Beer 511

Exploring Craft Beer and Homebrew in Peru (Country Code 51) and the USA (Country Code 1)

The CO2 Shortage

On April 7th the Brewers Association, along with the Beer Institute, and several other industry groups, including the Compressed Gas Association, signed a letter to Vice President Mike Pence expressing “strong concern that the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic creates a significant risk of a shortage in carbon dioxide (CO2).” The letter further noted that “A shortage in CO2 would impact the U.S. availability of fresh food, preserved food and beverages, including beer production”, and requested emergency federal assistance to forestall a CO2 shortage.

The Brewers Association’s concern is understandable. Carbon dioxide gas is an essential component of beer manufacture and dispensing. It is also a byproduct of fermentation, but fewer than 10% of craft breweries have CO2 capture technology in place. Most simply don’t have the resources to invest in the costly technology, so they must rely on commercial suppliers of CO2 for their production, packaging, and dispensing needs.

Normally, about 40% of US supply of CO2 is derived from ethanol production, 15% to 20% comes from refineries, and the remainder comes from fertilizer production or from geological sources. According to Independent Commodity Intelligence Services, about 1/6 of US production of CO2 is used in the beverage industry. Among the Brewers Association member breweries, about 44% of their CO2 needs are met from ethanol-derived sourcing.

Due to lowered demand for ethanol brought about by reduced travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 33 of the US’s 46 CO2-selling ethanol plants had been idled or had cut production by the end May, according to gases industries reports. At one point, more than half of the US ethanol industry’s capacity was shut down.

By late April overall CO2 production for resale was down 20%. By the end of May it was down by 30% according to the Compressed Gas Association. Normally, US production of CO2 is approximately 1 million barrels per day, since April it has mostly been in the range of 700,000 barrels per day.

So, there has definitely been a shortage. However, due to the high freight cost associated with it, sourcing of CO2 is relatively local, and because of differences in sourcing the shortage can be fairly regional in its effects. In Michigan, for example, Bell’s Brewery, the US’s 7th largest craft brewer, has said that they’ve not experienced any issues with their CO2 supply. In other places there have there have been reports of customers being able to get only 50% of what they usually contracted for. Overall, prices for CO2 have been driven up by as much as 25%.

It has been enough of a concern for the American Homebrewers Association to open the July/August issue of its journal, Zymurgy, with an editor’s commentary on the CO2 situation. The supply issues have also led the Brewers Association to warn its member breweries against the risk of lower-quality CO2 gas entering the supply chain.

Food-grade CO2 must be at least 99.9% pure. The remaining 0.1% could consist of water, oxygen, nitrogen, and even hydrocarbons – some of which we can detect with our senses of smell and taste. In a letter to its members, the BA noted that 0.1% equals 1000 parts per million, which is as much as 4 times the concentration at which we can sense some flavor-active components in hops.

Fortunately, according to gases industry reps the situation is returning to normal albeit with some “ongoing allocation” issues.

One thing that may have helped prevent things from getting worse overall, was the Federal Government sensibly declaring the production, warehousing, transport, and distribution of “medical gases” an “essential industry”. Another, likely has been the partial “re-opening” of economic activities across the nation that followed upon Memorial Day weekend, which has meant an increase in driving, transportation of goods, and travel.

As for California, we might have been helped by the fact that in May, industrial gases manufacturer Messer Americas brought online a new CO2 production facility in Keyes, that can produce 450 tons of CO2 per day, including food-grade CO2 .

At any rate, as long as the pandemic continues to spread pretty much unchecked, we may expect perhaps several cycles of shut downs and quarantine, with the attendant effects on fuel -and thus of CO2– production.

Breweries can adjust by investing in CO2 capture technology or by fine-tuning their existing CO2 systems to eliminate leaks and reduce waste. They can also expand their use of nitrogen gas in moving and dispensing of beer.

As for homebrewers, our smaller volumes do give us a bit of flexibility over commercial breweries. Not only are the volumes of CO2 that we require much, much smaller, but it is a relatively simple matter to use a bit dextrose or sucrose to naturally carbonate a few dozen bottles for a typical 5-gallon batch. The same can be done in a keg or a cask.

In the meantime, don’t let yourself be caught off-guard. Get your CO2 refills when you can. Preferably before you run out.

The Very Unofficial 1st Round SF Region National Homebrew Competion Awards Presentation

On March 13th, on the very day that judging was to start for the National Homebrew Competition (NHC), the American Homebrewers Association cancelled the competition due to the novel coronavirus.

Thus, local homebrew club, the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts (DOZE), which was coordinating the SF Region judging, found itself sitting on hundreds of bottles of beer entered into the competition. What was DOZE to do with them all? Well, they decided to judge all the entries anyway, making this the only region in the country where the entries were actually judged (in most others the beer was reportedly made into hand sanitizer or simply dumped).

Over the course of several months, and working in small physically-distanced groups and over Zoom, the small corps of DOZE’s certified beer judges -with help from judges from The Mad Zymurgists and Bay Area Mashers (BAM) homebrew clubs- worked its way through more than 600 entries in 35 categories covering ales and lagers, meads and ciders.

To cap it all off, they put together an awards presentation and livestreamed it over Facebook!

Black is Beautiful

Brewers worldwide are joining an initiative to brew a special edition beer to raise awareness of the obstacles and injustices faced by Black people on a daily basis, to promote necessary changes, and raise funds for organizations helping to bring about such changes.

