Predictions From World of Beer and the Wench

Well, okay, just from World of Beer. A pingback from the Wench’s blog this morning informs me that not only is she sick as a dog, but also now gainfully employed by Bison Organic Beer, which suggests to me that I won’t be getting any predictions from her any time soon. (And, sadly, neither will she be contributing to this space again any time soon, since the WoB anti-conflict of interest policy precludes any receipt of monies from breweries or distilleries or importers. Sorry, Wenchie.)

In deference to her illness, however, and celebration of her new-found stability, I will refrain from the public humiliation of the Wench in the form of made-up predictions, which I fully intended to do on her behalf, and present instead only my own, now month-old prognostications for 2011.

My predictions:

An Easing of the Hops Craze: It will come as a shock to no one that craft brewers in North America and beyond have been going mad for hops of late, producing “double,” “triple” and even, I seem to recall reading lately, “quadruple” IPAs. Well, in 2011 I suggest that we’ll see the start of an anti-ultra-hoppy backlash, with greater appreciation of balance and nuance coming slowly to the fore. Not that it will happen all at once or eclipse high-intensity IPAs any time soon, but a seed will slowly begin to take root.

The Re-Emergence of Germany: For the past few years, the dominant European beer countries have been old powers like the U.K. and Belgium, and new blood such as Italy and the Scandinavian states. In 2011, however, I suggest we’ll witness renewed interest in what’s happening in Germany, as new breweries open – yes, it’s actually happening, after years of nothing but closures – and German beer culture begins to be redefined. I’m certainly not sure what form it will take – I don’t think anyone is – but something is gestating over there and it will be interesting to witness what comes of it.

More Branding Focus for the Big Brewers: Led by the example of Anheuser-Busch InBev, I expect that the world’s largest breweries will begin jettisoning marginal brands, or allowing them to slowly die of their own accord, so that they might focus more intently on a core range of brands. Many of these ignored or smothered old brews will simply disappear, but others I expect will be sold to smaller breweries that will market them with imagery that veritably oozes nostalgia.

Waiting on the Wench

Over a month ago, I promised you two sets of (possibly) contrasting beer predictions, one by the jaded old geezer (yours truly) and the other by the fresh, youthful and energetic Beer Wench. And so far, nothing.

Not my fault, mind you. No, I’ve been waiting on the Beer Wench, Ms. Ashley Routson herself, who has been busy relocating, finding herself a job and, judging from her frequent Facebook status updates, doing almost everything except casting a gaze upon her crystal ball. I’ve cajoled, I’ve threatened, I’ve pleaded, and nothing.

So here it is, Wench, your final and very public warning. I give you but 24 hours more before I post my own predictions for 2011, alongside three of what I will guess might be your predictions. You may wind up looking sage and savvy, or you may…not. The only way you can be sure if to get me three legit prognostications before 9:00 a.m. EST tomorrow.


Water is a Big Deal, Dude

by Ashley Routson, The Beer Wench

In the brewing industry, water is a BIG deal. But not just because 90% of beer is comprised of it; that’s only half of the story. Water is a big deal because the brewing industry wastes A LOT of it. Depending on the brewery, it takes roughly 3.5 barrels (low end of spectrum) to 10 barrels (high end of spectrum) of water to produce ONE (yes, one) barrel of beer.

Despite the common misconception, water is finite. Although water covers roughly 71% of the earth’s surface, only 3% of it is freshwater, most of which is trapped in ice caps, glaciers and groundwater. The sad reality is that less than 1% of the earth’s water supports ALL life on land. And the even sadder reality is that we humans use 50% of all available freshwater annually.

Several breweries and industry folks have developed an acute awareness of the state of water an its affect on the industry. One such person is the well-known beer cookbook author and active environmentalist, Lucy Saunders. After witnessing the Great Lakes Region experience a drought this past summer, Lucy decided that it was time for the craft brewing industry to take action.

