Jeff Alworth

Trendy Beers: A Bad Business Decision?

Boston Beer Company’s slumping sales have been a topic of conversation in the craft beer community. Author Jeff Alworth blames the company’s propensity to chase trends. Alworth explains:

Boston Beer has made a series of decisions that may have resulted in short-term profits–spinning off alcoholic apple juice, tea, and seltzer divisions–but they enhanced the sense that this was a big company as bland and personality-free as Kellogg’s or Proctor and Gamble. No one could ever fault Sam Adams for failing to release new beers, but the ever-multiplying new lines of random beer types (IPAs, barrel-aged beers, nitro cans) has created a brewery with no there there.

Trend-chasing isn’t limited to Boston Beer. Breweries across the country are scrambling to bring out their versions of grapefruit IPAs, golden ales, and New England IPAs. If the past is any indication—remember the wheat beers of the 1990s?—today’s fad beers stay trendy very long.

According to Alworth, breweries that specialize in trendy beers fail to establish a connection with their customers. That connection is more important with beer than with other consumer products. He cites four examples—Sierra Nevada, Hill Farmstead, Schlenkerla, and Genesee—each of which has a distinct “personality”. Those personalities are built in collaboration with their drinkers, who expect the beer will embody that personality.

Are Grocery Stores Abandoning Craft?

Portland, Oregon-based writer Jeff Alworth reports on a disturbing trend in beer retailing. Fred Meyer, his state’s dominant grocery store chain, is scaling back the craft beer selection and giving more shelf space to macro brews and “crafty” beers, the latter being craft labels acquired by big breweries.

On the surface, Fred Meyer’s decision doesn’t make sense. The chain stands to lose business to competing stores that offer a wide selection of local craft products. However, there are fewer alternatives outside Oregon’s larger cities. Alworth adds that Fred Meyer’s parent, Kroger Company, can improve its profit margin by using its buying power to negotiate low prices and cutting costs by paring its beer inventory.

Alworth warns that in localities where the big grocery chains dominate and the public isn’t as attuned to craft beer, “crafty” beers such as Goose Island—or even the big national brands—will become customers’ default choice. That’s bad news for small breweries, especially the newer ones.

The Friday Mash (”Happy Birthday, Internet” Edition)

On this day in 1969, the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Society issued their first Request for Comments. The publication of RFC-1 is considered the Internet’s unofficial birthday.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in Newport, Oregon, the home of Rogue Ales and its famous 40-foot-tall red silo. Opinions differ as how the silo got there, but everyone agrees that the town fathers thought it was an eyesore.

In Kentucky, you can enjoy local craft beer or bourbon at most of the state’s resort parks. The state plans to offer adult beverages in all state parks which have restaurants and where alcohol is legal.

Michelob Ultra sales have risen by 27 percent over three years. Jeff Alworth puts the brand’s success in context: light beer still dominates the market, and Michelob Ultra is considered trendy.

Yes, it’s possible to grow hops in Brazil. Grower Rodrigo Veraldi has been experimenting with the plants, and one of his varieties thrives in the hot, rainy climate near Sao Paolo.

Bad news for Baltimoreans: National Bohemian is no longer available at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. “Natty Boh” enjoyed a brief reprieve last season, but fell off the menu after the first homestand.

IBU is an important quality-control number for brewers, but it’s not very helpful for beer drinkers. Malt content has a big effect on perceived bitterness, and the average drinker can’t perceive IBUs beyond the 100-120 range.

Finally, the University of North Dakota’s “Beer Grandma” has passed away. Beth Delano, who has attended UND men’s hockey games since 1947, became famous when the scoreboard video caught her quaffing a beer during a break in the action.

Some Politics With Your Beer?

Portland, Oregon-based Jeff Alworth started his blogging career on a site devoted to ending Republican Party dominance in his state. However, Alworth realized that people needed a respite from the ugly, polarized politics of our time, so he started blogging about beer. As he puts it, “politics divide, beer unites.”

