Category Archives: trends

Stylizing Beer

Some beer styles are the result of geography, history or culture, others seem to have been dreamed up out of thin air. Bodies like the BJCP or Brewers Association often define them, and sometime they are just called beer. (In Belgium, for instance, there were no historic beer styles. They varied from town to town, family to family, based largely on local preference.)

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Defining beer styles is useful, though, because it gives us a common frame of reference. If I tell you I have an IPA or a stout, you have a pretty good idea what I’m talking about without tasting it. It also makes comparing and contrasting beers much easier. Mike Dixon (Communications Director, BJCP) explains. “Let’s remove all beer styles and names and just give them numbers from one to infinity,” he says. “How would you ever decide what to drink? Often consumers may see a style they do not know, but it allows them to eventually understand the bitterness to be expected from an IPA or the roasty nature in a stout.”

The BJCP has defined and redefined beer styles based on historical and modern beers. It attempts to define what home brewers are currently doing, to create a level playing field. “Where the style guidelines really come into play is at competition,” Dixon says. “I don’t see the guidelines influencing brewers unless they are entering competition.”

Jamil Zainasheff (author of Brewing Classic Styles, style columnist of Brew Your Own magazine and “Chief Heretic” at Heretic Brewing) agrees. “I don’t think very many pro brewers let style determine what they brew,” he says. “They might start off with an idea of what they want based on a style, but then often take it in their own direction.”

Marketing usually affects people’s beer choices more than style itself. The old English IPA style is a good example. As more brewers had success with it, more brewers embraced it. Each wanted its IPA to stay out, so IPAs got bigger, bolder, hoppier. Soon there were Double or Imperial IPAs (DIPA or IIPA), Rye IPA, Belgian IPA, Black IPA, White IPAs and so on. The label “IPA” was a way to sell the beer to consumers; the only thing these beers have in common is that they’re hoppy.

“Most pro brewers rely on style descriptions to sell beer to their customers,” Zainasheff says. “Sometimes the beer labeled X style has no resemblance of that style, but drinkers assume that it is an example of the style. If you label anything IPA, then it sells better. Doesn’t matter what beer it is, it just sells more. Are all of these beers IPAs? No, but that is what affects purchasing trends.”

Consider the International Trappist Association (ITA), which voted to relabel its centuries-old beers as IPAs. “Though we are pious servants to the Lord first and foremost, we are also running a business here,” says Orval brewmaster Father Nelson. “So, in the end, we must give the customer what they want, and apparently what they really want is just to see those three letters printed on the bottle somewhere.”

The producers of Big Beer have responded to the craft beer swing in consumer tastes with faux craft beers. Coors produces Blue Moon and AB-InBev (makers of Budweiser) makes Shock Top. Dixon doesn’t think that approach will work. “Once people taste craft flavour they don’t want a macro lager as often as they did before,” he says. “Soon enough those people find other beers to try and we have new fans of craft beer adding to the craft market share.”

The next big thing might actually be a return to basics. “There are all sorts of crazy things being brewed,” Zainasheff says. “I think there might be some beers that stick around from it, but in general I think people are going to get a little tired of the extremely weird beer. I think there might be a bit of a refocus on some old standards. Wouldn’t you like to see a brewery offer a nice, ordinary pale ale? It is getting near impossible to find them anymore on the West Coast.” That swing may already be happening, as session beers (low to moderate strength beers, 3-5% ABV) rise in popularity, bucking the previous trend of high-octane IPAs.

Whatever happens, small craft brewers will brew what they like to drink, experimenting along the way, and beer drinkers with adventurous palates will keep trying their creations. The good ones will stick around as other brewers emulate them, including the macro brewers who are starting to feel that market dominance slip away, bit by bit.

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The Contract Brewhouse: Is this the future of craft beer start-ups?

IMG_1847.JPGWe all know that there is a huge boom in the craft beer industry. The market tastes have shifted from the mass-produced, pale larger to a wide range of flavourful beers made by a host of small brewers. Many beer enthusiast, home brewers, and business people are getting in on the growing market share that is craft beer. But breweries are expensive. The average beer lover can’t afford a brewery, nor have the financial backing to raise the capital that would be needed to set one up.