In November of 2009, Lucy organized The Great Lakes Craft Brewers & Water Conservation Conference in Milwaukee, WI. The event had a “star-studded” craft brewer turnout, with speakers from Sierra Nevada, Odell Brewing Co., Great Lakes Brewing Co., New Glarus and more. Even Miller-Coors presented.

Now, I am not going to lie: there was a great deal of information exchanged during the conference, most of which was way over my head. Although I am desperately trying to learn and grasp the science and engineering of brewing, much of it still alludes me. Nonetheless, I was impressed by the presentations.

It is important to note that breweries across the entire spectrum were represented at the conference — large corporate breweries, large craft breweries, moderate sized craft breweries, brewpubs, microbreweries and even contract brewers. This is tremendously important to note because there are no small measures when it comes to water conservation. Every little drop counts. It does not matter how many barrels a brewery produces, water savings are water savings, and although larger breweries have the ability to make a larger impact, there is no “get out of jail free card” for the little guys. All players in the industry should be focusing on water conservation.

After the conference in November, I made it a point to spread the good word on water conservation. I was disappointed, however, by the number of excuses I heard from breweries (all across the U.S.) on why they could not “afford” to conserve water.

Correction, my friends. You cannot afford not to conserve water.

For some breweries, it is easier to formulate excuses and reasons for not conserving water than it is to actually research, develop and implement a water conservation program. Some breweries do not have the choice.

Whether it be mandated by the state, city, county, town or municipality, several breweries around the United States are being forced to re-evaluate waster usage and wastage. Those that chose not to abide by the mandates will be faced with fines and penalties.

Sooner or later, no one will have the choice. As the world’s fresh water resources continue to deplete, water conservation will no longer be an option, but a mandatory requirement.

The proactive breweries who have implemented or are in the process of developing water conservation programs will definitely have a leg up on the rest of the industry.

Unfortunately, not all breweries are created equal. Some breweries have more money than they may know what to do with, while some are panhandling and scraping for change. In a perfect world, every brewery would have its own on site water treatment plant, an abundant supply of water meters, efficient and leak-free equipment, new or retrofitted appliances, a four tank CIP system, high-power flush toilets and urinals, and so on and so forth.

But the world is neither perfect nor fair.

How does one go about implementing water conservation tactics? The first step is easy: Call the water utility company. Get a water audit. They are usually free. The utility company can help the brewery understand:

  • 1. Rate of flow in various areas
  • 2. BOD (biological or biochemical oxygen demand),COD (chemical oxygen demand) and TSS (total suspended solids) levels at various locations;
  • 3. Savings that can be realized by reusing water for a second purpose before discharging and by diverting high-loading effluents.

Some of the major water conservation pioneers in the beer industry include New Belgium (just above 4bbl/bbl, or barrels of water per barrel of beer), Sierra Nevada (right under 6 bbl/bbl) and the Great Lakes Brewing Company (just above 6 bbl/bbl). (Note: stats stolen from the Great Lakes Brewing Company powerpoint presentation).

Speaking of Great Lakes Brewing Company, they are an EXCELLENT example of a brewery that is doing things “right.” GLBC currently has an environmental expert on staff tackling all of its sustainability projects, resulting in the following initiatives.

GLBC has installed solar panels on both its brewery and its brewpub. Bottle pre-rinse water is used for final rinse (savings: 1.1M gal/yr). The vacuum pump has been retrofitted to cycle water (savings: 1.3M gal/yr). The heat exchange mechanism has been optimized (savings: 2M gal/yr). Urinals, toilets and the dishwasher have all been upgraded to high efficiency appliances. Almost all of the food served in the brewpub is local and/or sustainable. The staff is continuously educated about sustainability. In the future, GLBC is looking to recycle its rinse water from fermenter for reuse in next tank and well as a yeast reclamation for feed program to save on sewer bills.

At the 2010 Craft Brewers Conference, Water Conservation had its very own panel. I anticipate there being one at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival as well as another Water Conservation Conference by the end of the year. I strongly encourage all brewers and brewery owners to seek out a water audit and start implementing water conservation policies. Sooner or later, there will not be a choice!

