Beer and Elections

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On 4 November 2014, a.k.a. Midterm Election Day, I (Robin) made the grave error of driving to and from work. Stuck in a hellacious traffic jam on the way home, a snippet from the NPR evening economics program Marketplace by Kai Ryssdal caught my attention: We spend more on beer than elections. This story was inspired by post on the Wall Street Journal Washington Wire blog entitled Americans Spend 16 Times as Much on Beer as on 2014 Midterms.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates the Americans shelled out $59.9B on beer in 2013. The Brewers Association has a more optimistic view of the total addressable beer market in the United States, declaring it to be $100B in 2013. [Correction: this figure includes exports.]  Craft beer accounted for 14.3% of sales and 7.8% market share (15M bbls of a total 196M bbls). A beer barrel (bbl) equals 31 gallons.

Clearly intended to put the influence of money in politics in perspective, the beer vs. election spending trope compares apples to oranges, so to speak. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, during the 2014 midterm election cycle, $1.64B was spent on behalf of Democratic candidates and $1.75B was spent on behalf of Republicans ($300M of which can be attributed to the Koch Brothers, who, by means of their oil refinery fortune, founded Americans for Prosperity, Official Bank of the Tea Party).

Consider a more relevant beer factoid, annual spending on beer marketing, which happened to total $1.3B in 2012. In fact, the beer industry spent only half as much plying its products upon beleaguered American voters as those PAC people. Most of that election money went towards…well…marketing one candidate or another, often by means of such below-the-belt tactics as robo-calling peoples’ cell phones at dinnertime and bombarding the airwaves with ads that give new meaning to lying with statistics and taking random quotations woefully out of context.

Correlation does not imply causation, of course. I must confess that this infographic about what kind of beer you drink allegedly says about your political inclinations gave me a chuckle. (It was clearly made before Yuengling returned to Massachusetts.) Let’s face it, comparisons between spending on beer and elections are kind of ridiculous. That being said, exercising one’s democratic right to vote in the United States of America frequently involves holding one’s nose while doing so, selecting the lesser of two evils, and then going home and drinking lots of beer, perhaps in the course of playing an Election Drinking Game.

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New Glarus, Wisconsin: export your cheese, but we’ll keep our beer

I’m fairly sure I swooned when I was welcomed to the home of dear friends, in the dark of night, smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin, by a fridge of personally curated, excellent local beers.  The unfamiliar label of New Glarus Brewing Company, in various styles, lined the long shelves of the fridge door.  Dave had outdone himself.

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Dave explained that New Glarus has big plans to avoid world domination, by focusing intently on its own backyard.  The commitment to the Wisconsin community stems from native Deborah Carey, President of New Glarus, and the first woman to found and operate a brewery in the United States.  Carey raised the start-up capital as a gift to her husband Dan, establishing the Brewery in 1993.  By then, Dan had already become valedictorian of the 1987 Siebel Institute Course in Brewing Technology and worked his way up the ladder to become a Master Brewer.

The local focus of the brewery allows it to keep close tabs on quality control of its creations, and to continue to invest in its specialty brews, including those “fresh” from its Wild Fruit Cave.  The 5000 square foot Cave features a 100-bbl koelschip, a piece of equipment that cools beer wort while exposing it to wild yeasts that float in the air, thus creating lambic-style beers.  Other residents of the cave include some of the first foeders (large oak casks for aging sour ales) in the United States, which produce New Glarus’ delicious sour red and brown ales, and the grasses on its roof that naturally keep the area cool.

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Dave introduced me to my inaugural New Glarus beer within minutes of arrival.  It was the Raspberry Tart, gold medal winner of the 2011 Great American Beer Fest.  Marketed as a “Wisconsin Framboise Ale,” it pours a dark ruby red color, with a tart raspberry aroma.  The taste is very sweet, with some earthy, funky undertones.  A touch of Wisconsin-farmed wheat and Hallertau hops round out the flavor.  This is not a beer to drink in large volumes, but I found it to be the perfect dessert sipper.

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The next day Dave opened the seasonal Pumpkin Pie Lust, a brown weiss beer made with German Munich malt, Wisconsin wheat, and Idaho Celeia hops.  This brownish-coppery beer smells just like pumpkin pie, with the requisite nutmeg, cinnamon, and vegetable notes.  The dunkelweizen taste comes through underneath the spices, but there is only a faint pumpkin background.  The brew provides a solid German twist on the American fall obsession with pumpkin beers.

