I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Sturdavant of Social Kitchen and Brewery in San Fransisco about the development of his own beer style that has recently been gaining traction on the world beer scene for CraftBeer.com.
Brut IPA is an emerging beer style developed by Kim that focuses on ultra dry and easy drinking American IPAs that feature fruit forward hops. For more info about the style, how it’s made, and what it feels like to be solely responsible for a brand new style of beer, you can check out the full story of the Brut IPA on CraftBeer.com.
I’m still warming up to hazy, juicy IPAs. I liked them on occasion in Colorado, because they were more of an occasional occurrence. They’re everywhere in California. They’re hard to escape here, and that’s because they’re some of the most popular beers on the market. Given that I’m now working at Fieldwork Brewing Co. (Disclosure of somewhat-bias), I have to give them a chance. So far, Stars Hollow Pale Ale stands out from the crowd.
I’ve found that I’m still pretty burned out on hazy IPAs, they’re all just so much of everything I’m not exactly looking for when I want an IPA. Hazy pale ales are a bit more subtle. They may still look a bit like orange, or in this case pineapple, juice, but the juicy profile isn’t as in your face. There’s nuance in a 5.0% pale ale where a 7.5% IPA is more overwhelming.
People love drinking beer that could be a new form of alcoholic pineapple juice and hops, and I will never hold that against anyone. It’s not for me, at least not right now. Something a bit lighter on the palate, but still with some serious late stage hopping, is more my speed. The hop selection here, amarillo and blanc, aren’t my favorites, but they play nicely together here. Light pineapple and grapefruit peel make sure the beer is refreshing, but the more subtle malt bill makes sure they don’t overwhelm your senses.
Beer Review Overview
Appearance: Super hazy, golden straw colored pale ale. Pure eggshell white head with small bubbles that don’t last.
Aroma: Light pineapple and floral honey
Taste: A bit of pineapple without the candy sweetness. Almost like a stealth pineapple extract blended with a King’s Hawaiian sweet bread malt character. Subtle grapefruit rind and herbal lemongrass start the bitter finish that ends with a vegetal bitterness that lingers on the palate and lets you know you’re still drinking a heavily hopped American pale ale.
Mouthfeel: Light and smooth body with minimal carbonation that just adds a zing to the perimeter of your tongue when combined with the mild bitterness.
Overall: A refreshing and flavorful American pale ale with a new age hazy IPA spin on it. Not as crisp as I prefer my lawn games beer to be, but that’s not what they were going for. The bitterness adds to the crisp refreshing character to the pale ale without the carbonation interfering with the hops. I’m sure that any hazy IPA enthusiast would love a glass of this to go with their cup-holder equipped lawnmower on a sunny, California afternoon. Or morning, I don’t judge.
Greg Koch announced earlier this week that Stone Brewing has issued a lawsuit against MillerCoors over their packaging and branding efforts for the Keystone Light brand of beer. Stone is asserting that Keystone is willfully confusing customers with the prominence of the word “Stone” on the cans, as “Key” is on a different line in smaller text. I remember the campaign that seemed to play a major role in the rebranding, starring none other than Keith Stone. The ever-cool everyman was designed to be a casually , mustachioed man who was cool enough to show up at any college and be the life of the party. Continue reading “Stone Brewing Sues MillerCoors”→
I work in the beer industry and follow the games industry. I have passion for each, and there’s more in common with them than you might think. Craft beer is produced by small and independent breweries that want to brew good beer and build a community. Indie game makers are small teams inspired to make something that they’ve dreamed up that isn’t out there. Both are characterized by passion. While you can make money in each of these endeavors, that’s never the main drive. It’s a need to create and a passion for the craft that keeps people going. Continue reading “Craft Games and Indie Beer”→
This past week, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced its plans to purchase one of the largest online homebrew supply companies in the country. AB Inbev is buying the Northern Brewer, which also own Midwest Homebrew Supply, another large force in the homebrewing industry.
The purchase is being made through ZX Ventures, AB InBev’s strategic ventures division which targets new growth and investment opportunities for the brewing giant. ZX Ventures is dubbed as the conglomerate’s “disruptive growth organization,” and is focused on 3 general areas of growth, craft/specialty beverages, e-commerce, and exploration. We’ve seen their impact on the craft space with purchases like Elysian and Goose Island, and now they’re branching out with their first significant step into the e-commerce space.
