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Apr 18, 2014

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Editorial: Saving the micros

By Gregg Smith

What should have been disturbing at this year's microbrewery conference was a forecast of impending crisis. Economic indicators predicted a coming Darwinism for the craft beer industry. A dire onslaught of graphs and charts all pointed to an inescapable apocalypse, and through it all the brewers appeared oddly unconcerned. It left the nagging feeling they were ignoring a warning. In fact, they were. Months later the truth has come to light, craft brewers have engaged in a conspiracy of survival, one that will maintain the fragile ecosystem which supports them in the shadow of the brewing giants.

A clever plot always looks innocent, and microbrewers have designed one brilliant in its simplicity. Appearing to have all the diversity of a menagerie, micro brewers will survive on the strength of their labels alone. What makes up their plan? How can you discover their secret? Look at the trend in beer names, surveying a retailer's shelves is like going on safari, and therein you find the answer. It's animals that will save the craft beer industry. A friend of the B&TC calls them critter beers, surely you've heard of a few. So did we, but when we hunted down the expansive list of registered labels the plot of brewers to unscrupulously use animals (no doubt against the creatures will) became painfully clear.

We'll reveal how they intend to use our finned, furred and feathered friends, but first look at the evidence we found along the trail - a microbrewing "smoking gun." Let's assess the impact as if walking through a zoo.

Start at the house of sea life. Beer labels have netted nearly every type of finned creature from freshwater - Rainbow Trout, to salt water - Skipjack, and those that migrate like the Steelhead. Brewers use everything but the splash, including one brewery that markets Fish Eye (no it's not tapioca based.) Most popular in the category are the predators - sharks, they included Hammerhead, NurseShark, Mudshark (inspired by Frank Zappa?) and one with a sharp aftertaste, Sharkbite. Sea borne mammals were likewise harpooned as beer coopted the environmentalists cry of Save the Ales - Will a beer bottle be the only place to catch a Blue Whale, Gray Whale, Finback,or Humpback, and what of Orca Porter (yes, the whale - the vegetable is spelled okra), there's also a generic Whale Ale, and brining up the rear, Whale's Tail.

Following the zoo's path takes you to the woodland preserve. Home to "Bambi" and "Thumper", sylvian animals represent the fondest of childhood memories. Nowhere do Micro brewers deserve more condemnation than in the bloodthirsty and self serving way they visually trapped them. Today's grim harvest begins with small game - Jack Rabbit and Possum Trot. Next, it tragically moves on to the majestic big game family: Grizzly Bear, Big Bear, then to White Moose, Moose Juice, Moose Drool (does it foam?), and Deer, Staghorn, Big Horn and Old Elk. The list runs from the Old Buffalo to White Buffalo chased by a pack of Wolf Pils. Vicious brewers spare no member of the forest, victimizing the cute and benign as in Otter Creek and Beaver Tail, to those which through the years have existed solely to help mankind with weather predictions - Woodchuck. None have been spared, all have been ruthlessly tracked down.

Overhead, they blasted the monarchs of the air from the sky and anchored them to bottles as fast as if their wings were clipped. Perhaps brewers could make a case for attacking the birds of prey, NightHawk, Redhawk, and Bay Hawk (was that a TV show?) But they also pillaged the harmless, why the colorful Goldfinch and graceful Swan? Other foul fared no better, brewers downed Honker's, Snow Goose, and Wild Goose. They also captured both the Ducktail and in a last gasp, Duckbreath. And how did they manage to corner (after decades of eluding the coyote) the Road Runner? (We wonder if it was Acme Brewing?)

Man's best friend too was impounded, brewers suggesting every imaginable reference to rover. They have Turbo dog, Flying Dog, Sheepdog, Mad Dog, Ugly Dog, Moon Dog, Sea Dog, Red Dawg, Black Dog and Old Brown Dog. They went on to Doggie Style (a taste or position statement?), Dog's Breath, Dog Spit (drool was taken by the moose), Greyhound (a quick beer), Hair of the Dog (smells great when wet), Ole Yeller (knew there'd be a Disney animal), and Pitbull (has a nasty bite). It makes us wonder if some wag will collar the generic sounding "K9P" or scoop the "doggie dew."

Domesticated residents of the barnyard were also pressed into service - and in a sick joke one plucky brewer dedicated a label to poultry baron Frank Purdue with a beer called "Chicken Killer" and further up the pecking order was Red Rooster (with a lot to crow about.) Although you might think them all from Chicago (Hog Slayer to the world) swine references come from all over the map. They pack both the common species - Warthog, Blue Boar, Wild Boar, and the gifted - Whistling Pig. Here again brewers use every part - Hog's Breath, Hog's Head, Pig's Eye, and Pig Tail. The stable was additionally raided for bovine - Holy Cow, and equestrian - Painted Pony, Red Ass, (the poster animal for preparation H), Horse, Horsetooth, Wild Horse, Diving Horse and Twelve Horse. It makes us wonder; where exactly do they get the glue for the labels? Worse, they do not guaranteed an absence of equine urine in the bottle.

Cagey brewers weren't content to bag merely North American animals, they turned their sights on the exotic: Lion, Elephant, Springbok, Wombat, Giraffe (in long neck bottles), Rhino Chasers' (rumored already extinct) and the statuesque Silver Gorilla and Brass Monkey crowd the animal laden beer shelves.

At the back of the zoo you can visit the creepy crawler and slither house. Among the residents on display you can spot a Bad frog, Tree Frog, Gator, Rattlesnake (sorry no antidote) and insects like Hornet's Tale and Yellow Jacket.

Fearing most good names had been snared, other brewers embraced the imaginary. They'll shamelessly sell you either Dragon Stout or Pegasus Pils (though there are few recorded sightings.) Perhaps fictitious animals represent the next trend. How about a label for the beer in the freshness dating ads - "Pepe le Peu's Aromatic Brew", and what about others like "Rodent Rauch", "Road Apple Cider", "Pigeon Poop Porter", "Lamprey Lambic" and the alternative beverage "Manatee alcohol free."

Why all the animal names? Think about it. The microbrewers have hit upon the greatest insurance, and they didn't have to spend a dollar of their own money. They realized that too many organizations would fight to keep "critter" beers from disappearing. The EPA, PETA, SPCA and others will throw a net of court ordered protection over these brews. No big brewer will be allowed to hunt them, they'd be placed on an endangered species list. In fact, alcohol excise taxes from the mega brewers might be diverted to set up special preserves.

What the micro brewers have used to their advantage is size. In this case big government looking out for the small, threatened and fragile. One last word, this was no freak accident, it was conspiracy. Want proof? Grab a dictionary, it's no coincidence that zoological is found close to the final entry - Zymurgy.

Gregg Smith

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