The Future Battlefield is “Local”

A couple of days ago in Pittsburgh, Donald Trump sounded a theme that seems to suffuse, like the scent of smoke, every corner of our world. “It is the consequence of a leadership class that worships globalism over Americanism … As a result, we have become more dependent on foreign countries than ever before.” Voters in the UK felt their country had lost its sovereignty and chose to leave the EU. Politicians from Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn to Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders argue for more local control. I’m sort of joking, but only halfway, when I point out that there’s a similar mood in beer: people have adopted a new skepticism to big breweries, even when “big” may be a craft brewery from a neighboring state.

I identified one data point for this trend yesterday when the Oregon Brewers Guild released statistics for 2015. Today we have more. Lagunitas’ Tony Magee, in the midst of a world-conquering push that includes new brewery openings and a partnership with Heineken, today unveiled a go-local initiative. As with everything Magee writes, there’s a lot more light and heat than clear explanatory prose, but the upshot looks not terribly different from AB InBev’s own High End portfolio of craft breweries. In a far clearer and less self-congratulatory post, Michael Kiser and Matthew Curtis describe what’s going on:

Announcing on his blog yesterday, Lagunitas founder Tony Magee reveals that he has purchased stakes in three US craft breweries. These are Moonlight Brewing Company of Santa Rosa, CA, Independence Brewing Company of Austin, TX and Southend Brewery and Smokehouse of Charleston, SC. The latter of which will be turned wholly into a Lagunitas branded brewpub.

Magee also commented that his company, which sold a 50% stake to Heineken last year for a reported $500m, is to open two ‘non-profit fund raising community rooms’ in Portland, OR and San Diego, CA.

(It’s a wonderful piece: go read it.) They continue:

Citing the new brewpubs from Goose Island and 10 Barrel as examples of his competitors working the “local” angle around the country, Magee seems compelled to follow in their footsteps as he has in the past — but puts a different spin on it. As much as he derides his largest competitors, he tends to follow their lead often, as he does with his efforts to consolidate distribution and control store shelves and retailers’ buying behaviors by creating recommended “shelf sets.” But in this case, Magee is nervous about watering down the Lagunitas brand by appearing to do the same things that Goose and 10 Barrel have. So it’s through these local brewery acquisitions that Magee hopes to earn local relevance and growth, which positions him in a role more akin to AB-Inbev than Goose Island in his own metaphor.

And the final data point I’ll offer is the quick and steep decline of national independent craft brands like Sierra Nevada Pale and Sam Adams Boston Lager as well as large brewery craft brands Blue Moon and Shock Top. All of this is happening even while growth in non-mass market lagers continues to be robust.

And now we come back to Trump, globalization, and localism. We have entered a moment in beer where quality and availability has reached a point of saturation. For decades, most markets had deficits in one or the other category. If drinkers wanted a quality beer, they often had to turn to a Sierra or Sam Adams. That’s no longer true. In nearly every town of any size, you’re going to be able to buy tasty, well-made pale ales, IPAs, and amber lagers. In another era, you might have valued Sierra Nevada’s pale as much as your local brewery’s, but we’re not in that era. All things being equal, people seem to be gravitating to local beer–at least within the craft segment.

The big breweries know this, which is why everyone from ABI to Constellation Brands to Lagunitas/Heineken has been investing in local brands. The big craft brands also know this, and they still appear to be developing a strategy for how to handle it. Pay attention to this word–“local”–because it will define beer over the next half-decade or so. (At some point we can assume the word will be drained of all meaning, like “craft,” and the battlefield will shift.)


I suppose I should use this occasion to direct your attention to my manifesto, which keys on this very point: Buy Local, Buy Good, Drink on Tap.

from Beervana


How Big Will Craft Get? Oregon’s Numbers are Suggestive

The Oregon Brewers Guild released the latest juicy batch of beer consumption and brewery statistics for the state, and it is as ever quite fascinating. Let’s start with a few of the topline numbers and then jump into some thinking about what they mean.

  • 22% of the beer consumed in Oregon was brewed here–and with the exception of 10 Barrel, these all conform to the general sense of “craft breweries.”
  • 63% of draft beer sold in Oregon is brewed in Oregon. (63%!)
  • The amount of Oregon-brewed beer consumed in Oregon increased 11% in the past year, even while…
  • The amount of beer brewed in Oregon increased only 3.5%.
  • Oregon had 206 brewing companies operating 246 brewing facilities in 72 cities at the end of the year.
  • Portland has 65 breweries and there are 95 in the metro area.