There are a ton of questions to go along with this announcement, the biggest of which being why is such a huge company even bothering with the relatively niche homebrewing industry.
AB InBev and the Potential of E-Commerce
AB InBev began purchasing craft breweries because they were losing market share to the growing number of small player in the overall beer industry. Through the growth of the craft beer specialty market, more consumers became enthusiasts and stopped purchasing macro-brewery beer in favor of more flavorful craft offerings. AB InBev’s solution has been to buy up some of the most successful entries in the craft space in order to profit off that growth while enabling them to grow even faster.
They probably have the same idea with the homebrewing supply industry, spurning their purchase of Northern Brewer.
The homebrewing market is still growing. Along with losing money to the growth of independent craft breweries, AB InBev probably doesn’t see many sales from consumers who are passionate enough beer to make their own. Seeing the related industry as a potential growth opportunity, AB InBev had enough capital to purchase one of the markets biggest players. Just like with craft breweries, they’re looking to help the supplier reach their potential faster and profit off the industry’s growth.
This acquisition could play out a little differently than brewery purchases though. There has been some backlash against the breweries they own from enthusiasts devoted to a vision of small and independent craft beer, but big marketing budgets have allowed them to profit from less discerning craft beer drinkers.
Homebrewers Vs. the Big Beer Business
The issue that could arise with the Northern Brewer purchase is that homebrewers are some of the most adamant enthusiasts of high quality beer. I listened to a Q&A with Charlie Papazian at this year’s GABF and he said that he likely wouldn’t be a beer drinker today if he hadn’t discover homebrewing, he just couldn’t stand any of the offerings when he was young. That was a while ago, but the main players in the macro-brewing industry are largely unchanged. He’s assuredly not the only one who feels this way, and homebrewers are passionate about the craft of beer if they are anything. There aren’t nearly as many less discerning homebrewers for AB InBev to make a profit off. Homebrewing, as compared to just drinking beer, is obivously much more niche. The American Homebrewers Association already posted a survey on their members’ opinions on supporting small and local homebrewing supply shops versus a mega store with lower prices across the board. I’m curious to see their results.
Therein lies another possible issue for Northern Brewer’s new owners. Not only are homebrewers more likely to be concerned about supporting a small and independent versus the 5th largest consumer goods company in the world, they are also less price conscious consumers. According to a survey taken by the AHA in late 2013, the vast majority of American homebrewers are highly educated and affluent, with over 60% having a household income of over $75,000 annually.
This could spell some problems for AB InBev that purchasing well regarded craft breweries did not. Craft beer is exploding, and there are plenty of excited consumers who don’t care to do the research as to where their dollars are going. I meet people at the brewery all the time who are just trying out craft beer for the first time, it’s an amazing time for the industry. Homebrewers are more historically established, and as shown by that AHA survey, highly educated and less price sensitive. It’s going to be much harder to find a significant number of new homebrewers than it was to find new craft drinkers, it is always a possibility though.
The Northern Brewer hopes that one day homebrewing will be as common in households as cooking, no doubt that AB InBev is getting in early and hoping for the same.
In celebration of Halloween, AleSmith Brewing Company has again released their Evil Dead Red Ale. I’m a sucker for a good red ale, but there’s a huge amount of variety in the style between reds and ambers, so you never really know what you’re going to get. AleSmith has hit a home run with this one though, at least for me personally. Not only is the pop culture reference spot on, but the rich flavors presented in this pint distinguish from the crowded fall seasonal landscape.
The first thing that stands out is the rich scarlet color. It goes perfectly with the shambling zombies printed on the bomber. The rich red color is, of course, indicative of blood, but the crystal clarity reminds you it’s just a hand crafted beer.
The aroma is killer too. The ale has a sweet malt character that is well balanced with a crisp toasted scent and a hint of black cherry, all without any of them being overwhelming. The reds I’ve had recently focus almost completely on a rich, toasted malt character, that’s not a bad thing but I prefer the Evil Dead’s diversity. The aroma is full and satisfying, but still crisp like a breath of fresh air.
