Using DNA to Spot Bad Beer

The Russian River Brewing Company is famous for its Pliny IPAs. It also brews sour beers steeped in Pediococcus and Lactobacillus, which give them their funky taste. Problem is, those bacilli can destroy the taste of IPA. As a result, Russian River has gone to great lengths to make sure the equipment and people associated with the two styles are kept separate.

Tiny amounts of bacteria can ruin thousands of dollars worth of beer. Most breweries use a technique called plating, in which a small sample of beer is placed in an incubator; if the beer is infected, a bacteria colony will appear. However, plating takes time. To find bacteria faster, Russian River has bought BrewPal, a new testing technology from a Philadelphia-based company called Invisible Sentinel.

BrewPal identifies the DNA of the specific types of Pediococcus and Lactobacillus that damage batches of beer. It uses a three-step process. First, a sample of beer is run through a centrifuge, and then into the BrewPal hardware. Second, the sample is heated and then cooled for 2-1/2 hours so that the bacteria’s DNA can be amplified. Finally, the sample is dropped into a disposable plastic reader that resembles a home pregnancy test: it tells whether the bacteria are present, and whether the infection is mild or severe.

A full BrewPal system retails for around $5,000, so it’s affordable for many craft breweries.

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The Friday Mash (Pluto Edition)

Eighty-five years ago today, Pluto was officially named. Upon its discovery, Pluto was recognized as the solar system’s ninth planet. However, in 2006 the International Astronomical Union’s formal definition of “planet,” resulted in Pluto’s demotion to dwarf-planet status.

And now….The Mash!

We begin in Wisconsin, where the fifth annual Madison Beer Week kicks off today. Co-founder Jeffrey Glazer talks about the growth of Beer Week and how beer culture has changed in Madison.

If you’re on the Paleo Diet, grain-based beer is off the menu. Scientists say it shouldn’t be. Our ancestors were creative enough to turn both grain and fruit into alcoholic beverages.

Nicolette Wenzell of the Palm Springs Historical Society takes us back to the 1950s, when the El Mirador Hotel hosted a weekly Bavarian Night. The event became so popular that local stores stocked lederhosen and felt hats.

Anti-alcohol groups are criticizing Ben & Jerry’s for getting into the beer business. The ice-cream maker is collaborating with New Belgium Brewing Company to make Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale, to be released this fall.

Paste magazine assembled a panel of experts to rank 39 American wheat beers. The overall winner was Allagash White.

Notable NBA draft bust Darko Milicic has embarked on a new career in the world of kickboxing. He’s also perfected the art of chugging a beer with no hands.

Finally, the owners of Scottish brewery Brewdog have big plans. They hope to expand their brewery, and add a distillery and a hotel to the operation. Also on the drawing board: opening 15 to 20 Brewdog bars across the U.K.

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Beer…By the Numbers

  • Days until American Craft Beer Week opens: 11.
  • Facebook “likes” for American Craft Beer Week: more than 65,000.
  • Attendees at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, Oregon: 11,500.
  • Exhibitors at this year’s CBC: 600.
  • Craft beer’s market share in Oregon retail stores: 36.7 percent.
  • Oregon-made craft beer’s share of the state’s beer market: 20 percent.
  • New York State’s brewery count in January 2015: 207.
  • Its brewery count in 2012: 95.
  • Craft brewing’s estimated economic impact on New York State: $3.5 billion.
  • Recommended maximum number of drinks per week for men in the U.S.: 21.
  • Recommended maximum for men in Australia: 35.
  • Beer Store outlets in Ontario: 466.
  • Ontario grocery stores that will be permitted to sell six-packs of beer: around 500.
  • Total production of Bell’s Pumpkin Peach Ale: 48 bomber bottles.
  • Cost of a bottle of Pumpkin Peach Ale: $20.
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    Fun With Numbers

    British beer writer Martyn Cornell has written a new book, A Craft Beer Road Trip Around Britain, with snapshots of 40 of Britain’s top small breweries. His interviews of the brewers at these establishments resulted in ssome interesting statistics. Cornell cautions that with a sample size this small, these should be taken with a grain of salt.

  • Eight percent of the brewers had a Ph.D.
  • 40 percent have a home brewing background, a number that strikes Cornell as low.
  • 35 percent wore black T-shirts or polo shirts bearing their brewery’s logo. Jeans and industrial boots complete the uniform.
  • 48 per cent have beards. However, their beards aren’t as bushy as those of their American counterparts.
  • 45 percent use Cascade hops in at least one of their beers.
  • 30 percent use Maris Otter barley.
  • “Farm” appears in the name of 12 percent of their breweries.
  • Eight percent of the craft breweries are based in railway arches.
  • Five percent of breweries have artistic graffiti all over their interior walls.
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    The Friday Mash (Hubble Telescope Edition)

    Twenty-five years ago today, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into low Earth orbit. The telescope, which has had five in-space service calls by NASA astronauts, is still functioning and is expected to last another five years.

    And now….The Mash!

    We begin in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, where Krista Dotzenrod caught a foul ball in her beer cup and, at the urging fans, chugged the beer. The hashtag for this is #ChugBall.

    “Raising the Bar”, which began last year in New York, is a program in which scholars give lectures in pubs and other venues. Recently, Hong Kong became the first Asian city to stage this event.

    Australian prime minister Tony Abbott sent a mixed message about binge drinking when he downed a 12-ounce schooner of beer seven seconds at a Sydney bar.

    A bar in Maple Grove, Minnesota, must deal with the dreaded Beer Police. Its offense? Buying kegs of New Glarus Spotted Cow from a Wisconsin liquor store and bringing them across the state line.