Lets break all this down a bit. The Oregon Brewers Guild is not concerned with craft beer, it’s concerned with Oregon’s breweries. As such it does not try to gather stats for “craft beer,” which would include some portion of imported beer and craft beer made in other states. To make the Guild’s stats consistent with the Brewers Associations’, you’d include craft beer brewed in other states. Let’s be extremely cautious and bump the “craft” share of the Oregon market up from 22% to 25% then. How does that compare with national stats? Oregon’s market is twice as large: nationally, only 12.8% of beer sold is “craft.”  The US market for beer is roughly 200 million barrels and if the country drank beer at Oregon’s rate, that would put it at 50 million barrels.  

That’s good, but the stats that most interested me were these: Oregon’s consumption of craft beer–already the highest in the nation–continued to grow at an 11% clip. But its production only grew at about a third as fast, at 3.5%. Most of Oregon’s beer production comes from just a handful of breweries–breweries that sell regionally or nationally. While breweries like Deschutes, Craft Brewers Alliance, Full Sail, and Ninkasi sell a lot of beer locally, they sell way more of it out of state. We can take this to mean that they’re having a harder time selling their beer in growing markets outside Oregon.

I think we’re seeing this reflected in recent stories about slowing sales for the big flagship brands even as the craft segment continues to grow. The craft segment is changing and becoming more local even as many big brands are expanding and trying to grab a piece of that ever-expanding pie.

I used to think Oregon was a cultural anomaly and that our progress in developing beer culture would not be replicated elsewhere. But I started thinking that when craft brewing had a 4% market share and Oregon was at 12%. Oregon is likely always going to be one of the national leaders on craft beer consumption and production, but it isn’t anomalous–it’s just ahead of the curve. And it’s growing. What proportion of the beer market will the craft segment on day occupy? At least 25%, I’d guess.

from Beervana

Are Plants Art ?

California purple sage Salvia leucophylla 'Point Sal' in garden with California native plants, Torgovitsky

“Plants are not art”. So began a provocative Facebook post by Benjamin Vogt.

California purple sage Salvia leucophylla 'Point Sal' in garden with California native plants, Torgovitsky

California purple sage, Salvia leucophylla ‘Point Sal’ in garden with California native plants in summer-dry, sustainable garden.

I did not have time to jump into the social media conversation that his post sparked, knowing I would say something too quickly, too passionately, or misunderstood.

Benjamin is a friend of mine and a friend of Gardening Gone Wild .  His recent guest post here A 21st Century Garden Ethic created  a great conversation pointing out we need to think about gardening for nature not for ourselves.  He is a deep ecologist thinking deeply, but …

But of course plants are not art.

Sunflower, California Spring Trials 2015, flower display at American Takii Seed, Salinas California

Sunflower, hybridized by American Takii Seed.

By definition art comes out of the human imagination. Plants care about as little for human imagination as do butterflies, or diamonds, or the clouds.  But thank goodness humans care about them (for better and worse). Thank goodness we see beauty in the natural world.

Benjamin speaks deep ecology; beyond the shallow lip-service ecology we too often advocate to make us feel good. He wants us to understand that real beauty is not up to human interpretation. He is an important voice, advocating for a holistic, and sustainable approach to gardening that honors all living creatures in a world much more complex than most humans recognize or, sadly even care about.

Alnus tenuifolia - Mountain Alder; California native deciduous small tree, bare branches in winter in shrub border with Cornus

Mountain Alder, California native deciduous tree, bare branches in winter in shrub border

Yes, we humans place too much superficial value in beauty and waste too many resources chasing an anesthetic that has little value in nature, but let’s not deny that the beauty of plants can be as much a visual treat for humans as they are a feast for animals or companion for soil microbes. Indeed, an argument can be made, as did Michael Pollan, in The Botany of Desire that some plants have evolved to take advantage of our fascination with them.

I certainly will make no apology for my human weakness for plant beauty.

Diospyros virginiana-American persimmon tree in fall color

Diospyros virginiana – American persimmon tree in fall color.