Body and Taste
The body is typical of a red, dense and malty, but the hops give it a refreshing crispness on your palate. The balance between the malt build of a classic red ale and the citrus hops is spot on. This duality is well executed and the most unique quality of the beer. The toasty aroma and flavors factor heavily into the taste, until a decadent caramel flavor takes over. Then, before the caramel sweetness becomes too heavy handed, the fruity and refreshing hops kick in and give it a citrusy and pleasantly bitter finish. The bitterness does linger, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome, especially if you identify as a hop head.
The head and lacing aren’t great, but I don’t give much weight to those aspect of a beer personally. Both can be impressive, but are also characteristics that everyone except the heartiest of beer geeks ignore. I don’t attribute much significance to them for the more common craft beer enthusiast.
Final Beer Notes
The reason the AleSmith Red stands out to me is the kickass toasted malt character that defines a red ale, combined with a perfect citrusy hop bitterness. The bitterness is similar to many IPAs, but is completely different when in concert with the grains typical of a red ale. The combination of these aspects is incredibly well executed. If you’re at all into red ales or red IPAs, do yourself a favor and make one of your Halloween treats an Evil Dead Red Ale from AleSmith Brewing Co.
I can’t leave out that the ABV is calculated at 6.66%. AleSmith’s eye for detail is inspired.
I give the Evil Dead Red Ale 4 and a half homemade chainsaw hands out of 5.
The first thing you’ll probably do upon entering a new brewery is check out their beer list. Depending on the brewery, the beers on it could vary tremendously. There are some core ideas though, that you’ll probably see in most every brewery you visit.
The Information on a Beer List
Firstly, you’ll see the names of the beer. Duh, right? But give them a little thought, they will clearly showcase the atmosphere that the brewery is going for. Is there a theme? Do the beers have their style in the name? Are they funny, clever, obscure, etc.? The beer is a brewery’s business card, and they’ll want them to showcase the company’s personality and character.
Aside from the names, you’ll probably find some other information. If the styles of the brews aren’t incorporated into the names, they’ll most likely list the style as well. This is the best guideline for new craft beer drinkers. Have you had a pale ale that you liked? Grab another pale ale from another brewery to compare. Want something a little more intense? Maybe step up to an India Pale Ale (IPA) for a bigger beer with more aggressive flavors. Want something dark? Check out the stouts, porters, and brown ales on the list. Each style provides a different take on a malt forward beer, see what you like the best and then branch out. Of course, if you want something on the lighter side, try out some lagers or a pilsner for a more crisp and refreshing beverage.
How Drunk Will it Get You?
In addition to the names and styles of a breweries offerings, it is typically required to display the Alcohol by Volume, or ABV. The amount of alcohol in a beer is crucial information for many reasons. Craft beer tends to be stronger than marco-brews to enable a larger flavor profile. You might be used to having a few Bud Lights and be unaware that beer weighs in at 4.2% ABV, so a 10% Imperial IPA might knock you right on your ass. The entire industry of alcohol advocates drinking responsibly, and consumers need to be aware that ordering a craft beer at a brewery might not entail the same effects as ordering a beer at a more typical restaurant or bar you frequent. Do your research and know your limits.
How Bitter Will it Be? (Not as much as she is…)
The last piece of information that’s becoming fairly standard to display is IBUs. IBU stands for International Bitterness Units. While they don’t correlate directly to how “hoppy” a beer is, they do tell you objectively how bitter it is. The malt and grains in a beer are there to sweeten the brew and stimulate alcohol production during fermentation. The hops balance out that sweetness. While IBUs don’t tell you how hidden the bitterness is by other flavors, they’re a good baseline to begin evaluating your options. If you know you don’t enjoy the bitter aspect of beer, keep it on the lower end, under 40 IBUs for example. If you’re curious about the hop craze, step up the IBUs on each beer to try to find your ideal interval. While IBUs don’t tell you how much hop flavor is in a beer, there’s a pretty good chance that a more hoppy beer will be higher in IBUs.
There could always be more information presented on any brewery’s beer list, but these are the tidbits that are most essential for you to scope out what might be your favorite thing on the list. Other stats like OG (Original Gravity) and specific ingredients used are more for homebrewers and beer geeks and don’t offer much to a craft beer novice. It never hurts to ask though. If you see anything else on the list, always feel free to ask the bartender, I’m sure they’ll be happy to clarify.
Have you seen anything not mentioned here listed on a breweries beer list? How crazy and detailed was it? Let me know in the comments below!