Women, errr, Wenches & Beer, a Continuing Study

Over at her own site, my new protégé/assistant/social media tutor, the inescapable Beer Wench, has declared war on a new U.K. brew – let’s not call it beer, okay? – being developed specifically for women by MolsonCoors and something called the Bittersweet Partnership. She don’t like it one bit, do the Wench.

To her great credit, Ashley, as the Wench is known in certain circles, has rattled a few cages with her post and prompted much discussion, including multiple responses from someone named Kristy McCready of the Bittersweet Partnership and one early reply from yours truly.

Reading through it all, I find most of the comments, although certainly well-intentioned, do tend towards the invective, and while I am certainly sympathetic to the sentiments expressed by many of the posters, including the Wench, I also feel that a certain balance is lacking. And so, rather than continue one with the ever-growing list of comments at her site, I thought I’d cross-link here and add a little moderation to the debate, to wit:

  • I am no great fan of Coors Light or Molson Canadian, the two brands Ashley uses to illustrate her post, but neither should they be dismissed out-of-hand. They appeal to a big piece of the market, one which – contrary to what Ashley maintains – really does not care about what they put in their mouths. Or so dislikes the taste of conventional beer that they look for a brand with as little flavour as possible. (This has been shown true in beer market research, with most beer drinkers admitting to enjoying the social lubricant side of beer more than the actual taste.) Whether people dislike the taste of beer because of how companies like MolsonCoors have evolved it or companies like MolsonCoors have taken the taste of their brands in a given direction because that is what the consumer wants, well, that’s a chicken-and-egg argument we’ll never resolve.
  • The new beer proposed by Bittersweet and MolsonCoors is a marketing endeavour seeking to address a demographic they currently see as being underserved, or not served at all. That’s what companies their size do. If their market data showed that the demographic they’re wanting to exploit desired an Imperial stout or IPA, you can bet that’s what they’d be brewing.
  • That said, this experiment will most likely fail, as do most of the new brands the big brewers come out with. Occasionally one will stick around for a while and make a ton of cash for the company – hello, Bud Light Lime – but for the most part, new product launches spike and decline with astonishing speed. Speaking of which, anyone had a dry or ice beer lately?
  • This is deviating from the topic a bit, but having just recently spent a day in the British brewing town of Burton-on-Trent, I can say that MolsonCoors deserve credit on two counts – the development and spring opening of the National Brewery Centre on the grounds of their brewery and the relaunch and promotion of the White Shield Brewery. The former is a move no doubt contrived at least in part to reverse the horrible press the company received when it closed the old Bass Brewing Museum/Coors Visitors Centre a couple of years back, but the latter comes because MolsonCoors sees a growing market for bottle-conditioned and cask-conditioned ale, just as they and Bittersweet see an opportunity in the young female market.
  • And so, to close, this new beer launch is no more an attack on women than the reams and reels of beer advertising directed at males, portraying them as jocks and morons, is an attack on men. Which is to say, as insulting as it may be to those of us with senses of social responsibility, fairness and taste, both exist because they works.

Oh, and one final note, what’s the difference between drinking PBR, as I’ve seen so many craft beer industry types do, and drinking Canadian or Carling or Coors Light? Answer: nothing at all!

The Wench + New Belgium + New Holland + The Publican = EPIC EVENING

by Ashley Routson, The Beer Wench

Social Media continues to amaze me. During the 2010 Craft Brewer’s Conference, I was virtually impossible to contact through email. The only two ways to connect was either through phone (call or text) or through Twitter. And if you were not lucky enough to have my number, Twitter was by far the best way to find me.

As fate would have it, a seat at the New Holland & New Belgium beer dinner at the Publican opened up on the New Holland side. The morning of the dinner I received a Direct Message (‘DM’ to us Twitter addicts) from my good friend and one of the partners of New Holland, Fred Bueltmann: “a seat just opened up at our (New Holland/New Belgium) Publican Dinner tonight, if you’re interested.” (Via: @Beervangelist)

Without needing to think, I jumped on the invite.