I will make no apology that I try to manipulate gardeners with the beauty of plants. The very fabric of my life’s work is to encourage gardeners to make thoughtful choices and have success, to show sustainable gardens can be beautiful.  The best way to do that is to pander to the human interpretation of beauty.

Living and working in a summer-dry climate it is sometimes a struggle to overcome assumptions about garden beauty as seen in many garden publications. Here in California, green lawns are ugly. Here in summer, the native landscape starts to go dormant and bare.  Still, plants are beautiful in all seasons if you care to observe.

peeling manzanita bark

peeling manzanita bark, California native shrub in summer

If a photograph can show off a bit of eye candy and get us to observe them, more people than not will recognize the importance of honoring a plants true beauty within nature, and will engage in one of the biggest issues of our time – climate change.

Family walking through pollinator garden of flowering California wildflowers at Los Angeles Natural History Museum

Family walking through pollinator garden of flowering California wildflowers at Los Angeles Natural History Museum

It is an issue that is impossible to ignore. Even climate change deniers recognize the issue – climate and ecology is in the news. Anyone who does the least bit of critical thinking understands humankind must work much better with nature rather than trying to ignore and conquer it.

Sustainable gardening practices may seem almost incidental to the larger planetary issues, unless one starts thinking of the entire planet as one garden, now touched everywhere by humanity.

Path through perennial borders with orange Knifophia in Gary Ratway garden

Path through perennial borders with orange Knifophia in Gary Ratway garden

There are certainly big, political disagreements on how we even define the issues around climate change.  Geopolitical economic interests, worldwide social forces, and population pressures seem to overwhelm the conversation about who “owns” nature’s resources.  The beauty of nature may seem inconsequential, as it surely is, to the billions of people who struggle just to survive, but to those who have some influence on the shape of gardens to come, the art of plants is important.

Just recently, the American Society of Landscape Architects issued A New Landscape Declaration:  Visions for the Next 50 Years, a sweeping  call to action to “address the serious issues of air, water, food, and waste in developing countries”. While landscape architects are not usually considered plant geeks they certainly understand plants as part of their art form.  More importantly, ASLA members are in positions to affect change and they are thinking of the entire world as a single garden, a single landscape that must be preserved.

Sunset light skimming across hills, Mount Tamaplais State Park California

Sunset light skimming across hills, Mount Tamaplais State Park California

So in this way too plants are art, part of a human of formula for preservation.

Whether a plant knows it is beautiful to humans or not, it certainly is, in some way, in some season.  In whatever way we use plants to define art, our lives are enriched and our planet can be saved.

Frederick Garden

American Trout-lily, Erythronium americana  in Pennsylvania garden

I most certainly agree with Benjamin that ultimately we must understand a plant does not care if we think it is beautiful, it has a higher calling.  But it is the humans who are destroying the earth and we need to convince humans that plants are vital to our survival.

If it is a trick to say plants are beautiful, that they inspire humans, to please take care of them; then I will do all I can to call attention.

Dried flower stalks of Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus ) framing Canada Rye grass (Elymus canadensis) and yellow flower Gray Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) in Crow-Hassan Park, prairie reserve

Dried flower stalks of Mullein with Canada Rye grass and Coneflower in Midwest Prairie.

If I use a bit of art to embellish my message, I make no apologies in defense of plants. 😉

from Gardening Gone Wild

The Incredible, Shrinking Glassware


 An article by Fritz Hahn over on the Washington Post highlights a phenomenon to which I have been insensitive: shrinking glassware. (If I search my mind, I see that a dimly-dawning inkling of this phenomenon is present, but fetal.) Since I’m quoted in the article, I might as well comment on it.

But where craft beer is the focus, the pint is under threat. In the area’s beer bars and beer-focused restaurants, it has become next to impossible to find anything served in a 16-ounce glass. Go into ChurchKey, the Sovereign, Pizzeria Paradiso, City Tap House and RFD, and the scene resembles that notorious Budweiser ad: Guys swirling craft beers in snifters, pinkies aloft, because there’s no way to hold the stem of a nine-ounce snifter without your pinkie automatically popping out.

Hahn runs through some history of the pint and then comes to the key point.

