Monday, June 25, 2012

Big Brewers Continue Same Old Dance; Can't Hear the New Music

Update: this just happened, it's all up to the anti-monopoly agencies now.

As beer drinkers in America continue to abandon light bland lagers for more interesting and varied beers (at a small but growing pace), the folks who run the world's largest breweries continue on as if nothing had changed. There is news today (in the Wall Street Journal) that ABInBev -- the Brazilian-Belgian behemoth that is inexorably swallowing everything beer-related -- is nearing a deal to purchase Grupo Modelo, the Mexican brewer of Corona and Modelo Especial. (if you didn't know, these are two very light, bland lagers that sell in huge amounts in America).

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV is close to taking control of Corona Extra beer maker Grupo Modelo, according to people familiar with the matter, in a deal that could be valued at more than $12 billion and would end a contentious history between the two companies. It would also consolidate the Belgian brewer's ownership of Corona Extra, one of the world's top beer brands.
AB InBev currently owns a 50% noncontrolling stake in Modelo, Mexico's largest brewer. The timing of any deal is uncertain, though two of the people said it could come as early as this week. It's also possible that the talks could break down before any deal is reached.
This, against a backdrop of shrinking sales of light, bland lager in the U.S.; although it must be said, that while ABIB's volume sales continue to drop, their profits continue to climb as they ratchet up prices and cut costs. Buying a huge Mexican brewery that makes a fairly high-priced brand -- Corona -- and one of the few strongly-growing light, bland lager brands -- Modelo Especial -- must make these guys salivate. A new company to cut fat out of, and two huge brands (three, really; Corona Light does okay too) ripe for the jacking up of the prices! It's like Christmas morning.

And it's happening around the world, as the WSJ article points out. 
London-based SABMiller agreed to acquire Australia's Foster's last year for some $10 billion, and Dutch brewer Heineken NV paid roughly $7 billion for Femsa Cerveza, Mexico's No. 2 beer maker after Modelo, in 2010.
More recently, Molson Coors Brewing Co. (like SABMiller and ABIB, the merged product of two colossal brewers) this year agreed to buy the Central and East European brewer StarBev LP for $3.5 billion, the biggest purchase ever for the company. The business had been owned by AB InBev, which sold it as part of its post-Anheuser deal retrenchment.
To what end? Well, come on: there's still stellar tons of money to be made in the light, bland lager business. You must know that, even if you spend all your waking hours in a brewpub. But what's the foreseeable end? I still think it looks something like this. I don't see any change in direction, though I have noticed that financial analysts have finally caught on: instead of urging the bigs to focus on their reliable core business -- the light, bland lagers that are losing steam -- they've reversed course and are telling them to get on this craft beer thing

If they do, in a big bold way...that could be a game-changer. Because as current sales figures prove, most Americans don't care that they're buying their beer from a big, soulless, foreign-owned corporation, and if that corporation makes a beer that tastes different, and celebrity chefs talk about it, and it has cool ads...they're probably going to buy it. That day's coming closer, and it's going to be a challenge for small brewers to survive against it.

I could be wrong. But I keep thinking of that Damon Runyan line from Guys and Dolls: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong...but that's the way to bet.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Juicy

Not sure why I've put this off so long...because I really like the new Angry Orchard ciders from Boston Beer. I heard about them, and wanted to keep my eye open for them, because they promised something interesting: use of European cider apples.

Check this out from the press release:
Blending Italian culinary apples from the Alpine foothills with French bittersweet apples from Normandy, Angry Orchard cider makers have crafted the perfect flavor profiles through a lengthy fermentation process, including wood-aging for optimal complexity and balance. 
It caught my interest, and when I saw the Crisp Apple version on tap at Kitty Hoyne's in Syracuse (we stopped for lunch a couple months ago), I got a pint. It was delish! It was not gacky sweet, or light-bodied dull, but a full, interesting palate of apple and light oak flavors. Thirst-quenching and tasty, to boot. Then we got over to the bro-in-law's house, and he's got a fridge shelf full of them.

