April 11, 2013
In short, it’s a matter of beer segregation, or more accurately, division of the festival attendees into multiple groups: “the masses” and “the VIPs.”
This is something I am noticing more and more often as I visit the websites of beer festivals, especially new festival events. And with the exploding national consciousness of craft beer drinkers, it makes sense that a tiered system would begin to emerge. On one hand, you’ve got the “OGs” of the craft beer world, who have played their part in supporting small, local breweries and turning them into today’s regional players. And on the other hand, you’ve got brand new converts to the fold. There’s going to be some separation–what’s important is how that separation is achieved, particularly from a monetary standpoint.
As such, my beef is not with beer festivals having a separate and more expensive “VIP” ticket that attendees can buy. That’s not it at all. My concern is the question of what kind of content differentiates the VIP tickets from general admission. And my argument is this: None of the beers at a festival should be off-limits to buyers of the basic tickets. It is entirely possible to build a “VIP experience” into your festival that doesn’t involve access to brews that no one else will get a chance to sample. Read the rest of this entry »
March 19, 2013
It has become increasingly popular in recent years to predict a slowdown or even a collapse of the American craft beer industry as it continues to swell to unprecedented levels. Every once in a while we hear from armchair economists warning that a “craft beer bubble” is rapidly approaching. This may still be the case, but as the newly released craft beer statistics for 2012 show, it’s certainly not happening just yet.
The numbers released by the Brewers Association on Monday exceeded pretty much all expectations. Craft beer continues to explode in its growth, and is beginning to capture a chunk of the overall market that is impossible for larger brewers to ignore. Most notably, the craft brewing industry cracked the 10 percent barrier in total dollar share of the beer market for the first time, posting numbers that have expanded exponentially each year.
Here’s a breakdown of all the statistics released.
* Craft beer was up 15 percent by volume in 2012, and up 17 percent industry-wide in dollar growth.
* Total barrels of craft beer produced increased from 11.5 million to 13.2 million, a production increase of 13 percent.
* Craft beer market share in terms of volume increased from 5.7 percent in 2011 to 6.5 percent in 2012. Read the rest of this entry »
December 4, 2012
I am generally of the opinion that when someone offers you some beer, you take the beer. You don’t ask a lot of questions about the beer’s origin, or why it’s green, or where the strange, white powder that rims the glass came from. You just take, take, take, and try to remember to stop long enough to give thanks for the stroke of luck.
And so, when Aleheads received an email from Woodland Hills, California brewery Firemans Brew, asking us to taste a few beers, I stepped up to do my sacred duty. I must admit that I had never heard of the brewery before, and assumed (correctly) that this was probably a company on the gimmicky side if everything was fireman related, but I think I’ve already explained the persuasiveness of their argument–”want a beer?” They knew my one weakness.
Being a curious guy/part-time journalist, I searched around the web for more information on Firemans Brew while I waited for a few bottles to make the cross-country trip. This is a small brewery, but seemingly not that small, as its products are now available in Colorado and Illinois in addition to California. They only make three beers and stick largely to craft brewing archetypes–pilsner, amber ale, doppelbock. They haven’t done particularly well on the grading scale of a place like beeradvocate, but with the biases in a place like that toward unknown and non-hyped beer sources, I figured I would make my mind up for myself. Here’s your tasting notes: Read the rest of this entry »
October 24, 2012
I’m afraid it’s gotten rather late in the season to post this kind of thing, especially considering that Germany’s real Octoberfest celebration has been over for nearly a month, but I figure better late than never. You should still be able to find pretty much all of these beers on the shelves at large package stores.
And now, on to the concept. Despite writing in the past about my appreciation for the drinkable and bready/biscuity character of octoberfest brews, I have to admit that when I drink them, they’re typically American-made versions of the style, albeit ones that are “true to their roots” like Capital Oktoberfest. I really don’t like the overly sweet, caramel-heavy, generally “orangey-red lager” that some American breweries make as festbiers. But at the same time, I’ve often been quite remiss about tasting examples that are actually German in origin. Indeed, I don’t often find myself drinking beer produced in Germany proper, and I don’t think I’m alone on this among fellow aleheads in the U.S. I like to try to buy American craft brews, and some of them do great German styles. But I was curious about what kind of differences would present themselves in actual German brews.