The truth is, bars like smaller glasses because they create the illusion of lower-priced beer…. At Pizzeria Paradiso, at least a quarter of the beers sell for $5 and $6; the difference is they come in 12-ounce glasses. “Our goal at Pizzeria Paradiso has been to make craft beer more accessible, and that starts with the pricing,” says Fernands. Deciding to set beer prices by the ounce “allowed us to pick up more esoteric and expensive stuff, because we can put it in a smaller glass.”

Long ago, I made a quixotic charge at bringing clarity to glassware sizing by promoting the Honest Pint Project, and at the tail end of the article, Hahn mentions me and this. But what he’s talking about is actual a new and different phenomenon. The Honest Pint Project was an effort to get publicans to serve a pint when they called a beer a “pint.” What Hahn’s identified is something else–keeping prices down by shrinking the size of the package. This has been going on for years in food packaging, and it makes sense it would come to beer, as well. People go to the store or pub and they expect a unit of goods to be roughly a certain price. Raising that price means the customer buys less, so if you can fudge the size and keep the price low, voila!–you’ve raised prices without alerting your customer.

If you buy a sixer of beer for ten bucks, you’re getting your beer at about 14 cents an ounce. If you buy a pint of beer for five bucks, you’re getting it for a bit more than twice that–31 cents. But if you buy a “glass” of beer, you have no idea how much you’re paying.

Five Dollar Glasses
Imperial Pint – 26 cents/ounce
US Pint – 31 cents/ounce
12-ounce glass – 42 cents/ounce
8-ounce snifter – 63 cents/ounce

Six Dollar Glasses
Imperial Pint – 31 cents/ounce
US Pint – 38 cents/ounce
12-ounce glass – 50 cents/ounce
8-ounce snifter – 75 cents/ounce

Seven Dollar Glasses
Imperial Pint – 36 cents/ounce
US Pint – 44 cents/ounce
12-ounce glass – 58 cents/ounce
8-ounce snifter – 88 cents/ounce

 To the punter, the difference is a buck or two a pour. To the publican, it’s a good deal more than that. If a pub pours imperial pints, the retail value of a standard keg at six-dollar pints is $619.50. If they’re pouring US pints, it’s $744. If they’re pouring 12-ounce glasses, it’s $992. Kegs come in different sizes and prices, and often publicans have to charge and arm and a leg. I’d love it if the US just backed away from standard pricing. I’ve never understood why you pay the same amount for a 4.5% kolsch as you do for a 7.5% IPA, which has twice the malt and many times the hops. If we got used to paying different amounts for a glass of beer, we’d be better consumers.

And in any case, it’s worth at least thinking like better consumers. Imagine if a $6 US pint were a standard measure. This is what you’d expect to pay for the following measures if pricing were linear:

Imperial pint: $7.20
12-ounce glass: $4.50
8-ounce glass: $3.00

I actually love smaller glasses. I’d prefer it if ten-ounce glasses were offered everywhere, at roughly linear pricing. That would set me back about $4 a glass, and I could have four in a sitting for a reasonable price. Better yet, if pints of low-abv beer were cheaper, I’d buy more of those, too. So consider this a vote for both–cheaper small-pours and different prices per beer. There, it’s only Monday and I’ve already solved your worst problems.

from Beervana

Wait, There’s Corn Sugar in My IPA??

When I posted a link on Facebook to the hop-degradation piece I did earlier this week, Pete Dunlop wrote:

No mention of the corn sugar, huh? Hmmm.

And then a few minutes later, in response to another question…

I don’t have an objection to this post or to the use of dextrose. I just think it’s important for people to understand how dextrose is being used in their fancy IPAs. I’ve discussed it with Jeff. I’m baiting him to write about it.

Well, consider me baited, Pete. 


Sugar is Kosher

It turns out using sugar is a somewhat under-discussed widespread practice, so let’s discuss it. I think we should begin with the obvious question: who cares? The reason Pete even brought it up is because the use of sugar in beer was originally and ignorantly tarnished by craft brewers who considered its use purely a way to save money, with the added bonus of making the beer taste cheap and thin. In fact, sugar is a big part of the brewing traditions in Belgium and Britain, and it’s used to enhance those beers. 