I got in touch with the guy who'd sent the press release, and asked for samples, and I've enjoyed all three:
  • Crisp Apple (5.0% ABV), balances natural apple sweetness with a subtle dryness for a hard to resist crisp and refreshing, fruit-forward taste.
  • Apple Ginger (5.0%ABV), combines the ideal blend of fresh Nigerian ginger and apples for a sweet, yet slightly tart taste, distinct ginger aroma and warm finish; and for those looking for a traditional European cider.
  • Traditional Dry (5.5%ABV), made in the style of English draft ciders, imparts bittersweet and slightly spicy flavors with a bright apple aroma. Its dry body makes mouths pucker and look forward to another sip.
I've had all three now, and while the Traditional Dry is appealing, and the Ginger is okay for some occasions, I think I like the Crisp Apple best. I wouldn't turn any of them down, though, and given the quality and how easy it is to find them, I suspect they're going to find a place in our coolers for parties this summer.

Friday, June 15, 2012

And Another Brewer Leaves Philadelphia

My Lord, was the end of Philly Beer Week the starting gun for the brewer exodus in Philadelphia? Hot on the heels of the announcement below about Michael Fava, I get the news that Colin Farrell and Jack McCracken are leaving/have left Tired Hands...and not ten minutes later I learn from Terry Hawbaker that he's leaving Farmer's Cabinet.
I'm going to work for Al at Pizza Boy (Al's of Hampden, outside Harrisburg) in August so I should have beer ready for September. I'm very excited to hit the ground running at Al's... we've already received a new 10 bbl. fermenter just for a souring tank, so look for more Berliners and Gose soon. As you know I enjoy my crazy, weird and wild brews but I'm really digging the thought of brewing a wide range of beer again! 

So there you have it. Who the hell is next?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Philly news...from Maine

Taken by Suzanne "Beerlass" Woods
As some of you probably already know, Nodding Head brewer Mike Fava is leaving the City of Brotherly Love for the pleasant living of Maine; he's taken a job at Oxbow Brewing, in Newcastle. Here's the press release.

Oxbow Brewing Company is proud to announce they have hired Mike Fava, a young brewer from Philadelphia's most award winning brewery, Nodding Head Brewery. Medals from the GABF and World Beer Cup were awarded to Nodding Head for sour beers during Fava's years at the brewery. In early July Fava will join Oxbow Head Brewer Tim Adams in the brewery as the company begins increasing production of its highly sought farmhouse ales to keep up with increasing demand.

According to Geoff Masland, Director of Business Operations, Oxbow’s search began and ended with Fava, the one brewer they considered a perfect fit. “We have doubled our fermentation capacity as we head into our second year in business, and we couldn’t be more excited to have Mike on board as we increase production. I’ve never met a brewer with a more solid portfolio of beers and proficiency at age 30. Adding Mike’s wisdom and technical virtuosity to Tim’s raw talent and creative vision will produce astonishing results.”

Fava has spent his career in Philadelphia, establishing a big presence in the city’s internationally respected beer community. Most recently Fava has worked at Nodding Head Brewery, where he’s brewed an extensive line up of beers since 2008. Before that he was at Dock Street Brewery where he worked nearly 4 years and played a vital roll in resurrecting the brand and building a new brew pub. Oxbow can’t wait for an extra set of experienced hands, as the brewery handles it's own production, sales, self-distribution, creative design, and is beghinning to grow experimental ingredients in its gardens and small orchard, with a hop yard under way.

Best of luck, Fava! And get some of that beer down here...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Philly Beer Week - report

Well...we're over halfway through. I skipped the first two days for personal reasons, but Philly Beer Week is well underway. My first event was Sunday evening at the Grey Lodge: the New Jersey beer event. Scoats had an ambitious program of New Jersey beers planned, but we had some wholesaler issues and that fell through...but then River Horse came through with an unexpected pin of cask Hopalotamus, which was MOST welcome! I sang a rewritten version of John Gorka's "I'm From New Jersey", talking about what New Jersey beers were like ten years ago:


Beers from New Jersey —
We don't expect too much.
If those beers ended today
We would adjust

Beers from New Jersey
I don’t mean Rolling Rock;
That’s just Budweiser
with added corn

Beers from New Jersey
They’re mostly contract;
Some guy with a label
and a dumb idea.

