A-B, Goose Island in talks

The Chicago Tribune (free registration required) reports that Goose Island Beer Co. and brewing giant Anheuser-Busch are “in talks.”

Goose Island president and founder John Hall confirmed as much, but said discussions have been limited to “distribution issues.” He declined to comment further on the nature of the talks.

Adding a small brewer would answer demands from A-B wholesalers to add new products.

“Its wholesalers are clamoring for high-margin, growth brands,” said Benj Steinman, editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights, told the Tribune. “Anheuser has promised to deliver them, but they can’t just create them.”

A-B reportedly is talking with other microbreweries about distribution deals or taking a stake in the companies, including Old Dominion in Virginia.

Pin-up girls and beer

New York City’s Heartland Brewery has published a 1940s era pin-up calendar, featuring its servers and beers.

LeroyThe girls are posed in 12 vignettes to represent beers such as Matrimony Ale, Farmer Jon’s Oatmeal Stout and Not Tonight Honey Porter.

Fifty percent of all proceeds from the calendar to the Heartland Brewery Foundation, with funds earmarked for the New York chapters of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Billy Joel’s Charity Begins at Home.

Weekly Therapy: Winter warmers

You wouldn’t have heard this exchange last year:

       “Have you tried the new bourbon oak barrel beer from Anheuser-Busch?”

       “Which one?”

A-B regularly tests a variety of products in many markets, often with hopes they’ll develop into something bigger. That’s not the plan with three beers available now – they are one-offs (seasonals) willing to appeal to a smaller audience. The beers:

Celebrate: A 10% abv lager infused with with milled vanilla beans and aged with heavily toasted bourbon oak barrel staves in the maturation tank.

Brew Masters’ Private Reserve: An 8.5% lager brewed only with first runnings (the richest part of the mash) and offered in a 46.5-ounce magnum bottle.

Winter BourbonWinter’s Bourbon Cask Ale: The new draft-only seasonal, a 6% abv ale brewed with dark roasted caramel malts and whole Madagascar vanilla beans, and also aged on bourbon barrel staves.

Not only are these beers different, but producing them is as well. At the A-B plant in St. Louis where Celebrate and Private Reserve were brewed a small run usually produces 3,000 barrels (9,300 gallons of beer). These two were brewed in smaller quantities.

“We’ve been learning to use our equipment in a more flexible way,” said brewer Nathaniel Davis, a member of the New Products Group formed in 2004. “We’re coming at these beer from the consumer’s standpoint. We’ve scaled down or used partial tanks, and this allows us not to require enormous volume.”

Although A-B has not released a holiday-type beer since the late 1990s, the company has a tradition of brewing such specials. “We have evidence of rich Christmas brews, but we don’t have the recipes,” Davis said. In earlier days, these beers were sometimes made only at local breweries and given to employees and special customers.

The Private Reserve comes with a swing top closure. “It lends itself to camaraderie. The pop is like a champagne cork,” Davis said. He said the beer has enough carbonation to pop a couple of times, but the beer really is meant to be consumed in a single session by several drinkers.

“I like it as it warms up,” he said. The same is true of Celebrate, which is sold by the single 24-ounce bottle or with two 13.5-ounce snifters. “You want to serve it in an appropriately wide glass. You really want it to open up,” Davis said.

“I’d taste it (Celebrate) up to room temperature,” Davis said. “I’ve even mulled it.”

Is there a target audience for these beers? “We are getting tremendous feedback across the board,” Davis said. “We love to talk about beer. We’re passionate about what we’re doing.”

The Winter’s Bourbon Cask is the second in A-B seasonal series, following Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale.

Although the ingredients are similar, “Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale and Michelob Celebrate are two different beers,” said brewer Florian Kuplent, another member of the New Products Group. “Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale is an all-malt, draft ale that is best enjoyed served cold and has a tawny color and hoppy aroma.

“Michelob Celebrate is a lager beer best enjoyed while sipping at room temperature. … Although both beers share a few of the ingredients we’ve found people enjoy during the winter and holiday seasons – each one has a distinct taste.”

Just as Davis points out the swing top on Private Reserve invites sharing, Kuplent says Bourbon Cask is designed to be enjoyed in a communal setting. “It’s a great complement to an evening out with friends and family and is perfect for enjoying over storytelling, taking refuge from the stresses of the day, and escaping the blustery weather outdoors,” he said.

A quick note: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently profiled the Research Pilot Brewery and the Brewing New Products Group. An interesting read, including the fact that Chairman August A. Busch III suggested a beer using blueberries.

Beer friendly prof under fire

A Harvard professor moonlighting for beer giant Anheuser-Busch finds himself under fire from substance abuse counselors for saying the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption outweigh the risks. And for how he appears to be benefiting from the stance.

Meir Stampfer, a leading researcher on alcohol consumption, has traveled to Chicago and New York to tout the benefits of alcohol at Anheuser-Busch sponsored lunches.

While the company never paid Stampfer for his talks, it footed his travel expenses and donated $150,000 in scholarship money to the Harvard School of Public Health.

[From BostonHerald.com.]

Summit employees share in success

Summit Brewing workers get plenty of benefits and free beer every month. But the perk the employees are most excited about is the partial ownership that the beermaker made available to them this year.

