And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

Just a few of the stops I hit up in Germany last month!

Just a few of the stops I hit up in Germany last month!

I’m baaaack! ***

The past couple days have been challenging for a lot of people. One of the things I double down on whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or sad or bewildered or [enter predicate adjective of your choice here] is gratitude. Some days, I may only manage to be grateful for beer (or running water)! The past month or so, I’ve had a great number of people, businesses, organizations and things for which to be grateful, but not a lot of time to share with you, my loyal readers!

So, take a break from the “noise” and please allow me to thank a few folks.

#1. The Pink Boots Society

PBS exists to support women in beer; more specifically, they provide educational opportunities for women in beer through seminars, peer-support, mentoring and scholarships. About two months ago, I saw a post for one of their more audacious scholarships called Beer, Bratwurst & Beyond: a trip to Bavaria/Germany with most expenses paid, including airfare. I plan at some point to write more in detail about the application process, but I submitted the day the application was due and gave no more thought about it. Typically, the PBS scholarships I have considered were a few hundred dollars (keep in mind that as a writer, I wouldn’t typically qualify for their advanced brewing programs), so I truly doubted I would ever receive a scholarship worth several thousand dollars. However, a few weeks after the submission deadline, I received a call from Kris at PBS letting me know I had been selected alongside five other amazing women! We have a “pay it forward” component, and I hope to be working on a piece for publication along with sister scholarship recipient Monica Mondragon (a laboratory/QC manager and assistant barrel manager at Santa Fe Brewing Co.), whose technical expertise I will heavily lean on in the article we’re writing together.

But I never would have undertaken this trip without the underwriting of PBS. So thanks to these women, and look for a NYC chapter launched by yours truly in the coming weeks/months! (If you are a woman in beer, please become a member here; dues are only $35/year or $25 if you’re still a student.)

#2. Tom Conrad and Treasures of Europe Tours

While the tour itself was, in fact, open to men, the only males on the trip turned out to be our German-speaking bus driver, Karl-Heinz, and our tour guide, Tom Conrad. Tom was affable and unflappable. He really went over and beyond to make this a great tour. While there were a few hitches, he was flexible enough to make allowances for a group of women who didn’t always want to stick to the letter of the tour’s itinerary. Without expressly asking him, I got the sense that Tom is a one-man show (or nearly) at his company, and I am all about supporting the independent business person, especially now that our political climate is bound to shift in favor of ever larger corporate entities! Please please please… if you are looking to do a tour (he has what appears to be an awesome Christmas markets tour

Side note: I visited a German Christmas market many moons ago and its beauty literally made me cry in ecstasy… full disclosure: I had just returned from living in the Soviet Union for four months, so my emotions were highly charged for any stimuli!

—so even if beer is not your object, there’s plenty more adventure that awaits you), hit him up!

#3. The Town of Spalt, Germany

Never a fan of the "selfie," I took many on this trip, including one with the Mayor of Spalt.

Never a fan of the “selfie,” I took many on this trip, including one with the Mayor of Spalt.

This quaint village in Bavaria pulled out all the stops for us… they even threw a parade! No, not really. I mean, the parade was real but it was for their yearly Kirchweih festival, an annual celebration of the town’s church raising (that feels more like an autumnal May Day, replete with music and maypole!). However, they put us up front and made us the signature guests so that it did truly feel as though the parade had been created just for us.

Spalt mayor Udo Weingart and deputy mayor Alfred Zottmann were a delight as our self-appointed ambassadors. While the parade was for the town, they made us guests of honor (of which not the least benefit was we received the first pours from their ultra-fresh—and freshly made—Saumarkt Bier). We were also given a private tour of the Spalt Hops Museum, a lovely German dinner and access to a rockabilly-style concert in the beer hall later that evening. All-in-all, the city set the bar high on what to expect from German hospitality.

#4. Boston Beer Company and Barth-Haas Group

The food and beer that followed made this table setting look practically rustic!

The food/beer that followed made this table setting look practically rustic!

Who knew a lesser-known founding father could have such an impact on the larger beer world! The makers of Sam Adams have an on-going relationship with one of the largest hops farms in the Hallertau region, and the folks at Stanglmair family farm offered up one of the best—and least expected—visits of the entire trip when on a drizzly post-harvest day, Stefan Stanglmair (a 21st-generation hops farmer; yes! you read that right: his family has been farming hops since 1722!) gave us a rousing tour followed up by a to-die-for food-and-beer-pairing dinner that capped off a week of already over-the-top-amazing experiences. It’s wonderful that a company, which has grown so dramatically over the decades that the Brewers Association has had to change its own definition of “craft beer,” gives back to the community that loves beer so much.

