Breweries

Uncle Sam’s Beer Label Czar

Meet Kent “Battle” Martin, who for years has been America’s beer label czar. Martin, who works for the Tax and Trade Bureau, a section of the U.S. Treasury Department, has been variously described as a workaholic, eccentric, and tightly wound. That, and a law onto himself. In his career at the U.S. Treasury’s Tax and Trade Bureau, he’s passed judgment on some 30,000 labels.

The brewing community respects Martin’s work ethic and dedication to his job, and acknowledges that regulation has to be consistent. Nevertheless, some of his decisions have become legendary. The labels he’s rejected include these:

  • The King of Hearts, which had a playing card image on it, because the heart implied that the beer would have a health benefit;
  • Pickled Santa, because Santa’s eyes were too “googly” on the label, and labels cannot advertise the physical effects of alcohol;
  • Bad Elf’s “Elf Warning” about operating toy-making machinery while drinking the ale, which was deemed confusing to consumers;
  • A label that featured a hamburger, because the image implied there was a meat additive in the beer; and
  • “Adnams Broadside” beer, which touted itself as a “heart-warming ale,” another prohibited health-benefit claim.
  • And there’s the story of Vaune Dillman, who wanted to market a beer called “Legal Weed.” Battle not only objected to what looked like a reference to marijuana—Weed is an actual town in California, where Dillman brews his beer—but he also took offense that Dillman called him “Mr. Martin,” not “Battle,” which he prefers to be called.

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    Ballantine IPA Returns

    Beloved by Hunter S. Thompson and advertised as “the manlier brew,” Ballantine IPA was one of the few India pale ales available in the United States before the craft brew movement began. Inevitably, the ale fell victim to industry consolidation.

    Pabst Brewing Company, which now owns the Ballantine trademark, announced that it will launch a new version of Ballantine IPA. According to Jay Brooks, who passed along Pabst’s announcement on his blog, the ale will check in at 7.2% ABV and 70 IBUs, putting it near the upper end of the style guidelines for an English-style IPA.

    Gregory Deuhs, Pabst’s brewmaster, conducted extensive research—including talking to beer drinkers of a certain age–to find out what the original IPA looked and tasted like. After making two dozen five-gallon batches at his home, Deuhs finally came up with an IPA that Peter Ballantine, the company’s founder, would brew today.

    Ballantine IPA will soon be available in six-packs and 750-ml bottles in nine northeastern states.

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    Virginia is For (Beer) Lovers

    August is Virginia Beer Month, and it appears that the Commonwealth is quite interested in attracting beer travelers. The official tourism site has a Craft Beer section, which includes three beer and food trails: the Nelson 151 Trail, the Red, White and Brew Trail, and the Brew Ridge Trail. Visitor can also go on a “Wolf Pack” tour of BadWolf in Manassas, Wild Wolf in Nellysford and Wolf Hills in Abingdon, or take a color tour with tastings at Blue & Gray in Fredericksburg, Blue Lab in Lexington, Blue Mountain Barrel House in Arrington, and Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton.

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    Strange Brew

    The current trends in brewing include session IPAs, sour beer, and…beer made with strange ingredients. CoolMaterial.com went looking for the strangest ingredients of all—we’re not talking bacon or wasabi here—and found seven truly bizarre beers. How bizarre? Put it this way. Rogue’s Beard Beer, made with yeast from Brewmaster John Maier’s beard, was the most mainstream of the seven. We recommend that you not read this story before eating.

    The Friday Mash (Abbey Road Edition)

    Forty-five years ago today, at a zebra crossing in London, photographer Iain Macmillan took the photo that became the cover of the Beatles album Abbey Road. It became one of the most famous album covers in recording history.

    And now…The Mash!

    We begin, appropriately, in London, where local officials might stop evening beer festivals at the zoo after festival-goers threw beer at the tigers and a drunken woman tried to enter the lion enclosure*.

    Jim Koch, the CEO of Boston Beer Company, planned to open a brewery in Seattle, where he went to college. But after watching it rain for 45 straight days, Koch and his wife moved back to Boston.

    Germany’s years-long slump in beer consumption was halted by its winning the World Cup. Between January and June, sales rose by 4.4 percent over a year ago.

    Bend, Oregon’s 10 Barrel Brewing Company issued a recall for its popular Swill beer after it learned some bottles were undergoing secondary fermentation, which could cause them to explode.

    California’s continuing drought has craft brewers worried. If the rains don’t come this winter, they might be forced to curtail production, raise prices, or even move brewing operations out of state.

    Elizabeth Daly, who sued the Virginia ABC after over-zealous plainclothes officers wrongly suspected she was a minor in possession, will get a $212,500 settlement check from the state.

    Finally, New Zealand health regulators warned a hotel that its sign, “Pero Says: ‘Free Beer Tomorrow’”, may violate the law by promoting excessive drinking. Haven’t they read about “Jam Tomorrow” in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass?

    * Ludwig is not pleased with her.

    Are “Crafty Beers” Helping Big Breweries?

    According to Tom Philpott of Mother Jones magazine, big breweries such as Anheuser-Busch InBev are following a two-pronged strategy in response to declining market share for their brands. The first is “relentless cost cutting.” After InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch in 2008, it very quickly cut 1,400 jobs, or about six percent of its American workforce. Its focus on slashing costs has continued.