And so, I found myself at the package store, looking for festbiers that are actually made in Germany. I ended up with five, and decided to compare them against each other. You’ll have to pardon me for including breweries like Spaten, which are owned by InBev. I went with the selection they had and bought singles. The five I ended up with were Spaten Oktoberfestbier, Paulaner Oktoberfest-Marzen, Warsteiner Oktoberfest, Erdinger Oktoberfest-Weissbeer and Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen. And now, onto the tastings and comparisons. I’ll rank them all in the end. Read the rest of this entry »
September 28, 2012
I have to respect an ale…er, lager factory like Wisconsin’s Capital Brewery. Their persona, their brewery’s understanding of self, is so strong and well-developed. They have no real interest in crazy American beer. They just love German and German-y classics, and that’s what they do, and they do them well.
This is a brewery that has made TWELVE DIFFERENT BOCKS, most of them being brewed again year after year. They’ve also made nine other German-style lagers. In their entire history, they have produced SIX ALES. You’d be hard-pressed to find many other breweries making as many different beers as they are, with such a high percentage all being German lagers. They’re true specialists.
That specialism is one of the reasons I get excited each year when we move into September and October, because that’s when Capital really starts to shine with beers like this.
NOTES: 12 oz bottle poured into a pint glass, which just felt more appropriate than my tulip.
APPEARANCE: Very light copper, like a shiny penny. Minimal head that dissipates right away. Read the rest of this entry »
September 19, 2012
This is an old review that I found in the back of my notebook and realized I never typed up. Enjoy!
I sometimes get the feeling that Southern Tier is a bit of an odd craft brewery in beer geek circles. It doesn’t seem like most of the geeky types are at all interested in their regular offerings, but most of their special releases–like say, Mokah or Pumpking–have quite a lot of fans. And yet, they don’t really seem to command respect from all of us, nor are their offerings typically the first to come up in “best of” discussions, with the notable exception of “pumpkin ales.”
I can’t say that I know exactly why this is, but I can say that in my own assessment of their beer lineup, it always seemed like they were making brews for two separate audiences–year-rounders for the casual and newly converted craft beer fans, and out-there stuff for the extreme beer geeks. Few breweries had such a dearth of middle ground.
That was what made Southern Tier’s 2X IPA interesting when they started making it a couple years ago (I’m not sure when it first started showing up). This was a beer that was definitely in the middle, and to be honest I thought it was great. The market needs more beer that straddles a line and that sounds kind of silly, like “value” imperial IPA or “session” DIPAs. That’s what 2X IPA really is, and it’s a tasty beer to boot. And so, when I happened to see “2X Stout” on the store shelves a while back, I thought it might be a similarly good value brew. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite as pleased by it.
Southern Tier 2X Stout
NOTES: 12 oz bottle, poured into a tulip glass Read the rest of this entry »
September 1, 2012
You know, I really do like New Belgium as a brewery. Although they’re picked on a bit by snobbier beer geeks, I think they make a lot of solid, basic offerings that are often good values for where they’re priced. I’m not talking about Lips of Faith series beers. I’m talking about year-rounders and their constantly rotating seasonals, which seem to be replaced by new ones on a yearly basis. It’s a little confusing.
Because they seem to be a good value, I find myself buying New Belgium beer on a fairly regular basis in Central Illinois. I’m just a sucker for getting a good deal–when I go to my local brew store, the NB offerings are there on the shelf for $7.99 per six pack, even for things like the Abbey Ale or Tripel. Compare that to $11.99 for everything from Bells for example, and the choice is easy. I may find their beers to be of “pretty comparable” quality, but there’s very little that could make me buy a similar six-pack for 12 bucks when I could get it for eight.