As Germany’s Barth-Haas Group sponsored the outing and dinner, I thank them heartily for what was possibly the highlight of my trip. (And as I plan to write more on this topic with Monica, I’ll just leave it at that!)

#5. Various German Trade Organizations

While the list of breweries we visited is too extensive for the purposes of this article, I would be remiss if I didn’t single out two of Germany’s trade organizations that generously gave of their time (and possibly monetary support, a rare overture towards Americans from the heart of Europe): Private Brauereien Bayern (Bavarian Association of Private Breweries) and Managing Director Oliver Dawid, who helped lead an animated discussion over lunch at Pyraser Bier (note: German website); and Bierland Oberfranken (Association of Breweries in Upper Franconia) and Managing Director Bernhard Sauer. Vielen Dank!

#6. Various American Beer-Related Businesses

Finally, last but not least, are a trio of other breweries that helped support the tour and a three more businesses that work with brewers to get the beer made, stored, delivered or otherwise served up to a loving beer public. They include:

If you’ve read thus far, you may wonder if I’m being paid to mention any of these folks. I am not. I am under no obligation to them whatsoever. But at a time when there’s a lot of anger and finger-pointing going on, it’s important to remember to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. That’s the kind of debt that takes nothing from the recipient in terms of payback: A little time, a little open-heartedness, a hand held out to shake in earnest. And a robust, “Thank you. Thank you very much.” (Cue Elvis, as I’m leaving the building.)

Please check back (or subscribe by email at left—scroll down for mobile—so I pop up in your inbox to notify you of my infrequent updates!) for more on my German adventure.

*** So, here’s the thing about being a freelancer: You have to work to get paid. I take some umbrage at being called a “blogger,” because the reality is this is my blog. Look how often I am here, which is not a lot. I have other blogs, too, and I’m not there much either. I don’t have the luxury to be a blogger very often, as I am working as a beer journalist. Sometimes I have a bit of time to jot down some notes, but if I have a great idea for a beer-related article, I’m trying to pitch it to a publication that nets me more than this humble blog ever could. But I have missed you all, and I continue to be grateful for your attention and support!

#CBC16 Off to a Grand and Boisterous Start

20160504_095028So, as a Craft Brewers Conference newbie, I thought I knew what to expect here at CBC 2016 in Philadelphia. While I haven’t been shocked by any revelations, I have to admit I may now be a convert to the “craft” cause on the heels of Allagash Brewing’s Rob Tod, who recently was elevated to the Brewers Association Chairman of the Board of Directors.

I have been an unabashed critic of the BA’s focus on who is and who isn’t making craft beer. To my mind, it isn’t about who is making the beer, but who isn’t drinking it: Young people by and large are more likely to opt for spirits and wine (call it the Sanders’ effect) over a stalwart such as beer. To me, I would rather negotiate for market share of the potent potables’ market than to tilt at the windmills of AB-InBev and Miller-Coors.

However, Rob pretty much summed up his (borrowed from departing director Gary Fish of Deschutes Brewery) simple mission statement: The BA is larger as a sum of the parts, and the BA defines not craft beer but craft brewers.

Let me state, that I support small businesses. I think that to shop local is the most patriotic gesture you can make. However, I don’t fault Goose Island or Ballast Point for living the businessman’s dream in a capitalistic society. However, hearing Rob talk about the BA’s influence on Capitol Hill (during an election year, no less) makes me a convert to the cause. Capitalism is all well and good, but without the BA, a lot of small brewers wouldn’t be here today. And what a shame that would be.

I hope to write more about the Conference in the coming days, but if you’re still thinking about coming out, there’s plenty more fun, friendship and important issues to share with your beer brothers and sisters.

Hope to see you here in Philadelphia.

Other news and notes from today’s CBC:

  • Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head) received the 2016 BA Recognition Award
  • The Odom Corporation (Idaho) was named Wholesaler of the Year
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing launched their Beer Camp 2016 with six food and beer pairings at Time on Sansom Street

Too Much Beer, You Say? Pshaw!

Too much beer? PLENTY of time.

Too much beer? PLENTY of time.

We interrupt today’s regularly scheduled blog post about the Beer Bloggers Conference ’13 for some breaking news. Splashed all over my newsfeed today is a report written by Ken Christensen in Crain’s New York Business sounding the alarm that there is over-saturation in the New York City craft beer market and the bubble is about to burst!