...and so on. But like I said: ten years ago! Things are quite a bit different now. What we did note, Scoats and I, was that the breweries still look kind of 10 years ago: small, handicapped by state laws, the "no sales by the glass" for breweries and "no packaging" for the brewpubs (and only two locations, too). Excepting of course Flying Fish, where the new brewery is flipping huge... We had good beers -- the Cricket Hill was exceptional --talked to some good folks, but I won't lie to you: it wasn't crowded. NJ breweries are not the draw that the Upstate PA Beer Night has been in previous years.

An anonymous donor buying Jack's beers.
I left at 7 for the Scratch Off at Standard Tap, the head-to-head who'll-buy-the-most pints with the Tröegs beers Uncle Jack Curtin and I brewed: Biere de Grouch and Zwickel Licker, respectively. It was crazy, a madhouse, and we got silly rather quickly. It was, as someone said, a true Philly election: it was bought. I may have started that, buying ten glasses of "my" beer at the upstairs bar, and it escalated. Still, both beers were quite good, as was the Perpetual IPA that was also available, and the crowd was happy and having fun. The number sold teetered back and forth all night, but when the final totals came out at 9:00...it was 111 to 108, and Zwickel Licker was on the short end. Congratulations to Uncle Jack, and his well-heeled partisans! (And many thanks to my well-heeled partisans -- especially the ones from Al's of Hampden!)

Tuesday I did two events again, again starting at the Grey Lodge. The first one was the booze song karaoke we dreamed up, and I did get up there in front of everyone -- okay, about 20 very amused folks, including my Hulmeville Inn friends (Steve, Rob...got any pix you can send?) -- and sing songs like "A Jug of This," "I Drink Alone," "I Like Beer," and "Whiskey in the Jar," which was a big success and had most everyone singing along on the choruses. We ran out of songs around 8:30, so I tore into "Ring of Fire," which was right in the meat of my range, and "Love Me Two Times," and I'll admit that I have no idea why I sang that one. Maybe because I'd sung "Moon of Alabama" before and the karaoke guy thought I liked the Doors? Anyway, we wound up with the Hulmeville folks and Scoats and me roaring out The Dead Milkmen's "Punk Rock Girl," and that was great. Good times.

I ran out the door and drove down to Center City to join the Session Beer Panel in progress at Farmer's Cabinet. Stellar panel of east coast bar owners/managers (see the post below for the names and the beers we tasted), and a good crowd in the room...but I wish we'd had more discussion. It mostly came down to one person at a time talking about one beer or brewery at a time, which got a bit stultifying. Still, some excellent beers, and my pick, Yards Brawler, came off quite well among them. Terry Hawbaker's non-traditional Göse was quite good as well. That went till almost midnight...and I finally got home. Whew.

Last night I did two events just for fun; only one of them was mine. I went to the Great Lakes industry presentation on water quality and sustainability at the Waterworks, and it was just beautiful there. Never been before, and I intend to take the family back.The beer was excellent as well: The Wright Pilsner, Rally Drum Red (rare appearance of a pub-only brew), and of course, my beloved Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. Good eats from London Grill and Mad Mex, too. We had a very interesting presentation on Philadelphia brewing history from Rich Wagner, celebrating his new book, Philadelphia Beer. (I am quite proud that Rich asked me to write the foreword; cheers!)

After that, I drove up the hill to London Grill, where I hosted a cider event featuring Arsenal, Revolution, and Desiato ciders, all from Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, Philly, and Bucks County, respectively), and all had their owners there. Arsenal's Bill Larkin, Revolution's Jonathan Gradman, and Desiato's Rich Smithson all did presentations on their ciders, all of which were quite different from the others. Arsenal's were more like dry apple wines at higher ABV; Revolution was unfiltered (a pale cloudy yellow, much like a witbier); and Desiato was quite rustic, interestingly rough. We had a good time talking and learning; I'm really an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to cider, and while I was happy to share what I knew, I was there to learn myself. A most satisfying event; not surprising at London.