And so, my willingness to drop money on New Belgium means that I end up trying most of the seasonal releases. The most recent is the Red Hoptober, which i assumed (fairly, I think) to be a hoppy American red ale when I caught it on the shelves. I’m not sure that descriptor is all that accurate, however. Tasting note follows:
New Belgium Red Hoptober
NOTES: 12 oz bottle, poured into tulip glass. Read the rest of this entry »
August 23, 2012
This was a beer that, while good, couldn’t quite live up to a positive memory of having it in the past. I first sampled Three Floyds’ “English IPA” (It’s 8.5% so I’m calling it a DIPA) over a year ago on the final day of my Michigan Beer Sojourn, and at that time I remember being blown away by waves of refreshing, citrusy goodness. That was on tap at the brewpub, and perhaps that form of serving plus a fresher sample were what made the difference. But either way, although I found this one to be solid this time around (find me a Three Floyds beer that isn’t), it suffered on the relativity-based plus-minus system for beer rating that Brother Barley recently introduced.
Before the body of this tasting note I have to say again that “English IPA” is a misnomer that would make you expect a brew around 5-7 percent ABV, as English IPAs usually tend to be. Also, with the prominent sweetness of this brew, you could easily have just called it an “English barleywine” and perhaps have been more accurate. I might even have rated it slightly higher if that was the case.
Three Floyds Blackheart English IPA
NOTES: 22 oz bomber, poured into a snifter. Appropriately metal-tastic label. Read the rest of this entry »
August 17, 2012
One of the many intriguing beer stories to come out of the ongoing craft brew renaissance in Chicago is Begyle Brewing. Although there are many prospective production breweries, brewpubs and nanobreweries on their way to fruition in the windy city right now, Begyle’s (formerly known as Argyle Brewing) plan for business makes them unique. They intend to model themselves after a CSA organization–which is to say “community-supported agriculture,” except here it’s “community-supported beer.” In return for a membership, patrons of Begyle will be able to fill their growlers on a monthly basis at the brewery with fresh, new beers.
There’s a lot to like here with Begyle, from their hardline stance on building an environmentally conscious brewery from scratch to their desire to integrate their business more fully with their neighborhood than is typical for the industry. I spent a while on the phone with co-owner and brewer Kevin Cary, discussing their plans for the CSA model, their current Kickstarter efforts to raise funding for equipment, and of course, the beer itself.
Kid Carboy: Alright, so you and Matt Ritchey and Brendan Blume are the founders. How did you meet and decide to open a brewery?
Kevin Cary: Matt and I have known each other since we were kids; we went to the same elementary school in Michigan. We ended up as roommates after college, and I had learned to homebrew while I was in school. Matt fell in love with it; he took it even further and wanted to learn every part of the science about it.
Brendan meanwhile operated a pedicab business in Chicago when I met him, and he told me that he had been wanting to start a brewery. This was in the early to mid 2000′s. And now we’re only a month or two from seeing beer on store shelves, although we’ll probably be producing only about 100 barrels this year, tops. Read the rest of this entry »
August 15, 2012
I really like Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery, for whatever reason. I don’t think anyone out there is going to argue they’re the most “interesting” brewery in the world, and they don’t make barrel-aged crazy special releases, but damnit, they make some tasty brews. Their Bridge Burner is a great American strong ale that any Arrogant Bastard fan would love. Their River West Stein Beer is one of the best American examples of a Vienna lager out there. And my mother loves their American wheat ale, Wheat Monkey. Add this all in to the fact that they have one of the very best brewery tours in the business anywhere. Why? They give you beer before, during (several times) and afterwards. Reason enough?
No, Lakefront doesn’t really have any one beer that sets the world on fire. They make their mark in being just generally solid across the board, with a gregarious brewery staff, fun tour and good ethos to their business. They’ve also figured out a very tasty American red ale called Fixed Gear which now seems to be available year-round in six-packs. Tasting note follows. Read the rest of this entry »
July 31, 2012
There are a few big, hot-button issues in the world of craft beer these days. There’s the “Can you still drink beer from former craft breweries owned by macro-brewers?” debate for instance, or the “What really qualifies as ‘session’ beer?” debate.* But the issue of craft beer reselling by non-brewers in the secondary market is the one that generates the most visceral reaction in me personally.
