“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

 

 

Linkage 7.31.2017: Glow-in-the-Dark Beer, more on ownership matters, and wild stuff

Some interesting reads over the past week you might enjoy:

Is glow-in-the-dark beer the next New England IPA?  San Diego Beer Makers’ Glow-in-the-Dark Beer Gets Glowing Reviews

The Democratic Party puts big beer in their political cross-hairs, via Brewbound: To Promote a Better Deal, Dems Criticize Megabrew

Andy Crouch, on brewery ownership transparency, via BeerAdvocate: Forget Craft: Let’s Try Talking Transparency 

Selling out is so 2015…Tara Nunin writes on the wave of craft brewery mega-mergers Forbes: New Brooklyn and Lagunitas Investments Show Why Selling Out Is So 2015 

Scientists are getting closer to understanding the microbes of wild fermentation Science: Microbe new to science found in self-fermented beer.

 

“Does anyone give a bean who owns coffee?” Fascinating read from Jon Urch

Jon Urch has written a fascinating piece on independence in coffee ownership, or lack thereof, contrasting it with the raging internet debates on who owns beer these days.  I’m not going to say much about it, other than to say I had no idea large corporations had their hands so deep in hip coffee hangouts, or that hardly anyone gives a hoot about it. It’s a great read: Does anyone give a beam who owns coffee?

Devil’s Canyon in Edible Silicon Valley

Devil’s Canyon Brewing was ahead of its time in opening up its brewery to the public, providing the connection between beer and the community that so many breweries establish today with their tap rooms and brew pubs. Devil’s Canyon Beer Friday events have always been much more family friendly than most breweries, their Root Beer playing a significant role in that.  I tried to capture Devil’s Canyon pioneering ideas in the latest issue of Edible Silicon Valley (ESY) which is out now both in print form and online.  I’d like to thank the ESY editors at who were pretty enthusiastic about the story and provided some interesting and helpful  “non-beer geek” perspective for the piece.  You can read the online version here:

Devils’ Canyon Brewery: Beer for All