New Belgium Gets PAC’d: The Politics Of Good Beer

To produce quality beer, you need clean water.  To maintain clean water, you need laws that protect groundwater and waterways.  To draft, implement, and enforce laws that protect groundwater and waterways, you need politicians willing to support those efforts.  This need for political heft behind clean water legislation, thus providing the nation with quality beer, brings us to the new Political Action Committee (“PAC”) formed by New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, perhaps best known for its Fat Tire Amber Ale.

New Belgium has always been clear about its political leanings; its commitment to environmental responsibility and sustainable practices is part and parcel of its brand identity and company culture.  Its website proclaims:

At New Belgium, we believe in using every tool at our disposal to create the vibrant future we envision for the earth and her inhabitants. In addition to minimizing our resource consumption, collaborating in our value chain, promoting business practices which empower people and create right livelihoods, and a generous philanthropy program, we advocate for environmentally and socially responsible policy.

The Brewery filed on July 30, 2014 to start the New Belgium Federal PAC, with the mission to donate to like-minded political candidates and to support causes important to craft brewers.  While specific candidates have not yet been named, the PAC aims to become involved in policy and legislation around water conservation, sustainable agriculture, and smart transportation.

For example, a recent blog on the New Belgium website advocates for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) proposed changes to the Waters of the U.S. (“WOTUS”) rule, which defines the surface water that is eligible for federal protection.  Andrew Lemley, the Brewery’s government affairs representative, explains that the changes would expand the water that is eligible for regulation by the EPA to include headwaters and tributaries, in addition to specified rivers and lakes.  He states: “This clarification makes common sense: water bodies that are connected to rivers should be safeguarded like those rivers themselves.”

Additionally, the New Belgium Federal PAC will support the Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act (“Small Brew Act”).  The Small Brew Act would expand the population of brewers eligible for reduced excise taxes under the Internal Revenue Code from those that produce only 2 million barrels per year to those that produce up to 6 million barrels per year.  In this effort, New Belgium’s PAC will stand opposed to the PACs of beer giants like Anheuser-Busch and Coors.

New Belgium may be the little guy amongst brewery federal PACs, but it is a giant in the world of craft brewing, as the third-largest craft brewer by volume in America.  While its PAC activity could alienate some beer lovers and other breweries, the New Belgium Federal PAC has potential to provide new opportunities for partnerships as well as for interaction with local communities.

Flies, humans, and yeast: bizarre love triangle

Scientists have officially demonstrated that humans are not the only species attracted to that bready, malty, sometimes-fruity-sometimes-flowery smell of beer, and more crucially, not the only species to incorporate beer as a finished product into its reproduction strategy.

The project was seeded about 15 years ago, when a messy graduate student returned to lab after neglecting his experiments for a weekend to find that escaped fruit flies from a neighboring lab had invaded a flask accidentally left on a counter that contained a wild yeast culture, but ignored a different flask that contained an altered yeast strain.  Years later, these same Belgian researchers have discovered the molecular mechanisms underlying the fruit flies’ flask preference.  These mechanisms create an aroma-based communication and mutualistic symbiosis between the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and the brewer’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiaeThe work involved four main experiments, using a combination of molecular, behavioral, and neurobiological techniques.

The scientists’ first step was to manipulate the yeast genes to create different types of yeast for comparison in the planned experiments.  It is commonly known that yeast is responsible for many of the aromas and flavors of beer through its production of acetate esters such as ethyl acetate (pear), isoamyl acetate (banana), and phenylethyl acetate (flowery).  These acetate esters are formed in a reaction that is catalyzed chiefly by an enzyme called ATF1Using genetic engineering techniques, the Belgians were able to create yeast “mutants” that lacked the ATF1 gene, rendering them unable to produce those acetate esters with such “fragrant” fly-enticing aromas.

The next step applied behavioral techniques to detect a preference in the fruit flies for either the un-modified yeast (“wild-type”) or the yeast lacking ATF1 (“mutant”).  The scientists set up a computer-controlled chamber wherein aromas from different yeast fermentations could be released from opposing corners.  The flies remained randomly dispersed in the chamber while odorless air was released, but once airflow contained aromas from fermentations, they significantly preferred the chamber quadrant with the “fragrant” wild-type aroma (with acetate esters) over the quadrant with “bland” mutant aroma (without acetate esters).