But what if you see that opportunity? What if you have a sound marketing plan and a great recipe? What if you’re afraid of getting yourself into that much debt? Enter the contract brewhouse. Businesses such as Brew Hub will make your beer, for a cost, but they float the overhead. Sure its not the same as owning your own brewery, but you can be a professional brewer with distribution to the beer drinking public.

It almost seems too easy. It wouldn’t do the industry any good if the market got flooded by bad beers from people who have no business to be brewing. On the other hand, this would be the opportunity for some really good brewers to get started. It could also be a way for many small established breweries to move beyond their regional boarders. I might be afraid of losing control of my product. I can control what happens in my own brewhouse, but not necessarily a third-party. You would have to rely on someone else’s idea of quality control and consistency.

Like it or not, this seems like a business model that will be here to stay. The lure of getting your beer produced without taking all the risks will be to great of a draw for many aspiring professional brewers. And why wouldn’t it be?

-Cheers

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Selling your soul for beer money

 

IMG_1728.JPGWe all know that the economy is still “recovering” and some places are harder hit than others. Small towns are some of the hardest hit by the recession, often relying on seasonal moneys from what little industry they have of tourist passing through. Its a hard way to survive, but would you sell the town for a little bit of money?

Crested Butte, Colorado, with a population of only about 1,500 people, did just that. The town will be transformed into “Whatever, USA” by Anheuser-Busch for a Bud Light ad – they literally have painted the town blue – all for a donation to the town of $500,000 and a few days work for the locals. There will be a concert and AB is flying in 1,000 randomly selected people from bars – mostly 21-27 years old – to participate. But many of the towns residents are not happy, some are even leaving town for the event. AB say they’ve come for the scenery, but the residents of this quaint town say that they are more about the environment and not a “party all weekend” kind of place.

Sure, there will be a cash injection to the town. A 1,000 extra people plus the crew from AB will need places to stay and food to eat. There probably will be a spin off — for a couple of days. But will these Bud Light drinkers visit the Eldo Brewery and Taproom or Brick Oven Pizzeria & Pub for some craft beers? Will they tell their friends if they do? Can there there be some craft beer goodness come form Big Beer coming to town? Maybe they will come back in March 2015 for the Taste of Crested Butte festival for some local craft beer and food. I’m betting that won’t be part of the Bud ad.

Stunts like this by Big Beer will surely produce some kind of economic spinoff, but it will be limited, whereas craft beer can be the beer that keeps giving. As reported by Forbes, in Texas the annual craft beer sales are $76M, almost doubling year-over-year, and could be contributing as much as $5.6B by 2020 (www.texascraftbrewers.com). Also, craft beer accounts for about 51.2% of Texas’ brewery jobs.

By buying craft beer not only are we drinking great beer, but we are contributing to economic groth. And unlike Big Beer, the small breweries are known as “craft” breweries for a reason – they generally care about the product they’re producing above the cost, this may be why craft beer cost more (those quality ingredients don’t come cheap), but its the same reasons we are more than will to pay more for it. I for one am proud to support craft breweries, especially my local ones – I like my beer well made and my economy booming.

-Cheers!

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REVIEW: Mongozo – Premium Pilsner: Gluten-free, Fairtrade, Organinc

20140301-154245.jpgMany people avoid gluten whether it’s by choice or due to health reasons, but is this any reason to avoid good beer? Belgian brewery, Mongozo, has a line of gluten-free beers for people who are looking to stay away from gluten, but still would like to have a cold one. Their Premium Pilsner is gluten-free, but also certified fair trade and organic.

Here’s what Mongozo’s website says:

“Mongozo has developed a gluten-free lager, making it possible for people on a gluten-free diet to enjoy drinking beer. The brewing process for obtaining a gluten-free beer can vary, and in the case of Mongozo Premium Pilsner it involves the gluten being removed from the beer. This innovative technique ensures that the beer retains its lager flavour. A renowned laboratory checks each batch of beer brewed for the presence of gluten. The beer is then only sold if less than 10 ppm of gluten is detected and it can therefore be labelled as gluten-free. Mongozo Premium Pilsner is Certisys-certified for the use of certified-organic barley malt, rice and hops. The system of checks in place for the organic sector guarantees that products are genuinely organic. The approved label used by Mongozo is a European label issued by the Belgian Certisys inspection and certification body.”

