Beer 511

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

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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.

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.

Lima’s Barbarian Brewery Sold to AB InBev’s ZX Ventures

In a move that caught almost everyone by surprise, the announcement was made early last week that Lima’s Cervecería Barbarian had been 100% acquired by ZX Ventures.

Barbarian was one of Peru’s most visible and successful early craft breweries. A winner of many awards, and headed by a charismatic and friendly trio of friends -Diego Rodríguez, Juan Diego Vásquez, and Ignacio Schwalb-, it was often featured in stories in print and visual media. Barbarian promoted itself as leading the “beer revolution”, and it was in no small part through their efforts that space was opened up for Peruvian craft beer in supermarket shelves and coolers.

ZX Ventures, on the other hand, is an “innovation and investment” group for Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest beer company. ZX Ventures specializes in bringing AB InBev’s reach into areas hitherto unexplored by the company, such as homewbrewing supplies, beer e-commerce, beer vending machines, and in acquiring and then funding expansion of startups in new markets. It already owned 13 breweries around the world.

AB InBev, for its part, has already had a footing in Peru, since its 2016 acquistion of Ambev Perú and of the Backus & Johnston brewing empire. With the acquisition of Barbarian it garners a foothold in the “craft” market, and one via a company that comes with two successful bars and another on the way, and which has already proved a market for premium and superpremium beers (which Backus itself had already unsuccessfully tried its hand at via its short-lived Abraxas beer.) Under the terms of thedeal, Rodríguez, Vásquez, and Schwalb, along with Barbarian’s 120 employees, will all remain in their current positions and roles.

Not surprisingly, news of the sale sent shock waves through the Peruvian craft beer community.

The immediate realization was that the waters around what is a craft brewer, and thus a craft beer, were about to get quite muddied. The fear being that Barbarian’s strong public identification with the craft beer movement would persist, not only in the company’s self image, but in the eyes of consumers, while AB InBev would use Barbarian’s visibility and reputation, backed by Backus & Johnston’s clout, to choke off market access for craft brewers.

The second was that the craft brew industry needed to get out ahead of this and define what makes a brewery a craft brewery, and thus a beer a craft beer.

The Unión de Cerveceros Artesanales del Perú (UCAP), quickly settled on independence being a key feature, and suggested that breweries place a logo on their social media pages reading “Yo sí soy una verdadera cervecería artesanal” (I am a real craft brewery) and the hash-tag #cervezaindependiente. At the same time many supporters and craft beer drinkers -including myself- followed suit and rushed to add a similar logo to our social media feeds and pages (including this blog), reading “Yo sí tomo verdadera cerveza artesanal” (I drink real craft beer).

The campaign more or less landed with a thud. Many consumers, commenting in FaceBook groups, rejected it, viewing it as sour grapes from a bunch “haters” resentful of others’ success.

The truth is that many members of the UCAP are personal friends and acquaintances of Barbarian’s founders, and in fact, until the morning of the announcement of the sale, Barbarian’s Juan Diego Vásquez was the president of the UCAP. However, because the logo campaign was not preceded nor accompanied by any public statement explaining it, and which could have been used to congratulate the Barbarians, thank them for their efforts on behalf of craft brew in Peru, and to wish them well in the future, the choice of language for the logo came to be seen as pointedly anti-Barbarian.

The UCAP’s members are coming to realize that the sale of Barbarian presents them with the challenge and the opportunity to start the process of formally defining what is a craft brewery in the Peruvian context, something which, as I’ve noted before, has not yet been done very well.

Upcoming releases of Resilience IPA

 

As Resilience Butte County Proud IPA comes out fermentation, breweries all over are preparing release events in the coming weeks, including a number of  breweries around the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

Fieldwork Brewing Company already released their version (hazy, of course!) on December 6th, and Altamont Beer Works in Livermore poured theirs on the following day.

Monk’s Cellar Brewery and Public House, in Roseville started pouring theirs today.

