Caveat Emptor

Brad Tuttle of Time magazine has a warning for beer drinkers: What you see on the label might not be true.

One example is deception as to a beer’s provenance. Tuttle mentions beers that are advertised as “Vermont ales” when in fact they’re brewed elsewhere. One brewer of “Vermont ale” is located in Berkeley, California; another is based in upstate New York.

“American” is a time-honored way to make products more appealing, and Budweiser exploited this tactic to the hilt by renaming Budweiser “America” last year. Problem is, the brand is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a conglomerate headquartered in Belgium.

Some beers try to pass themselves off as “imported”. Even though they bear foreign breweries’ names, they’re brewed in the U.S. A couple of years ago, Anheuser-Busch got slapped with a lawsuit over domestically-brewed Beck’s beer. A-B didn’t admit fault, but agreed to pay Beck’s drinkers up to $50 in the settlement; and the suit apparently made it more careful about advertising claims.

“Craft” is another possible source of deception. Here the legalities get trickier: the Brewers Association has laid down criteria for what breweries qualify as “craft”, but the BA’s definition isn’t universally accepted in the industry. That said, the mega-brewers behind Blue Moon (launched as an experiment by Coors Brewing) and Goose Island (acquired by A-B) haven’t gone out of their way to disclose those brands’ current ownership.

Meet the Barrel Brokers

Not so long ago, breweries that barrel-aged their beers sent employees down to Kentucky’s bourbon country to buy used barrels from distillers. Under federal regulations bourbon whiskey must be aged in new, charred oak containers. Those used barrels had to find a new home.

Since then, the popularity of barrel-aged beers has caused a spike in demand for bourbon barrels. And brewers are experimenting with wine, rum, and even tobacco and hot sauce barrels.

Enter the barrel brokers. Breweries rely on brokers because they vouch for the barrels’ provenance of the barrels, inspect them for leaks and other flaws, and handle the logistics of transporting them from distant parts of the country—even from overseas. Small breweries are especially reliant on brokers, who can fill their orders for small quantities and hard-to-find barrels.

Barrel brokering is as much an art as a science. The biggest challenge is coordinating the empty dates of the barrels with the breweries’ fill dates. Changing tastes are another challenge. Brokers are not only looking for the barrels breweries want now, but also try to anticipate what barrel-aging trends are on the horizon.

A Clever, Beer-Themed April Fool’s Prank

Today, CraftBeer.com reported that the heads of four craft-brewing pioneers–Kim Jordan (New Belgium), Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery) and Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head)–will be chipped out of Half Dome, the 9,000-foot-tall granite formation in Yosemite National Park. It also reported that the landmark will be named “Craft Dome”.

It gets better:

[I]t all started with a call from Leslie Knope a few weeks ago. Grossman says the Pawnee, Indiana, native who rose to the top of the ranks of the National Park Service was looking for a way the government could give props to the rise of small and independent brewing in America.

“She said she wanted to put a project together to honor the founding of craft brewing…Since California is the birthplace they wanted to do it at Half Dome.”

There’s also a video from Sierra Nevada’s Facebook page in which the four honorees explain the Craft Dome plan.

Well done, ladies and gentlemen. Well done.

The Friday Mash (No-Smoking Edition)

Forty-seven years ago today, President Richard Nixon signed the Public Health Smoking Act. It required the placement of Surgeon General’s warnings on tobacco products, and banned cigarette advertising on television and radio. Those of a certain age still remember the jingles, however.

And now….The Mash!

We begin in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where the newly-opened Moby Dick Brewing Company pays homage to the city’s whaling industry and especially, the Herman Melville classic.

In Indianapolis, a beer bar called Kingmakers offers a selection of 500 board games to play with friends. Kingmakers’ “board game sommeliers” double as servers and game instructors.

Michigan’s brewery count is approaching 300–which is a lot of competition for shelf space. Representatives of two of the state’s grocery chains explain how they decide what to carry.

Your next layover could be an opportunity to introduce yourself to some new beer. CraftBeer.com has compiled a list of nine American airports that pour beer from local craft breweries.

Growler USA is coming to your home state. The Denver-based beer bar chain has 40 franchised locations under development, and expects to sell another 200 franchises nationwide in 2018.

Can you name the ten oldest beers in America? All ten date back to the 19th century—1829 in the case of Yuengling Lager, the country’s oldest—and managed to survive Prohibition.