I’ll admit, avoiding gluten isn’t high on my list of things to do and this would be my first gluten-free beer, so I can’t compare it to thers, but I can compare it to other pilsner beers.

Appearance
Perfectly clear, golden yellow, with a slight white head. Some lacing.

Aroma
Pretty typical lager aroma with a touch of sulphur and malt. No real hop aroma.

Taste
Nice balance with malt and hops. The hop flavour is mild, but in good contrast with the malt sweetness. The bitterness is a bit rough, but not over powering. Pretty easy drinking.

Mouthfeel
Light with good carbonation levels.

Overall
Overall this is not a bad beer, a fairly run-of-the-mill pilsner, nothing to turn me off from it. Having never had any other gluten-free beers, I can only imagine that this one would stack up nicely to most of the market.

75/100

What will be in store (and your glass) for 2014?

Every year we see more and more people converting to craft beer. People are waking up to flavour and to the not so mundane – this is not a new trend. Since the early ’80s there has been a a steady growth in craft beer – at first it was small, but every year the market share is of craft breweries is growing. Today, more and more beer drinkers are looking for something that isn’t a pale, light flavoured lager, but something that is different. And what was “different” last year may be mainstream this year as many craft brewers are trying to keep up with what their customers want to drink. The craft beer movement has come on strong in Canada and with a fast growing number of brewers in the Maritimes we are on the edge of a beer revolution.

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So, what will 2014 bring?

It looks like big, hoppy IPAs will continue to be popular. The trend in ever higher alcohol and “the more hops the better” philosophy will keep rolling as drinkers can’t seem to get enough and the hop train keeps rolling from the west to the east. “The West Coast has been on the IPA bandwagon for a long time, but that being said, it’s a trend that keeps growing stronger.” says Tracy Phillippi of Garrison Brewery (www.garrisonbrewing.com), “Brewers out west are finding new & creative ways of using hops (hops in mash, hop filters, dry hopping, hops in bottles, etc.)… At the same time, new breweries in Toronto, seem to be starting with flagships styles that have mass appeal, but people still want aggressive IPAs. I think that’s one reason that our IIPA has done so well in the LCBO.”

In a twist counter to the big IIPA trend, low strength, session beers are increasing in popularity. As Sean Dunbar from Picaroons Brewery (www.picaroons.ca) in Fredericton, NB said, “There’s a much longer conversation to be had over beers sometime.” This is trend that not only Picarons sees, but across the nation because, well, sometimes there is a longer conversation to be had.

Local, and experimental beers. Drinkers are looking for the next think. People are willing to try new things that are coming out of their local brewpub and are also looking for the small, true craft beer – they want to know the people who brew the beer. “Niche, terroir-esque, and original beers are garnering a lot of attention in the market” says Jeremy White of Big Spruce Brewing (www.bigspruce.ca), adding “[It’s] going to be an interesting decade in craft beer.”

Sour beers of Belgium. These tart and refreshing beers are one of the oldest styles of beer. They’re produced using very traditional methods, allowing the beer to be “infected” with a variety of microbes that is truly a biological experiment gone right. Though these styles have been around for pretty much forever, they have had a falling off in popularity in their native European home, but are experiencing a serge of popularity this side of the Atlantic. Peter Burbridge of Bridge Brewing Company (bridgebeer.ca) says “Since we opened we have seen an increased awareness and demand for Belgian beer styles” adding that he sees the trend of sours coming to the Nova Scotia market.

2014 is shaping up to be an exciting year of beer. “I really think we’re (East Coast) finally seeing the growth in craft beer that other parts of North America have seen for the past several years” says Tracy Phillippi. “It’s exciting to see people come to craft beer for the first time, because in most other parts of North America it’s a longstanding trend.”

Cheers to a great year of beer!