Friday, January 31, 2014

So Much Choice, What to Drink!

It is no secret that America is in the middle of a beer renaissance, when the leading craft brewers are appearing on main stream morning talk shows on the big networks, it is beyond a fad. The United States used to be the laughing stock of beer, especially in beer-centric Europe. Today that is not the case, with 2700  breweries in the US and at least 600 in the planning, it is a booming business. What do these choices mean for consumers and what does it mean for brewers?

In Northern Virginia, which includes the Washington, DC and Maryland markets, we have access to well over 250 different breweries whether they are distributed to this area or they are local breweries. It seems like every week we are seeing more and more out of state craft breweries entering our market as well as distant in-state breweries expanding their footprint to the Northern Virginia market. We have more choice today than ever before. Brand loyalty is harder and harder to come by and the quality of product is getting higher and higher. Consumers are eager to try as many different beers as they can and the choices are almost limitless.

I don’t think there will be a bursting bubble, but I see some breweries failing in certain markets, or at least certain products. People are supporting more and more local products by showing up at tasting rooms and looking for more local beers on tap. But when a brewery breaks into a new market, they really need to do their research. Take Cigar City for example, they recently broke into the Northern Virginia Market with their Jai Lai, Hopped on the High Seas, and Florida Cracker, a Belgium wit.  Since there is not a world class locally produced IPA, their Jai Lai sells out quickly, as does their one-offs Hopped on the High Seas. But their Florida Cracker is still sitting on shelves. Port City Brewing Company, a local 3-year old brewery brews a world class wit that won the 2013 Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival is a local favorite. At the same price point, it’s hard to justify buying the out of state beer that is not as good.

On the other hand with so much choice, what is the future of the local brewery? I see tasting rooms as the place for consumers to get all the local beer they want and going to bottle shops to pick out the out of market beers that are interesting products not available at the local breweries. So perhaps there is room for all of this choice and all of the local breweries. The bubble is not on the amount of breweries and markets, but rather shelf space and tap-line space. There is only so much real estate for these products, so the local breweries will thrive through their tasting rooms as well as through their distribution channels.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sorachi Ace Blind Taste Test

This was the first shoot we did at our even newer location.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Brew & A with Shane Welch, President of Sixpoint Brewery

For our next Brew & A, we interviewed Shane Welch, President of Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, NY. We think Sixpoint is one of the most interesting breweries in the craft beer scene and we had some burning questions to ask. Sixpoint has rapidly expanded their distribution in recent years and is very active on social media, including Untappd. Sixpoint has been a favorite of ours at the BBA and their Resin received a solid 7.7 in a blind taste test in June 2012 and was the #7 Better Beer Authority beer of the year for 2012. BBA Producer David Hartogs will be participating in their next Google Hangout this Saturday, January 25 to taste their new release Hi-Res, tune in!
courtesy of Sixpoint
BBA:Autumnation was great this year, an all mosaic fresh hop ale.  How much of the ingredients are dictated by your fans for that beer, and how much are dictated by market availability? Are there hops you would like to work with that are just too hard to get now?
Shane Welch (Sixpoint):The ingredient (wet hop selection) was 100% selected by our fans.  That was probably why it was so hard to make :-D  

One of the great fascinations of the human race is we constantly crave what we cannot have, so naturally our folks want us to deliver them a product that has the most difficult to source ingredients.  However, we managed to procure them and all was good – as a matter of fact, better than ever!  One of the difficult things about the Autumnation though is a lot of the good hops are not available until mid September.  Even if we manage to get them into the beer immediately the beer will not be on the shelves and in the bars until at least October.  The crazy way things work in the beer industry these days people are selling their Winter Beers in October, so we missed the boat.  Although our beer is authentic and genuinely seasonal, the retailers are always trying to be one step ahead, even if it corrupts the true seasonality of a product.

BBA: This year marks 10 years of Sixpoint, any big events or special beers that you plan to produce to celebrate this milestone? When you first started 10 years ago could you envision the craft beer boom we are seeing now?
SW: It really is our 9th year, given that we did not start brewing and selling beer until 2005.  That being said we already have a big things in the works for our 10th anniversary, and are very much looking forward to celebrating that event with our fans.

I always knew the craft beer industry was going to grow to its level it is now, and frankly I think it will grow several times over again and furthermore the growth will be even more rapid in other countries who are just learning the wonders of it.  Without downplaying the importance of the craft beer revolution, it really isn’t anything “new” per se.  It is just the return to the way people always did things, which was an emphasis on the craft, natural ingredients, and being closer to your community and your customers.  Its sort of a homecoming, really.