Del Cielo Brewing, in Martinez, and Shadow Puppet Brewing Company, in Livermore,  will each start pouring Resilience IPA at 4 pm on Wednesday, December 12th.

On Saturday, December 15th, Martinez’ Five Suns Brewing will release their version of Resilience in time with their one-year anniversary party, and it seems that Sierra Nevada’s own Resilience IPA will also be on tap on Saturday, at Jack’s Taps in Pleasant Hill.

On Wednesday, December 19th, Calicraft Brewing Company will be having Sierra Nevada’s Resilience IPA on at the Calicraft tap room in Walnut Creek.  However, Blaine Landberg, Calicraft’s founder and owner, has taken thing one step further, and, on the 22nd, will be holding a “Resilience Day” and pouring Calicraft’s own Resilience IPA “5 Ways”: Classic, POG, OPM, Coffee, and 2 firkins!

 

UPDATE (12/12):  I’ve got word that Drake’s Brewing Co., in San Leandro, is pouring Resilience today. New Helvetia, in Sacramento, is doing the same, starting at 4 pm; so is Grillin’ and Chillin’ Alehouse in Hollister.

Danville Brewing Company, in Danville, is releasing its version of Resilience IPA on Thursday, Dec. 13th.

The Bistro, in Hayward, will be serving Resilience starting on Friday, Dec. 21st.

Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant in Campbell will hold a release party for Resilience IPA, in conjunction with the Santa Clara County Firefighters union, on December 28th.

 

Brewing Community Unites for Camp Fire Relief

In response to the terrible Camp Fire in northern California, which has destroyed thousands of homes and leveled entire communities -continues to burn as this is written- Sierra Nevada Brewing Company stepped forward with a proposal to brew a beer and donate all sales to fire victim relief efforts.

Similar collaboration benefit brewing efforts are not new to the California craft brewing community. Last year, after the devastating fires in Sonoma County, Russian River Brewing Co. enlisted dozens of craft breweries to brew Sonoma Pride beer. Their efforts helped raise over $1M for Sonoma fire relief.  Similarly, just a few months ago, after the Carr Fire, five Shasta County craft breweries teamed up to raise funds by  brewing Shasta Strong IPA.

This time, Sierra Nevada’s founder and CEO, Ken Grossman got the ball rolling with this message on Facebook:

Many of you have asked if we will be brewing a fundraiser beer to support Camp Fire relief efforts. The answer is a resounding “yes.”

We are proud to announce that we’ll be brewing Resilience Butte County Proud IPA and donating 100 percent of sales to Camp Fire relief. In addition, we are also asking every brewery in America to brew Resilience and do the same.

I’m sending a letter to brewers across the country, inviting them to join us in a collaboration brew day on Tuesday, November 27. We are working with malt and hop suppliers to provide raw ingredient donations to all participating breweries and are asking those breweries to donate 100 percent of their sales, as well.

We know that the rebuilding process will take time, but we’re in this for the long haul. Our hope is to get Resilience IPA in taprooms all over the country to create a solid start for our community’s future.

Thank you to each and every one of you for your support. We’re right here with you and we’ll get through this together.

– Ken

The response from the always close-knit brewing community has, of course, been tremendous and hundreds of breweries in California and further afield have signed on.

Some of the Bay Area breweries that are participating are Danville Brewing Company, Del Cielo Brewing, Shadow Puppet Brewing Company, Ghost Town Brewing,  Russian River Brewing Co., Altamont Brewing Company, Almanac Beer Co., Anchor Brewing Co., Drake’s Brewing Company, 21st Ammendment, Morgan Territory, ….

There is a growing list of participating breweries on the Sierra Nevada webpage.

In addition, the recipe for Resilience Butte County Proud IPA has been made available to homebrewers via the AHA, and homebrew supply retailer MoreBeer! may (emphasis on may) be releasing a homebrew ingredient kit.  Homebrewers, who of course cannot sell their beer, are encouraged instead to make a donation for Camp Fire relief via the Golden Valley Bank Community Foundation.

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