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Meet the hoppier Budweiser

The headline on the front page of the Wall Street Journal – “After Making Beer Ever Lighter, Anheuser Faces a New Palate” – nicely summarizes the story.

Alas, the link will work only if you are a subscriber, so you might want to look for today’s WSJ on the news stand.

Briefly, some of the revelations:

– From 1950 to 2004, the amount of malt used to brew a barrel of beer in the U.S. declined by nearly 27%, and the amount of hops in a barrel of beer declined by more than half. Part of that decrease is due to improvements in how brewers extract flavor from hops. Nonetheless, beer’s taste became steadily lighter.

– Over the past 20 years the IBU’s of most American-style lagers has declined from roughly 15-20 IBU’s to fewer than 10 today.

– Doug. Muhleman, A-B’s group vice president for brewing and technology, says the company didn’t set out to make the beers less bitter. He calls the change “creep,” the result of endlessly modifying the beer to allow for changes in ingredients, weather and consumer taste.

– In the early 1980s, August Busch III ordered that freshly brewed cans of Budweiser and Bud Light be cryogenically frozen, using technology typically employed in preserving human tissue. That means A-B employees can sit down and taste how Budweiser might have changed. For the story, Busch was able to taste cans from 1982, 1988, 1993, 1998 and 2003.

The sample cans demonstrate how “creep” works, the story explains. The difference in taste between two beers brewed five years apart is indistinguishable. Yet, the difference between the 1982 beer and the 2003 beer is distinct. “The bones are the same. It is the same structure,” Muhleman said. Overall, however, “the beers have gotten a little less bitter.”

Now, here’s the news:

“In a little-noticed move Anheuser is loath to discuss, the brewer recently added more hops to its beer.”

From the Journal:

Anheuser didn’t talk publicly about it, but the brewer also recently made changes in its brewing process to correct for over-lightening. In August 2003, Mr. Busch met with hops growers in Oregon and Washington and told them that Anheuser was planning to increase the proportion of hops used in its beers, according to several people who were there.

Mr. Busch confirms the account, saying in a written statement: “I told the growers of our desire to use more hops in our brewing for the purpose of delivering more amplitude and hop flavor in Budweiser.”

How abut that?


Weekly Therapy: The people’s choice

Working for the Anheuser-Busch breweries in Columbus, Ohio, and Merrimack, N.H., has been a little more fun recently.

Why? Burnin’ Helles, Leaf Peeper Pils and Old Eyepopper for starters.

The idea to have a contest that lets customers pick what might on tap in their local pub is hardly new, and the idea for this one might have come from the marketing department but A-B’s promotion has involved brewery employees just as much any similar program would at a small-batch brewery.

This is where things stand now: Residents in New England and Ohio can log onto to cast their vote for a beer they figure they want to drink.

In Ohio the choices include: Burnin’ Helles, Racer Snake Red and Old Eyepopper. In New England they are: Devil’s Hop Yard IPA, Stone Face Ale and Leaf Peeper Pils. The names and beer styles were created by local employees at the Columbus breweries. Voting continues through Sunday, the winning beers will be brewed at the Columbus and Merrimack breweries, and then go on tap in their respective regions June 26.

Most voters will probably make their decision based only on the online descriptions, but batches of each of the beers were brewed in A-B’s St. Louis pilot brewery and are available for sampling.

At Merrimack, more than 500 brewery employees and local distributors contributed ideas, which included suggesting a beer style and a beer name. Then a committee of 12, chosen from different departments such as accounting or packaging, picked the three beers and formulated recipes.

“This was a fun project,” said assistant brewmaster Mitch Steele. “We put up a spread sheet, bounced around ideas about hops, hopping schedules, malt, and so on.”

All three choices in New England are ales. “We’ve wanted to brew more ales out of Merrimack,” Steele said. One simple reason is that Bare Knuckle Stout is brewed in Merrimack, and it’s easier to keep yeast healthy when it is put to work regularly.

Merrimack was a logical choice because of the strong craft brewing scene in the Northeast and because the brewery can produce smaller batch sizes (400 barrels versus 1,000 and more at most A-B breweries). “I think part of it was the success of the seasonal beers (released beginning last fall). The idea of doing some regional beers has been around for a while,” Steele said.

Steele formerly worked in the specialty beer group, formulating recipes that were sold under the Michelob Specialty and A-B American Originals brands. Included were many recipes that never reached the public (although they made the company picnic more fun).

“We tried to get an IPA out there,” Steele said, thinking back to 1997. Now New England customers can vote for Devil’s Hopyard IPA, which is hopped with Cascade, Columbus and Palisades to the tune of 60 IBU.

“I think we are a bit more adventurous than nine years ago, don’t you?” Steele said.

“We’re trying to provide an alternative for our core drinker.”

Who wouldn’t notice the similarity between the Devil’s Hopyard IPA name and that of the immensely popular Victory HopDevil IPA from Downington, Pa.?