Onward! Tonight it's the Philly Beer Geek Finals at Manayunk...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Philly Beer Week with Lew Bryson: what I'm hosting

I know: it's about time I put this up! Here's what I'm hosting and appearing for during Philly Beer Week -- I took a break from the first two days to celebrate my daughter's high school graduation -- and I hope you'll join us for some of them!

TODAY - Sunday, June 3

Beer From New Jersey...You Don't Expect Too Much...

Okay, you may or may not be familiar with the John Gorka song, but New Jersey beer does tend to get overlooked, excepting maybe Flying Fish, and even that still gets dissed. Get over it! Scoats and I decided to ramble through the Garden State this year instead of our annual roll through upstate PA, and we came back with some excellent beer and some great stories. Join us at the Grey Lodge today, 5-7, for New Jersey beers and an up-to-date look at the state of beer in the Beer Garden State. PAYG.


Lew Vs. Jack: the Scratch Beer Showdown

You've been hearing about this -- the video, the trash talk, the successful sneak preview at Kite & Key on Friday -- and tonight it happens. Uncle Jack Curtin and I were each invited to brew a beer on the small Scratch system at Tröegs, to our design, both of which will be on tap at Standard Tap tonight, from 5-9. Jack brewed his favorite type of beer, the biere de garde; I brewed an unfiltered Dortmunder Export. The guys at the brewery dubbed them Biere de Grouch and Zwickel Licker, and I'm good with both names... We'd both like to win this, but I'm at an obvious handicap: due to scheduling problems (and Jack's fine hand...), I won't be able to get to Standard Tap till  about 7:20, and I know Jack will be pressuring people heavily during that first 2.5 hours. I'm counting on you to keep this fair by stopping in to have a couple Zwickel Lickers (just ask for "Lew's beer," that'll work). There's lots of stuff going on in the neighborhood (check the PhillyBeerWeek site or the app for Northern Liberties/Fishtown); come by and help me out!


TUESDAY - June 5

3 Bourbons, 3 Scotch, and 5 Beers

My singing partner: Jack Daniel
It's an open secret that I sing, and after the fun we had at last December's carol sing that I led at the Grey Lodge, Scoats asked me back for something a bit more topical. 'Pick out 3 of your favorite bourbons and Scotches, and 5 of your favorite beers,' he said, 'and we'll do some booze song karaoke.' Hey, I suck at karaoke, but this is passion; I intend to rise above, and I hope you'll come out and sing and drink with me. Here's the drinks list we came up with: bourbons - Baker's, Elijah Craig 12 Year Old, and Four Roses Yellow Label. Scotch - Glenfarclas 105, Johnnie Walker Black, and Highland Park 15. Beers - Flying Fish Farmhouse, Great Lakes Ed Fitz Porter, Saison Dupont, Stoudt's Pilsner, and Hill Farmstead Edward. The songs? Scotch and Soda, I Like Beer, Whiskey in the Jar, Jockey Full of Bourbon, A Pub with no Beer, A Jug of This...you get the idea. We're going to have some fun, and talk whiskey and beer...and sing a couple songs. That's Tuesday, 7-9, at the Grey Lodge.

