want the top of the table to be flush or slightly below the top of the arm of the couch.  Taller than that and you risk knocking drink glasses on the edge of the table top every time you go to place your glass on a coaster.  Here is what that transition looks like:

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How did I come up with that exact height?  I sat down with a cup in hand, hovered it over where I would naturally set it down, and had my wife measure that height with a tape measure.  It does not get more custom.

In practical terms this meant that I had to take an existing plan—the Ana White rustic x end table in this case—and cut it down.  Sounds simple in a sentence, but reducing the height meant changing the proportions of several components of the piece.  In reality, it meant making some stuff up as I went along which is how I make furniture most of the time.  Every piece, even if it is made from the same plan, turns out a little bit or a lots of bits different.

The aforementioned couch also proved to be problematic when crafting a sofa table to sit along the rear.  Low arm height also corresponds to a lower back height.  Those modern lines are so minimalist in both form and function.  Every piece and plan we looked at was too tall by several inches, so you ended up with both a barrier and a view of usually unfinished rears.  Ugh.

The solution?  You got it, custom built furniture.  This time the base plan was the Shanty 2 Chic DIY Sideboard.  Lots of changes versus the original plan in my version:

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The height was obviously dropped to accommodate the back of the sofa.  However, I also increased the thickness of the top from a single piece of edge banded ¾” plywood to a pair of stacked pieces of plywood.  This made the top more in line, in terms of heft, with both the end tables and the forthcoming television stand that is in process.  It did make the top weigh a whole lot, so be forewarned if you decide to make the same mistakes that I did.

I also changed the interior configuration from evenly split shelved to having more space on the bottom to accommodate larger items:

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One has to have room for all of those LEGO sets.  Just wait until you see what I did to the craft table plans we found online.