Hello, 2013! One resolution I made for this year is to more frequently contribute to the blog. I’ll be standing-in for Dan a bit too, later this month as he takes a bit of time off to become a dad for the second time. So, expect at least a few Thirsty Thursdays to adopt my voice– but don’t worry, Dan will be back! In the meanwhile, I intend to make updating my Squibs column a regular occurrence. So without further ado…
1.) Craft v. crafty. It’s all the rage! Let’s debate! If you didn’t catch any of this brew-ha-ha before now, a brief background might be in order:
On Dec 13th, Charlie Papazian and other members of the Brewer’s Association had an Op-Ed published in the St. Louis Dispatch entitled “Craft Versus Crafty,” in which they essentially called out Goose Island, Shock Top and Blue Moon (among others) for not being true craft beers and more specifically, for not being honest in their labeling (The first two beers are made by AB-InBev while the last is a subsidiary of SABMiller). And as far as that goes, I can’t disagree: When you pick up a sixpack of, say, Wild Blue, there is absolutely no indication that it is an AB-InBev product, unless you’re savvy enough to know who makes beers in Baldwinsville, NY. So just as San Pelligrino bottles should perhaps note that Nestle owns the brand (and your Lexus should say “A division of Toyota” on it, I suppose), there is clearly an attempt by the big companies to present their products as craft beers when in fact they’re made by some of the largest beer corporations in the world. Fine as far as it goes. Truth in labeling? I’m all for it.
A deeper question, though, keeps rearing it’s head and it is whether or not the Crafty manufacturers pose an existential threat to the Craft makers. Does “Craft” even exist? Perhaps it’s a continuum and not even the best way to think about what makes a brewery worth throwing your money at. Or, is every brewery on a de facto side in The Beer Wars? Certainly, it is easy enough for those of us immersed in the craft beer world to forget that even with all the passion driving incredible growth, 80% of the beer consumed in the country is a product of the two aforementioned global corporations: SABMiller and AB-InBev. Not only that, but they’re pretty underhanded in their practices (though let’s admit, no more so than other, giant food and beverage corporations). Besides making and distributing “faux-craft” brands, they’re outright buying them, such as Goose Island. And now having achieved a high level of horizontal integration, they’re busy exercising their abilities to vertically integrate, too. But can they crush or consume the now-thirty-years-old craft movement?
I don’t think so; certainly a future with no more small, local-ish, independent breweries seems as unlikely to me as a future where everyone makes their own beer and production breweries are generally obviated. I see craft growth continuing to ride the coat-tails of the locavore movement and finally settling into its plateau somewhere. And I think on the other side, there are limits to what the SABMillers of the world can really push as faux craft- I think it’s not at all random that Blue Moon and Shock Top are wheat beers; can you imagine a Crafty IPA doing at all well? A Crafty Imperial Stout? A Crafty barrel-aged brett beer just isn’t in the cards, but the thirst for such styles will never abate in the US again, in my view. I sure hope I’m right. Certainly the BA itself shares my optimism. In the meanwhile, I suppose I can take some comfort in the notion that it’ll be easier to bring a Linenkeugels drinker over to the small, local and independent side than a Bud Light drinker… so perhaps these guys are doing some of my work for me.
2.) Let’s see what else is news in the world o’ beer this week, shall we? Ah, I see Brooklyn Brewery is going to build a brewery in Sweden. What? Well yeah, because guess what their second biggest market is, after NYC? Yup: Sweden. Must cost a bundle sending all that Brooklyn Lager over there from Utica, I can see the appeal. Does this make Brooklyn the latest addition to the CRAFTY list? I suppose by some people’s definition it does. For myself, as long as Sorachi Ace tastes as good as it does, I’ll keep buying it.
3.) Beer Pong Championship in Las Vegas. For real.
4.) Did someone say stereochemistry? Now you’ve got my attention! It seems we know more than we used to about the exact shape of the iso-alpha acids that create bitterness in beer. Why would we want to know such a crazy detail? Well apparently because
“There are some indications that the hops bitter acids may have positive effects on diabetes, some forms of cancer, and inflammation, as well as weight loss. However, the effects seem to vary substantially depending on the absolute configuration. In addition, the various degrees of bitterness in beer seem to depend on the different forms of the tetrahydro-iso-alpha acids.”
In truth, it seems the research is more about the advancement of the technique for imaging these molecules than what will surely follow on it: rigorous testing of the claims mentioned above. Still, it’s pretty cool the levels of detail science is hurtling towards, even in the world of beer.
5.) I leave you with this week’s random You Tube “Beer + X” search result; let X = fountain.