To probe the neuronal mechanisms underlying this behavioral preference, the researchers used calcium imaging in the antennal (olfactory) lobe of live flies.  When they compared neural activity in response to mutant yeast compared to wild-type, they found that the response of projection neurons – which receive input directly from olfactory (smell) sensory neurons – was clearly altered.  The fly brains thus represented the “bland” mutant aroma differently from the “fragrant” wild-type aroma.

While it was clear to the scientists that the yeast provided the flies’ meals, they pondered the advantage for the yeast in employing such scent-related strategies to attract the flies.  Using fluorescent labeling techniques, they demonstrated that “fragrant” wild-type yeast strains were 4 times more likely to be dispersed by a fruit fly than their “bland” mutant peers.  Dispersion provides clear evolutionary advantages because it can make yeast more viable and more likely to reproduce.  In this way, wild-type yeast benefits from being more attractive to flies.

Thus, these Belgian scientists showed that acetate esters produced by yeasts change neural activity in fruit flies, which increases the flies’ attraction to the yeast, and thus increases the potential for advantageous dispersion of the yeast.

Humans demonstrate similar attraction to the aroma of beer in addition to altered neural activity when consuming it, and indeed may use it (perhaps less directly) in the reproduction process.  What’s in it for the yeast?  The answer may be the same: increased reproduction, in the form of purposeful cultivation.  The yeast that is the most successful at creating aromas and flavors that are attractive to humans is the yeast that is isolated and cultivated for future use.

Source: Verstrepen KJ, Yaksi E, Hassan BA, Wenseleers T, Michiels J, Meester LD, Cools TL, Franco LM, and Chstiaens JF. The Fungal Aroma Gene ATF1 Promotes Dispersal of Yeast Cells through Insect Vectors. Cell Reports. 2014.

Equity for Beer Punks

About two weeks ago, I tasted my first BrewDog beer: the 5 AM Red AleRobin ordered it first, inspiring the entire table to join in, and no one regretted her decision.  The beer poured deep amber in color, and the flavor maintained a neat hop-malt balance all the way through.  Rather than elaborating further, I will provide BrewDog’s description, which is a bit more complicated: “Jump in and you’ll find berry bouncing off marmalade clashing with caramel cosying up to chocolate buzzing off spice sizzling with toast laced with lychee and colliding with biscuit.”  In fact, the 5 AM Red Ale was recently named the World’s Best Amber Ale at the 2014 World Beer Awards.

I already want to try another BrewDog offering, and it’s not just because the beer was so tasty.  Indeed, the Scottish brewery just announced the launch of its Development Fund.  After partially funding BrewDog by selling equity through its own Equity for Punks campaign, co-founders James Watt and Martin Dickie have allocated £100,000 of their profits each year, as well as their time and expertise, to support other craft breweries as they start up.

In this case, “time and expertise” includes featuring Fund recipients in BrewDog bars as well as introducing them to sales networks.  Watt and Dickie also plan to assist with sourcing ingredients and buying brewing equipment, as well as provide access to BrewDog’s beer laboratory.  For the investment, BrewDog takes a small amount of equity in each start-up brewery, allowing the businesses to grow together.

BrewDog selected two breweries as its first Development Fund recipients: Brew by Numbers (“BBNo.”) from London, and Curious Audacious Products (“CAP”) out of Stockholm.  Brew by Numbers has asserted that its mission is to create “exciting and forward-thinking beers with a focus on quality and drinkability.”  The co-founders emphasize research, experimentation, testing and tasting in their work.  CAP focuses on “playfulness, experimentation and [the] sheer joy of brewing beer,” reflected in their irregular releases of “I’m Curious,” one-of-a-kind-and-never-to-be-seen-again creations.  CAP’s beers feature whimsical sketch drawings of a skull smelling a flower, a musical instrument with a face, a monkey holding umbrellas in the rain, and a whale decked out in a top hat, cane, and pipe.

Given the crowding of the craft beer market, at least in the U.S., it will be interesting to see whether – and where – this business model catches on.  For more established breweries, it is a unique way to “pay it forward,” while maintaining interest in a new business that might help their own business grow.  At the same time, if start-up breweries are willing to give up a small share of their businesses, it increases the likelihood that they will invest in quality resources from the start, to create more innovative and quality products for a growing international market.  As part of that international market, I will continue to support these collaborations, partnerships, and business models that foster such healthy competition with a methodical – but pioneering – spirit.

