Things I Didn’t Realize: The Size of New Belgium

I received an email this morning touting the upcoming 20th anniversary of Fort Collins, Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing. I remember this company starting up not long after I began covering the US beer market, so the two decades thing seems about right, but what shocked me is how big this wonderful brewery has become.

Hands up everyone whop would have guessed that NBB brewed 661,000 barrels last year! (All New Belgium employees put your hands back down, you don’t count.) That’s  pretty stunning increase from the 229,000 barrels they brewed at the start of the century, and enough to place them as the third largest craft brewer in the United States, behind Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada. And they’re only in 26 states, where those other two are national!

I know, most of that beer is their flagship Fat Tire, the ale so many of the presumed “beer cognoscenti” like to dismiss as boring, entry level stuff. But: a) Fat Tire is not so easily dismissed, and a fine quaff on a thirsty day; and b) The brewery has been really stepping it up with their other brands lately, notable their fine Ranger IPA and their barreled brews, for which they have just expanded — yet again — their wood-aging facility.

The official anniversary is June 28. Mark it on your calendar and raise a glass to co-founder and ceo Kim Jordan (seen above) and the whole crew at New Belgium.


In the “Well, Duh!” Department

This from an Associated Press story about the new wave of low calorie and, it might well be added, low taste beers flooding the market these days. Speaking about brews like MGD 64 and Select 55, which respectively have just 64 and 55 calories and 2.8 and 2.4 percent alcohol, Mindy Rotellini from St. Louis is quoted as saying, “I just have to drink more, and then it’s going to equal the amount of calories in a regular beer, so why not just drink a regular beer?”

Why indeed?

Further on in the story, referencing the difficulties the major breweries are facing trying to produce ultra-light beers that have actual taste, the story quotes Thomas Shellhammer, professor of fermentation science at Oregon State University, thusly:

“You start producing something that could taste very, very thin. That would be the challenge for the brewer, to produce something that still tastes like beer.”

Presumably Professor Shellhammer has little experience with British milds, like the positively delicious Black Cat from the Moorehouse Brewery in England, which was proclaimed Champion Beer of Britain in 2000 with an alcohol content of just 3.4 percent.

And finally, adding a note of sanity to the story, beer aficionado John LeMasney offers,  “I’d rather spend 200 calories and get something I really enjoy.”


Sonkajärvi Wife-Carrying

Join me in congratulating the team of Taisto Miettinen and Kristiina Haapanen, winners of the 2009 Wine-Carrying Championships in Finland. The victory brings Mr. Miettinen and Ms. Haapanen both glory and the latter’s weight in an undisclosed brand of beer. Thus ends a drought of eleven years without a Finn winning the notable event.

In the team competition, the Estonian group of Mauri Zahkna, Alar Voogla, Renno Remmel and Merlin Linnusaar, racing under the name of Sõbrad, were once again victors. No details were available as to what the team won as a prize.

Thanks to the ever attentive Burgundian Babble Belt for alerting me to this important news.

Cask Ale Notes from Britain

Cask Marque is a British brewery-funded organization dedicated to assuring that every one of the 5400+ accredited pubs are doing a proper job keeping and serving their cask-conditioned ale. To this end, they have 49 inspectors who travel around sampling pints – tastes only, no sessions when you need to get back in the car and drive another hundred kilometres! – and making sure that standards are maintained.

(Note to Greene King haters: The oft maligned brewery was one of four that initially set up Cask Marque, so proper credit where credit is due on that front.)

I mention this both to bring Cask Marque to your attention, because if you ever drink in the U.K., whether as a resident or visitor, you really should know that the little Cask Marque badge in the pub’s window really does mean something, and to introduce an article that appeared recently in Time Out. It’s interesting reading, but more fascinating to me is the tidbit of information tossed into it subheader, to wit:

Eight women in ten haven’t tried real ale.

I can’t say that really surprises me, even in our post-Madonna-drinks-Landlord world, but it truly is a damn shame, really. With its low carbonation – bubbles being something that many women I’ve spoken to complain about with respect to draught and bottled beer – and soft textures, cask ale would seem ideally suited to the female palate, providing, of course, that the first encounter or two aren’t assertively bitter, as per the point Ms. Smith makes towards the end of the article.

Something needs be done to change this state of affairs, and it needs to start with the brewers and publicans who made cask ale such a boys thing in the first place.