We’d rather A-B picked a different name, but it’s also our opinion that members of the HopDevil Nation aren’t likely to jump ship based on a name. Meanwhile, if the Devil’s Hopyard is the voters’ choice, a few A-B loyalists have are going to have an opportunity to broaden their beer horizons. And that’s a good thing.


Ben & Jerry’s apologizes for ‘Black & Tan’

Reauters reports ice cream makers Ben & Jerry’s have apologized for causing offense by calling a new flavor “Black & Tan” – the nickname of a notoriously violent British militia that operated during Ireland’s war of independence.

The ice cream, available only in the United States, is based on an ale and stout drink of the same name.

“Any reference on our part to the British Army unit was absolutely unintentional and no ill-will was ever intended,” said a Ben & Jerry’s spokesman.

This is why you should remember that if you order a drink mixing stout and an lighter colored ale in Ireland to ask for a “half and half.”


Penn Brewery to expand

To celebrate their 20th anniversary, Penn Brewery in Pittsburgh – long an outstanding producer of German-style beers – is embarking on a half a million dollar project to expand the brewery. The expansion will allow the brewery to increase production by 100%. A new bottling line will be installed and most of the support systems used to produce the beer will also be upgraded.

The full press release.

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On Wisconsin beers

The World Beer Cup results have sparked plenty of conversation on the Internet. If your favorite breweries didn’t win anything it might be because they didn’t enter. You can’t be sure.

For instance, you might wonder, did SandLot Brewery at Coors Field, which won seven medals at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival, enter the World Beer Cup? (In this case we know the answer is yes.)

Or why in the world didn’t New Glarus Brewing in Wisconsin, a perennial winner at such competitions, win anything? We didn’t know the answer to that one until we saw this in The Capital Times:

Missing from this list of Wisconsin winners was the New Glarus Brewery, which chose not to enter this year.

“We have been so busy with our construction, which is kicking our butts, we just didn’t have time to get it together,” said brewery co-owner Deb Carey, whose husband, Dan, was honored this year by the Brewers Association for innovation in brewing and his commitment to the craft brewing industry.

Speaking of Wisconsin beers, the Beer Man in Appleton doesn’t pull any punches in reviewing a couple of new beers: Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat and Capital Island Wheat.

On Sunset Wheat:

I find it incomprehensible that professional brewers could make a beer that is so off, and it’s even more troubling that someone tasted this after it was finished and decided it could be sold. Something is not right with this scenario.

For the Capital beer it was more a matter of not living up to the brewery’s normally high standards:

The beer is just bland – there is nothing to pick out. It’s not malty and there is no hop flavor to speak of. The wheat component is negligible. This is a beer that will no doubt sell like hotcakes in Door County to tourists who want souvenirs, but that’s about it.

Credit to the Beer Man for being upfront about what he thinks about beers from his home state.


Take that, West Coast brewers

Don Russell, aka Joe Sixpack, writes about Philadelphia-area winners in the World Beer Cup, properly pointing out that if beer drinkers weren’t supporting the beers outside the norm that brewers couldn’t continue to experiment.

He lets Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant brewer Gordon Grubb – whose Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse now has won three major medals – make the point. Grubb now brews so much of the sour wheat beer that he believes tiny Nodding Head is “far and away” the largest producer of Berliner weisse on this side of the Atlantic.

“It’s definitely one of those beers that’s not for everyone,” Grubb said. “It’s a love or hate situation. But once they get to know it, they often love it.

“What I’ve learned here is that if you do anything outside the norm, here in Philadelphia people are willing to try different kinds of things. Whether it’s beer or different restaurants, people want to experience different things with an open mind.”

The Brewers Association, which conducts the World Beer Cup, echoed the thought in a press release. “While these results are great news for American brewers, they also tell us something about American beer drinkers,” said Ray Daniels, Director of Craft Beer Marketing for the BA. “In order for breweries to make a beer, they must have consumers to drink it. So the breadth of beer styles made in the US indicates the diversity of beer styles and flavors consumed in the US compared to other countries around the world.”

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect a little regional chest thumping. Another BA press release pointed out that California brewers won 10% of all medals, and that story has been repeated often by West Coast media.

So back to Joe Sixpack:

The result, Grubb continued, is that Philadelphia “brews a really great range of beers. It’s not like, say, California, which puts out some very hoppy beers and maybe a few Belgian styles. We run the whole gamut here.”

We figure the West Coast guys can defend themselves.


Bock: Spring has sprung

The Los Angeles Times points out that among nationally distributed American beers, only Samuel Adams produces a true bock. But those who care about the style care about the style.

Dan Gordon, director of brewing operations for the Palo Alto-born Gordon Biersch chain of brewery-restaurants, makes more bocks than anybody else in this country: an extra-strong Winterbock, Maibock (available in April and May, but only on draft at the restaurants) and the year-round Blonde Bock. “I’m a fanatic about bock,” says Gordon, who fell in love with the style while he was an exchange student in Germany. “It’s my pride-and-joy beer.”

Bocks, of course, come in many colors and flavors – and while the style may be neglected by national breweries, there are plenty of local and regional craft choices, plus some of the German originals.