    The government of Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country, has outlawed the sale of beer at convenience stores. Small retailers account for around 60 percent of the country’s beer sales.

    Tomorrow is Dark Lord Day, and host Three Floyds Brewery has something new for festival-goers: Dark Lord-infused hot sauce, made with ancho and guajillo chili peppers.

    Finally, Brook Bristow, executive director of the South Carolina Brewers Guild, was presented with the F.X. Matt Defense of the Industry Award at last week’s Craft Brewers Conference. Working pro bono, Bristow’s law firm successfully lobbied for craft-friendly laws in the Palmetto State.

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    Florida Craft Brewers Win Some, Lose Some

    Legislation dealing with the brewing industry is inching closer to passage in the Florida legislature. It will ease some restrictions on Florida’s craft breweries but, at the same time, will impose new ones.

    It explicitly allows breweries to have on-premises taprooms. Some in the industry contended that the “tourism exemption” under which taprooms operated wasn’t intended to cover small breweries. In addition, the it legalizes beer sales in 64-ounce growlers. On the other hand, the legislation limits the amount of beer breweries can move among breweries, and caps the number of taprooms at eight per brewery.

    Josh Aubuchon, the head of the Florida Brewers Guild, says the legislation is “not perfect but pretty darn good.” He points out that no brewery is even close to the taproom limit. However, some breweries are afraid that the restrictions could be tightened by future legislatures. They’re also disappointed that lawmakers haven’t address other restrictions, including the ban on self-distribuition and franchise laws that favor distributors.

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    Why the South Has So Few Breweries

    The nine states with the fewest breweries are all in the South, and there’s an explanation for that: the Baptists.

    Steve Gohmann, a professor of economics at the University of Louisville, recently published a paper in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice about why the South is less hospitable to small breweries.

    Across the country, big brewers contribute to political candidates who support restrictions—such as bans on self-distribution–that make it difficult for small breweries to compete with them. What makes the South unique is that it has a high concentration of Baptists, who support restrictions on alcohol on moral grounds. (The same is true of Methodists, who are also well-represented in the region.) Thus pastors and big breweries are unlikely political bedfellows.

    But what about the Kentucky-based whiskey industry? Gohmann observes that micro-distilleries are not taking much market share from the big producers, which means Baptists don’t have as much influence when it comes to regulating spirits.

    The Friday Mash (Diet of Worms Edition)

    No, this isn’t an episode of Bizarre Foods. The Diet of Worms was an assembly that, on this day in 1521, put Martin Luther on trial for heresy. After the trial, a supporter offered Luther a silver tankard of Eimbeck beer, which he gratefully drank.

    And now….The Mash!

    We begin in Durham, North Carolina, whose minor-league stadium, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, will soon have a brewery. Fans will be able to buy beer and watch the brewing process.

    Delaware’s liquor store owners are worried about losing business if Pennsylvania loosens its restrictions on beer sales. As it is, the Keystone State offers a wider selection of beer.

    Carlsberg Breweries, which is known for offbeat advertising campaigns, put up a giant beer-dispensing billboard in London’s Brick Lane. Stay tuned: the brewery is planning more promotions.

    Despite heavy taxation and domination of the market by the Singha-Chang duopoly, craft beer is making inroads in Thailand. However, home brewing is still against the law.

    Sexist marketing isn’t just an American phenomenon. A Japanese brewery has it marketing a beer called Precious to women. It contains two grams of collagen, a protein that makes skin look younger.

    If your beer is boring, a company called Hop Theory is here to help with flavor-enhancing teabags. Their first product, Relativity, contains orange peel, coriander, and Cascade hops.

    Finally, Tricia Gilbride of Mashable.com picks the best beers to drink in the shower. She prefers IPAs because “it makes sense to select a hoppy beer when you hop in the shower.”

    A-B’s Unbranded Beer Campaign

    Earlier this month, Anheuser-Busch InBev launched a new digital campaign called “Let’s Grab a Beer.” The campaign is unusual in that it carries almost no branding. According to E.J. Schultz, a correspondent for Advertising Age magazine, it’s aimed at persuading drinkers to choose beer over spirits, which have been aggressively promoted in recent years. If overall beer consumption rises, A-B InBev—which ranks first in U.S. market share—stands to gain the most.

    However, some industry observers are worried that A-B InBev’s campaign will contribute to the “wineification” of beer: placing emphasis on beer styles rather than brands. Schultz explains: “For instance, if more people walk into bars and ask for a ‘wheat beer,’ rather than a Shock Top or Blue Moon, brands become less valuable. And good branding equals profits.”

    Harpoon Ex-CEO Returns to the Beer Business

    Rich Doyle, former CEO of Harpoon Brewery, is back in the brewing business. Nine months after selling his stake in Harpoon, he’s joined forces with Friedman, Fleisher & Lowe, a San Francisco-based private equity firm, to form Enjoy Beer LLC. The new venture will create partnerships with craft brewers who wish to preserve their local independence, while gaining shared resources in areas such as marketing, logistics, and finance in order to compete with larger competitors.

    Abita Brewing, the group’s founding brewery partner, has reportedly sold a stake in the company in order to join the new enterprise. Abita CEO David Blossman said, “Enjoy Beer will pioneer a new model in the industry, and together, we will help these independent companies compete at the next level by expanding their resources and their reach.” Abita recently completed a $30 million expansion that will increase its brewing capacity to 400,000 barrels a year. Its current annual production is 160,000 barrels, which ranks it 21st on the list of largest craft breweries.

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