BBA:  The market is much more saturated with craft beer now.  Is it more difficult to compete for shelf space and tap handles with newer craft brewers, or was it harder to convince retail outlets and pubs to have your products available 10 years ago?
SW:  Yes and no.  It is easier for you to sell in craft beer now, because a store or pub that does not have an offering will not be very competitive.  However the ability to retain that spot once it is sold in is getting more difficult, as other suppliers are now vying with each other versus taking space or handles from imports or other domestic premium beers.

courtesy of Sixpoint
BBA:  Brooklyn has seen a boom in the last ten years, especially in beer culture, can you describe what the scene is like in Brooklyn now, why it should be a beer destination on everyone’s list and where Sixpoint fits into all of this?
SW:  Brooklyn has indeed seen a boom but this boom was generations in the making.  It had all of the right kindling for its explosion, it just needed a match to start the fire.  First of all, you have one of the most diverse populations in the world, which is its greatest asset.  Whenever you have that much culture in one area, you benefit from all of the distinctive human contributions.  There are many cities in this country (even large cities) that are relatively homogenous, which stifles their creativity somewhat.  Brooklyn never had that issue, it has always been the first stop for immigrants.

Second, you have all of the bones that make the skeletal system of a great city, it just needed a makeover on the façade.  The subway system is the best in the United States, and the proximity to Manhattan but also Long Island, New England, New Jersey, and Philadelphia is unparalleled.  Then you have one of the best art, food, music, and design scenes in the entire world.  Of course this place is going to be a magnet for the top creative class graduates each and every year.

Last, it’s a positive feedback loop.  People move here because they here about how cool it is, and they bring their enthusiasm with them, experience the scene, and eventually add to it themselves.  Which of course, raises the tide of the scene even more, which attracts more people. 
Untappd Hi Res badge

Brooklyn is a solid beer destination just as many other cities now in the United States are.  Sixpoint has been at the forefront of the conversation since we hit the scene 9 years ago.  We changed the beer culture in NYC real fast and have inspired many others to do so since then.  What’s most exciting to me is we have not even begun to reach our full potential yet, and we have a ton of contributions we will be making in the near future.

BBA:  Sixpoint seems to be the most active brewery on Untappd, how did this come about and what are the benefits you have seen from this? On that note, how many badges do you have?
SW:  We were early adopters of Untappd so we’ve been a part of that conversation from the beginning.  One of the founders lives in NYC so we’ve hung out on several occasions and he has become a friend of ours.  We’ve been able to connect with many different people through this medium, but unfortunately as a brewery we cannot earn badges on Untappd.  Those are reserved solely for its user base. 

BBA Blind taste test review of Resin posted June 20, 2012 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Announcement

The Better Beer Authority blog spot is going through an overhaul.  Since we are going to put a lot of original BBA content on this site that will be exclusively here, such as our new brewer's Q & A, we are eliminating the use of other bloggers/vloggers outside of BBA members.  In our cooperation with the brewers who agree to our new interviews, it is vital that the content doesn't get buries at the bottom of the page or to an older page.
While we like to think of this as a community and love our fellow reviewers, we don't think it is fair to the original content we produced to get shuffled below.  Also, the statistics of most of the non-BBA content average about 8 total views.
I hope we can all remain friends :)

Richard Hartogs

Monday, January 20, 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Brew & A with Stone Brewing's Greg Koch

We kick off our new Q&A series (Brew & A) with none other than Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing Co.. Greg was one of the first brewers to have a sit down interview in the BBA studios and one of the most vocal advocates for craft beer. We thought it would be appropriate if he were to be our first Brew & A. He graciously accepted and we sent him a few questions. Greg Koch is about to take a 6-month sabbatical away from Stone and plans to travel and disconnect, we thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions from us.
courtesy of Stone Brewing Co.


Better Beer Authority (BBA):Looking back on 2013 Stone had a massive year! With the opening of the airport location, 74 beers released, a new packaging hall, what are some of the things that Stone fans can look forward to in 2014?
Greg Koch (GK): Well, we certainly have a lot to look forward to in the coming year. There will be a great slate of exciting announcements and developments from Stone Brewing, but unfortunately none are quite yet ready for prime time, so, I can only make promises that it’s going to be another exciting, development-filled year for the Stone Brewing Co.

BBA: It seems as if the Enjoy By series (#2 rated beer forthe BBA in 2012) is releasing a new edition about every month. After a full year of doing this, what have you learned about this project and where do you see this going in the future?
GK: Stone Enjoy By IPA certainly has been a tremendously fun project for us and really helping to showcase the advantages and character available in über fresh beer. We will continue to brew our famous Stone Enjoy By IPA recipe throughout 2014 with releases scattered throughout the year both across the calendar and its availability nationwide.

