Beer rules

The “Brew” Blog, which is sponsored by Miller and reads like it, this week has a series about how the rules of the beer business are changing.

It features old rules and the rules that replaced them. No. 2:
Old Rule: Imports and crafts are exotic
New Rule: Imports and crafts are mainstream

Most of the attention still goes to imports, which had 6% of the market in 1995 and now command 12%, which are much like mainstream beers in taste and marketing.

Indeed, top imports Corona Extra and Heineken are taking on the characteristics of mainstream domestic brews. They spend millions on television. They’re sold in convenience stores. They’re available in large package sizes. And, bowing to U.S. consumer tastes, they’re available in light versions.

“Brew” has made all the rules available, so we don’t have to wait to read No. 4, for which the new rule is “No product, no image.” The idea is that there has to be substance behind advertising.

There’s no one path to differentiation. It can focus on the intrinsic qualities of the beer – its taste or other physical characteristics. Or it can focus on the extrinsic characteristics, such as its place of origin or the package. And of course, differentiation can be based on both.

Like, “We’re your neighborhood brewery and we make beer with more flavor.”


Anchor Brewing poster child for small businesses

The in USA Today reads Beermaker thinks small in big way, resisting urge to splurge on growth but could also have stated Anchor Brewing “thinks big in a small way.”

That would have suited Seth Godin’s, whose books Small is the New Big is a top seller at Amazon.

But new? Fritz Maytag has been doing this at Anchor for 40 years.

“Big is not always better,” Maytag told the newspaper. “Small companies like ours can still knock ’em dead.”

The point of the special section on “growing a small business” is that it’s OK to stay small. Anybody who has consumed an Anchor beer or two already knows that.

Bo Burlingham, author of Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, says Anchor is a rare company with real character and “corporate mojo — the business equivalent of charisma.”


Seeing red over Guinness Red

Guinness plans to test market a new beer called Guinness Red.

Stephen Beaumont doesn’t think much of the idea.

Listen, Diageo, I know that sales of Guinness are falling in Ireland and the U.K., at least according to my sources, and that you likely want to find some way to buoy them up. But believe me, this ain’t it!

His explanation at World of Beer.


Beer history vs. nostalgia

The New York Times (free registration) makes an interesting pairing today in Books of the Times, reviewing Maureen Ogle’s Ambitious Brew and Great American Beer.

Our three-part interview with Ogle sparked chatter on various discussion boards and e-mail lists about how complicent the dominant brewers were in the “dumbing down” of American beer and the role played by advertising.

Thus, the Times writes, “The perfect visual accompaniment to Ms. Ogle’s history is Christopher O’Hara’s ‘Great American Beer,” a 21-gun salute to 50 beers that “shaped the 20th century.'” Though a rather thin 128 pages the books is packed with photos of advertisements.

Immersing ourselves fully in beer nostalgia reminds us of where we’ve been, but tell us little about where beer is headed in the 21st century. Ogle’s book, on the other hand, shows us that history may provide a better hints of what’s in the future.


Three men in a (historic) barrel

BarrelWith production ending at George Gale and Company in Horndean, Bob Marvin (he’s the one in the middle) realized that a bit of brewing history could be lost.

Marvin, head brewer at the Ringwood Brewery in Hampshire, worked at Gales until 1994, so got together with Ringwood managing director David Welsh and Gales’ retired head brewer Derek Lowe to strike the deal to get this 30-barrel fermenting vessel moved to Hampshire.

After 159 years of beer production Gales taken over by Fullers in London last spring and production moved to the Fullers brewery in Chiswick.

This vessel was used to brew the classic Gales Ales Prize Old Ale (9% abv).

[Via the Southern Daily Echo.]


Double Chocolate Stout cookies

Double ChocolateDouble Chocolate Stout cookies are back this month in the Northwest. “Last year when we first introduced the Double chocolate Stout, we had the quadruple the normal number of customer comments,” said David Saulnier, president of Cougar Mountain Baking Co.