    The second approach is rolling out “crafty” beers–the include Shock Top, Blue Moon, Leinenkugel, Killian’s, Batch 19, and Third Shift–or, alternatively, buy up craft breweries like Chicago’s Goose Island. Philpott says this “has been successful, to a point.” The good new is that InBev’s Shock Top and Goose Island sales have surged. But here’s the bad news. According to Bloomberg, craft beers “are taking sales from already-troubled mass-market brands owned by the industry giants peddling these crafty brews.”

    The Friday Mash (MTV Edition)

    On this day in 1981, MTV began broadcasting in America. Pay attention to this factoid, because it comes up often in pub trivia: MTV’s first video was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles.

    And now….The Mash!

    We begin in Chicago, where Ian Hughes, a brewmaster at Goose Island Brewing Company, is trying to educate people about the importance of clean water, the main ingredient in Goose Island beers.

    Canadian actor Seth Rogan got to fulfill his dream of drinking beer from the Stanley Cup. P.K. Subban, who plays for the Montreal Canadiens, earned an assist for pouring beer into the trophy.

    The list of exotic ingredients in beer now includes seaweed. Marshall Wharf Brewing Company adds 66 pounds of Maine sugar kelp to 200 gallons of its Scotch ale to brew a batch of Sea Belt Ale.

    In Indiana, a newly-passed law lifts the 67-year-old ban on beer at the State Fair, which opens today. Last call is at 8 pm, and fair-goers will be limited to three 12-ounce beers.

    Tech companies in Boston are using craft beer to attract and retain talented employees. Journalist Dennis Keohane decided to investigate the tap selection at some of the area’s leading companies.

    In San Francisco, a woman in the outfield seats got a rude surprise: a home run ball landed in her beer. Not only was she soaked with beer and out $8, but someone else wound up with the baseball.

    Finally, the Michigan Brewers Guild has responded to heavy demand for tickets to the annual Winter Beer Festival by adding an evening session to next year’s event in Grand Rapids.

    Today’s Debate Topic: Is Your Beer Overrated?

    Deadspin’s Will Gordon, who writes about adult beverages, has decided to rattle a few cages with his list of 18 overrated beers. He cautions that “overrated” beers aren’t necessarily bad, but “they’re not as good as their ubiquity on reputable beer menus or their cult status will have you believe.”

    After going after obvious targets like Blue Moon, Killian’s Red, and Corona, Gordon ventures into more dangerous territory. He calls Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale “generic strong ale overdosed with vanilla,” and complains that Magic Hat, the makers of #9, “seems to be more interested in marketing than brewing.” He pooh-poohs the idea of waiting in line to buy Heady Topper, which is “only marginally better than Dogfish Head 90 Minute,” and dismisses North Coast Old Rasputin as “not as transcendent as its reputation suggests.”

    Gordon’s most intriguing comment is about your local brewery’s flagship ale. He says, “In most cases, the beer that put a brewery on the map way back when—even if way back when was two years ago—has since been surpassed in-house. They may need to keep the sales workhorse around to keep the ship afloat, but the brewers themselves know that they’ve gotten better at their craft since creating that first hit recipe.”

    At last count, Gordon’s article has attracted nearly 1,000 comments.

    Your Guide to San Diego Beer

    Ian Anderson, a correspondent for Paste magazine, insists that San Diego, not Portland, is America’s craft beer capital. To make his case, he’s assembled a comprehensive guide to his city’s flourishing beer culture.

    Anderson’s article leads off with the top breweries (San Diego has 75, so one has to draw the line somewhere), and segues from there into the brewpubs, beer bars, and bottle shops worth a visit. If your travel plans include “America’s Finest City,” consider this required reading.

    The Friday Mash (MSG Edition)

    On this day in 1908, the Japanese food company Ajinomoto—“The Essence of Taste”–was founded. Ajinmoto’s founder, chemist Kikunae Ikeda, discovered that a key ingredient in kombu soup stock was monosodium glutamate, for which he was given the patent.

    And now….The Mash!

    We begin in Marshall, Michigan, where microbrewery owner Aaron Morse and his family have landed a reality-show gig. They’ll appear on The History Channel’s “Dark Horse Nation.”

    Tin Man Brewing of Terre Haute has released Klingon Warnog. This officially-licensed beer follows the Prime Directive: “to unite both Star Trek and Craft Beer fans.”

    Dogfish Head Artisan Ales is the most famous brewery in the Delmarva Peninsula, but it now has plenty of company, and that’s good news for local beer drinkers.

    A new California law will allow students younger than 21 to sample alcohol as part of their beer and wine studies. Oregon and Washington have passed similar laws.

    The Jurassic Park of beer? Probably not, but Jason Osborne of Paleo Quest and microbiologist Jasper Akerboom of the Lost Rhino Brewing Company are working with a 45-million-year-old yeast strain found in a fly entrapped in fossilized amber.

    Philadelphians are upset at state legislators who want to close a loophole which allows pop-up beer gardens to operate without having to shell out six figures for a liquor license.

    Finally, Bart Watson, the Brewers Association’s chief economist, says we’re not in a craft beer bubble. The nation’s 3,000 breweries is well below the saturation level; and besides, factors such as the variety and quality of local beer determine whether a market is saturated.

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