Oktoberfest: your last wedding celebration of the season

Oktoberfests seem to be a dime a dozen these days – I believe there are at least 20 during the next month in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts alone.  It was my luck – or misfortune – that my first Oktoberfest was the real one, in Munich, probably around the same time I had my first Berliner Weisse.  For all of you who truly would like to appreciate your next Oktoberfest, my undergraduate German minor self has volunteered to share the history of the original festival and the standards it sets for its beer.

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Oktoberfest postcard, 1998

The original Oktoberfest celebrated the October 12, 1810 nuptials of Crown Prince Ludwig, later known as King Ludwig I, to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.  What was particularly special, and rare, about the occasion was that the royals condescended to invite the public to celebrate with them on the fields in front of the Munich city gates.  These fields were dubbed Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s fields”), but over time locals abbreviated the name to “Wies’n.”  That first Oktoberfest featured horse races at the close of the event.

The Oktoberfest continued in 1811, with the entertainment committee adding an Agricultural Show added to the horse races.  Over time the number of amusements grew, including carousels, swings, and beer stands.  By 1896, those beer stands were replaced by beer tents and halls that backed competing breweries.  There were so many amusements by 1960 that the horse races were eliminated from the festival.

This year marks the 181st Oktoberfest.  Today, the festival draws about 6 million visitors and lasts about 16 days (depending on which day October 3, German Unification Day, falls), from late September to the first weekend in October.  Since 1950, a twelve gun salute and the tapping of the first keg by the incumbent Mayor of Munich, who declares, “O’zapft is!” (that’s a Bavarian dialect), has signaled the opening of Oktoberfest.

Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot and brewed within the city limits of Munich may be served at Oktoberfest.  These beers are designated as “Oktoberfest Beer,” a registered trademark of the Club of Munich Brewers, and include Augustiner-Bräu, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Spatenbräu, Löwenbräu, and Staatliches Hofbräu-München.  These brews were traditionally brewed in March, when it was sufficiently cool to prevent bacterial contamination of the batch, with higher alcohol content to preserve it through the summer.  Modern technology now allows for this “Märzenbier” to be brewed at the end of summer.  In 2013, revelers consumed 6.7 million liters of this beer, down from 6.9 liters in 2012.  Correspondingly, the number of brawls involving beer glasses fell from 66 to 58, and the number of Bierleichen (“beer corpses,” people who drink themselves unconscious) treated dropped from 800 to 638.

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Inside the Hofbräu tent, circa 1998

My undergraduate German minor self can now rest assured that you are all prepared for the vast array of upcoming Oktoberfests.  You can make an educated decision on which beer to drink and even share some fascinating factoids with your friends.  All that’s left to do is raise your Stein and say “Prost!

Berliner Weisse: The New Champagne of North America?

By Amy Tindell

I remember my first legal purchase of alcohol fondly: I was only 20 years old, but had embarked on that Dartmouth College right of passage called the “FSP,” or foreign study program. At long last I sat on a high bar stool in a Berlin bar, eagerly taking in the long menu of beers I didn’t know, and made my selection based on name alone: the Berliner Weisse. As long as I studied in Berlin, I would do as Berliners do.

Clearly, I didn’t know what I was getting into. The bartender smiled kindly at my accented order, and inquired, “Mit schuss?” After I responded with a “Wie bitte?” – a polite form of “huh?” – the bartender explained, slowly and (not yet giving up on me) in German, that many people preferred to add “schuss,” a sweet syrup, to balance the taste of the very sour Weisse. I chose the himbeere (red raspberry) over the palmeister (herbal green) flavor. Given the unsophisticated state of my palate at the time, schuss was probably a good choice.

That day was almost exactly 16 years ago, and over those years I’d heard barely a peep from the Berline Weisse… until this summer. Suddenly American craft breweries, including Dogfish Head, New Belgium, Firestone Walker, and The Tap Brewing Company have picked up on the style and interpreted it for the modern market. Today the Berliner Weisse is a sour, fruity, effervescent, low-alcohol wheat beer. The sour taste results from fermentation with a mixed culture of top-fermenting yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria, a microorganism that produces lactic acid and carbon dioxide as it digests the wort.  Lactobacillus is commonly used in food processing; it obligingly ferments our cabbage to create sauerkraut and sours our milk to produce creamy yogurt.

