AB InBev and Northern Brewer

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Images courtesy of Northern Brewer and ZX Ventures

AB InBev Enters the Homebrewing Industry

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.

Alesmith Brewing’s Evil Dead Red Ale

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Beer Notes: AleSmith’s Dead On Red Ale

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.

Appearance

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.

Aroma

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.

An Intro to Craft Beer- The Beer List

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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.

craft beer list wood display

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!

 

Beer Gaming Pairing: 3 Floyds Zombie Dust and Dark Souls 3

Beer Pair Dark Souls 3

Beer and Gaming Coming Together

I’ve been working on this one for a while, it’s an idea that I’m excited about. There are many reasons why I am so passionate about both beer and gaming, but one at the forefront is how well they go together. Pairing beer and food is all good and fun, but this idea is more me. It’s obvious that gaming is experiential, but drinking a great beer is an awesome experience as well.

As you know from several of my other posts, I love the Dark Souls series and Dark Souls 3 was the first of the games that I had the opportunity to play the moment of its release. Right around that time, I had also luckily acquired some of what would become one of my favorite beers that I’ve ever tasted, 3 Floyd’s Zombie Dust. The game and the beer paired together seemed like a match made in heaven, and they proved to be such.

Dark Souls 3 beer pairing zombie dust

Two Parallel Acquired Tastes

Almost everyone that follows video games knows about the punishing difficulty that has made the Souls series of games notorious. They are a grinding and sometimes stressful experience, but for certain people, they are also the most rewarding game experiences you can have. I happen to be one of those people, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the final entry in the trilogy. I have an acquired taste for the difficulty curve at this point, I’ve finished the first Dark Souls a few times and I’m in the middle of my second play through of Dark Souls 2. Even with my seasoning, sometimes you hit a wall in these games and it can be frustrating. In those situations, the Zombie Dust was a welcome complement to the game.

Much like the Dark Souls game, aggressively hoppy beers can be overwhelming and are an acquired taste among craft beer drinkers. But, just like the game, they have a habit of hooking people who embrace them. After you’re hooked, there’s nothing else like a well hopped IPA. Zombie Dust happens to be one of the most renowned hoppy beers in the country, marketed as a pale ale, but likely actually closer to an IPA. To those imbued with an unnatural appreciation for overly bitter beverages, this one is a gem.

For anyone who likes beating up their palate while they’re getting beat up in a game, this is a great beer gaming pairing. There wasn’t anything too ridiculous in the early parts of the game within which I was partaking of these fine brews, but Dark Souls games are always hard, they just aren’t always ridiculous. Whenever “You Died” appeared on screen, a hefty swig of Zombie Dust was an awesome counter-balance. The citra hops are aggressive, but the citrus notes they add make this beer nothing but refreshing to an IPA enthusiast.

Dark Souls 3 viewpoint

A Niche Appeal, Executed Perfectly

It’s interesting that both of these products most likely weren’t going for universal appeal when they were first released, speaking specifically to the original Dark Souls or even Demon’s Souls. They both set out to stand out from the crowd to a very certain type of gamer or beer drinker, but through the undeniable quality of the experience they present, each has transcended through to the mainstream. More people probably discovered a love of hops because of how fine a beer Zombie Dust is and I know gamers started to warm up to challenging games more as Dark Souls devotees raved about the quality of the experience that the Souls games offered being above any other.

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That all sounds a bit dramatic, but I freaking love Zombie Dust and Dark Souls.

I wanted to start this idea for a series off right with something I knew I would enjoy writing about. This pairing definitely did not let me down.

Let me know what you thought of the post and the idea for the series in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

An Intro to Craft Beer- The Basics

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Your Craft Beer Primer

Craft beer is exploding in popularity. If you’re checking out this post, you’ve probably tried and enjoyed some craft beer. The Brewers Association just celebrated the number of breweries in the U.S. climbing beyond pre-prohibition levels. We’re now at over 4,200 breweries, the vast majority of which are far from the macro-breweries that supply the majority of this country’s beer.