Quick, hide your kegs hide your BCS… craft beer is hitting a saturation point!

Whoa, there, Bessie! Let’s just take a little looksie, shall we, at the claims that portend such devastating news for local beer drinkers.

The article quotes Manhattan Beer’s Robert Mitchell, who harkens back to the 1990s shake-out of the craft beer industry, and claims “there’s clearly not enough room at the table…”

Interestingly, Ray Daniels, Founder of the Cicerone Certification Program, refuted this very thought a mere 24 hours ago at the BBC. During his keynote address, he said there were two main causes for the 90s contraction:

  1. Anheuser-Busch made a calculated stink about Sam Adams/Boston Beer not brewing in Boston, which caused a major PR fallout for craft brewers trying to present themselves as “the little local guy”;
  2. The beer sucked.

Daniels (not alone in this opinion) actually said the second issue was the real reason why craft beer in America blew up almost 20 years ago. No one wanted to take a chance on new beers, because the last new beer they had was terrible. The 2013 new beers are invariably high quality when it comes to craft beer that is distributed and marketed for off-site consumption (i.e. non-brewpub beer).

Which brings us to “saturation,” a point that Christensen seems to believe we’ve reached. He writes,

“(NYC craft brewers) need to find a place to sell their brew, too—and face competition from about 100 craft breweries in the rest of the state and 2,600 across the country, according to the Brewers Association.”

Those numbers do not hold up. In fact, the Brewers Association breaks down breweries by brewpub (i.e. only selling for onsite consumption, with a few growlers possibly walking out the door), microbreweries (which may well be self-distributing a handful of kegs each week to the neighborhood bars) and regional craft breweries. Only this latter group will profoundly impact the market saturation. In fact, from 2011 to 2012, the US saw only eight new regional craft breweries come online (while non-craft breweries barely changed, losing one brewery). The number of true nationwide breweries that make up Christensen’s 2,600 that will make an impact outside their immediate geographic region are a mere handful.

If you look at the largest number of “breweries,” you’ll find that from 2,416 existing breweries (all types as of March 2013) nationwide, 1,124—nearly half of all breweries in America—were brewpubs. Not only are these brewpubs not going to be major factors in the beer wars, their numbers are unlikely to change. The average life expectancy of any restaurant in this country is not particularly long. For every new brewpub that comes into existence, chances are overwhelming that another one will go out of business.

With regards to the 1,139 microbreweries that make up the other half of the extreme craft beer growth, a slow, steady business model that takes years to establish profitably is probably more likely to be the case than an overrun of the market. A prime example is Rockaway, which puts out 12 kegs a week on a two-barrel system. While Christenen quotes Ethan Long, his co-founding partner, Marcus Burnett, recently told me that the brewery is happy with their current rate of growth, and they have no immediate expansion plans; again, this microbrewer is satisfied with the street traffic and local restaurant scene.

Now let’s look at the numbers that came out from the Brewers Association today regarding drinking habits. “American craft beer dollar sales and volume were up 15 percent and 13 percent, respectively,” the BA announced. This despite the fact that overall beer sales are down, meaning more beer drinkers are switching to craft beer.

Graphic courtesy Brewers Association

Graphic courtesy Brewers Association

Finally, consider that per capita, New York State ranks 39th in the nation for breweries based on population. Our nearest neighbors rank 45th (New Jersey) and 33rd (Connecticut). We are nowhere near the capacity of Vermont (#1) or Colorado (#2).

And speaking of Colorado, has Crain’s New York Business looked at the economy of Denver recently? It’s booming, and it’s doing so under the leadership of a former brewer Governor! This country needs entrepreneurship. It needs jobs! Especially in NYC.

Anything that brings in more business opportunities to a city whose median household income (2010 census) is a mere $57,000 sounds good to this Bitch. And craft beer is creating those jobs, not just in breweries and pubs, but in advocacy and marketing and accessories (one can never have too many koozies!). Keep in mind that craft beer lobbyists and public beer advocates such as the New York City Brewers Guild and Patriot Craft Alliance didn’t exist back during the last craft beer growth spurt.

So, while I’m no glass-half-full Pollyanna, I embrace the “onslaught.” I say, there’s plenty of peeps in NYC to drink what all the new brewers have to offer. Just make sure it’s made with the best ingredients (preferably local when feasible), and I don’t think you’ll have any trouble at all selling your stock.