(What Fred does not know is that I missed the event I was supposed to cover for World of Beer the night before. The Publican dinner was the perfect opportunity to redeem myself. Thanks Fred, for saving my butt!)

Having had the opportunity to dine at the Publican in the past, I knew to expect greatness. But what I did not expect was just how amazing my experience at the NH/NB dinner was going to be.

The word may be overused these days, yet I find that the only word that truly captures the my awing experience is ‘EPIC’.

For those of you unlucky people to have never of met Fred, the best way to describe him is a younger and extremely more fashionable version of ‘The Dude,’ Jeff Bridge’s character in The Big Lebowski. I arrived at the Publican to find Fred dressed to the nines in an elaborately embroidered and stunning western cowboy style shirts and appropriately matched cowboy boots. I was pleasantly greeted with a New Belgium La Folie, one of my favorite beers in the New Belgium line-up.

Our particular party got divided into two. Not really sure what I did to land a seat at the rockstar table, but I know that it must have cost me many, many karma points.

Fred from New Holland sat to my left and I was extremely humbled to have had Peter Bouckaert, head brewmaster of New Belgium, to my right. There were two seats left open across from me and, at the time, I did not know exactly who would fill them.

The first course was Kusshi oysters on the half shell, garnished with a pine mignonette. Grown by Keith Ried in the British Columbia, Kusshis (Japanese for ‘precious’) are almost as deep as they as long — a shape achieved through an aggressive tumbling process. We were each allocated two, however Peter scored me an extra one.

The Kusshi was paired with the New Holland Mad Hatter IPA , a well-balanced, well-attenuated IPA with a pleasantly floral and mild pine hop aroma and bitterness. The best part about tasting beers with their brewers is that I can ask about the recipe and ingredients. One of my new favorite ‘games’ to play is ‘guess that hop.’ I was pleased with my ability to correctly identify Centennial as the dominating hop in Mad Hatter. Point for the Wench!

The pine mignonette complemented the citrus and pine notes in the IPA. The relatively low abv and high attenuation of the beer did not overpower the oysters. The IPA finished dry and crisp, which helped sooth the mild ‘bite’ from the black peppercorns on the oysters. Pairing verdict? Well done!

Second course was a generous chunk of burrata cheese, a very creamy fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The burrata was garnished with roasted artichokes, raw walnuts and mint chiffonade. It was paired with New Belgium Bier De Mars, a beer made from barley, oats and wheat, brewed with lemon zest and lemon verbena and inoculated with wild yeast at bottling.

I love pairing light, grassy cheeses with Brett beers. The farm and earth characters of both really compliment each other. The dryness of the beer did an excellent job of cutting down the creaminess of the cheese without overpowering its delicate flavors. The walnuts added a much needed texture to the dish and the mint served as a refreshing palate cleanser. Pairing verdict? Slam dunk!

Just as the second course was being wrapped up, the two mystery guests showed up to the restaurant. I was completely blown away by having the opportunity to not only meet Kim Jordan, cofounder and CEO of New Belgium, but also the chance to dine with her. At her side was Dick Cantwell, partner and brewer of Elysian Brewery.

Now that the party was complete, the table began buzzing with great beer industry stories. I made the mistake of trying to tweet out pictures and tasting notes on each course, but after Dick made a comment about the irony of social media making people unsocial, I put down the iPhone and fully emerged into the conversation. (Well done, Dick! – ed.)

The waitstaff and kitchen did an excellent job of trying to catch Kim and Dick up with the rest of us, without rushing them too much. I think they were caught up around the fourth course.

The third course was poached (in oil, I assume) fresh whole shrimp from New Orleans, lightly spiced with Cajun seasoning (I think, but am not certain) and garnished with a ‘salsa’ of diced plantains, garlic, pecans and cilantro. The dish was paired with New Belgium Abbey Ale — a traditional Belgian Abbey style ale decorated with four World Beer Cup medals and eight medals from the Great American Beer Festival.

