Beer 511

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

Not All is Yet Doom and Gloom for Craft Beer

When the pandemic hit, spurring the ensuing (and necessary) shut-downs, there was no dearth of articles predicting the doom of craft brewing, with titles such as “Coronavirus Could Kill Craft Beer” or “Will Craft Brewing Survive?” And, indeed, a survey conducted in April by the Brewers Association revealed a marked decrease in category sales, massive furloughs and layoff, and looming closures. The median drop in sales was of 75%, with an average drop of 65%.    Seventy percent of responding breweries said the would be forced to close within 6 months, and 45% said they could only hold out for 1-3 months.

Now, the virus is surging all over the country, prompting renewed shut downs and bans on indoor service, just as the weather turns cold and the winter dark looms ahead. 

The Independent Restauranteurs association estimated this past week that if things don’t improve and without government assistance down the pike, 70-80% of independent restaurants won’t make it to spring.   Breweries and taprooms face many of the same dynamics as restaurants, so as one goes, so likely goes the other.

It’s could be a long dark winter faced by our friends in the industry.

But … and this being 2020, there is a but… it may surprise one to think that there is a silver lining to the pandemic when it comes to the beer scene, but if we look closely, we’ll find one.

On the one hand state, county, and local governments responded by liberalizing alcohol regulations, permitting outdoor seating, allowing breweries and taproom to take advantage of restaurant exemptions in order to keep operating.  Another key were customers, who switched to to-go only ordering without batting an eye, and who’ve made it a point to support their local brewers and taprooms.

On a federal level the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act and PPP loans also helped breweries and taprooms to survive through the spring.

Thus, while the industry has indeed been hurting, happily we’ve not seen the massive wave of closures that we might have, had nothing been done.

Have there been closings?  Certainly, and specially in the last couple of months, it seems that every other day brings the sad news of a venue shutting its doors, but alongside that we’re seeing a smaller but notable string of openings, between expansions of already existing businesses, new brewers taking over an existing brewery space, or projects long in the works that would be delayed no longer.

(There has also been an increase in interest in homebrewing, which is always a good thing.)

Commercial brewers have also pushed out and gotten their beers onto stores shelves and coolers, and in some cases, they’ve even managed to expand keg sales -no mean feat given that pretty much everyone had, at least initially, reduced the number of taps running in the face of declining sales volume.

Many have stretched to find ways to get the beer out, be it by starting to can or bottle their beers, or by offering pick-up sales, delivery, and even shipping.  This has permitted many a brewery which had previously relied on tap room-only sales to get their beer out and gain exposure over a wider geographical area; and, crucially, to make sales.

In other instances, the stretch has been in infrastructure and equipment; whether it be in building or improving patio spaces, investing in an in-house canning line, or delivery staff and vehicles.

In other words, immediate needs raised by the pandemic have prodded many of our friends to make investments and changes that will pay dividends in the long term, when this mess is all over and done with.

Thankfully, we can say that reports of craft brewing’s demise were a bit premature, to say the least.

O Light Organic Light Beer

Today we are sharing our impressions of O Light Organic Light Beer. O Light Organic Light Beer is a 4.5% abv American light lager manufactured by O Light Organic in San Jose (CA).

As befits a light lager, it is a blonde beer, golden -tending toward straw- in color.  It raises a nice head upon pouring, which subsides quickly, to leave a ring of medium bubbles around the glass and a thin layer of tiny bubbles across the surface.

It has a light, slightly sweet aroma, with light caramel and honey notes. Hop aroma is low, almost obscured by the sweetness.

The flavor is quite nice. It has a pleasant toastyness, with a biscuity, almost graham-like flavor and hints of honey. Hop bitterness is light, with notes of pine and grapefruit.  It has a light, smooth, mouthfeel with medium carbonation and slightly dry finish.

O Light Organic Light Beer’s calling card, and the reason some may be drawn to it, is that it is a USDA and CCOF-certified organic non-GMO product. That’s great, but I think equally important is that it is a quite pleasant beer; refreshing and easy to drink.

Local GABF Winners

On Oct. 16th-17th, the Brewers Association celebrated the 39th edition of the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), the largest and most important beer event in the US.

Due to the pandemic, this year’s event was held entirely online. However, although there was no pro-am component this year, the commercial beers competition was indeed held, and brewers across the country held their breath as they watched the online feed of the awards ceremony, and waited to learn if they’d earned one of the coveted medals.

Below are the medals won by breweries “local” to me -meaning in a wide circle drawn around the San Francisco Bay Area, roughly from Chico in the north to Fresno in the south, and east to the state line.

Congrats to them all! The full list of winners can be viewed HERE.