With the election of Donald Trump as president, Alworth fears that political divisions will find their way into beer bars and breweries will feel compelled to take sides. He warns that beer and politics have become entwined in the past. For example, the Sons of Liberty planned the Boston Tea Party in a tavern, and Adolf Hitler led an unsuccessful revolt from a Munich beer hall.

As for present-day America, Alworth writes:

I don’t know where we’re headed. I really don’t want to sacrifice the world of beer and the physical spaces of pubs as refuges of camaraderie and community. But we have entered a moment when it seems like everything has political valence. It is certainly conceivable that we’ll have to take sides as beery folk. I’d love this to be my last post on politics on this site for the next four years—and still hope it will be. We’ll see.

Drinking Game for Tonight’s Debate

Tonight’s presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is expected to draw the biggest audience in American debate history. That means an awful lot of drinking games will take place, even though it’s only Monday. And, because both candidates enter the debate with historically high negatives, there’s all the more incentive to drink.

Beer writer Jeff Alworth, who blogs at Beervana, has suggested a drinking game that is out of the ordinary. Starting with the choice of beverage:

This is, however, no time to fool around with dainty potables that have only been lightly fermented. An event like this requires distilled beverages, strong and brutal.

Alworth also suggests not drinking until ten minutes into the debate, to make sure you take in what is actually happen, and then start drinking heavily. He also departs from the usual formula–take a drink if a certain word or phrase is spoken–and instead drink to the awfulness of the moderator’s questions, the candidates, and our two major parties.

Now on a roll, Alworth concludes with this boozy peroration:

Drink when you notice the anxiety that this election seems to be a metaphor for … something. Drink when your mind lapses back to earlier elections (2008 for Dems, 1980 for Republicans) and you remember thinking, “Is America the best damn country in the world, or what?” Drink when you grow irritated they’re not talking about the issues you care about. Drink when you realize they’re not talking about those issues because Americans don’t care about them. Drink to douse your gnawing apprehension, drink to encourage your hope. Drink for liquid courage. Drink for comfort. Drink for good old Teddy Roosevelt–man, we could really use the old Rough Rider right now. Drink to drink.

If you manage to survive tonight’s debate, the second in the series take place Sunday night, October 9. Cheers, everyone!

Distribution: Beer’s Next Battlefront?

Last week, Massachusetts’ liquor regulators slapped the state’s largest beer distributor with a 90-day license suspension. The distributor’s offense: paying some $120,000 in bribes to a dozen bars in return for their devoting tap handles to the brands the distributor carried.

Beer journalist Jeff Alworth contends that the practice of paying bars to carry its brands is hardly limited to the distributor that got caught. What made that case stand out was the distributor blatantly bought tap handles. More subtle corruption is harder to detect because state liquor regulators don’t have the resources to monitor every transaction between a distributor and a bar.

According to Alworth, the recent merger of Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller may lead to even more cheating with respect to beer distribution: “Large companies like [Anheuser-Busch InBev] are already making a big play to control distribution. Smaller companies are going to become desperate to get their beer to market. As more and more breweries come online and more and more consolidation happens at the top, the opportunities to cheat will grow.” While this story won’t dominate the media, Alworth predicts that “it will be one of the most important dynamics driving what happens in beer in the coming years.”

The Friday Mash (1,500th Blog Post Edition)

We aren’t beginning the Mash with a historical reference because we’re too busy celebrating a milestone. Today’s Mash is the 1,500th post on “Ludwig Roars.” Now excuse us while we refill our pint glasses.

And now….The Mash! 

We begin in the West Bank, where the Taybeh Brewery hosted its 11th annual Oktoberfest. The brewery poured a non-alcoholic beer for festival-goers from neighboring Muslim towns.

Anheuser-Busch InBev’s planned takeover of SAB Miller has advertising agencies worried. Less competition could mean less advertising. That, in turn, could affect the sports industry’s bottom lilne.

A 3,800-year-old poem honoring Ninkasi is also a recipe for Sumerian beer. Brewers have replicated the beer, which tastes like dry apple cider and has a modest 3.5 percent ABV.

