Beer 511

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

Author: juan Page 2 of 29

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.

Two and half months into the shutdown …

Recently I came across a blog post which mentioned that Mexico’s Grupo Modelo and Heineken, who has stopped brewing on March 30th, were saying that, with Mexican federal guidelines coming out,  they were now ready to resume production as soon as June 1st.

Naturally, the brewing shut down in Mexico has hurt all sectors of Mexico’s beer industry. 

Despite some local booms in demand and price for craft brews, as the stock of Big Beer dwindled, it has been estimated that the crisis could cost Mexico 50% of its craft breweries.

The beer shut down in Mexico -just talking now about the big industrial sector- has also had significant effects upstream and downstream.  Downstream, there are the 600.000 jobs directly and indirectly tied to industrial beer, including those at countless bars and restaurants for whom beer sales accounted for 40% or more of their income.   Upstream, there are some 4.000 farmers who produce the barley.

And those ripples extend surprisingly far afield: Upwards of 75% of Idaho’s barley crop is destined to be malted, and most of that is destined for breweries in Mexico.  Breweries which are currently paralyzed.

With barley backed up on the farms and dropping in price, and uncertainty for what’s coming, it is likely that Idaho barley farming acreage will go down this year and next.  According to the Idaho Barley Commission, Idaho’s overall agricultural sector -potatoes included- could take “up to two years” to recover.

And, Idaho farmers are not alone in their predicament.  Southern Montana and Northern Wyoming’s barley producers have been informed by Briess Malt that it can guarantee purchase of only 50% of what it had contracted. 

And, of course, the worldwide slow-down has effects on other areas that are of concern to us a beer fans and brewers.

The NW hop sector had been planning on increasing acreage this year. Instead, Southwestern Idaho and Southeastern Oregon hop growers plan to cut back by 5% to 20% from a year ago, depending on the varieties.

And, we have yet to see what effect the economic downturn, cooling relations with China, and the slowdown in global shipping will have on equipment price and availability.  The brewing industry uses a lot of stainless steel, for example. The last time there a big trade dispute with China something as basic as a keg became pricey and hard to get.

The good news is that, bit by bit, the US economy is starting to reopen. 

One may feel that it is too fast or too slow, but for a lot of brewers it certainly can’t come soon enough.

Recall that at the end of March the Brewers Association surveyed US craft brewers and about six in 10 said that a 3-month closure could well drive them out of business.

We’re heading into that 3rd month. 

Even with to-go and mail orders helping out, most craft breweries have still seen drops of 60-90% in revenue.

And it’s crunch time in other ways too.

For example, many breweries are sitting on hundreds or thousands, of gallons of beer that has been aging for a month or two, or longer. They can package that beer and sell it, but they can’t be as confident of the shelf-life and sustained quality of that beer.  

The BA suggests monitoring the stock daily and pulling it if starts to taste off, and adjusting the best-by date on packaging to account for the time that the beer has already aged. It’s simple and reasonable advice, but it covers what could be some difficult choices for brewers:

Can they afford to invest in canning and selling beer that may be OK, but no longer tasting “on-brand”, that no longer represents what they’re about?

On the other hand, can a small brewery already facing financial hardship afford to dump all that beer, knowing that that may mean no product available to sell for a month, just when the economy is starting to reopen?

Of course, we -as consumers and beer supporters- don’t have to wait until the “Opening”, with a capital O, we can help right now by continuing to support our local and regional breweries and taprooms.

And don’t forget to tip the staff.

Spencer Trappist Ale

Today, I am writing about Spencer Trappist Ale, a beer that I had been curious to try since I first learned about it four years ago.

Spencer Trappist Ale is brewed by the monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachussetts. The brothers of St. Joseph’s follow the Rule of St. Benedict and are part of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, otherwise known as the Trappist Order. The Spencer Brewery is the only certified Trappist brewery outside of Europe, and the Spencer family of beers the only certified Trappist beers produced within the United States.

Spencer Trappist Ale was the first beer released by Spencer Brewery and is the monastery’s flagship beer. It was inspired by the refectory ales or patersbiers, the table beers historically brewed for consumption by monks at meals. However, at 6.5% abv it is a tad stronger than the usual refectory ales which tend to fall in the 3.5-5.5% range.

Spencer Trappist Ale is a deep golden ale, tending toward orange, mildly hazy in appearance. Upon pouring it presented a moderate white head, that didn’t rise particularly high and very subsided, but didn’t disappear entirely.

It has a moderately hoppy nose, with notes of citrus. In the mouth, it came across as effervescent sip after sip, and quite refreshing. It had notes malt notes, a little biscuity flavor. (I mean that not in the sense of American biscuits, the breakfast item, but of imported tinned biscuits. Maybe shortbread might be a better referent.) It also has pleasantly floral notes, with light citrus and pine at the back end.

It’s a nice beer. Too bad it’s not distributed more widely.

When faced with COVID-19, craft beer community steps up

As the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads across the globe, people are being forced to alter their lifestyles as governments scramble to devise appropriate responses.

Here in the United States, as has been amply discussed in the media, the Federal government has been slow to address the pandemic, leaving state and local governments, and individual businesses, institutions, and persons to figure out what steps to take to mitigate the spread of the infection.

Displaying the solidarious and community-oriented spirit that epitomizes it, the craft beer community quickly stepped up to the plate and got creative. For example, Rolling Rock brewing in Berkeley announced last week that they were stopping the filling of growlers brought in by customers. All to-go beer would be packaged in a crowler or require the purchase of a new growler. Danville Brewing has worked with the City of Danville to establish curbside pick-up of brews and food from their restaurant. Monk’s Kettle restaurant in San Francisco reportedly has been working on a similar arrangement. Brewpubs and taprooms everywhere have stepped up sanitizing routines, shortened hours of operation, or moved to a to-go only model.

Heeding calls for social-isolation, others have voluntarily shut down operations altogether. One of the first to take such measures was Maryland’s Flying Dog, which closed it beer hall and airport taprooms, and cancelled all events at its brewery as early as March 11th. New Belgium, Dogfish Head, and others followed suit in the following days. Just this morning, San Francisco’s Fort Point Brewery announced it would be closing its taprooms and restaurants until further notice. They did so just hours ahead of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s call for bars, wineries, and brewpubs to close.

Spring is also festival season, and events cancellations are rolling in like falling dominoes. Bay Area events such as Concord’s Spring Brews Fest and Martinez’s California Craft Beer Festival have been cancelled, as has Firestone Walker’s Invitational Beer Fest in Paso Robles.

On the 12th, the Brewers Association announced the cancellation of the Craft Brewers Conference, on of the largest industry events, which was to have been held in April. At the same time, the Brewers Association cancelled the World Beer Cup competition. Even the American Homebrewers Association pulled the plug on the nation’s largest homebrew competition just hours ahead of when judges and stewards in various regions were to start gathering to judge the first round of entries.

While Big Beer will weather this just fine, small brewers, pubs, taprooms and shops in the craft and homebrew world will have to make further sacrifices that will be undeniably painful. Many businesses, already feeling the pinch from decreased attendance, will undoubtedly incur severe losses in the weeks-long closures to come. For some businesses, sadly, these will be fatal. Even at those that make it through, idled hourly employees will face financial hardships. Many will lose their jobs.

In the meantime, those of us who support those breweries, bars, and shops struggle between the urge to help out our neighborhood businesses weather the crisis by patronizing them before they have to shut down, and heeding the call to stay home and self-isolate.

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