BBA: We’ve just started seeing the first of the Quingenti Millilitre Series in the Northern Virginia market (Crime and Punishment) will beers from this series start seeing a greater distribution?
GK: Yes, Crime and Punishment were the first two 500ml beers from our new specialty bottling line which allowed us to fill, cork and cage 500ml bottles in a greater volume than we were previously able to do.

This new bottling line allows for both better packaging quality and greater availability to fans. So we do expect that more releases will be coming out in 2014, and they will be more widely available.

The next one will be Stygian Descent: Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Black IPA aged in Templeton Rye Barrels. We, however, have not announced a release date yet.

BBA: Along those lines, it seems that you are infatuated with brewing with peppers, perhaps starting with 11.11.11. Have you reached the potential for brewing with peppers or do you have big hot plans for the future?
GK: Actually, the first batches of Crime and Punishment were produced several years ago, and we created Stone Smoked Porter w/Chipotle Peppers back in 2006. In my experience of 25 years of first being a craft beer enthusiast and zealot to then becoming a professional, every time I think I’ve seen the limits of anything in craft beer I’ve been proven wrong. Sometimes we ourselves smash through those limits, so no; I don't think I’ve seen any limits in craft beer including limits in peppers.

In fact, we just began brewing an exciting collaboration beer last week with our friend Johnathan Wakefield ofJ Wakefield Brewing in Miami, Florida. Jonathan flew out to brew with me and our brewing manager, Kris Ketcham, on our 10bbl system at the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens - Liberty Station.

That style will be a Berliner Weisse with tropical fruit and hot peppers. Sort of a Berliner Weisse meets tropical hot salsa, and I think the combination of flavors is going to be something unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a beer before and be quite unique. Unfortunately it’s a very small batch, just 10 barrels at Liberty Station, so people won't have the opportunity to see that one outside of our walls.

BBA:  With all of the new breweries opening up not only in San Diego but around the country, how does Stone as an “old school” craft brewery fit into the new wave of craft beer drinkers and breweries?
GK: That's kind of interesting to be considered in terms of “old school” because we were "new school" for so long now. I think when we look back through the perspectives and larger spectrum of history, Stone was in the second main wave of the middle-late 1990s. There are certainly a lot of newer, smaller, younger breweries that have opened up in recent years. Our relevance in the community is based on the relevance of the things we do, the projects we create, the beers we brew, so I’m not concerned about our relevance because I know that we have some really fun new beers on the docket for 2014 and beyond. We are just as inspired by what’s going on out in the craft brewing world as the younger craft brewers are, and it’s fun for us to continue to play and experience our art in new ways.

BBA:  On that note are you seeing a drop or rise in quality with all of the breweries opening up?
GK:  Both, actually. On an overall basis: the quality of craft beer has risen over the last couple of decades and risen rather nicely. It’s now unusual that you pick up a random craft beer and have something that is a complete mess. It's more typical to have something that is at least tasty, if not always especially unique or creative.

However there are also ones that are especially unique and creative, which really makes for a continued exciting landscape for craft beer enthusiasts… of which I definitely count myself.

BBA:  When you came to our set in 2011, you were promoting your book, The Craft of Stone Brewing CO., how was that experience and would you publish another book?
GK:  The experience was phenomenal and the reactions and reviews from fans of the book were beyond my expectations. It was exciting to officially add the word Author to my own personal resume of accomplishments. In fact I released two books that year the other one, being a collaborative effort with writer Matt Allen called The Brewers Apprentice.

Would I write another book? Thanks for asking that, I have no current plans. I’ve often heard of writing, publishing, or bringing forth a book analogized to birthing. While I can never speak directly on birthing due to my male status on this planet, I can say that it is a tremendously challenging process it takes an incredible amount of time and focus and some hand wringing to boot. That’s a little melodramatic … maybe not really hand wringing. Will I publish another book? No current plans, but who knows maybe someday.

courtesy of Stone Brewing Co.
BBA:You are about to go on a several month sabbatical and disconnecting from the digital world (very jealous), is this because you miss your beard and don’t want anyone to see you until it is at a respectable length again?
GK:  Well, plenty have seen me without a beard as that’s one of the things that will happen if you have a media event when you go shave for a fundraising campaign such as Movember. One advantage I have though is whether bearded or un-bearded the phrase "devilishly handsome" is thrown out there a fair amount. The sabbatical is of course designed to really get the head clear. I've had my head down for the last 18 years, and it’s going to be nice to look up and experience a world from another perspective. A perspective other than entrepreneur-constantly-turning-people-on-to-great-craft beer, although that part is so ingrained in my DNA that it may be impossible to lose that characteristic… not that I want to lose it anyway.