The Session #67 Prediction Contest: Declaring the Winner

Five years ago I hosted The Beer Blogger Session  and held a prediction contest to see who could best pick the number of breweries would exist in the United States in September 2017.  Well, it’s September 2017 so the time has come to declare Brian Yaeger  and David Blascombe the winners fortheir predictions that over 5,000 breweries would be in operation in the United States at present day. Yaeger predicted 5,001 breweries and Blascombe predicted “over 5,000” and while I haven’t checked the latest numbers from the Brewers Association, well over 5,000 breweries are in operation in the United States and the next closest prediction was 4,252.  So they both win going away.

For the reward, I promised to buy the winners a beer. Brian Yaeger now lives in Santa Barbara and I’ll be sending him two beers from my hometown of San Jose from two breweries that didn’t exist when he made his winning prediction: New Almaden Imperial Red Ale from Santa Clara Valley Brewing  and Lumber Buster Brown from Strike Brewing. Both Strike and Santa Clara Valley Brewing started up in 2013. Judging from his blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed, David Blascombe’s interest in beer has waned somewhat in the past five years and sending him beer to the United Kingdom seems a bit fraught with logistical difficulties.  But if he’s ever in the San Francisco Bay Area or if I ever make it to the UK, I’ll be happy to buy him a pint or two.

Looking back on all the predictions, it’s surprising to read a whole bunch of tepid growth predictions from a bunch people otherwise pretty enthusiastic about the future of beer. I was certainly guilty of that as back then, I had plenty of concerns about whether all the growth of new breweries was sustainable. But if you ask me today how many breweries will exist in the United States five years from now in 2022, I’d confidently predict a number well over 8,000, maybe even 10,000 simply because there now seems plenty of room for small breweries.

What I think has happened over the past five years is that the concept of “brewery” has changed from a factory involved in the mass production of beers to more of a restaurant or tavern brewing their own beers on site. Most of the new breweries in America are fairly small 500-5,000 barrel per year operation which a beer market of over 100 million barrels can easily absorb.

And laugh all you want at the 2012 contest predictions of only two or one breweries existing in 2017, these somewhat tongue-in-cheek predictions anticipated the wave of major corporate breweries acquiring smaller local “craft” breweries. As more and more breweries enter the market, the forces corporate consolidation produce their own pressures in the industry.

But enough about that, let’s congratulate the Brian Yaeger and David Blascombe for the most clear headed crystal ball gazing five years ago.

 

Beers to BY

 

 

Scenes from a slight diversion to Oregon’s Crater Lake

A road trip to Bend, OR to visit friends is becoming a tradition as my wife and I have done so for the past three years. As we did last year, it included a stop along the way at Crater Lake, one of the more picturesque spots in the country.

You can’t quite tell from the pictures but it was a hazy afternoon at the lake from all the wild fires in the area. Crater Lake itself was formed 8,000 years ago when a volcanic mountain estimated at 14,000 feet above sea level blew up one day, leaving a huge hole behind which eventually filled up with water.  Large swaths of the surrounding forest are still barren of any life due to that brief moment where the things went totally out of balance at that spot in the earth’s crust.

All the forest fires ravaging central Oregon that Labor Day weekend made a day outside akin to smoking a couple packs of cigarettes. Two “once in a life-time hurricanes” Harvey and Irma striking the country within a couple weeks have only created the impression that something isn’t quite right with the world. The scientific fact that human activity is changing the atmosphere and with it, our weather and the environment shouldn’t be a political, but unfortunately it is.

Places like Crater Lake can help us try and forget these problems in the world, if only for a couple hours. Unfortunately, as we left Crater Lake from the north rim, a fire raged only a quarter mile from the only road out of the park, bringing the destructive force of nature back into focus.

 

cl-3cl-1IMG_4704IMG_4703

IMG_4710

The Session #127: Oktoberfest

For this month’s Beer Blogging Session, Alistair Reese is encouraging everyone to celebrate Oktoberfest in their corner of the Internet. Since I don’t have any lederhosen  or play in an Oompa Band, I’m just going to have to simply share a few thoughts about the beer.

Beer historians have noted the amber lager Oktoberfest is intertwined with the similarly hued Vienna Lager and Marzen styles. Of course, a Vienna Lager in the form of Sam Adams Boston Lager played a big role in America’s craft beer revolution in the 80’s and 90’s. Yet, the amber lager is pretty passe these days with Barrel-aging, Imperial everythings, and beers full of floating crud (known as New England IPAs) dominating the mind share of the American brewing community. But back then, a lager with some actual flavor to it was a big deal and helped opened the door, along with some other beers, to the greater possibilities of American brewing.

This includes the much malligned Pumpkin beers, which start hitting the shelves big time as summer eases into fall. Oktoberfest beers are fewer and far between. A lot of that is because Oktoberfests are harder to brew than most beers. And let’s face it, with breweries chasing fads, amber lagers just aren’t very sexy. But they’ve never gone out of style in 200 years and on a warm September afternoon, a good Oktoberfest with its smooth lightly roasted malted goodness  is nearly perfect.

 

“Independent” Breweries Quietly Build Mini-Empires

Brooklyn Brewing Image
Brooklyn Brewing promotional photo on their new brewery partnership

When Japanese brewing conglomerate Sapporo recently bought craft beer icon Anchor Brewing, it was big news, and rightfully so. But a week earlier and with a lot less fanfare, Brooklyn Brewing announced a partnership with the Bay Area’s 21st Amendment Brewing and Colorado’s Funkwerks Brewing Company, investing in the two breweries to create “innovative new shared platform for sales and distribution nationwide”.  Which means Brooklyn Brewing’s beers are coming to the Bay Area and 21st Amendment’s beer will be found in the Southeastern United States, according to the Brooklyn Brewing press release. I wouldn’t be surprised if all three brands eventually go national.