These modern American breweries are borrowing from old European traditions. While the precise origins of Berliner Weisse are unknown, two stories emerge as the most popular. The first gives credit to the Huguenots, 17th century religious refugees who migrated to the Berlin area from France and Switzerland. The Huguenots would have picked up Weisse brewing techniques involving Lactobacillus and wheat malt as they passed through Flanders, home of the witbeer and lambic styles. Another theory goes back to the 1520s, with brewer Cord Broihan’s modification of a popular Hamburg beer, which he called Halberstädter Broihan. The style was perfected by Berlin brewers and became fashionable in the 1640s. Whatever its origins, by the early 1800s, the beer was sufficiently popular that Napoleon’s troops famously dubbed it as “the Champagne of the north” during their occupation of Berlin.

That first trip to a Berlin bar piqued my curiosity as to how such a beer was first made and commercialized. Some stretching of my German language skills at a local library revealed that historically, a Berliner Weisse wort was not boiled, allowing Lactobacillus already present on the grain to make its way into the primary fermentation with Brettanomyces ale yeast. As brewers perfected the technique, they learned that the yeast and lactic acid bacteria could be pitched together, and the higher the temperature range, e.g. 63–68° F as opposed to 57–64° F, the more sour the beer would become. Brewers further developed the process after that main fermentation to include kräusening the beer before bottling. This carbonation process, applied most often to lager beers but also to traditional wheat beers, adds freshly fermenting beer to bottle-ready beer, preventing yeast from becoming dormant during the second fermentation and maturation in the bottle, which can take up to two years.

A more contemporary and predictable process starts at low gravity and splits the wort in half for the first fermentation: half is inoculated with ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and the other half with Lactobacillus. After about four weeks, the wort is blended, filtered, stored at 41–50° F for about 13 months. The beer is bottled with a fresh addition of kräusen that includes only the yeast (no Lactobacillus). This modern technique is frowned upon by traditionalists and tends to produce less sour beers.

Part of the reason that Berliner Weisse, along with other sour beers, have been slow to trend is that maintaining Lactobacillus in a brewery is risky, because of the high probably that it could spoil other beers through cross-contamination. Most breweries require separate, dedicated equipment for these beers.

Another reason for the slow trend is that beer drinkers are still developing their palates, and even the most sophisticated American imbibers have been too busy familiarizing their taste buds with the bitter flavors of hops to entertain the sour notes of these traditional European styles. Nonetheless, the recent boom of craft breweries has resulted in an increased willingness to experiment, both on the part of brewers and consumers. As a somewhat unique American consumer, however, I got my start at this traditional, European end of the brewing spectrum. After 16 years and many diversions in my beer education, I’m ready to return to my German roots.

The Battle of the Growler

By Amy Tindell

It’s become part of my travel modus operandi to target a local source for information regarding the area beerscape at my destination. Upon a recent trip to Atlanta, my cousin Brad did not disappoint, pointing me to a unique and controversial feature of Georgia’s beerscape: the Beer Growler retail store. For those unfamiliar with the term, a growler is a jug, usually glass but sometimes ceramic, that is used to transport beer. The 64 ounce growler is the most popular size, though others are available, and the glass is usually amber in color, which helps to avoid skunking the beer.

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Prior to my trip to Atlanta, I hadn’t realized that these beer vessels produced so much controversy. There’s debate even over the origination of the name “growler,” though most accounts go back to the steel pail that people used to transport beer to their homes in the ‘20s and ‘30s. One story describes a “burping” sound made by filling the pail with beer, which people believed sounded like a growl. Another version recites that the name reflects the hissing sound of gas escaping the pail’s lid as it was opened.

Curious as to this novelty that does not exist in Massachusetts, I pulled my rental car into The Beer Growler’s parking lot. Admiring the Digital Pour screen looming over 45 taps, I asked the staff how long they had been in business. They explained that while the growler has been around for some time, its legality for sales in Georgia traditionally fell in a grey area: the law did not prohibit the sale of growlers by stores for off-premises consumption, but it was not expressly authorized either, and it was further unclear whether a growler would be considered an “original package” appropriate for the sale of beer under Georgia law.