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My final taste of New Glarus was a 2012 Great American Beer Fest gold medal winner, the Hometown Blonde.  The combination of Tettnanger, Saaz, Styrian Golding and Strisselpalt hops bestow that decidedly German character on this Old World style pilsner.  The brew shines a clear light yellow in the glass and smells of grains and grass.  The taste features a crisp malt backbone, surrounded by herbal, grassy flavors and a very slight lemon zest.  While on the light side of craft beers, this Blonde stands as a paradigm of its style, and certainly introduces more complexity than most domestic lagers.

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Even though my Wisconsin beer education remained in its infancy, it came time to leave my friends and their fridge.  I left with promises from Dave of a new collection of unattainable-in-Boston beers to be curated for my next visit.  Of course, I’ll need all that time between visits to identify a somewhat even trade.

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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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A British Beer Odyssey

By Robin Coxe

In which Robin, at long last, returns from beer blogging hibernation…

My engineering design team, with members based in Ireland, England, Spain, Poland, and the US, spends an inordinate amount of time huddled around Polycom Batphones at our various work sites on conference calls. Fortunately, our corporate overlords appreciate the benefits of periodic face-to-face collaboration, which tends to result in weeklong bursts of exceptional productivity about once per quarter, fueled in part by the beers of the region we happen to be visiting. I spent the first week of June at the company office in Bath, a city of 90,000 residents situated in Somerset in the southwest of England, approximately 100 miles west of London.

Our local hosts had a quintessentially British beer-themed adventure in store for us after our first full day at the office, Tuesday 3 June 2014. Shortly after lunch, once Queenie the tea cosy had been refilled with a fresh pot, Mark began poring over the early evening train schedule from Bath Spa to Freshford, returning about 4 hours later from Bradford-on-Avon. After the most economical type of tickets had been settled upon (First Great Western offers substantial group discounts, as it happens), we were instructed to convene at 18:30 in front the railroad station and to wear sensible shoes.

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At the appointed time, we crammed into the train along with droves of commuters for the epic 9 minute journey to Freshford. After disembarking, we ascended Station Road, turned left, and headed down The Hill to our first destination, The Inn at Freshford, a 16th century building with original timber beams on the banks of the River Frome. Our group saw no signs of the sinkhole that was “big enough to swallow a double decker bus” that had mysteriously appeared next to the place in early April.

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The Casque Marque seal mounted to the left of the doorway caught my attention. I later learned through the magic of the Internet that this organization accredits pubs in the UK and Ireland serving cask ale, also referred to as real ale, what Americans tend to associate with stereotypically warm (50-55 degrees F) British beer. The accreditation process involves unannounced quality inspections in which the temperature, taste, aroma, and appearance of the ale is assessed. Of course, there is a smartphone app called “Cask Finder” that enables the discerning cask ale drinker to identify the nearest Casque Marque certified pub. Cask beer has been enjoying a resurgence in recent years, accounting for about 15% of beer sales in the UK. Woman are the fastest growing segment of cask ale drinkers, a largely untapped (pun intended) market of discerning beer consumers, if I do say so myself.

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Upon entering The Inn, we were immediately greeted by the resident pub dog, a large, friendly beast. Health regulations in most states prohibit non-service animals inside any establishment serving food, so a dog in a bar is a rare sight indeed in the US. All of the taps featured beers from Box Steam Brewery.

Founded in 2004 in the nearby village of Holt, Box Steam brews their beers by hand in steam-heated copper vessels using floor-malted Maris Otter barley from Warminster Maltings, the oldest supplier of malt in the Britain. Built in 1855, operated by Guinness from 1950-1994, and privately owned since, Warminster Maltings caters to the increasing number of British microbrewers such as Box Steam who take advantage of the Progressive Beer Duty adopted in the UK in 2002, whereby smaller breweries pay less tax on their wares than larger producers. This tax incentive differs from the flat discount on each barrel enjoyed by microbreweries in the USA.

Box Steam’s first brewery was located near the Box Tunnel, a railway tunnel that bores through the eponyomous hill between Bath and Chippenham designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the chief engineer of the Great Western Railway. The completion of the Box Tunnel in 1841 capped off the final link in the rail line connecting London with the southwest of England and Wales. The brewers at Box Steam have drawn inspiration from the legacy of Brunel and have embraced the train theme wholeheartedly.

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For the first pint of the evening, I opted for the Tunnel Vision amber bitter, an easy drinking, cask-conditioned 4.2% ABV amber ale with traces of caramel and a slight hint of hops at the finish. English Bitter, unlike the West Coast hop-bomb IPAs, which, for whatever reason, are taking America by storm, does not taste particularly bitter. Nor should an English Bitter Ale be confused with bitters, the aromatic, botanical alcoholic concoction consumed after gluttonous meals as a digestif or used for flavoring cocktails.