And now San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing has announced they’re opening a new location in Nebraska  thought buying the Ploughshare Brewing Company facility, that became available when Ploughsare went out of business this summer. Green Flash already has facilities in their home town of San Diego and also have one inVirginia Beach, VA.  While “craft” brewery acquisitions by large corporations like Constellation Brands, Sapporo, Molsen Coors and AB InBev make all the headlines, smaller regional breweries are responding either banding together or slowly expanding into small national brands. I cite just two examples here, but similar arrangements have made news last year, such as the merger of Southern Tier and Victory Brewing and Fireman Capital’s Oskar Blues purchasing Tampa Bay’s Cigar City Brewing. It’s beginning to look a bit like a game of musical chairs, to see which breweries either get acquired or partner with others, with those left out to go it alone. While economies of scale are big in the brewing business, it remains to be seen which strategy works best, and it’s quite possible different business structures can co-exist.

And Bryan Roth recently showed the sales advantages of large breweries “going small” by setting up smaller outposts across the country in am interesting data-driven piece.

Beer in America is increasingly dominated both by national conglomerates and small tap rooms.  Unaligned mid-sized breweries that need to rely on at least some high volume retail sales are find themselves squeezed both by large corporations that have invested into craft, as well as “independent” craft brewery alliances. How well mid-sized breweries can operate in a business climate increasingly turning against them remains an open question.

Admiral Maltings: A Terroir for Beer?

To have local ingredients requires a local infrastructure and often this infrastructure can be unsexy. Malt is typically an afterthought in brewing as hops steals all the glory. Admiral Maltings, the first Bay Area malt house since the early 80’s is likely to change these perceptions which, is why I’m particularly excited to see how this new venture turns out. It’s a story about developing a locally grown barley and entrepreneurs in the Bay Area brewing community coming together to create a facility celebrating both malt and a California beer terroir that I was pleased to tell in the latest issue of Edible East Bay.

A Terrior for Beer?  Admiral Malting strives to make Bay Area beer truly local

Racing Through 2017

I’ll try to keep this brief as I know all too well that reading about someone else’s running quickly becomes intolerable. I’ve been doing a lot of racing this year. Haven’t written much about it here, but it started with the San Jose, 408k in March, the Saratoga-Los Gatos Great Race in April, the Marin Memorial Day 10k in May, some 10k in Palo Alto I forget the name of, the Santa Cruz Wharf to Wharf 6 miler in July, and the Los Gatos Dammit Run in August.  For fun, I ran a 5k with my kids on the 4th of July. (That’s me with them after the race in that picture up there.)

Whew! That’s a lot of racing.  Won’t bore you with any of the times or performances, except to say I ran about a minute faster at this year’s Wharf to Wharf Race than last years. At any rate, the big circle the calendar race for 2017 is the Monterey Bay Half-Marathon November 12th. I’ll be training hard for it, but not too hard. We’ll see how it goes.

After spending 2016 battling hip injuries, it’s been an injury free and enjoyable year for running so far with low key races. I’ll try to keep it that way for the Monterey Bay Half Marathon without the drama filled and soul-searching posts of previous years.

Aren’t you glad?

The Session #126: Can’t Keep Myself on the Fence over Hazy IPAs

Gail Williams of Beer by Bart does her best to stir the pot for this month’s Beer Blogging Session, asking us to weigh in on the highly charged topic of Hazy, Cloudy, Juicy IPAs. I would love join the internet mosh pit on the subject with a blistering  screed on why hazy IPAs are a hideous communist plot, symptomatic of the decline of American civilization and all sort of other horrible things. While the subject elicits passion on both sides, I’ll just say I’m not a fan of hazy, cloudy IPAs and that’s about the end of it.

I’ve ordered a couple without realizing it until the murky pint was set down in front of me. I’ve been too polite to send it back. And truth be told, they weren’t too hard to choke down. I actually like the unfiltered Simpleton IPA from Sante Adairius Rustic Ales based in Santa Cruz, CA. Simpleton IPA is arguably a hoppy farmhouse ale rather than a cloudy IPA. Whatever you want to call it, the yeasty suspension works to soften and round out the herbaceous hop character. It’s done skillfully, with a subtle touch to create one of those refreshing brews that maintains a lot of depth. I guess hazy IPAs aren’t all bad.

Sorry, it’s hard for me to bring a lot of passion to this debate. Life’s too short to get worked up over beer styles or brewing philosophes, given that brewing purists have their objections.  Experimenting with things like the interplay of hops in a unfiltered beer or pushing styles to their logical limit is what makes the current brewing revolution so compelling. But considering some of the pints of hoppy sludge I’ve seen, some brewers aren’t driven by creativity and innovation, but how to make a quick buck on what’s selling today. Now if consumers crave a pint full of hoppy crud and brewers are willing to satisfy that demand, well that’s the way the free market works. Call yourself a “craft brewer” all you want, but if you’re chasing fads by resorting to brewing gimmicks like using flour or generating excessive yeast and grain in suspension, you’ve lost any right to claim you’re brewing with honesty, integrity and a passion for brewing excellence, even if you slap the Brewers Association Independence Seal on your label. You’re just brewing the equivalent of Not Your Father’s Root Beer or God forbid, Zima, just on a smaller economic scale.

OK, maybe I’m starting to get a little passionate about this.

 

Hazy IPAs