Beer 511

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

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SF Beer Week

It’s February, and February in the Bay Area means SF Beer Week!

SF Beer Week is California’s premier beer festival.  Over the course of a week it features hundreds of official beer-centered events (623 at last count for this year!) and dozens of unofficial and “warm up” events, throughout the nine Bay Area counties, and beyond.

This year’s Opening Gala –which officially opens Beer Week on February 9th– alone has more than 12o breweries confirmed to pour their best, most special, and rarest beers.

With this being it’s 10th anniversary, the organizers predict that this will be the most epic Beer Week thus far.

For full schedule of events click HERE or visit  sfbeerweek.org

On what is “craft” beer?

Watching Entre lúpulo y malta brought to mind the now-notorious video released last year by AbInBev in response to the Brewers Association’s introduction of its “Independent Craft Brewer” seal for use by breweries.

In that video the founders of breweries recently acquired by AbInBev’s The High End division –10 Barrel, Wicked Weed, Elysian, Four Peaks, and Devil’s Backbone—expound on why the label is a bad idea, even though they themselves are excluded from using it, and so on. Part of the way they do that is to argue that there is no difference between what they do and what BA member breweries do. While, from a technical standpoint, that may be true, they deliberately muddy the waters when it comes to what defines a “craft” brewer, and thus “craft” beer.

That they can do that raises the issue that, while for a long time what defined a craft brewery seemed pretty clear-cut, with an increasing number small breweries being acquired by brewing industry giants like AbInBev, Sapporo, Heineken, that definition is being blurred. (There is also the BA’s own continual expansion of the upper-bbl limit, but that is a matter for another time.)

In Peru there is the same sort of discussion going on as to what makes a beer a “craft” beer? But, there, the discussion is being approached from the other end.

Unlike the US, Peru has a living artisanal tradition and millions of people make their living from an artisanal economy, but until just a few years ago there was no history of small, independent brewers. Even those very few regional brands that existed tried to compete with the big brewers on their own terms, brewing the same kinds of beers, and as far as I can tell, all were either absorbed or went out of business. There was no equivalent to a Yakima Brewing, New Albion, or Anchor Brewing, to serve as a reference point.

So, Peruvian consumers, with no experience of small-batch, locally-produced beer, and no experience of beer styles other than big boy’s pilsners, are encountering an as yet small, and fairly localized (to Lima), but booming craft beer industry without a reference to what is a craft beer. But, they are trying to figure it out.

In so doing, many look to what they have in their hand: What makes this beer a craft beer and not that one? And, that’s where things get tricky.

As Peruvian craft brewers crank out a variety of very tasty ales –stouts, porters, weizens, fruited beers, etc.—consumers sometimes think that a craft beers is defined by “being in a different style” or by simply having “more flavor” than Backus & Johnston’s mass-produced lagers.

Another stumbling block is in the language itself. In Spanish, “artisanal” and “craft” are both expressed by the same word: artesanal. Now, because of Peru’s living artisan economy, everyone pretty much has an idea of what artesanal means. And, of course, what it means in most instances is things made at home, or in small home-based workshops, by hand or with minimal technology, without the refinements and standardization available to industrial producers.

Thus, I’ve had people in Lima ask me whether filtering would take away a beer’s artisanal quality. The working supposition being that an craft/artisanal product is less “finished” than an industrial one.

Naturally, there are those who argue –and with whom I agree—that what makes a beer “artesanal” or not is not the beer itself, but the brewer. However, even on that point, there is confusion. In discussions online with Peruvian homebrewers, some have expressed that they consider themselves cerveceros artesanales because their beer is home-made.

The lack of clarity on this point shows up in Entre lúpulo y malta, where the first cervecero artesanal that is presented is Christian Zapata, a dedicated homebrewer and president of the Peruvian homebrewers’ association, Asociación de Cerveceros Caseros del Perú (ACECAS).

Does it matter? Probably not that much. Not yet at any rate, while the Peruvian craft beer market is still quite small (in 2016 production was only 10k hectoliters, or 6.3k bbl), but as it expands and legislation and taxation begins to catch up and the Backus & Johnston conglomerate (itself owned by AbInBev) begins to feel threatened, a working definition of craft beer could well become quite important.

As it is in the US.

Documentary on Peruvian Craft Brewers

(Sorry about the poor quality of the English-language captioning.)

Five Suns Brewing (Martinez, CA)

Last weekend I had the opportunity to check out the digs for Five Suns Brewing in downtown Martinez (California).

Five Suns is the brainchild of five friends (though I think a couple of ’em might be brothers) who decided to open a brewery together. By putting in a great deal of “sweat equity” into their space they’ve managed to put together what is already a pleasant, welcoming, comfy-feeling place, with a nice bar, vintage sofas paired with modern tables, set in a modern “industrial” space with pleasing interplay between cement, wood, old brick work, and exposed pipes.

They are set up as a 3-bbl. nano brewery, and the plan is to initially be open only on weekends (I presume that means Fri. evening through Sunday), until they can develop enough of a following to be able to afford to increase their brewing capacity.

 A big regulatory hurdle has been surpassed with the granting of their ABC license this week, which clears the way for Five Suns to produce and sell beer on premises. Other local and state permits still need to be cleared, however.  Thus, an opening date has not been set –they wouldn’t even speculate on it– but the owners told me they expected to launch some soft-opening events for friends and backers early in the coming year.

 

Five Suns Brewing
701 Escobar St Unit C
Martinez, CA

www.fivesunsbrewing.com

 

Update (12/19/2017):   Five Suns Brewing is now open!  Check their website for the hours.

Black Diamond Brewing Co.

Well, it has been quite a while since I posted anything.   I got sick and then busy, what with Thanksgiving thrown in there and a few other things. Pretty much all fun (except for the being sick part) but they kept me busy.

I did have a couple of posts in mind, both on beer fests. One, noting that the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), America’s largest commercial beer festival, had taken place in Colorado. Though I didn’t go, I was enthused because my friend Matt Sager won a bronze medal for the Danville Brewing Co. with Chux DIPA. The other was a note on Lima Beer Week, which was taking place at the same time.

In any case, I missed the window of opportunity and both events are now long over and done.

What is not done and over with is that Concord’s Black Diamond Brewing Company remains shuttered. Apparently for good.

An October 17th post (since deleted) on their Facebook page showed an image taken of a sign taped to their door, which employees reportedly found when they showed up to work that morning:

Due to unfortunate circumstances the locks have been changed and Black Diamond Brewery is closed for the foreseeable future. Thank you to everyone who supported us during our 23 year run!

Naturally, that led to speculation -since confirmed- that the company was bankrupt.

As things stand now, the doors remain shut and the website is gone.

I had a bit of a soft spot for Black Diamond.  Not only was it a longstanding local brewery, but it was, in fact, the first brewpub I ever went to.  That was back in their original location at the former Cadillac dealership building in Walnut Creek, with it’s long curving bank of huge windows, which beautifully framed the brewhouse.  The food was good as well and it became an early favorite spot for a “date night” without the kids.

After a bit, the restaurant and brewpub closed, and though I started to see Black Diamond beers in stores, I lost track of the brewery for a number of years.

Then, through friends in my home brewing club, I found out that the brewery was in Concord and that it had an attached tap room. Since then, I enjoyed many an event there and got to see how much Black Diamond gave back to the community.

Everyone I met who worked there was really nice and generous. It sucks how the closure went down, and I just hope that they were all taken care of and were able to land back on their feet.

 

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