Organizers of the Skanderborg Music Festival in Denmark have found an alternative to sleeping in hot tents: giant beer cans that offer a bed with pillows, shelving, a fan, and other amenities.

Jake Anderson, a goalie for the University of Virginia hockey team, was given five-minute major penalty and ejected from the game after chugging a can of Keystone Lite during the second intermission.

Québécois travel writer Caitlin Stall-Paquet takes us a beer-focused road trip through Gaspésie and the Bas-Saint-Laurent. The attractions also include museums, cathedrals, and rock formations.

Finally, Portland beer writer Jeff Alworth, who spent two years traveling and tasting beers, has written The Beer Bible. The 656-page book is accessible, but at the same time, an in-depth exploration of the heritage behind the beers we drink today.

The Inspiration for American Saison Beers

In an All About Beer article titled “The Most Influential Brewery You Probably Never Heard Of”, Jeff Alworth introduced his readers to a French brewer named Daniel Thiriez, who has been making farmhouse ales since 1996 at his brewery in Esquelbecq, France. Alworth credits Thiriez’s version of saison as the inspiration for those brewed in America.

First, however, Alworth discusses Dupont, which he says is to saison what Pilsner Urquell is to pilsner. Dupont, which was instrumental in reviving the style, made its version with “a finicky strain of yeast” that most other brewers don’t want to deal with. The beer has “a stiff mineral profile, strange esters, herbal hops, explosive effervescence and a desert-dry finish.”

Even if they could replicate Dupont–a fiendishly difficult job–American brewers wanted something different. They preferred versions with less assertive, more familiar esters. That is the kind of beer Thiriez makes. The yeast he settled on is Wyeast 3711, the “French Saison” strain. It’s a strain well known to American brewers, who began using it in their saisons.

Hops Shortage Looming?

Jeff Alworth, who blogs at Beervana, passed along what he called “an alarming report” from 47 Hops about the supply and cost of hops in the near future.

Given 10-20 percent annual growth in craft-beer production, 47 Hops estimates that the hops industry needs to invest between $500 million and $1 billion in new capacity over the next five years. However, the price of hops would have to double to give hop growers an incentive to add the needed capacity.

Alworth points out that 47 Hops is a hop dealer, and “they seem inevitably to come to a conclusion that supports their business model–get a contract now!” Nevertheless, he thinks its warning should be taken seriously.

The Friday Mash (Molly Pitcher Edition)

On this day in 1778, Mary Hays McCauley, the wife of an American artilleryman, carried water to soldiers during the Battle of Monmouth. According to legend, she took her husband’s place at his gun after he was overcome by the heat. She became known as “Molly Pitcher.” Ludwig thinks that–you guessed it–a pitcher of beer would be an appropriate way to toast her.

And now….The Mash!

We begin in Tumwater, Washington, where beer might be brewed again at the Olympia brewery. MillerCoors, which shut the plant down ten years ago, has agreed to lift a restrictive covenant barring beer production at the historic plant.

Boulevard Brewing Company will rely on the wisdom of crowds to test new beers. It will invite consumers to go online and offer their opinion about previously-unreleased beers.

The church of beer? Fred Lee of Columbus, Ohio, thought of starting his own religion to get a tax exemption for his brewery. He later decided not to, but his brewery’s slogan is “Believe in Beer.”

Add Narragansett to the list of retro beers making a comeback. Believe it or not, ‘Gansett had a 65-percent market share in New England in the late 1960s before sales went into a tailspin.

Heineken is–pun intended–rolling out an “interactive beer bottle”. “Heineken Ignite” has a green plastic base and an LED that flashes along with music when you take a sip.

If you missed SAVOR, blogger John Karalis has this to say: “The food was prepared and presented with a five-star flair, but the beers stripped away whatever elite overtones may have existed.”

Finally, Jeff Alworth, who blogs at Beervana, puts in a good word for cider. The beverage has become so popular in his home state that there’s now an Oregon Cider Week, which ends this weekend.

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