In Memoriam

On October 4th the homebrewing world lost one of its most stalwart champions with the passing of Mike “Tasty” McDole.

Mike was a world-renowned homebrewer, who also was part of many collaboration brews with commercial brewers, the most famous of which produced 21st Amendment’s “Tasty IPA” and, of course, Heretic’s “Evil 3″ triple IPA.

Mike was a founding member of my homebrew club, the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts (DOZE) and it was one of his pride and joys. He was the first club member to win an award at a homebrew competition, and he went on to win several more, including the Samuel Adams Longshot competition (2008), before retiring from competing.

Mike was a supportive and encouraging of new brewers. He was humble and earnest in critiquing a beer, and never offered a criticism without also offering a suggestion on how to resolve the problem. He was also a regular contributor to the Brewing Network’s podcasts, and the originator of “Tasty’s Tasting Room” homebrew booth at the BN’s annual Spring Brews Festival in Concord, CA. It was because of Mike that homebrew is a regular part of several other beer festivals in the area.

As a result, Mike was known and beloved far and wide. Occasionally, after being greeted by people and having selfies taken with him, by people while out for a beer, he’d lean in with a grin and whisper, “I just don’t get it. They act like I’m something special, but I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m just an old hippie who likes to make good beer.”

Mike’s most famous and popular recipe is “Janet’s Brown Ale”, with which he won a gold medal at the 2004 National Homebrew Competition. Janet’s Brown is named after his wife, whose favorite it was among his brews (she had passed away in 2001). Tasty freely shared the recipe, and allowed several commercial breweries to make batches of it. It appears in Jamil Zainasheff’s book Brewing Classic Styles and has been made into a homebrew kit by MoreBeer!

Janet’s Brown Ale

  • 27.5 lb pale malt
  • 3.0 lb dextrin malt
  • 2.5 lb 40L crystal malt
  • 2.0 lb wheat malt
  • 1.0 lb 350L chocolate malt
  • 1.0 lb corn sugar
  • 3.0 oz US Northern Brewer pellet hops, 5.1% a.a. (mash)
  • 3.0 oz US Northern Brewer pellet hops, 5.1% a.a. (60 min)
  • 2.0 oz US Northern Brewer pellet hops, 5.1% a.a. (15 min)
  • 3.0 oz Cascade pellet hops, 5.6% a.a. (10 min)
  • 4.0 oz Cascade whole hops, 5.8% a.a. (0 min, hopback)
  • 4.0 oz Centennial pellet hops, 10.5% a.a. (dry hop)
  • White Labs WLP001

Water profile: Ca 110.0 ppm, Mg 18.0 ppm, Na 17.0 ppm, SO4 350.0 ppm, Cl 50.0 ppm.

  1. Mash grains at 154° F for 30 minutes. Raise to 170° F and hold for 15 minutes. Sparge at 170° F for 45 minutes.
  2. Primary fermentation for 7 days at 68° F.
  3. Secondary fermentation for 9 days at 70° F . Dry hop in secondary for 7 days.
  4. Cold condition for six weeks.

Original Gravity: 1.074 FG: 1.018 ABV: 7.35%

Heineken has eye on Peru beer market

The Netherlands-based Heineken N.V. -the world’s second largest brewing company, with over 165 breweries in 70 countries (including California’s Lagunitas Brewing Co.)- is seeking to expand its share in Peru’s beer market.

In late September Heineken closed the purchase -for an undisclosed amount, but said to be around US$50M- of the Tres Cruces brand from the AJE Group. AJE is a beverage company, started in Ayacucho by the Añaños family, with operations in 22 countries. Tres Cruces was its incursion into the Peruvian beer market. Under the partnership, AJE will serve as Heineken’s national distributor.

Although Tres Cruces’ share of the national beer market amounted to only 0.1%, with the purchase Heineken has gained a foothold in the only large regional market in which it did not have a direct presence.

However, according to rumors, verified by articles in the business-oriented Lima newspaper Gestión, Heineken has also set its sights on purchasing Lima’s largest independent brewery, Candelaria. Representatives for Candelaria have confirmed that they have been approached by Heineken and there have been conversations.

Coupled with last year’s purchase of Cervecería Barbarian by AB-Inbev’s ZX Ventures, any such sale of Candelaria would have the effect of having removed the top two breweries in the craft sector. This is important, not just because they were the largest, but also because they were leaders in opening spaces for craft beer in supermarket coolers and shelves.

Some observers, even within the craft brew community, hail such sales, predicting that they will increase competition and thus lead to a raise in quality within the craft beer sector. Others point to the exclusionary and anti-competitive practices of AB-Inbev and its local conglomerate, Backus.

Needless to say, Peruvian craft brewers are watching the situation with attention.

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