The staff expounded on their company’s history detailing how the Beer Growler’s attorney sent a letter to the Georgia Department of Revenue requesting a reinterpretation of packaging law that would allow the growler’s plastic, heat-gunned seal to qualify it as an “original package.” The Department of Revenue obligingly responded: “pursuant to the Georgia Alcoholic Beverage Code, ‘growlers,’ or similar containers may be appropriately used so long as it is at a licensed retail off premise location that does not deal in distilled spirits by the package.” The letter then clarified that local ordinances maintained the right to a more restrictive interpretation of the law. Thus, only certain Georgia cities that have addressed this issue allow growler retailer stores.

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As Brad promised, I would not leave thirsty, as Georgia law also allows for three beer samples to aid in consumer choices at stores like The Beer Growler. I worked with the staff to identify their favorite local brews to taste and watched as they filled growlers with my selections. After my second taste, one particularly zealous employee told me about a brew-off event at Jekyll Brewing just around the corner in Alpharetta, but warned me that I would not be permitted to buy growlers from the brewery.

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It turns out that yet another fight regarding growlers has been brewing in Georgia over whether breweries can themselves sell growlers containing the beer that they make. Currently Georgia follows the three tier distribution system, wherein alcohol manufacturers, including breweries, are not allowed to sell their products directly to the public, in growlers or otherwise, but may only make the alcohol to sell to distributors, which then sell the alcohol to retailers (e.g., stores, restaurants, bars). As a solution, the Georgia Craft Brewer’s Guild backs Georgia House Bill 314 and its companion Senate Bill 174, known to supporters as the “fill the growler” bill, to allow a limited exception to the three tier system in which craft breweries may sell up to 288 ounces of beer per person per day for off-premise consumption. While the Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association, representing distributors, warns of the destruction of what it considers an effective three tier system, brewers argue that they have no intention of endangering their relationships with their trusted and essential business partners, and that most of their business would continue to follow traditional distribution practices. Selling such a small amount of product directly to consumers would improve brewers’ cash flow in addition to strengthening their brands and attracting more visitors, which increases profits for everyone.

Walking out of the store with growlers containing my local brews, I wondered why I’d never done that in Massachusetts before. After some research into Massachusetts alcoholic beverage law, I found that the Commonwealth, like Georgia, does not specifically address the growler, creating a grey area for would-be entrepreneurs. The Massachusetts Alcohol Beverage Control Commission’s regulation concerning labels and containers specifies that wholesalers and importers may use only containers furnished by manufacturers, and forbids misleading label statements as well as defacing, removing, or covering any brand on a container. These and other regulations support the custom currently in place wherein Massachusetts brewers, unlike their Georgian peers, may sell their beer to consumers, but only in their own branded growlers. Select retailers also sell branded growlers that may be refilled only by the labeled brewery. One could imagine why Massachusetts would-be entrepreneurs would find it prohibitive to operate a retail store with 45 rotating taps, each requiring its own specific container, with only limited ability for customers to refill their growlers.

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Further research revealed a great variety in state practices regarding growlers due to the (perhaps purposeful) lack of comprehensive regulation by the federal TTAB on the subject. For example, other states like Oregon and New York have much more lax laws that permit refilling of growlers, by brewers and retailers, regardless of the branded labeling. Georgia, where distributors and retailers profit from excluding breweries from selling their products directly to consumers for off-premises consumption, provides a clear example of how regulations may benefit some parties over others. However, it also illustrates how some entrepreneurs and one creative attorney can inspire a game-changing reinterpretation of the law by the state.

Whatever structure a state’s law may provide, I definitely learned that showing up with a few growlers, even if it makes you ever-so-slightly late to a pre-wedding lunch, puts a smile on people’s faces, and allows them to (humor you while they) try something new. Indeed, the most recent update I received from Georgia involved Brad returning to The Growler Store to refill those very same growlers with new brews. An entrepreneur himself, I can only hope that Brad was inspired to create his own law-bending game-changer.

Great Divide: I Believe

By Amy Tindell

My parents and I were looking for a lunch spot, but we found ourselves at Great Divide Brewing Company instead. To be fair, we’d heard rumors of collaborations with food trucks, but the Denver neighborhood home of the award winning brewery had no extra space with the bustle of the day’s Rockies game at Coors Field.

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The most noticeable thing about Great Divide is its outdoor fermentation tank farm. Next to the building that houses the brewery and tap room on Arapahoe Street stand neat rows of 300 barrel insulated fermentation tanks which give Great Divide a maximum capacity of 65,000 to 70,000 barrels per year. Great Divide’s founder Brian Dunn started small in 2001 when he bought the building, an old dairy processing plant, but strategically added fermentation tanks over the years to increase the brewery’s capacity as its popularity grew. The space is now full.

