Tag Archives: craft

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.

Advertisements

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.

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:

IMG_20190219_095335721

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:

IMG_20190219_095358409

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:

MVIMG_20190219_095419495

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.

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.

 

 

The Horror of the Open Bar

There is one last frontier remaining for the craft beers of the world…the wedding.   Imagine my horror this past weekend when I went to the open bar—featuring what some would call top-shelf liquor—for a beer only to discover that my options were limited to Budweiser, Bud Light, and Heineken.

Of note is that the couple getting married are craft beer drinkers and the groom even spent some time working in the tap room at Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, so these are people who are known to drink an IPA or two.

The willingness of wedding caterers to offer craft beer is something that will have to overcome their fear of failure. They are operating under the principle of not failing versus succeeding wildly. People go to weddings and remember seeing a couple get married, visiting with family, watching some middle age men dance quite awkwardly, and waking up the next morning with a trip staring them in the face. Having a truly memorable culinary experience is pretty far down the list, so the caterer just tries not to be a failure.

It is a shame because these events represent a great opportunity to increase craft beer’s reach into the marketplace. One, people spend a lot of money on weddings. Two, the cost of failure for a consumer at a wedding is low so they are apt to try something new. Three, who wants to be limited to choices like Budweiser, Bud Light, and Heineken? Especially after you have spent the afternoon before the wedding enjoying a Burning River IPA.

The only place where I have seen craft beer crack the wedding bar is in Wisconsin where the wedding organizers feel it is a patriotic duty to have a keg of New Glarus’ Spotted Cow on tap for all of the out of town guests to enjoy.

Revolution Brewing Rosa Hibiscus Ale

Sometimes you are figuring out what beers to get in the seemingly never ending selection of craft beer when a different can from a generally trusted brewer catches your eye. That is how I ended up with a six pack of Revolution Brewing’s Rosa Hibiscus Ale:

IMG_0439

The color should have been a warning. No beer has that electric red color unless something is deeply wrong with its construction. Instead of listening to my own internal warning system I jumped in palate first and was rewarded with an assault. Geez, how do I describe the flavor sensation? Awful and artificial? Like someone took a pale ale and poured the dregs of a Boone’s Farm vat into the fermentation vessel hoping that some unknown black magic would produce something drinkable? I will just leave the description as nearly undrinkable. It took an entire can of Anti-Hero IPA to expunge the memory from my tongue.

Seriously, is this the craft equivalent of one of those Barf-a-ritas that are stacked to the ceiling every summer as an alternative to something that tastes good? You have been warned:

Zero Mug Purchase

See what others are saying about Revolution Brewing Rosa Hibiscus Ale at Beeradvocate.