Cougar Mountain uses BridgePort Brewing Co.’s Black Strap Stout as in ingredient in the cookie. The alcohol bakes out of the cookie, but flavors from the stout – most notably chocolate, molasses, coffee, other roasted quality and even an underlying smokiness – meld nicely with chocolate chunks in the cocoa-based cookie.

Cougar Mountain introduced Double Chocolate last year as a “Flavor of the Month” and brought the cookies back this October. “People were wowed by such an original flavor, and they thought the resulting cookie was great,” Saulnier said.

Not surprisingly the cookies pair very well with Bridgeport Black Strap Stout. The flavors in the cookie and beer echo each other, with the understated alcohol in the beer heightening the flavors and the roasty-bitterness at the end cleaning the palate. For another bit of cookie and sip of beer, of course.

Since the cookies come eight to a box (made from 100% recycled paper) we felt it out obligation to find some other good pairings for you. The cookies are intensely flavored so you need a beverage that will stand up to them. Yes, milk works well. Most wines won’t.

Beyond the Black Strap Stout we found that Brewery Ommegang Ale, currently brewed for Ommegang in Belgium, and New Belgium Frambozen both worked well with the cookies. The Ommegang is powerful enough to stand up to the chocolate, in part because it shows certain chocolate qualities. We particularly liked the way licorice in the beer matched the cookies. The raspberries (juice, actually) used to make Frambozen turn the Double Chocolate cookies into a double dessert.


Lost Abbey finds friends in San Francicsco

Port Brewing/Lost Abbey takes San Francisco by storm.

As well as dazzling a crowd of about 100 at San Francisco’s Cathedral Hill Hotel, Port Brewing left behind beer from Bay Area drinkers at the Tornado and a couple of retails stores.

Hedonist Beer Jive has a full rundown on the beers. It is hard to believe they “thought we were drinking something called “WIPEOUT IPA” when they were sampling Lost Abbey Avant Garde, but the beer scored a perfect 10.

Plenty of photos at Brookston Beer Bulletin.


A-B income surges

One the one hand maybe we should wait for analysts to explain to us why this isn’t really good news:

Anheuser-Busch Cos., the world’s largest brewer, said profit rose the most in at least 10 years as consumers drank more imported beer such as Corona and Grolsch.

Net income rose 26% to $637.5 million, or 82 cents a share, beating analysts’ estimates of 81 cents a share. Anheuser earned $504.8 million, or 65 cents, a year earlier. Sales rose 4.7% to $4.28 billion from $4.09 billion, the St. Louis- based company said today in a statement.

It must be for A-B stockholders, because shares were up more than 2% as the market was about to close. Maybe leaning on Corona, Grolsh and Tiger means that domestic production is still in the dumps, but the fact is they beat analysts expectations at a time some were downgrading the stock.


Beer alert: Hop Trip, wet hops and more

Hop TripThe romance of hops? That either makes sense to you or it doesn’t. Deschutes Brewery certainly understands because it has posted a wonderful movie about the making of Hop Trip 2006 at its website.

Deschutes used whole leaf Crystal hops for its fresh hop beer, creating a beer of moderate alcohol (5.5% abv), solid bitterness (38 IBU) and excessive hop flavor.

Hop Trip flashes the citrusy/piney aroma you expect of a beer from the Northwest, but follows that with spicy/floral flavors from the wet hops. It tiptoes on the border of being a bit vegetal, but the final impression is soothing in a way that may cause you to consider napping on a hop pillow.

Great Divide Brewing in Denver has shipped its “wet hop” ale, simply called Fresh Hop Pale Ale. The 2005 batch proved so popular that the brewery doubled the amount it brewed, but higher demand means it again will be sold on an allocated basis and a little harder to find. Fresh Hop Ale is 6.1% abv and measures 55 IBU.

