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Weekly Therapy: The Spirit of Sūpris

Hops farmers in the Hallertau region of Germany like to call their product the spirit of beer.

Although BridgePort Brewing brewmaster Karl Ockert chose to showcase a hop from Slovenia in BridgePort’s newest beer he understands the sentiment perfectly.

SuprisOckert took a side trip to the Slovenian farms last year on the way to Munich to serve as a judge at the Brewing Industry International Awards. He was taken not just with the Styrian Golding hops that ended up in Sūpris, but the spirit of hop farms themselves.

Most are 15 to 20 acres in size – compared to the 450 acres in the Pacific Northwest – and each farmer operates an independent business. “The had their own pickers and bailers. Their kilns were about the size of my office,” Ockert said.

“They were working when we showed up, but then everything stopped,” he said. “They came out with plates of homemade bread and local meats. You got the feeling of a different pace of life, and that same feeling is in the beer.”

He decided right then to buy specific lots. By the time he headed home to Portland, Oregon, he’d made a similar choice of malt – a variety of pilsner a colleague come across while touring Bavarian malt houses – and picked out a couple of bottles of Belgian beer he particularly liked. Eventually he would harvest the yeast from them.

In the trip back he thought about sitting in Munich’s beer halls and how the flavors weren’t quite the same anywhere else. “I had all this simmering in my head,” he said. “I thought maybe we could break out of this mold people on the West Coast have, trying to make the hoppiest IPA, the amberest Amber.”

BridgePort brewed 10 test batches of the beer that would be Sūpris, ranging from 5% abv to 10%.

The final release, 6% abv, manages to showcase all the ingredients. Sūpris is notably fruity, with banana and fleshy fruits throughout, and has just enough hops at the finish to keep it from being sweet. The Styrian Golding hops mingle perfectly with spiciness from the yeast, providing distinctive aroma and flavor.

Ockert chose these particular Styrians from the Slovenian lowlands. “Another year the hills might have been better,” he said.

How will he know next year? “I hope I’ll have to go back,” he said.

That’s the spirit.


Brace yourself for Heineken Light blitz

The New York Times (free registration) offers an in depth look at Heineken’s $50 million campaign to launch Heineken Premium Light.

Much of the money will be spent online. To reach the intended audience of drinkers — mostly men ages 25 to 29 — Heineken USA will unleash a barrage of advertising on sites like,, maximcom,, and The company will also put up a separate site,, on Wednesday to complement sites for its two other brands.

The Times reports:

To woo the younger male consumers of domestic light beers, the Heineken Premium Light campaign will focus on a core attribute, smoothness. The initial ads carry headlines like “Someone smooth is waiting at the bar,” “Meet someone smooth tonight” and “Succumb to smooth.”

The goal is to entice the light beer drinker with “the notion of something a little better, a little more exciting,” said Ewen Cameron, chief executive and executive creative director at Berlin Cameron United in New York.

“It’s a relationship metaphor,” Cameron said, adding: “We talked to light beer drinkers in their late 20’s who said there’s nothing wrong with light beer, but there’s a kind of settling for it. They’re happy, but the grass is a little greener on the other side. The ‘luxury light’ idea is an exciting notion.

Who said there’s nothing wrong with light beer?


A more perfect pint

Guinness will spend more than $4 million to promote a new “perfect pint” gadget being called the biggest revolution to hit the beer can since the invention of the widget.

The plug-in “Guinness Surger” sends an ultrasound signal through a glass to separate the black body from the creamy head, just as a pint settles when poured in a pub.

When customers buy the new kit they get two cans of special widget-free Guinness, a pint glass and the Surger itself – a base unit on which the glass stands as the ultrasound passes through.


Brew Year’s Eve

How can you not like an event called Brew Year’s Eve?

On April 7, breweries all over America will raise a pint in celebration of the day that beer once again became legally available at the end of prohibition.

We Want Our Beer

While full repeal came on Dec. 5, 1933, an amendment to Prohibition legalized beer with 3.2% alcohol by weight (4% by volume) starting on April 7 of that year. From that date on, the country’s brewers were back in business and Americans enjoyed legal beer for eight months before wine and spirits were once again legitimate.

“Today more than 1,300 small, traditional and independent breweries operate in the US and because of them Americans have plenty to celebrate,” said Ray Daniels, Director of Craft Beer Marketing at the Brewers Association. “Brewers provide jobs, pay taxes and contribute to tens of thousands of community, charitable and service organizations each year.”

To celebrate repeal brewers across the country will be host Brew Years Eve parties on April 7. Details are at


A-B and Grolsch deal – why?