Craft beer has a different sort of character than the mass produced American lagers out there. There’s a culture establishing itself around the industry. Weirdly enough, there’s a lot to know about craft beer, it is the second oldest beverage in the world after all. Luckily, drinking beer is a social activity, which makes it pretty easy to spark up a conversation at your local brewery about what’s up. If your curious about the basics before heading in for a brew though, here are some of the basics.

Firstly, I tend bar Upslope Brewing Co. in Boulder, CO. A huge part of what I do at Upslope is talk about beer with interested patrons. I got into craft beer and homebrewing shortly after I turned 21 when I discovered that there’s something out there aside from Natty Light. I used to splurge on a good 6-pack to split with my friends when I picked up a few 30 packs of cheap beer for us at the liquor store. That way, we could start the night with something nice before continuing on in a more typical college-y way. I still enjoy a Natty Light, or similar light American lager, from time to time, but there are so many more interesting brews out there.

Well then, let’s get started. Here are some of the basics of craft beer.

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The Ingredients

Beer consists of 4 ingredients on a basic level: water, malt, hops and yeast. There is even a law in Germany about them called the Reinheitsgebot, or the German Purity Law. It states that those are the only four ingredients that are allowed to be used in beer, with barley being the specific malt. It is still in effect to a degree today, although many German breweries have branched out to include other less traditional ingredients in their beer. The law, somewhat humorously, was put in place to conserve wheat and rye to be used for bread so that the country’s grains weren’t all turned into beer instead of food.

A Little Prohibition History:

American breweries got a bit of a kick-start after prohibition, which has resulted in a huge amount of experimentation and innovation in the field. That innovation also came along with a relative disregard for the old world rules about beer, resulting in the plethora of options we have today. Shutting down all of the traditional breweries rid us of any preconceived notions once it was repealed. Prohibition seemed like a pain in the ass in its day, but we have it to thank as it indirectly made the U.S. beer scene more unique than ever.

Huge Beer style chart

The Styles

There is a style of beer for almost everyone, regardless of how they feel about beer. We have a lot of fun at work with people who bring in friends or family members who don’t like beer. We have 24 beers on tap and I can always find something that they’ll have at least one glass of. One of my fiancé’s friends from Australia told me that she had never finished an entire beer before and stuck to cider. She had 2 glasses at the brewery and loved it. There is truly a beer for almost anyone out there.

Styles range from light and refreshing lagers and blonde ales, to deep and robust stouts and barrel aged sours. BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) featured 34 main styles of beer in their 2015 list, each one with a multitude of subcategories. Styles are also evolving every year, as well as re-emerging into prominence. A gose(a German salted, soured ale) is categorized as a historical beer by BJCP standards, but they’ve just been coming back into popularity in the past few years. Needless to say, there are a lot of styles out there. If you find something you haven’t seen before, give it a try.

The India Pale Ale:

The most popular style of beer in the U.S., among competitions, is the American IPA. Any beer competition will have a little bit of everything, but they’re always flooded with American- style IPA category entries. India Pale Ales feature robust, refreshing hoppy flavors, and a crisp bitterness that can get a beer drinker hooked. It’s a style that people acquire a taste for though. IPAs are aggressive and overwhelming to your palate. In fact, it’s very natural to have an aversion to overly bitter beers. It’s based on an animal instinct to avoid bitter tastes, as they often correlate with poisonous plants.

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The Experience

A big part of why people are interested in craft beer is for the experience. Almost everyone above the age of 21 has had a Bud Light, but there isn’t much to be excited about with a Bud. Light American lagers are a bit bland, but that’s part of the reason they’re enjoyable. They’re simple, light, refreshing and easy drinking. They have their place, but they can get boring after awhile. Craft beer makes drinking an experience again, beyond just the effect alcohol plays in the fun.