Finally, Stone Brewing Company earned rave reviews for its Full Circle Pale Ale. What makes this beer unusual is that it was made with recycled and purified wastewater that had previously been used in taps, toilets and showers.

Beer…By the Numbers

  • Federal excise tax on a gallon of beer: 57 cents, or about 5 cents per 12-ounce bottle.
  • Wisconsin excise tax on a gallon of beer: 2 cents (lowest in the nation).
  • Tennessee excise tax on a gallon of beer: $1.29 (highest in the nation).
  • Value of UK beer exports in 2016: $712 million.
  • Increase over 2015: $102 million.
  • Natural Light’s average rating on BeerAdvocate.com (1-to-5 scale): 1.86 (worst of all beers).
  • Budweiser Select 55’s average rating on BeerAdvocate.com: 1.87 (second-worst).
  • Anheuser-Busch InBev’s per-share earnings in fiscal 2016: 72 cents.
  • Decline from fiscal 2015: 86 percent.
  • Canned beer’s share of the market in 2016: 56.2 percent.
  • Its market share in 2008: 50.3 percent.
  • Number of breweries taking part in this year’s edition of SAVOR in Washington, D.C.: 86.
  • States represented by breweries taking part in SAVOR: 31, plus the District of Columbia.
  • Increase in pilsner sales at supermarkets and convenience stores from 2015 to 2016: 56 percent.
  • Increase in craft pilsner sales at supermarkets and convenience stores from 2015 to 2016: 123 percent.
  • Happy Oberon Day, Michiganders

    Ludwig, Maryanne, and Paul live in Michigan, where two spring traditions reign supreme: Tigers Opening Day and Oberon Day.

    Today, Michiganders flocked to their favorite establishments to enjoy a pint or two of this year’s release of Bell’s Oberon. This American wheat ale was originally called Solsun, but the owners of Mexico’s Sol beer slapped Bell’s with a cease-and-desist order. Larry Bell, who had been in drama club in high school, renamed the beer Oberon, after the king of the fairies in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

    Solsun/Oberon has been part of Michigan’s craft beer scene for 25 years, and many of its fans have posted memories of the beer on social media. Amy Sherman of MLive.com has compiled the best walks down Memory Lane.

    As for the Tigers, their home opener is Friday, April 7.

    The Friday Mash (“Long Live the King” Edition)

    On this day in 1603, James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England and Ireland upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I. The kingdoms of Scotland and England remained sovereign states, with their own parliaments, but both were ruled by James in personal union.

    And now….The Mash!

    We begin in Vancouver where last week, the Railtown Pub advertised its St. Patrick’s Day celebration with a Guinness glass filled to the brim and literally losing its head. That caught the attention of the Irish Independent newspaper, which called the pour “sacrilegious”.

    Now that the Chicago White Sox’s partnership with MillerCoors has expired, the ballclub has formed a new partnership with Constellation Brands, which will open “Casa Modelo” at the ballpark.

    While on spring break in The Bahamas, a frat boy used the teeth of a beached shark to puncture a beer can so he could “shotgun” it. His video of the stunt prompted a swift—and angry—backlash on social media.

    Portland, Oregon, is about to get a beer bar devoted to session beers. Its name, naturally enough, is Sessionable. The bar will pour 30 beers, all with ABVs ranging from 2.5 to 5 percent.

    Neil Patrick Harris, who the spokesperson for Heineken beer, says that he has a Heineken Light tap in his bar at home. He adds that unlimited beer at home “is as awesome as it sounds”.

    According to a recent survey, one out of four beer drinkers said they would switch to marijuana if it became legal in their state. If they do switch, brewers will suffer $2 billion per year in lost sales.

    Finally, MLive.com asked eight brewery owners in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area whether the craft beer industry is in a bubble. They don’t think so, but some admit that the market is getting tougher for new entries.

    Iconic Chicago Beer Bars Turn 25

    Hopleaf and The Map Room, two of Chicago’s most beloved beer bars, celebrate their 25th anniversary. To mark the occasion, Chicago Tribune beer writer Josh Noel sat down with Hopleaf’s owner, Michael Roper, and The Map Room’s owner, Laura Blasingame.

    The establishments that Roper and Blasingame acquired to turn into “good beer” bars were Chicago taverns’ equivalent to Mediterranean and Baltic Avenue.