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Inside, the brewing equipment shines through large windows in the tap room. Great Divide strives to maintain sustainable brewing practices, including using mainly locally grown and malted grains, reusing grey water, and recycling all cardboard and glass. Tap room patrons are encouraged to bring their own food, from food trucks or nearby establishments, to pair with the 16 year round and seasonal beers on tap. Around the tap room hang different versions of logo art featuring Yeti, the face of Great Divide’s imperial stout, with the caption: “I believe.” My parents and I, foodless but believing, ordered a strategic set of samples, the proceeds of which go to nonprofits.

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Inspired by the artwork for Great Divide’s Colette, I took a risk on Dunn’s homage to the centuries-old beverage of choice of Belgian farm workers. Made with barley, wheat and rice, and fermented with no fewer than four different yeast strains, Colette is tart and fruity, with notes of lemon and pear, with a dry finish that makes it refreshingly light. The funky yeasty taste that is the signature of the Belgian style is not overpowering, making Colette a well-balanced beer.

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My mom’s favorite sample was Claymore, named for the Scottish two-handed longsword used in medieval times and made famous by William Wallace. She noted the roasty caramel malt character of Claymore, characteristic of the wee-heavy beers of Scotland. The beer poured deep ruby in color, and due to its modest hop profile and 7.7% ABV, tasted sweet and went down warm. As the website states, “this beer only requires one hand, but it’ll still make you feel like nobility.”

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My dad decided that he believed, strongly, in Yeti. Yeti is Great Divide’s imperial stout with 9.5% ABV, pouring dark and heavy into the glass. Dad said it smelled like a cup of coffee, but when sipped, the roasty notes gave way to an unexpected malty sweetness, though the finish was bitter. Like the Claymore, the booziness of the beer created a pleasant warming effect.

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Our sampling complete, we ventured off in search of food. Although our visit was relatively short, we planned to return to Great Divide in the near future, in its new spot on Brighton Boulevard in Denver. The Arapaho Street location will transition to a small-batch production facility, while the new digs will feature an 80,000 barrel capacity brewery, a larger tap room, and a beer garden. With change and expansion afoot, Great Divide’s fans have a lot more to believe in than Yeti.

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At Greenbush, with just enough time for a little Retribution

By Amy Tindell

It had been a long, hard day of self-sacrifice, forcing myself to consume our bounty of specialty cheeses, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, carrots, olives, almond croissants, and cookies from the local farmer’s market, on a sunlit beach no less, and then jaunting through those shady Michigan woodlands that smelled of springtime. Those arduous chores now complete, and with the afternoon clouds rolling in, we reluctantly relegated ourselves to the nearby brewery to drown our sorrows. Pulling into the town of Sawyer, our caravan was greeted by the old-style letters atop the roof of the building spelling simply “BREWERY.”

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The sky not-so-subtly suggested that the storm was rather imminent, but we delighted the hostess at Greenbush Brewing Company by locating some unused space on the outdoor patio and agreeing to occupy it. The patio sits along some old railroad tracks, and a quick internet search revealed the brewery’s connection to them: “in 1951 a freight train derailed at the Flynn road crossing, rode the rails for a mile and plowed into the building. We hope our beer can make that sort of impact on you.” With that in mind, we chose our tasting flights with care.

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My favorites were Anger, Retribution, and Doomslayer. Anger is a black IPA made with Columbus, Amarillo, Simcoe, and Cascade hops, and Belgian dark malts, weighing in at 7.6% ABV. True to its name, the unique mix of grapefruity citrus flavors mixed with more roasty toffee notes would be sure to distract from a day of pent up emotion. I mused that the brew walks a line close to a porter. As thunder sounded in the distance, we observed that Retribution poured a deep dark brown color, and smelled nutty, earthy, and floral. There was some nuttiness to the taste, but cocoa and coffee flavors dominated, with sweetness up front. In addition to the Belgian grain bill and two varieties of hops, the recipe includes brown sugar, golden raisins, dark raisins, and honey.