The plantains brought out the banana esters in the ale, while the sweet malty nature of the beer helped to cleanse the very mild spice of the shrimp. I really enjoyed sucking out the head of the shrimp — something that, despite being a major foodie, I had never done. Pairing verdict? Delicious.

By this point, our group had the pleasure of being visited by the entertaining and hell raisin’ brewmaster of New Holland, John Haggerty, who was definitely feeling good. I ended up having the honor of sharing a cab with him and his wife later on in the evening. And needless to say, it was a hilarious cab ride. But I digress. Where were we?

The fourth course was a buckwheat crepe roulade stuffed with figs and pulled pork from an organic farm in Iowa. The dish was topped with white asparagus and radish and then paired with New Holland Envious — the first release in the New Holland cellar series. Its high-gravity malt-fermented base is blended with Michigan pear juice and chardonnay yeast for a second fermentation, before being aged with raspberries and oak.

I was extremely excited to taste Envious. It was unlike any other beer I have had. Its low alcohol level made it one of the most approachable barrel-aged beers, as those tend to lean towards the higher end of the alcohol spectrum. Despite its fruity aromas and sweet palate, the beer finished dry. The sweetness of the fig and pork roulade was a perfect match for the stone fruit character of Envious. The earthy nuttiness of the buckwheat complimented the malt bill of the beer very well. Pairing verdict? Pork and Envious = orgasmic.

The beer consumption was stepped up significantly by the fifth course. We were given three different beers to be paired with medium-rare venison topped with golden beets, bacon, saba and deep-fried Byrd Mill grits. The beers were as follows: New Holland Charkoota Rye, a smoked rye dopplebock; New Belgium La Folie, a wood-aged Flemish red style ale; and a 40/60 blend of the two beers.

I am ashamed to admit that, prior to the dinner, I was unaware of Peter’s background brewing at Rodenbach –home of the fabled sour red. I had an epiphany moment when I learned this fact. La Folie reminds me of what Rodenbach used to taste like and what the Grand Cru currently tastes like. No wonder…

Tasting the venison alone (without its garnishes) with the Charkoota Rye was, in my opinion, the best pairing of the night. Smoked beers were made to pair with smoked beers. The entire dish paired best with the blend. The sweetness of the beets helped to pull out the flavors of La Folie and the smokiness of the bacon and gaminess of the venison really complimented the Charkoota Rye.

Side note: I absolutely love the name Charkoota Rye. For those of you not clever enough to figure it out, the name is a witty play on the word ‘charcuterie’. Brilliant, I say, brilliant.

The last course of the evening was, naturally, dessert. Dessert was a giant, flat Buñuelo — a fritter of Spanish origin typically consisting of a simple, wheat-based yeast. It was topped with a scoop of coffee ice cream and garnished with a rich dark chocolate sauce and cinnamon. Dessert was paired with the New Belgium Trans Atlantic Kriek, a raspberry lambic style beer (actually a blend of Boon Kriek and NBB lager – ed.), and the New Holland El Mole Ocho, a beer inspired by Mexican mole and brewed with cocoa, dried chilies and coffee.

The chocolate sauce and coffee ice cream really pulled out the cocoa and coffee notes in the beer. The Transatlantic Kriek served as an excellent palate cleanse in between bites and sips of the El Mole Ocho. The Buñuelo was perfectly fried, crisp outside with a chewy soft inside that was not too greasy. Pairing verdict? Perfect ending.

The night did not end there. Au contraire, my friends, my night ended at 5:30am.

After the formal dinner was over, I piled into a cab with John, his wife and Fred. We hit up Small Bar on Division St., where I had the rare and exciting opportunity to meet the famous restaurateur and brilliant mind behind The Publican, not to mention Blackbird, avec and Big Star, Paul Kahan. Meeting Paul essentially rounded the entire beer dinner experience — I got to meet the owners, brewers and executive chef. Like I said, it was an epic experience. In every sense of the word.

Special thanks to everyone involved, thanks to Fred for giving me the honors and to Stephen for giving me enough clout to land the invite.