“I can see the efforts of my work,” said Tim Daly, an area sales manager, who has been at Summit six years. “It’s a workplace you like to come to. I had never had that before.”

[From Star-Tribune.com]

Christmas cans

LeroyOn Thursday, Oskar Blues Brewery will release two hand-canned seasonal beers in Colorado.

Gordon and Leroy both carry hand-applied labels, in part because only 400 cases of each beer have been produced. Microcanners must purchase their cans in lots of about 250,000 cans. That large number of cans is a hurdle to releasing small batches of canned seasonal beers.

“These beers are a canned gift to our fans,” says Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis.

Gordon – previously available only on draft at the brewery’s pub – is made with six different malts and three types of hops, and dry-hopped with whole cones of Amarillo hops. It is 9.3% alcohol by volume, and has 85 IBU.

Leroy is an unfiltered American-style brown ale made with five different malts and four kinds of US and UK hops. A “session” beer, it checks in at 5.2% abv.

Expert questions health value of drinking

Since we’re pretty meticulous about reporting the possible benefits of moderate drinking, it seems only fair to let a professor of epidemiology at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, take the other side.

Dr. Rod Jackson and his colleagues make their case in an article in the Dec. 3 issue of The Lancet.

Jackson said that nondrinkers are different from light-to-moderate drinkers, who are also different from heavy drinkers. “So, it is likely that the apparent benefits of light-to-moderate drinking on the heart are overestimated because light-to-moderate drinkers are light-to-moderate in their other behaviors as well, which is giving them some of the observed benefits, rather than the alcohol,” he said.

[From Forbes.com]

Mexican beer gets serious

Could Mexico be developing a microbrewery culture?

SignOnSanDiego.com reports Tijuana’s International Beer Festival was a step in the right direction.

“We don’t have the money to compete” with Corona, Pacifico, Dos Equis and other megabrews, one microbrewery owner said. “But I can provide to my customers what the others can’t, even with all their money. Because it’s not about a marketing concept.”

The story comes complete with tasting notes.

JW Dundee joins aluminum bottle crowd

High Falls Brewing Co. has begun to package JW Dundee’s Honey Brown lager and American Pale Ale in flashy 16-ounce aluminum bottles as a single-serve product for bars, restaurants, groceries and convenience stores.

“We’re looking at this as a way for people to sample the product,” said High Falls Chief Executive Officer Tom Hubbard. “These are just more ways for us to gain the momentum of the craft line of products that we are offering.”

[From the Rochester Democrat& Chronicle]

Beer, and pubs, for dogs

No, no drinking was conducted before posting of this dispatch.

Yes, Dog Star Brewing Co. – in Napa Valley, it figures – makes beer for dogs.

Yes, all Rogue Nation Embassies – also known as pubs – offer gourmet treats for dogs.

First, the doggie beer. The Napa Valley Register has all the details about Dog Star’s Happy Tail Ale – which might have started as a lark, but turned into a serious venture.

The basics:

Dog Star’s first Happy Tail Ale recipe consisted of soda water, yellow food coloring and beef bouillon. Right away the Millers learned one quick lesson about combining bouillon cubes in soda water, “It explodes like a volcano,” said Jamie with a rueful laugh. Additionally, they discovered dogs really don’t like carbonation. “It upsets their stomachs,” she said.

With that, they began more research. Through visits to microbreweries and brewing suppliers Jamie learned more about beermaking. “I had only been a beer drinker, now I was turning into a beer brewer,” she said.

Jamie eventually came up with a formula very similar to beer but without alcohol, carbonation or hops, which can cause dog seizures. The final recipe consists of water, malted barley, glucosamine, vitamin E and lactic acid. Natural beef drippings provide additional flavor and sodium benzoate prevents bottle fermenting.

There’s plenty more to the story – local bars are even stocking the beer.

Rogue now offers Gulley’s Dog Menu at all six of its brewery/restaurants. A burger and fires combination runs $9.95 but most items are around a dollar. These include a carob cupcake, a peanut butter bone and a croissant with beef.

Rogue has long been dog friendly. Brewmaster John Maier’s best friend, Brewer, is pictured on the front of the website (click on his photo), as well as some Rogue beer bottles, condom package, T-shirts and posters.

He is also Master of Ceremonies at Doggie Days fundraisers held periodically at Rogue pubs.

Beer School

BusinessWeek Online interviews Steve Hindy about Beer School, a new book he wrote together with Tom Potter. Hindy and Potter quit their day jobs to launch Brooklyn Brewery in the industrial neighborhood of Williamsburg. Today, the brewery is an international brand pulling in $11 million in annual sales.

A sample question and answer:

In your original plans, did you set out to launch a microbrewery or did you intend this to end up as the international, multimillion dollar brand that it is now?

We always intended on becoming as big as we could. When we started, we felt that there were lots of small breweries, particularly on the West Coast, and New York City had a tremendous brewing history. We believed this tradition was not forgotten and somehow we could tap into that and it would be a fantastic market to build a branded beer.

We had planned on building a regional brand on the East Coast, but now we’ve begun expanding into Europe. It was kind of a surprise, but we have caught on in Britain and Japan, and we have a serious foothold in Denmark. We’re going into Sweden, Finland, and eventually, Norway.