It does a few things. Because sugar is easily digestible by yeast, it thins a beer and adds crispness. This is a huge benefit in stronger Belgian ales. If you brew an all-barley beer to eight or ten percent strength, it will be both heavy and sweet. There are just too many unfermentable sugars in barley to get really attenuated beer. Let’s take Duvel at not-quite random. It’s a burly 8.5% beer, but it is incredibly lithe and drinkable. In fact, the name is a reference to that ease of drinking; like a Devil, it coaxes you into over-indulgence. Brewers at Duvel do a multi-step mash to get the most fermentable wort possible, but they also add sugar, perhaps 15%, and this pushes the beer to a finishing gravity of 1.5 Plato (1.006), which is astonishing. A regular pale ale will finish out at 3 Plato (twice as sweet), and an all-grain 8.5% stout might finish at 5 Plato–more than three times as sweet, and with a dense body. 

In British ales, sugar does something like the opposite–it allows very light ales to express their ingredients cleanly and clearly. Since a cask bitter or mild is made with so little malt (these beers are in the 3-4% range), they can’t pack much flavor punch. By adding sugar, it lifts them up and exposes them a bit more. Hops are always perceived as stronger in thinner beers–it’s why Belgian ales so rarely have much hoppiness–and in cask ales, that means those lovely East Kent Goldings really pop.

Sugar can even add its own flavor component. British brewers use a form called “invert sugar,” where the sucrose molecule has been cleaved into glucose and fructose—two highly-fermentable forms of the sugar molecule. In Britain, invert sugar comes in a range of colors and can, in beers like stouts and milds, add color along with high fermentability. I interviewed local homebrewer Bill Schneller for my forthcoming book, because he’s a big fan of invert. He told me, “You just can’t get the flavors of invert from crystal malts. [Invert gives you] richer color, different dried fruit flavors than crystal alone, plus a drier, easier-drinking beer than if you use all crystal malt. It adds complexity and flavors you just can’t get anywhere else.”

What’s Dextrose?
There are lots of sugars out there, and they’ll all work in a beer–sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose (of course), and so on. Some of them are disaccharides like sucrose and maltose, composed of two monosaccharide molecules (like fructose and glucose). Dextrose is a starch-derived monosaccharide that comes from, ta-da!–corn. It’s chemically extremely close to glucose. 

We have this second bias, probably a good one, against corn sugar. Even the phrase “corn sugar” can be easily turned into an epithet. But the use of corn in beer is not only old and completely respectable (I commend you now to Stan Hieronymus’ forthcoming Brewing Local, which will fully and permanently exonerate our only native grain), but it’s something even the Belgians do. Indeed, in many breweries you’ll find this little side-vessel that you might mistake for use in decoction, but is in fact called a cereal cooker because it mashes corn. No less than Rodenbach does this. You want to tell Rudi Ghequire his beer uses cheap additives? Good luck with that. 

Dextrose is the most common sugar used in modern IPAs (I think), but I wouldn’t bet even a nickel that it’s the only sugar. Either way, it’s fine.

Sugary IPAs
Okay, so now we come to the point of all this: do American brewers regularly dump corn sugar into your IPAs? You bet they do, and good thing. This is no secret. When I interviewed Vinnie Cilurzo for The Beer Bible, he readily described why he used sugar in the grist of Pliny the Elder when he first made it 13 years ago:

“If you want to know the difference between it and a barley wine, it’s got 3.5-4% crystal malt in it.  So having a low level of crystal malt you really let the hops come through.  They’re not being muddled by the caramel character of the crystal malt.  Also, we’re using a lot of sugars in the fermentables, dextrose sugar, so it’s drying the beer out and giving the beer a nice light, dry body.  Super crisp, but really dry yet really bitter.  And like you said the malt just lays the foundation and it’s just there to keep the hops in check without being sweet, malty, biscuity.  It’s a real simple malt bill and the hops are the shining star in that beer.”

That is about as clear a description of why brewers do this. When you’re making an American IPA and you want a bit of caramel malt for sweetness, which can inflect hop flavor, you don’t want to add unnecessary body. That’s especially true if you’re getting up there around 7% or more, when it’s impossible to keep the sweetness and body at bay without sugar. The whole thing about American IPAs is that they’re a vehicle for all the flavors and aromas of hops. Everything else–water, yeast, and malt–is there just to serve the hops. Sugar is invaluable, just as it is in strong Belgian ales, in this regard. 

So enjoy your IPA and know that it is in very good beer company. Corn sugar’s fine!

from Beervana