A good way to toast spring.

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Homebrewing dates to remember

– New Mexico’s Enchanted Brewing Challenge May 19-20 features a special competition for “radical beers.”Judges will also have the opportunity to evaluate beers in the Radical Beer Open.

– Saturday, May 6 is National Homebrew Day and once again an excuse for homebrewers around the country gather for Big Brew.

– The Milwaukee Monster Mash includes competition in only six BJCP categories, but that way all six winners may have their beer brewed at Wisconsin breweries. The May 7 competition is held in conjunction with World of Beer 2006.


Miller + GQ = Sophistication

Miller Brewing has kept its distance from the Here’s to Beer campaign designed to boost the image of beer.

That doesn’t mean the brewing company isn’t looking for an image updgrade. Citing a “consumer movement toward mainstream sophistication” Miller is partnering with GQ Magazine to promote Miller Genuine Draft with a “Summer Essentials” promotion. The program also includes a Miller Genuine Draft “take-one” mini mag that’s produced by GQ.


New beers from foreign shores

Nearly two million visitors a year flock to Bavaria’s Sacred Mountain to visit the Kloster Andechs, home to one of one of Germany’s last monastery breweries.

Andechs HellDistinguished Brand International is set to begin importing Andechs Spezial Hell Lager this month, although it will be from Canada rather than Germany. DBI explains: “Andechs Spezial Hell is being brewed under direct supervision of the Benedictines and in strict accordance with their purity law called, Reinheitsgebot, at Brick Brewing Company in Waterloo, Ontario. To optimize Andechs special flavor, it will be available in 20 liter kegs (5.28 gallons). The small kegs reduce oxidation, helping to ensure Andechs superior flavor.”

Benedictine monks began brewing at Andechs in 1455, but now only nine monks live in the monastery where 40 once toiled. They have turned the brewing operations over to secular workers, with all but the wheat beer produced in a thoroughly modern brewery built 20 years ago at the base of a hill the monastery commands.

At Andechs, the Spezial Hell is produced using a double decoction mash. “Andechs views decoction as essential, although it costs a lot of money in energy,” said Alexander Reis, the general manager of brewery operations. “It gives the beer a deeper color, more pronounced body and a maltier finish.”

The amber-hued Spezial Hell, taking its color from CaraMunich malt, is lagered 4-5 weeks. 5.8% abv, 22 IBU.

Heineken LightHeineken has just kicked off a national advertising campaign to support its off-premise launch of Heineken Premium Light. The $50 million national campaign began with gala events in cities across the country in March, followed by the off-premise rollout in April.

Heineken expects to sell 5 million cases of Premium Light in 2006. Like Heineken, Premium Light is packaged in a green bottle, but this one is sleeker (svelte, if you will). Using taglines like “Succumb to Smooth,” Heineken is seeking to create a Luxury Light segment of the beer market that includes both Premium Light and Amstel Light.

Premium Light targets domestic light beer drinkers, while Amstel Light continues to offer itself as an alternative to fuller-bodied import beer aficionado. Served cold you wouldn’t mistake Premium Light for Heineken itself, although as it warms it shows some of the same low-malt, grainy character as Heineken, though at lower levels.

Will it taste skunky (a flavor often associated with imports), as Heineken often does when its green bottle spends a little time in the sun? You’ll have to conduct that experiment yourself.


Schlitz looks to rekindle magic

Advertising Age reports that Pabst Brewing hopes to revive the Schlitz brand using the same sort of retro approach that fueled a surge in Pabst sales.

The problem for Schlitz and Pabst is that price apparently trumps retro, and sales dropped in 2005 when Anheuser-Busch cut prices on Natural Light and Busch.


So Schlitz – which was the nation’s third best selling beer just 25 years ago – is turning up the volume, including a reprise of the gilded bottle from the 1950s.

“They absolutely have to do something,” said distributor Don Faust Jr. at Faust Distributor Co., Houston. “If price isn’t going to get people to buy Pabst and Schlitz, the alternative has to be more marketing.”

We’ve got another suggestion. Change what’s inside the bottle.


Not exactly all the pleasures of beer

The headline from the New Scientist reads: “All the pleasures of alcohol, with no downsides.”

The discussion is about a “cocktail of drugs that mimics the pleasurable effects of alcohol without the downsides.” Pay close attention.

Alcohol exerts its effects on the brain mainly by latching onto signalling molecules called GABA-A receptors. There are dozens of subtypes of these, some of which are associated with specific effects of alcohol. Memory loss, for example, seems to occur because alcohol binds to a subtype in the hippocampus called alpha-5. [David] Nutt says it would be possible to design molecules that bind strongly to the good subtypes but more weakly to the bad ones.

In theory, a new drug could “deliver alcohol’s pleasurable effects, notably relaxation and sociability, without the aggression, nausea, loss of coordination and amnesia” . . . as well as hangovers.

But what if you like the flavor of beer? Or that it makes your meals taste better? That’s also a pleasurable effect.