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We moved on to the last taste as the darkness of the sky grew more ominous. Doomslayer, made with maple sap, was perhaps the most interesting brew, pouring black into the glass, smelling and tasting of chocolate, maple, and some spice. The sweetness from the sap along with the 8.9% ABV nicely rounded out Doomslayer – and our tasting session – as the patio cleared to make way for the storm.

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On the way out, I noted the brewing system that produced those beers through the picture window in the taproom. The owners, Scott Sullivan and Justin Heckathorn, home-brewed for years before moving to their current copper 7 barrel brew kettle that was once housed in a men’s only establishment in an old Italian neighborhood in San Francisco, complete with a “self-flushing spittoon” under the bar (i.e., a urinal). While Greenbush takes pride in the “long and sordid history only befitting our line of beers,” they take care to note that they were not able to procure the self-flushing spittoon along with the brewing system. However, they do offer 12 beers on tap on a daily basis, for immediate consumption or by the growler, along with a tempting food menu.

Fortified by the beer, we were not perturbed by the minor soaking from the storm on our way back to the caravan. It was only once we were belted safely into our cars, on our way to dinner at Café Gulistan, that the sky unleashed its very own Anger.

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Brewers Association: We Define the “Craft Brewer,” But Not What It Makes

By Amy Tindell

While there is no “official” definition of “craft beer,” the Brewers Association of Boulder, CO defines a “craft brewer” to determine eligibility for certain marketing and lobbying support within its membership. The challenge in creating such a definition, however, is that “craft” means different things to different people and to different businesses.

The non-profit trade group has roots in the U.S. going back to the 1940s, and has evolved to include and connect commercial brewers, homebrewers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and individuals in the beer industry. Since 2005, the Brewers Association has stated that a craft brewer must be 1) small, 2) independent, and 3) traditional. While these terms have stuck, what they mean has been revised many times, most recently this past February 2014, with significant consequences for many brewers. The organization also revised its statement of purpose, mission and goals.

PURPOSE

Previous Definition
To promote and protect small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts.

2014 Definition
To promote and protect American craft brewers, their beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts.

The main change to the organization’s stated purpose was the removal of the term “craft beer,” because it is not defined by the Brewers Association, and the shift in focus to American “craft brewers,” which was redefined in the February 2014 meeting.

SMALL

Previous Definition
Annual production of 6 million bbls of beer or less. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.

2014 Definition
Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships.

The big news for the term “small” broke in 2010, when the Brewers Association increased the annual production cap from 2 million bbls to 6 million bbls per year. The Association made that change to accommodate one of its oldest members, Boston Brewing Company (a.k.a. Sam Adams), whose capacity was poised to surpass the 2 million bbl cap. Many smaller brewers, however, continue to protest the change because they believe that larger brewers should not be entitled to receive the same marketing, lobbying, and other support offered by the organization only to craft brewers. Accordingly, the parenthetical added this year is meant to put the rather large-sounding 6 million bbl cap into perspective, highlighting the small market share that the figure represents, at least compared to giants of the American beer industry such as MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch. The other change this year was to remove the flavored malt beverage exclusion from the “small” category and add it to the “traditional” definition (see below), where it more logically belongs.

The statement about alternating proprietorships is not new this year, but remains important to breweries that share facilities. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau allows a host brewer and any tenants in a single licensed brewing facility to account separately for their own beer production, thus potentially remaining eligible for certain benefits including reduced tax rates accorded to only small production breweries.

INDEPENDENT

Previous Definition
Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

2014 Definition
Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

The description of “independent” as it relates to a brewer was not changed this year, but had been revised previously to align more consistently with terminology commonly used in the alcoholic beverage industry. Separately, the Brewers Association explains that craft brewer independence is important because craft brewers are better able to maintain integrity in what they brew when they are free from a “substantial interest by a non-craft brewer.” They highlight this idea, and a call for improved transparency in the brewing industry, in their craft vs. crafty statement.

However, when the ownership requirement was implemented in 2012, it excluded many former “craft brewers” overnight, including Goose Island, Magic Hat, Pyramid, Mendocino, Fordham, Old Dominion, Widmer, Coastal, Kona, and Redhook. For example, Kona, Widmer, and Redhook were no longer considered “craft” because they were part of the Craft Brew Alliance, approximately 1/3 owned by AnheuserBusch-InBev. These breweries stand in contrast to brands like Shock Top and Blue Moon, which were developed, brewed, marketed, and sold by Anheuser-Busch and Miller-Coors, respectively, since inception.

