Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Tale of Two Beers

With apologies to Charles Dickens, here's my tale of two parts of the beer business.  Let's start with craft brewing.  The Brewers Association has once again totaled up all their statistics for the growth of craft brewing in the last year and presented it in a very cool infographic. Let's look at the highlights.

Craft brewing has finally cracked the 5% volume share of the US beer market; this is even as the total US beer market's volume decline 1.32%.  A growing number of people realize that what's important about beer is flavor and quality, not slick ad campaigns and cheap prices.

Craft beer also continues to grow its retail dollar sales; craft retail sales hit $8.7 billion, which is a 15% growth over last year.  Some of that is due to the general inflation in the economy (the price of everything is going up, thanks to the Federal Reserve's money printing), but not all of it.  Once again, we see that craft beer lovers don't mind paying a little extra for quality.

The volume of craft beer brewed has also continued to increase, jumping another 13.2% since last year, with just under 11.5 million barrels being produced.

 The number of breweries has also hit a new record high, with 1,989 in the US, 1,938 of which are craft breweries or brewpubs.  Openings greatly outnumbered closings, with 250 of the former versus only 37 of the latter, which is more good news.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in today's economy, small brewing companies employed 103,585 people, a not inconsequential contribution to local economies.

That's the first tale of beer, the tale of craft.  Now let's move on the the second tale of beer.

Reuters reports that because AB-InBev managed to cut its corporate debt two years ahead of schedule, executive bonuses totaling $1.33 billion dollars were triggered. Among the 40 executives who will receive a part of this bonus, Chief Executive Carlos Brito is scheduled to receive over $133 million dollars.  To put that number into perspective, this one executive will receive a bonus that is greater than the entire gross revenue of Stone Brewing & Brooklyn Brewing (two of the largest craft breweries) combined.

Sorta puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

Moving from the global perspective back here to Alaska, there's a pretty cool beer event taking place this weekend in Talkeetna.  Starting at 5 PM on Friday, March 30, and continuing through 1 PM on Sunday, April 1st, Talkeetna Beer Trippin' 2012, the "Dark Side of the Brew" will take place.  This event is organized by the Twister Creek Restaurant, Denali Brewing Company and the Great Northern Brewers of Anchorage, but it is open to the general public.  There are beer and music events scheduled throughout the weekend, so if you can make it to Talkeetna, you should really check it out.

Here's a schedule of events; click on it to enlarge:

In more local news, Kenai River Brewing will be releasing their nationally-known Gummi Bear Tripel this Friday, March 30.  I'm not kidding when I say nationally-known; this beer has gotten press (mostly good but some pretty hostile) from coast-to-coast.  Google it if you don't believe me.  Hard to believe no one's ever done it before commercially.  They will also have a new Single Hop IPA on soon; Joe Gilman told me the hop, but I neglected to write it down and now I can't remember it.  Speaking of Joe, he now has his arm brace off and is back to brewing; if you see him, ask him to show you his crazy scar.  Looks like somebody unzipped his arm, which I guess is essentially what they did.  Glad you're back in the game (brewing, not curling), Joe!

Out at Kassik's Brewery, they have a new beer on tap: Vanilla Bean Cream Ale at 5.5% ABV.  Word is, it's pretty popular, so if you're out their way, stop by to give it a try.

I wrote last week about the new brews at St. Elias Brewing Company, Red-Headed StepChild Imperial Red and Brass Monkey ESB.  There's another beer waiting in the wings, name unknown, but it's a barrel-aged Old Ale, with some unique properties.  Stay tuned for more information when it's actually released.  Plus, next Friday, April 6, I'm hoping we'll see a cask of Brass Monkey ESB on hand pump. Definitely not to be missed!  

Finally, a couple of beer reviews.  First, the return of a perennial favorite, Midnight Sun's Arctic Devil Barley Wine, 2011 vintage.  This is one of the top barley wine's in the world, IMHO, and this year's version does not disappoint.  It poured a deep, translucent chestnut, with a cream-colored head.  The aroma was heavy on caramel-malt elements, then oaky notes from the barrel aging and a bit of alcohol.  On the palate, this is definitely an English-style barely wine, with the hops (Challenger, Cascade, & Fuggles) playing back-up to the huge malt flavors, but with a surprisingly dry finish.  At 13.4% ABV and 20 IBUs, this is a huge beer, but it's surprisingly drinkable.  Finishing a 22 oz bottle in 2 or 3 hours after dinner was no struggle.  I made sure to purchase a couple of bottles to cellar, as it's sure to age well.  Another excellent beer from the folks at Midnight Sun!

I also tried a bottle of Avery Brewing's Salvation Belgian Golden Ale that I purchased at La Bodega in Anchorage.  I poured it into my Duvel tulip , and it poured true to style, with a clear gold color and a massive & rocky white head of pinpoint carbonation.  The aroma was primarily the earthy, spicy notes that scream Belgian yeast.  On the palate there was good carbonation and an excellent clean bitterness.  It was not as dry as a Duvel, but was still tremendously refreshing. It also concealed its 9% ABV in a dangerously deceptive way, just like the archetype of the style.  A delicious take on a classic Belgian style from Avery Brewing Company.

Well, that's about it for this week.  I hope all of my fellow Alaskans out there are enjoying break up as much as I am.  Time to trade those snow boots for the Xtra Tuffs.

Until Next Time, Cheers!


Anonymous said...

You said "A growing number of people realize that what's important about beer is flavor and quality, not slick ad campaigns and cheap prices." So, am I completely misguided if I sort of like the mountains turning blue on my aluminum beer can?
Phil B.

I'm Bill Howell. said...


The mountains are cute, but you should really be asking yourself "Why does Coors want me to drink their beer so freakin' cold that I can't even taste it?"



Son of Dad said...

Budweiser Platinum is triple filtered apparently- must taste 3x as good!