    Blasingame describes she started out with:

    When my husband, Mark, walked me up here to show me the building, there was this little window on a door facing Armitage, and I saw somebody’s bloody hand going down it. Literally. There was a fight going on in the back over the pool table. I was appalled. Fighting, smoky, a drop ceiling—just disgusting. All men. No women.

    And there were problems outside the bar, too:

    We had a part-time gang in the neighborhood, which apparently had one gun among them. They insisted that we “pay rent”—they wanted a case of Miller High Life or something every time they came in. We didn’t want them to feel like they had a piece of the place and intimidating people. So we said, “No, we’re not paying rent.” One day these guys pulled up in a car and got out with baseball bats and banged out all our windows. We got our punishment, but then it was over.

    Yikes. But Roper topped Blasingame with these stories:

    We bought the place stocked with all the stuff we would never want to sell. There were cases of Boone’s Farm, Ripple and Everclear. One of their most popular things was Everclear in plastic half pints. We ran it like that for a while, opening at 7 in the morning. I didn’t even tell my friends we bought the place because I didn’t want anyone to see it. It was so horrible….

    There was a line every morning. It wasn’t people that wanted to drink. It was people that needed to drink. There were a lot of panhandlers in the neighborhood, and the bar sold those little airplane minis for a buck. So anyone who could come up with a buck on the street would come in, down one and go back out.

    The kind of people that came in were fairly nasty. Every day at noon—they had a TV and VCR built into the wall—a guy from a video store dropped off a porno movie and picked up yesterday’s. So the old guys would sit there and watch a porno. There were several traditions that ended when I took over. I took the poker machines out—the main revenue source of the place. Some lowlifes came in to sell stuff they’d stolen—like steaks from Jewel.

    Slowly but surely, Blasingame and Roper upgraded their bars and the beer they poured. Eventually, they became destinations for beer lovers from Chicagoland–and later, from places farther afield.

    “Old school” is the term both owners use to describe their bars: they keep prices reasonable, and attend to details such as keeping beer menus current. They’re single-location establishments in an age where hospitality companies and pub chains are opening beer bars. Now that craft beer has filtered down to bowling alleys and VFW halls, the way to stay ahead of competition is “to be a good bar first and then to have interesting beer.”

    Cheers, Michael and Laura, and best wishes for another 25!

    Top of the Morning!

    It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and we’re sure you’re marking the occasion with a pint of cheer. If you haven’t decided where to celebrate, Mental Floss magazine is here to help. They’ve listed the best Irish bar in each state.

    Public service announcement: Friends don’t let friends drink green beer.

    The Friday Mash (End of Apartheid Edition)

    Twenty-five years ago today, South Africans voted overwhelmingly to end the practice of racial segregation called apartheid. The vote followed President F.W. de Klerk’s lifting of the ban on opposition parties and his release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years’ imprisonment.

    And now….The Mash!

    We begin near Dublin, where, if you have $29.5 million, you can be the new owner of the Guinness Beer Castle. The castle, aka Luggala, has 27 bedrooms and 18 full baths and sits on 5,000 acres of green rolling hills.

    Two California drinkers have sued the maker of Kona Brewing Company’s beers. They allege that Kona falsely represented that the beers are brewed in Hawaii, when in fact they’re brewed on the mainland.

    If you’re a golfer, this product is for you. “Big Beertha” looks like a driver, but functions as “the original golf beer bong”. It holds 12 ounces of liquid whose consumption can be viewed by onlookers through its clear acrylic shaft.

    The Kansas City Royals have named Boulevard Brewing Company the first-ever craft beer partner of a major-league baseball team. Boulevard has been sold at Royals’ games for more than 20 years.

    Last weekend at SXSW, Anheuser-Busch announced its “Bud on Mars” project. Challenges on the Red Planet include low gravity, lack of water, not enough sunlight to grow hops, and humans’ diminished sense of taste.

    Shares in Japan’s big breweries could get a boost if the government follows through on revising the beer excise tax, which is based malt content. The result has been a flood of beers heavy with adjuncts like peas and soybeans.

    Finally, Belgian scientists recently discovered the Trappist-1 system of possibly-habitable Earth-size planets some 40 light-years from Earth. They named the planets after monastic Trappist beers such as Rochefort, Orval, and Westvleteren.

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