Rather than just knowing that you like beer, you can try out a variety of styles and figure out what specifically you like about the beverage. Through that knowledge, you can find similar beers that showcase that characteristic specifically and discover other beers you’ll love. It sounds crazy, but once you have a firm foundation in craft beer experimentation, it’s really fun to try out new beers and talk about them. There’s way more to talk about than you might think.

The End

Well, that’s enough for now, go out and have yourself a beer. This post will be the first in a series introducing different facets of craft beer as a hobby. Be sure to let me know what you thought of the post or if you have any specific questions about beer in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

Images and references courtesy of: Medical Bag, The Brewers Association, the L.A. Times, The Craft Beer Academy

True Craft Looks to Address the Changing Environment of Craft Beer

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Craft beer focuses on the workmanship and offering many styles of quality beer, and consumers love it

Craft Beer’s Rapid Growth in the U.S.

As craft beer continues to explode passed pre-prohibition levels, which we expanded beyond in 2015, there is growing outside interest in the business of craft beer. This attention isn’t coming from just the usual offenders of macro-breweries, private equity firms are also investing based on the prominence of emerging breweries.

This is without a doubt a double edged sword. Additional investments can provide crucial help to breweries struggling with rapid growth as they get over the hump and come closer to reaching their potential. Unfortunately, it can also dilute the breweries focus on the craft of beer and redirect it to investor returns. Similarly with macro-breweries, a purchase can greatly help a craft brewery extend their production and distribution, but can also stifle innovation in favor of increased revenue as macro brewery products’ sale stagnate.

craft beer brewers association 2015

The Brewers Association reports that even though overall beer sales are down in the U.S., craft beer sales grew to almost 13% of all sales in 2015. The big breweries out there are still the biggest game in town by far, but they’re seeing less of dominance year over year and want to appeal to the growing craft beer drinking demographic by diversifying their offerings.

Macro-breweries have been paying close attention to developments in craft beer for years and have snatched up quite a few to vary their revenue streams. As stated above, this could be seen as incredible aid for a a brewery facing immense growth. They could ramp up their production far ahead of schedule thanks to the funding, or even have some of their products brewed at one of the macro breweries state of the art facilities to ease their burden. But they might also have to deal with your new majority owner airing this on the world’s biggest stage for commercials.

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Well that escalated quickly…

Outside Investor Interest Could Hurt the Craft of Beer

As the craft beer industry becomes more prominent, it’s always tempting when an offer comes across the table. That offer could change a person’s life in more ways than one though. It comes up all the time with people working at growing craft breweries, the company’s focus feels as though it changes from the beer to the money. That can alienate the crowd a brewery most appealed to previously, but it could be necessary to stay in operation. Brewing is a business after all, but it’s one where the focus on quality beer creates a byproduct of revenue rather than the other way around. The purchase of Elysian and Dick Canwell’s retirement following the deal sums this situation up perfectly:

“In the past few months AB has treated me with consideration and seriousness, and they’ve presented me some pretty exciting future possibilities, should I be able to see my way clear to working for them. But I can’t. I am a craft brewer, past, present and future, no matter what I end up doing.”

Cantwell had one third ownership, was outvoted, and had the brewery he helped found swept away from him. “My concerns were never even considered as a factor of whether we should or shouldn’t. From the start it was me against everyone else,” he said in an interview following the deal. Greg Koch, the co-founder of renowned Stone Brewing Co. is looking to shake up the trend and give breweries struggling with their own growth a new option.

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Greg Koch of True Craft and Stone Brewing Co.