The initiative was launched by Marcus Baskerville, the founder and head brewer of Weathered Souls Brewing Company in San Antonio, TX.

As someone who has personally dealt with the abuse of power by the police, this recent turmoil the country is facing has hit home for me. As I write this, I contemplate how the country can move forward, how we as the people, can create change, and what it will take for everyone to move forward with a common respect for one another. For us, we feel that this is our contribution to a step.

Marcus Baskerville, Founder & Head Brewer @ Weathered Souls Brewing

Baskerville brewed Black is Beautiful, a beer which he planned to release as a show of support to those protesting for justice and equality for people of color. Challenged by fellow brewers to turn it into a collaboration -following the precedent set by such initiatives as Sierra Nevada’s “Resilience” campaign- Baskerville teamed up with KD Designs to design a label, established a website, and shared the recipe with the world.

The beer itself is a 10% abv stout, with Cascade hops, including a bittering addition of 45-50 IBUs. However, Baskerville stresses that building on the base recipe brewers should feel free to “please place your own spin and love into this.”

He asks that brewers.

  • Use the label that has been provided
  • Donate 100% of the beer’s proceeds to local foundations that support police brutality reform and legal defenses for those who have been wronged (Weathered Souls will be giving their proceed to the Know Your Rights Campaign)
  • Choose their own entity to donate to local organizations that support equality and inclusion
  • Commit to the long-term work of equality

At this time 962 breweries in all 50 states and 17 countries have signed on to brew Black is Beautiful.

Look for participating breweries near you at blackisbeautiful.beer.

The Session: Quarantine Edition

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, was an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. It ran for 142 months between March 2007 and December 2018. (I took part on a few occasions, but only two posts have been preserved after I migrated to this blog.)

A little while ago Alistair Reece, of Fuggled, suggested it be revived, even if for a one-off.

I came across the announcement only recently. Having missed not only the May 1st deadline, but even the first Friday in June, I’ve just waited until the nearest Friday to write this.

In these unprecedented times, what has become your new drinking normal? Are you drinking more? Less? Have you raided the cellar regularly? Is there a particular brewery whose beer is keeping you company while you are confined to barracks? Has there been a beer revelation in these times? Basically, tell us where you are at.

So, how has my drinking been changed by the lockdown?

In the early days -late March, early April- I was drinking more cocktails: martinis, capitanes, margaritas. All at home, of course.

I ended up holding on to a a full corny keg of a golden ale that I had intended to pour at a beer festival that was cancelled. I tend to brew for events so I don’t always have my own beer on hand in such quantity, and so I found myself drinking my own homebrew more often than commercial beer.

Later, after the authorities allowed breweries to reopen for curbside sales, I started picking up packs of beer from my locals – Del Cielo Brewing and Five Suns Brewing– which has also changed my drinking habit. In normal times I rarely bought packs, instead picking singles or at most two of any one beer, so this has meant that I find myself drinking a smaller variety of beers than previously.

Am I drinking more or less than when I could go out? I dunno. It seems to me that it has been about even.

Now, that’s changing, however. I’m making use of the lockdown by taking a beer evaluation class toward hopefully becoming a BJCP judge. So, not only am I drinking during our semi-monthly classes, but there is all that “homework”!

Illinois Brewery in Hot Water Over Owners’ Insensitive Posts

An small brewery in Illinois finds itself in the midst of a shitstorm thanks to its owners online postings.

The story was first caught by A Good Beer Blog, who preserved and tweeted the screenshots, and followed-up on by PorchDrinking.com. Following the story, one finds oneself bearing witness one big WTF? moment in a year already abundant in them.

It turns out that Natalie White is one-half of the team behind a place called Steam Hollow Brewing Co. in Manteno, IL., and that that post is but one of several in the same vein.

If that were not bad enough, a few days later, the couple proceeded to become involved in a verbal altercation #BLM demonstrators. In a since-deleted FaceBook post the Whites claimed that they “were trying to cross a busy road and had a car of people yelling behind us. A few quick seconds of conversation as the cross light changed, we were called racist, etc.”, but admit to being “sarcastic”. The protesters, on the other hand, have argued that it was the Whites who started the incident.

To make matters worse, in defending themselves, the Whites doubled down on the conspiracy theories:

How could they even think that that could ever be counted as effective damage control?

Unsurprisingly, the backlash has been immediate. Not only are they being eviscerated pn social media, but as reported by PorchDrinking.com, even the Illinois Brewers Guild has been quick to put distance between themselves and Steam Hollow: “Steam Hollow is not a member and the views expressed by the owners do not reflect those of the guild.” BreweryFinder.org, an online brewery directory, has stated stated that Steam Hollow has been “permanently removed from our directory”, and even Steam Hollow’s distributor has apparently stopped doing business with them.

At a time when emotions are running high and even government officials and managers in large corporations are being taken to task for what they say in public -and even in private- , it boggles the mind that the White’s could think that the “private views” they stated on very public social media platforms would not rebound on to their business.

To paraphrase something I said regarding the similar case of 12 Rounds Brewing in Sacramento a few years ago:

At the same time I can’t but think what a rookie, dumbass move … when one is in a business that depends on making people feel welcome and included. And, especially in one in which so much depends on the brewers’ reputations and the customers’ relationship to them. In that sense, [they’ve] reaped what [they] sowed.

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