*Also known as “The Lew Bryson Debate.”
Yesterday, Beerpulse ran a story about beers from certain breweries like Cantillon and Hill Farmstead disappearing from eBay, signifying what may well be the first wave in craft beers being removed from the site entirely, with eBay finally recognizing and admitting to the world at large how ridiculous it was that folks claimed to be spending $100 or more to buy the “collectible bottle” of beer with no intent to consume its contents. It should go without saying that these kinds of sales will just move to other sites such as www.beerauctions.com, but in terms of overall volume, the loss of eBay as a place to unload the goods certainly seems as if it would put a dent in just how much beer is sold on the secondary market. It also means the loss of arguably the most secure and safe means of transaction.
Personally, I say “good on them” to the people making this decision. It was absurd to ever allow such resales with the reasoning of “Urrr, I’m only selling the collector’s bottle and the contents are incidental.” Looking completely past whether or not beer resale is “the right thing to do,” if you’re reading this I feel like you should at least concede the point that the eBay model was always stupid. Is there even one person out there who is buying up bottles of Dark Lord and Kate the Great just to stick them around the house like decorative urns? Find me this person. The only reason such a rationale was ever accepted by the website in the first place was that the folks at eBay clearly had a meeting where the company policy was determined to be ”Look, let’s just look past the illegality of licenseless people selling each other alcohol for as long as we can, k?” Read the rest of this entry »
July 19, 2012
I always have plenty of love for Warrenville, Illinois’ Two Brothers, given that they’re the closest major craft brewer to my hometown. As long as I’m not talking about their website or their event-planning, you’re typically reading something positive. That is not about to change here.
Outlaw is Two Brothers’ first canned offering, an American IPA that may or may not be the first step in a whole line of canned beers. I haven’t heard anything about whether future cans will follow, or if the Bros are just using this product rollout to judge consumer response. Regardless, I think they’ve chosen an excellent brew to be their first craft beer in a can, because Outlaw is one of my new favorite year-round brewery offerings. Actually, it might shoot up all the way to the top of my favorite Two Brothers’ beers.
Two Brothers Outlaw IPA
NOTES: 12 oz can poured into a tulip glass. This was a great value, because I found it for $7.99 at a discount store in the south burbs. Also, I love this can design.
ABV: 6.5%, American IPA.
APPEARANCE: Orange and vibrant, like wildflower honey, a little cloudy with half an inch of white foam. Read the rest of this entry »
July 10, 2012
When it comes to my tasting notes, things are done a little haphazardly, I must admit. I have a tendency to drink a beer and take a few notes, and then immediately forget about those notes for some number of months until I thumb through them in a notebook and realize that I never posted them as a tasting note. Sorry. For what it’s worth, I don’t really care what you think.
Anyway. This was my second-ever Pipeworks beer*, and I believe it was also the second one that they officially made after opening in the spring. I’ve been a big fan of what they do for quite a while, so I was super excited to try this, as I also was to try their first DIPA, Ninja vs. Unicorn.
*It appears that they’ve just gotten a new website recently, and it looks like there are a lot of kinks to be worked out. Namely, the fact that none of the tabs go anywhere and are all broken links. I tried multiple browsers, but it’s no dice. The good news is that the beer is great.
I also think it’s telling that we’re in an age of craft beer awareness among the geeky that a new brewery will show up and make its first two beers a DIPA and an imperial stout. Like it or not, that’s the kind of landscape we’re living in now. I’m sure that with time, just as many session-focused breweries will make themselves successful, but this was an industry founded on pushing the boundaries, and breweries like Pipeworks are the natural evolutionary point of that mode of thinking. Read the rest of this entry »
June 29, 2012
On the first beer-tasting road trip I ever took a few years ago, I traveled up through southern Wisconsin. On my way, I ran into brews from the Janesville, Wisconsin-based Gray’s Brewing Company on a number of occasions. They always struck me as odd, from the inconsistencies of their packaging, to the off-kilter website. It has since been redesigned, as has that packaging, and I was surprised a few months ago to suddenly find Gray’s beer available in my own neck of the woods in Central Illinois.