Session Beer Panel 

But once again, my schedule is crazy, because I'll be leaving the Grey Lodge as soon as the last song is sung to fly to Center City for this huge Session Beer Panel at the Farmer's Cabinet. It starts at 8:00 -- I'll get there around 9:25 -- and it's going to be some of the most influential bar owners/managers on the East Coast, and they're worth mentioning by name and bar:
  • Joe Carroll, owner of Spuyten Duyvil, Brooklyn, NY
  • Dave Brodick (or his manager), owner of Blind Tiger, NYC
  • Chris Lively, owner or Ebenezer's, Maine
  • Greg Engert, partner/beer guy Churchkey, Wash DC
  • Casey Hard, beer guy of Max's, Baltimore
  • Daniel Lanigan, owner of Alewife, Boston & Baltimore, Lord Hobo's, Boston
  • Alec Lopez, owner of Armsby Abbey & The Dive Bar, Boston
  • Dave Pollack, owner of The Diamond, Brooklyn, NY
The panel is moderated by Dan Shelton of Shelton Brothers importers (so you know there will be outrageous controversial positions taken), and we'll be going till at least 10 PM...and Dan's a bit windy (not that I'm laconic), so it's probably going to go as late as you want. And this is a ticketed event, and it may seem a bit steep at first look: $50. But take a gander at what you get for that $50 besides the amazing panel. Not only do you get the delish cheese and charcuterie that Farmer's Cabinet is known for, you'll be getting pours -- not samples, pours -- of some of the best damned session beers available:
  • Cantillon Gueuze (draft)
  • De La Senne Taras Boulba (draft)
  • De Molen Engels (firkin)
  • Stillwater Premium (bottle)
  • An english bitter from either: Timothy Taylor, Coniston, Titanic, or Adnams
  • Thiriez Extra (bottle)
  • Guinei Riner (bottle)
  • Tuatara Pils (bottle)
  • Cabinet Gose (draft)
  • Amager Fusion (draft)
  • Two Brothers Long Haul (bottle)
  • Carton Boat Beer (bottle)
  • Yards Brawler (bottle or firkin)
  • Spezial Rauchbier (bottle)
  • Mikkeller Drink In the Sun (draft)
And more, probably; every time I check my email, Dan's suggesting another. Come out and talk and drink session beer (and eat good eats); I guarantee a great time. It's a session beer festival with the best damned session beer seminar you've ever heard.

WEDNESDAY - June 6

Ciders at London Grill 

You probably didn't know that I'm a cider enthusiast; I don't write much about cider, though that's going to be changing. Get the first fruits of my growing research at London Grill, where we'll be pouring ciders from Pennsylvania -- Arsenal Cidery from Pittsburgh with head vintner Bill Larkin, Philly local Revolution Cidery and vintner Johnathon Gradman, and Bucks County's Desiato Cidery and Richard Smithson -- along with a few other very special ciders. There'll be a good range of ciders, and do not expect fizzy boozy apple juice. If you like serious cider, innovative stuff done with fermented apples, this is a great event to stop in and check out (and check out London's draft wine setup, too). We're going to take a great bite of the cider apple; join us! London Grill, 6-9 PM, PAYG.


THURSDAY - June 7

Philly Beer Geek Finals

If you've never been to the Philly Beer Geek finals...it's not just for the competitors and their friends, believe me. This event is a hoot, and the judges -- me and a very ready crew of Philly beer celebs -- will be doing our best to keep the contestants unbalanced, and you laughing your butt off. There's beer passion and knowledge and, well, insanity displayed, and not a bit of it is taken too seriously. Come join us for a surprisingly great time! Plenty of great beer available, too... 8-11 PM at Manayunk Brewing, PAYG. 

Saturday - June 9

Herr Bryson's Brewers Breakfast
Gotta wind up the week big. I usually do a wheat beer breakfast with Scoats at the Grey Lodge the first Saturday of PBW -- an event that the Houston Chronicle once cited as evidence that Philly was a city of drunks... -- but my daughter Nora graduated high school that morning. So...instead we moved it to Hop Angel Brauhaus, and made it a German brewer's breakfast, like you'd find at the gasthaus breweries in Germany -- Früh in Köln, Im Füchschen in Düsseldorf, Fässla in Bamberg -- big plates of wurst and cheese, plenty of pickled herring (hey, it's a buffet, you don't have to eat the herring; more for me), solid rye bread, and shtuff like that. And lots of German beers, and the great German-type beers that our local brewers make. I'll be telling you all about those great little places, and the beers, and why German breakfasts are one of my favorite meals. It's all PAYG, and starts at 11, runs till 2. Just the recovery you need from a hard week of Philly Beer Week...before you make that final event and have that final beer!