While certain breweries suddenly lost some support offered by the Brewers Association, it is questionable whether a craft beer drinker would feel obligated, under the Association’s rules, to suddenly avoid former craft beers like Kona’s highly rated Wailua Wheat; one commentator has likened it an indie music lover ceasing to buy The Black Keys albums after 2006, when they signed with Nonesuch Records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Either way, beer and music enthusiasts alike take interest in the origins of their pastimes, and as consumers, are left to make their own decisions regarding what is “good.”

TRADITIONAL

Previous Definition
A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50 percent of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

2014 Definition
A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.

This year’s revisions to the “traditional” prong of the craft brewer definition attracted the most attention and wrought the most significant consequences for brewers. The previous definition required a craft brewery to either produce an all-malt flagship beer, or to make at least half of its total product from only barley malt, and not other sugar sources like rice or corn. In 2014, however, the Association recognized adjunct brewing as craft brewing, perhaps because many brewers have traditionally brewed with what is locally available to them.

Some members argue that the change could compromise the quality of craft brewing, but others point out that the revised definition also encourages innovation and experimentation. The Brewers Association now maintains, “Craft beer is generally made with traditional ingredients like malted barley; interesting and sometimes non-traditional ingredients are often added for distinctiveness.” It further asserts, “The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation… Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent.”

The change to “traditional” now includes under the umbrella of craft brewers mid-size, older breweries including Yuengling, August Schell, and Narragansett, which brew with non-barley malt ingredients because those were the local ingredients available to them when they were founded in the 1800s. For example, Yuengling, America’s oldest brewery (founded in 1829), historically includes corn grits in addition to barley malts in its brew recipe. After 185 years, Yeungling will become an official craft brewer overnight.

As of this year, the Brewers Association takes on as its mission: “By 2020, America’s craft brewers will have more than 20 percent market share and will continue to be recognized as making the best beer in the world.” The Association continues to support “craft brewers” by developing and promoting access to raw materials, supporting research in brewing safety, sustainability, education and technology, providing legislative and regulatory support, educating consumers, and fostering a network of beer enthusiasts. It encourages craft brewers to be active in their communities through philanthropy and volunteerism, and to maintain their distinctive approaches to interactions with consumers. However, the Brewers Association has left to you, the beer enthusiast, the job of defining the elusive “craft beer.”

The Hipster Strategy for Preventing Skunked Beer

By Amy Tindell

You may have noticed the recent trend of craft brewers releasing their wares in cans, and summarily chalked it up to an attempt to appeal to all those Pabst Blue Ribbon-loving hipsters. In some cases, like that of Evil Twin’s Hipster Ale, or Churchkey – the beer not the bar – the trend’s target is quite blatant.

However, canning beer serves a different purpose that is based on science: it prevents beer from getting “skunked.” A beer is skunked, or “light-struck,” when natural light hits isohumolones, the chemical compounds that contribute to the bitter taste of hops in beer. A photochemical reaction causes the isohumolones to break down and combine with sulfur compounds in the beer, to create 3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol (3-MBT). The “thiol” at the end of that name reflects the presence of sulfur and serves as a warning of the offensive smell that it produces. 3-MBT is chemically very similar to isopentyl mercaptan, or skunk spray, and so potent that some individuals can detect it at concentrations of one-billionth of a gram in a 12-ounce beer. Thus, it does not take a lot to skunk a beer, and it can occur faster than Phosphorescent can tell you to Ride On in your skinny jeans and fedora hat.

Cans are one solution to preventing skunked beer, because they block light from reaching the beer. Cans have other practical advantages, including that they maintain a more airtight seal than bottles to protect against oxidation. Additionally, cans are more easily stackable, more light-weight, and won’t break on that bike ride home from the corner store. Canned beer even chills faster than bottled beer, so that it’s ready to pair with your kale, ramps and bacon tacos from that food truck down the street in no time.

Regardless of craft beer marketers’ strategy for a target audience, cans are practical and becoming more prevalent by the day. Indeed, the increasing popularity of craft beer cans may just be the kink in attempting to cater to this particular subculture, given the hipster taste for the culturally obscure. However, craft brewers experimenting with canning can still rejoice, because those of us who may be slightly behind the trends also like to take our time to appreciate a good beer, and wouldn’t want it to get skunked as we listen to way-too-mainstream bands like The Knife or Chvrches.