The first step?

Anheuser-Busch signed a deal to be the sole U.S. distributor of Grolsch beer, a high-end European import.

The deal will become effective in January 2007, and will give Netherlands-based Grolsch access to Anheuser-Busch’s national distribution system of 600 beer wholesalers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but an Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman said A-B will not take any ownership of Grolsch.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction, in recognizing that the company needs to partake in the import and superior premium category,” said Carlos Laboy, an analyst with Bear Stearns Equity Research in New York.

The bottom line: the move is good news for Anheuser-Busch beer wholesalers, who have been unhappy because A-B sales have been flat while microbrewed beers and imports enjoyed growth going on 10% per year.

That’s why rumors abound that A-B will make a deal with one or more American craft brewers – perhaps a distribution deal or one that include A-b taking equity in the craft brewery (or breweries – ala Redhook and Widmer). The folks pushing Bud, Bud Light and the recently popular Bud Select want to sell higher margin beers.

Perhaps Grolsch is only the start.


Gluten free beer festival

The first ever gluten beer festival held anywhere (that we’ve heard of) drew a happy crowd of 1,600 earlier this month in Chesterfield, England.

Supported by Britain’s Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) it even featured cask-conditioned gluten free beer. Check out the pictures. The site comments “Not everyone in the pictures are coeliacs, some are friends and family, and others will be at the festival to drink non-GF beer. For once you cannot tell the difference! The coeliacs are as likely to have a beer before them as the non-coeliacs!

The tasting notes – peppered with comments like “I can drink beer again” – should make you smile, and include the vitals (abv, amount of gluten) for each beer.


Guinness, the blogger

Guinness is blogging. Well, sort of, and just in the UK.

Basically the marketing team will offer a behind-the-scenes look at what it does at Guinness. Here’s the premise:

Everyday we get loads of letters, photos, emails and phone calls – not just from our mums, but from other people who drink GUINNESS® too! Some of these are about specific issues – these are dealt with by our dedicated consumer helpline (the phone number is 0845 7882277 & the email address is in case you ever need it).

But lots of people also send us things like suggestions, questions about what we might be doing in the future, photos of them enjoying a GUINNESS® and other stuff that we love to hear and see. The problem is that we get so much correspondence that we just don’t have time to read it all and respond. Well, to be more honest, we don’t have time to do that AND do our day jobs. (Indeed some of letters are people asking us what our ‘day jobs’ actually involve!).

The result is a blog that isn’t like most. For one thing, you’ve got to verify your age to enter. For another, they plan to moderate all comments before they are posted – and they don’t work weekends, or after 5 p.m. weekdays.

(Quick note: given the amount of spam comments we get here each day this seems like a really good idea. The spammers seem to have decided about 4 a.m. is a good time to strike – not realizing we’re just going to bed.)

It will be interesting to see where this goes. If it works for the marketing team, maybe Guinness will branch out.

Just a few breweries have embraced blogs so far. Some start and then run out of things to tell us. Let’s see where Flossmoor Station, blogging less than a week, goes.


Corona for St. Patty’s Day – What!?

Does this strike you as a little strange?

Iconic Mexican beer Corona, famous for being served with a wedge of lime jammed in the top, will launch a 15-second TV spot and a 60-second radio ad in March to boost sales of the brew in the run-up to St. Patrick’s Day, the beverage importer Gambrinus said.

The images on TV and in retail outlets show a wedge of lime carved into the shape of a shamrock. The TV spot will air nationally, and the radio ad in 40 markets.

[Via Brandweek]


Profiling Stone and Greg Koch

The Union-Tribune in San Diego profiles Stone Brewing Co. co-founder Greg Koch.

The lengthy article concludes with the punchline:

“I’m going to let Stone get as big as it’s going to get, as big as it wants to be,” he said. “The only goal is to maintain our original set of standards.”

Speaking of Stone. A case (12 bottles) of Stone Epic Ale 02/02/02 recently sold for $2,500 on eBay. At that price it shouldn’t be surprising that a second immediately went up on the block.


Weekly Therapy: Cupid and hops

Valentine’s Day is not one of the big beer selling holidays. Industrial brewers move a ton of beer for Fourth of July, Memorial Day, the Super Bowl, etc. The December holidays are important for specialty beer producers.

Valentine’s Day? Pretty much another Tuesday. Or is it?

Beer certainly has seen enough promotional material to suggest otherwise. Importers such as Merchant du Vin, extolling the virtues of Lindemans lambics; craft brewers such at Boston Beer, working with a New York chef to create special recipes to go with its Chocolate Bock; and a variety of brewpubs offering special dinners … everybody is getting in the act.