– Monday is the official release date for Stone Double Bastard Ale and Oaked Arrogant Bstard but Double Bastard has been spotted on store shelves already. The news is that that Oaked Arrogant Bastard will be available in 12-ounce bottles (sold in 6-packs) for the first time.

“Each beer possesses very different flavor characteristics and complexity, while retaining the intensity of the original Bastard,” Stone Head Brewer Mitch Steele said for a company press release. “Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale has the strong flavor of American oak, vanilla, and malt, while the Double Bastard Ale is a huge beer, dominated by malt, fruit, fresh hops and alcohol.”

– Extra Special Red (8% abv) is the third release in Odell Brewing’s 2006 Single Batch Series. “There is a lot of history behind this beer style. Red beers can be traced back to ancient Egypt. It is one of the oldest beer recipes” said brewer Greg Wiggall. According to Egyptian mythology, beer colored with red ochre was used to pacify an angry goddess and save the world from destruction.

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Better times for hop growers

A business story form the Mail Tribune in Oregon reports that hop producers see a turnaround for their market. That means a growers’ market instead of a buyers’ market, and higher prices.

Consider this history:

In August 1980, clusters sold for $1.15 per pound, but rose to $5 per pound when brewers began to perceive a shortage, recalled Ralph Olson, general manager of Hopunion LLC, a collection of hop growers who sell primarily to the craft brewers.

Just one year later, the price bottomed out at 30 cents. Hop growers need at least $2 per pound to cover their costs and make a slight profit.

“You need the stability, you don’t need the slot machine,” he said. “You just need the in-between. It’s very hard to accomplish, but I think right now we’re at a place where that’s going to happen.”

Prices so far this year have ranged from $1.40 to $2.40.

Credit American craft brewers for at least contributing to the turnaround.

The best thing the craft brewing industry has done for hop growers is to broaden consumers’ appetite for beer, said Michelle Palacios, administrator of the Oregon Hop Commission.

“They’ve done a really good job of educating consumers about the different types of beer, about different kinds of hops, and educating their palate,” Palacios said.

The fact that this Associated Press story has been picked up by more than 100 news outlets echoes that thought.

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Tiger beer hot in Detroit

Signapore’s Tiger beer, which earlier this year struck a deal with Anheuser-Busch that greatly expands its distribution is flying off the shelves in – you guessed it – Detroit.

“Last weekend alone we sold 20 cases, which for an off-brand beer is a ton of beer,” says Harry Kefalonitis, owner of Harry’s Detroit, which is near Comerica Park. “They see the sign I put up about the beer, and people will say, ‘Oh, give me that. Get me a Tiger Beer,’ and then the whole table ends up getting it.”

One owner of a popular bar/club said described it as a basic drinking beer.

“It’s like Labatt, but with more alcohol,” he said. “It’s nothing super special. It’s just a basic, solid tasty beer.”


U.S. beers shine in Sweden

American brewers showed their skill for brewing big and bold beers in the Stockholm Beer & Whisky Festival (that’s Stockholm, Sweden), sweeping the cateogires for strong beers above 6% alcohol.

The U.S. medalists:

Category: Dark Lager max 5.9% ABV
Silver-Boston Beer Company, Black Lager

Category: Porter/Stout max 5.9% ABV
Bronze-Sierra Nevada, Porter

Category: Strong Beer 6.0% to 7.9% ABV
Gold –Stone Brewing Company, Stone IPA
Silver- Oskar Blue Brewery, Dale’s Pale Ale
Bronze-Great Divide, Titan IPA

Category: Strong Beer 8.0% ABV and above
Gold-North Coast Brewing Co, Old Rasputin Imperial Stout
Silver-Flying Dog Ales, Gonzo Imperial Porter
Bronze-Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, 90 Minute IPA

Category: Other Beer Category
Bronze-Rogue Ales, Chipotle Ale

The beers were entered in the festival’s judging thanks to the Export Development Program of the Brewers Association.

Thanks to Oskcar Blues for providing the results.