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After quaffing down our beverages in the outdoor beer garden, newly reconstructed over the aforementioned sinkhole, we set out on foot, over the river, through the woods, past some sheep, and alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal towards our next destination. This leg of our route covered the northern half of the so called Two Valleys Walk, documented in impressive detail here.

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After a lovely 20 minute stroll through the Wiltshire countryside, we arrived in the hamlet of Avoncliff, the next stop along the Great Western Railway line. We traversed and subsequently walked underneath a bridge at the point where the canal, routed through an aqueduct, crosses the River Avon. We approached our second stop, the Cross Guns Free House, another almost ridiculously scenic 16th century relic complete with terraced garden and a vintage ice cream truck parked out front. Walking a mile seemed to accelerate the rate at which Pint #1 percolated from mouth to bladder, so before placing my order, I made a beeline for the loo located in an outbuilding.

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Cross Guns also featured the brews of Box Steam on draught. The hopheads in our midst opted for the Derail Ale, an IPA that pays homage to Brunel’s flawed early steam locomotive designs unaptly named “Thunderer” and “Hurricane.” Another hoppy concoction, the Piston Broke golden ale, immortalizes another of Brunel’s engineering missteps, the “atmospheric” railway design for the South Devon Railway that relied on forced air pressure from a series of stationary air pumps to propel trains on the GWR extension between Exeter and Plymouth. Pistons attached to the trains ran through a continuous vacuum pipe laid down the center of the tracks.

The system required leather flaps to form vacuum seals in the pistons that failed repeatedly. The vacuum sucked out the natural oils from the leather, making it vulnerable to water and cold. Tallow applied to re-lubricate the leather proved irresistable to rodents. The atmospheric railway was shut down in 1848 after operating for less than a year, at which point the South Devon Railway converted back to conventional steam locomotives. Although “Brunel’s atmospheric caper” did not end well, the technology has withstood the test of time—an atmospheric airport train opened in Brazil just last year in advance of the World Cup.

The “Free House” in the name would suggest that the Cross Guns would not be encumbered by the so-called UK “beer tie”, an arrangement whereby a pub is obligated to buy its beer from a particular brewery or pub conglomerate. However, the Box Steam Brewery lists both The Inn at Freshford and The Cross Guns at Avoncliff in the “Our Pubs” section of their website, so the exact financial relationship between the brewery and the two pubs is unclear. The beer tie manifests itself in several different forms. In some instances, the brewery owns the pub outright and either rents it out to an operator/manager via a tenancy agreement or directly employs the publican. In an alternative arrangement, a brewery may extend a mortgage to the pub owner with an exclusivity clause. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has led lobbying efforts in recent years to reform and regulate the beer tie, citing price gouging and other anti-competitive practices.

Beer tie arrangements are not allowed in the US, as regulatory agencies have frowned upon vertical integration in the alcoholic beverage industry since the conclusion of Prohibition in 1933. Instead, all US states except Washington have instituted a variant of the three-tier distribution system (producers, distributors, and retailers), a subject of intense debate in American craft beer circles. [Coming soon on Kegomatic.com: a discussion of proposed modifications to regulations governing the three-tier system in Massachusetts.]

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Anyway, back to the Box Steam beer itself… Intent on sampling as much English Bitter as possible, I chose the more optimistically named Chuffin’ Ale, a 4.0% ABV brown best bitter that made its debut in 2010 on the 175th Anniversary of the Great Western Railway. The Chuffin’ Ale, brewed with English Fuggles hops and Maris Otter and Crystal malts with added wheat, has been described by beer snobs as having “hints of crème brûlée,” a characterization that I did not dispute as I leisurely sipped it down on at a picnic table by the river.

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Our dinner reservation awaited, so we eventually brought ourselves to press onward towards Bradford-on-Avon. It did not escape my notice that as we strolled along the canal for the final mile of our journey, the guys nipped off one by one into the woods to relieve themselves.

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By the time we arrived at our destination, I was cursing the anatomical disadvantages of being female. Fortunately, the Three Gables in Bradford-on-Avon had spotlessly clean toilets. I must confess to having no recollection whatsoever of what I ate (scallops were perhaps involved), although I do remember thinking that the establishment went a long way towards resurrecting the unfortunate reputation of British cuisine and customer service. This most memorable evening was punctuated by the return train that conveyed us back to Bath arriving exactly on schedule.

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