True Craft is Offering Breweries Another Option

Koch has co-founded True Craft, a company handling $100 million in funding, with more to come, aimed at giving craft breweries the backing they need without forcing them to sacrifice their own goals and vision. The fund is uniquely positioned with their only interest being in making minority, non-controlling investments in breweries on the rise. It will enable faster growth for breweries trending upward without forcing them to make a choice between growth and innovation. Koch said it perfectly in his announcement about the new company:

“Some people start companies to sell out. Some start companies because they are compelled to follow their passion. True Craft is for the latter”

While he could have been a little more discrete in his disdain for the market trend of big breweries buying the little guys, I highly support what he’s doing. If your business was growing faster than you could support and AB-InBev floated you a deal, it would be worth at least considering. You’re already successful, why sacrifice a good thing to stay a craft brewery and put your whole company at risk? Now there’s another option. One that can help you fund growth but guarantees you remain in control. You might not get a tremendous ad campaign out of it, but the control and goodwill earned could make up for that. This is especially true now, in a time when consumers are becoming better informed about the many goings on in the industry.

Cheers Greg! Stone’s beer is killer and I love what you’re doing to guide the industry forward.

 

Images and quotes courtesy of The Washington Beer Blog, the Escondido Grapevine, The Brewers Association ,Visit California and USA Today

 

 

 

Zombie Dust Might be My Favorite Beer So Far

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We had an awesome patron of the brewery I work at bring us a gift the other day. He said that he’d been a fan of Upslope‘s beer since moving here and sees us as the best around. As a thanks, he offered us some of what he thinks of as the best beer from his home state of Indiana. That beer was Zombie Dust by 3 Floyds Brewing Co. and holy shit was he right.

3 Floyds Backs Up the Hype of Zombie Dust

Zombie Dust is one of those beers with a reputation that precedes it. Most everyone who is into beer at the level I am has probably heard of it, but not everyone has had the pleasure that I am now lucky to say I have.

Zombie Dust is the first beer that I’ve tried with crazy hype around it that’s managed to back it up. It’s just about exactly what I want in a beer and I now need some more of it because I only got 2 bottles and am saving one. Everyone’s palate is different and you’re free to disagree with me, but this is in the running for my favorite beer ever. I love Citra hops, I know that’s a crazy opinion, but this is the best showcase I’ve had from them and the body on it is perfect.

Maybe My Perfect Pale Ale, Thank You Citra Hops

The level of the body and malt character is exactly what I look for. Pales are getting paler, and Zombie Dust is just a little darker with a hint of red coloring. The bigger grain build helps the malt flavor stand out a little against the rush of hops. The malty sweetness is at a great level to complement the citrus notes that could easily take over this pale ale.

Zombie Dust is a little bitter at 60 IBUs, but that’s right in my sweet spot. Besides that, Citra hops aren’t about the bitterness. These hops are on fire right now and they’re hard to get.  This is probably one of the reasons 3 Floyds is only present in 5 states despite the demand, and Zombie Dust is all about them. I get a ton of grapefruit out of this, which I love, along with a refreshing hint of tangerine and a nice resinous quality.

We’ve got a great Citra Pale Ale on tap at Upslope that shares a good amount of these qualities, but it’s just a little bit lighter on the late addition hops and the malt character when compared with Zombie Dust. It’s almost the exact same abv, only .1% off of the 6.2% abv of 3 Floyds brew, but you can tell it was brewed to be a little bit of an easier drinking beer with a more universal appeal among our customers. I don’t disagree at all with our brewers as that beer has been a smash with our crowd and it’s great in it’s own right, but I do understand the hype behind Zombie Dust a little more now.

Thank you craft beer, and 3 Floyds Brewing Co. specifically this time!

It’ll be Great in My Estus Flask Next Week!

Zombie Dust -4

I’m not saving my other bottle of Zombie Dust for just any rainy day by the way. Look at that metal as shit label and tell me this beer won’t be amazing with my first play of Dark Souls 3 next week! What beer could be better suited for the chosen undead hollow?

Let me know what you think of the beer, my thoughts, or other bad ass beer art in the comments below!

Photo Credit to 3 Floyds Brewing Co. and From Software