Despite my memory of the one oatmeal stout I’d ever had from them being nothing special, there was one other thing to consider: These were beers. Beers that I had never sampled before. And so, I assembled a mixed six-pack with the three available Gray’s Beers. As it turns out, I rolled the dice well on one of the three. I’ve summarized my thoughts on each below, rather than write out full tasting notes. Read the rest of this entry »
June 14, 2012
The average Alehead prosetylizes.
Aleheads are, by their nature, an evangelical lot about their favorite beverage. As members of a small minority (and it still is the minority, despite the wonderful world of craft beer we exist in today), we are proud of our taste and our hobby, and I find that most Aleheads have a strong desire to share how much they enjoy beer with the other people they are close to.
The question, then, is what is the best way to actually go about introducing people who are not craft beer drinkers to better beer? What kind of beers should be used in order to expand the horizons of drinkers who may be initially skeptical? I don’t purport to know all of these answers, and you surely have strategies of your own (please share them in the comments), but these are some general guidelines that I have come to over the course of about five years of beer geekdom. And if you ask my friends and family, they’ll tell you that these have been some very effective introductions.
Naturally, this is completely dependent upon the personal tastes of the people you know, but for the sake of making these arguments, I’ve divided drinkers up into a few categories. I also introduce this rule: Always start off by asking “Okay, what do you like already?” You need to know what their general tastes are. Do they favor fruity drinks? Is this person a coffee addict who would get a kick out a similarly flavored stout? The more you know, the better you’ll do. And now, the categories.
Category 1: People who drink macro beer
I find that this is actually the easiest group of folks, on average, to introduce craft beer to if you compare them to people who “don’t like beer” entirely. The thing to remember about a macro drinker of Budweiser, Miller or Coors is that they’re used to things that are very bland, and extreme flavors can often be a turn-off. Hand one of these people your favorite IPA and they’ll probably scrunch up their face like they’re sucking on a lemon. It’s possible that something very strongly flavored might work on a few of them, but for the majority it comes as complete system shock. Read the rest of this entry »
May 25, 2012
Chicago is my ancestral home (or close to it), and as such I pay quite a bit of attention to the Chicago craft beer scene. It helps that said scene is absolutely exploding right now, as home to dozens of breweries that are in the planning or licensing stages. Chicago Craft Beer Week has been one of the great developments that came along with this rapid expansion. Currently wrapping up its third year, the 11-day “week” is a fantastic way to celebrate all of these new breweries as well as the other midwestern ale factories whose beers are found in the city.
Unfortunately, I only had one weekend (one day, really) to spend in the city for CCBW this year, so I picked the event that seemed best to me on the day I was there–the first-ever Mash Tun Festival in Bridgeport, organized by one of my favorite Chicago beer bars, Maria’s Package Goods & Community Bar.* The organization appealed to me: a single $40 ticket bought unlimited sampling of most beers, a set of four tickets for special pours (more tickets available), a commemorative glass, snacks and a copy of Mash Tun, the new craft beer journal for Chicago and namesake of the festival. I like that. Getting lots of stuff for my money = good.
*An aside: Maria’s really is an awesome bar. Not only do they not even try to cater to non-craft drinkers (they offer “$2 random shitty beer” on the menu), their beer-to-go store in the front of the venue often has hard-to-get local stuff that has long sold out of bigger package stores like Binny’s. If you’re looking for something that nobody else has, check Maria’s. Unless, of course, I’m also looking for the same beer as you, in which case, go to hell. Read the rest of this entry »
May 17, 2012
You know, despite having become a huge fan of all sorts of American-made Belgian beer styles in the last few years, Belgian beer that is actually from Belgium can still be something of an oddity for me. I find it much more difficult to select a random Belgian beer off one of the shelves than a comparable American brew, unless I recognize it as being a trappist ale or something else that I figure is a near guarantee of quality. A lot of the breweries I just don’t know, and it’s not like there’s a lot of helpful English description on the side of the bottle to enlighten me.