It makes a good story, which is probably why the Liquid Solutions column that Lisa Morrison writes for television station website around the country received unusually prominent play this past week when she turned the spotlight on Valentine’s Day:

When better but the dark nights of February to seduce your sweetie with a sumptuous symphony of the senses? And what better way to woo the object of your affections than with the delectable duo of chocolate — and beer?

That’s right. Chocolate. And beer. This is the Valentine’s Day to get racy. Be daring! Toss aside those erstwhile notions of red wine or champagne and truffles and tempt your honey’s taste buds with a combination that is sure to create fireworks.

(Here’s a link to column as it appeared in Baltimore.)

We think the bottom line should be that beer and chocolate are a treat together, whether in February or October. And romance should be year-round, right?

A couple years back at, Lucy Saunders quoted Rogue Ales Public House manager Russ Menegat: “Chocolate releases the same dopamine chemicals in the brain as romantic love does, and beer tends to reduce social inhibitions. If that doesn’t sound like the makings of an interesting evening, I don’t know what does…”

Saunders noted you couldn’t grab just any beer, that you should match the flavors of roasted cocoa beans and roasted barley malts. Her story began, “If the Belgian monks who brew beer call it ‘liquid bread,’ then for Valentine’s Day, think of it as ‘liquid cake.'”

Which brings us back to where we started. Are we really talking about Valentine’s Day? Lew Bryson riffs on the subject in his monthly “Buzz”” “… it’s almost amusing to see the array of choices offered for the romantic beer drinker. But the subtext here is plain. This is not about beer for romance. It’s about beer for women.”

It’s been more than a dozen years since Goose Island Brewing founder John Hall said that women were more willing to try – and then enjoy – new beers than men. But marketers still focus on promoting beers that are “easy” (light, fruity, whatever) for women to drink.

That’s silly. Listen to Lew:

I happen to believe that women are just like men when it comes to their tastes. That women, like men, have different tastes as individuals, and that they are not gender-selective for sweets and glop any more than men are. That women deserve to be treated with the same respect when selecting a beer that men do, not a patronizing assumption that they want something light, fruity, candyish, or wine-like. They, like men, may not even know what they like. But I believe that the best way to find that out — for both of us — is to offer them the same kind of choices that I would a man.

For more on this, check out a Roundtable of Women Beer Drinkers from our archives (2002).

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Bye-bye, Beamish

Don Russell, a.k.a. Joe Sixpack, has a scoop this week the Philadelphia Daily News: Scottish & Newcastle, which owns Ireland’s Beamish Stout, has pulled the plug on exports of Beamish to the United States.

Don reports that Scottish & Newcastle “quietly decided earlier this year to pull the plug on Beamish exports to America, to concentrate on sales of Newcastle Brown Ale. It will also ax U.S. exports of John Courage Amber Lager and McEwan’s IPA. (The more popular McEwan’s Scotch Ale is still alive, however.)”

This is a big deal to anybody in the U.S. who loves the uniquely peppery stout, but it is a really big deal in Philadelphia. There several independent taverns have boycotted Guinness for the past six years because of the brewery’s suspected ties to a number of Irish-themed tavern chains.

Don’s got the whole story – why the brewers of Beamish are upset, how the big business of beer works and what it means to Philly tavern owners. Take a few minutes to read the story.


Got a good recipe that uses beer?

The name of the website may leave you a little disoriented: Eat Beer.

Even when we consider a beer such as Celebrator Doppelbock liquid bread it is still liquid and we pour it in a glass instead of eating it with a fork.

OK, silliness aside, the the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) is holding a contest to promote beer as an ingredient when cooking. Its “Cooking with Beer Challenge” is designed to find the best recipe in the country featuring brew. The winner will receive a seven day trip to Cancun, Mexico. The press release says “to soak up the sun and enjoy America’s beverage” and if you’ve previously been to Cancun you’ll understand the importance of the part in quotes.

Recipes entered by July 31 will be judged by a panel of food experts to determine which top ten recipe creators will receive an expense-paid trip to participate in the final cook-off in New York City this fall.

“This cooking contest reinforces several of our key messages with consumers,” said NBWA’s Vice President of Public Affairs Michelle Semones. “It highlights the immense variety of beer found in stores around the country – something that would not be possible without distributors to help get these smaller products to market. It also reminds consumers that beer has a natural place at the dinner table – whether livening up a recipe or as the perfect accompaniment to one.”

Beer is the only required ingredient in the recipes, which may be for any type of dish: appetizers, soups, entrees or baked goods. The more creative use of beer as an ingredient the better.