In the end, I often find myself looking at a beer I don’t fully understand, noting how much more expensive it is than the American-style brew from a brewery I know, and then putting it back on the shelf and buying the “better deal.”
So it was with heightened interest that I actually purchased and tried De Dolle Special Extra Export Stout the other day. Why did I do it? Well, the guy at the package store said “You should try this,” and then graciously allowed me to buy a single bottle, that’s why. And I don’t say no to that sort of thing. It’s part of my “accepting things from strangers” rules–if the thing is beer, then you always say “yes, yes, a thousand times yes.”
What do I expect? I have no idea. “Belgian stout” is such a nebulous pseudo-style that seems like it can taste anywhere from “stout” to “quadrupel” at will. And I am afraid of all the extra descriptors–were “extra” and “export” really needed after “special”? Anyway, on to the tasting. Read the rest of this entry »
May 7, 2012
I love Chicago Craft Beer Week. The fact that we all get to revel in American Craft Beer Week each year is already cool enough, but when you throw in all the incredible beer events of Chicago Craft Beer Week at the same time, it’s a true embarrassment of riches. In the last two years, I’ve made it to at least one awesome CCBW event during each celebration, like last year’s closing party at Revolution Brewing (it’s at the end of that post, scroll down), and as more and more breweries get on board and the event organization gets better, each year has more and more reasons to get excited.
Reason the first for this year’s third rendition of CCBW: It’s a “week” lasting 11 days. Now that’s my kind of week! You know that when they’ve got so many cool events to cram into a beer festival that 7 days isn’t enough, you’re probably looking at a surplus of opportunities to drink good beer.
As such, with more events being added to the master list daily, you need someone to wade through the big ‘ole list and cherry-pick the absolute coolest of the cool events. That man-boy is ME. So here we go, the coolest events of Chicago Craft Beer Week 2012, arranged in chronological order. Click on each venue in bold to go straight to the event page. Read the rest of this entry »
May 3, 2012
Ever since writing a post a few months back about the 20-plus breweries in the process of attempting to open in Chicago, I’ve been fortunate enough to develop open lines of communication with some of the city’s nascent brewers. So when I got an email the other day from Arcade Brewery founders Chris Tourre and Lance Curren letting me know about the launch of their new Kickstarter campaign to raise funds and awareness for their project, I knew this would be a good opportunity to conduct an interview and help them get the word out about their unique concept. Through Arcade, these two nouveau brewers are planning a company that will combine unique, comics-based packaging with user-inspired brews.*
Because I interviewed these two simultaneously over the phone, I’ve condensed all of their dialogue into one amorphous mass that I have dubbed “Arcade Brewery.” They didn’t seem to mind.
Kid Carboy Jr.: Obvious questions first–how did you guys meet one another and decide you wanted to open a brewery? Read the rest of this entry »
April 27, 2012
Finally! The first official beer tasting from Chicago’s new Pipeworks Brewing Company. I’ve been watching them grow for what seems like forever, from the Kickstarter beginnings, to our first conversation at Dark Lord Day, until their final launch. A few Pipeworks beers have come out by now, but I haven’t had the opportunity to taste any until now. Making such small batches at a time, they flew off the shelves at locations like Chicago-area Binny’s Beverage Depots. I finally ran across bottles of their inaugural double IPA, Ninja vs. Unicorn, as well as their second beer, the imperial stout Close Encounter, at one of my favorite Chicago bars, Maria’s. All I can say is thank god for Maria’s, which somehow always seems to have things in stock that everyone else in the city has sold out of weeks before.
Pipeworks Ninja vs. Unicorn Double IPA
NOTES: 22 oz bomber poured into a tulip glass. Fantastic label art, by the way. It looks like all Pipeworks beers are going to be fun to look at. Read the rest of this entry »