Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Craft Beer Cookbook: The Recipes are the Real Deal

Let me get this out of the way:  I haven't been much of a fan of all those "cooking with beer" recipes.  They strike me as either hopelessly gimmicky or generic.    Some seem to be taken from some high end gastropub and call for some nearly impossible to find beer, without suggesting any substitutes to use if you can't find the beer specified.   Others simply list "beer" as an ingredient, presumably some light lager which offers little flavor in whatever form it takes.  Many are so complex that only a restaurant kitchen could really produce them, while others involve routine pub fare with just some beer dumped in for good measure.    Rarely do I find any of these recipes particularly interesting or suited for the home kitchen.

Which makes The Craft Beer Cookbook different.   Not only are the recipes accessible, author Jacquelyn Dodd specifies particular beer styles for each recipe, but instead of specifying a particular beer, provides flavor profile guidelines for best results.  Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising since Dodd has been at this for a while on her website The Beeroness.  She writes in a readable, conversational style and leads off with an introduction sharing her wisdom on adding beer to existing recipe while still maintaining a good balance of fats and flavors.  She also finds ways to introduce craft beer into any dish or concoction imaginable, from baked goods, to appetizers, sauces, seafood, main courses, desserts, and even breakfast.  Dodd's also a food photographer, so took all the colorful pictures throughout the book.

Roasted Mushroom and Brown Ale Soup
(Photo from The Craft Beer Cookbook)
Of course, cook books the are easy to read and have lots of nifty pictures are nice, but cook books ultimately succeed or fail on the strength of their recipes.   So one night, I cooked a dinner of "Roasted Mushroom and Brown Ale Soup" and "Stout and Pomegranate-Glazed Chicken Wings".  Dodd recommended using a nutty brown ale for the mushroom soup, so I used Strike Brown Ale, and for the wing glaze I went with good old Guinness Extra Stout.  The soup had a great depth of warm, earthly flavors although it was hard to pick up the brown ale.   The roastiness of the Guinness Stout paired well with pomegranate flavors in a chicken wing glaze.  It was a great dinner with both dishes working well.    Later that week,  I whipped up a batch of Dodd's "IPA Honey Mustard Vinaigrette"  using Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA.   It turned out to be a unique vinaigrette with a strong citrus punch and a great balance of sweet, sour, and bitter flavors giving a surprisingly Asian character to salads. 

Chocolate Chip and Smoked Porter Pancakes
(Photo from Craft Beer Cookbook)

As successful as these recipes were, my favorite was "Chocolate Chip and Smoked Porter Pancakes", which I  made with one of my all favorites, Stone Smoked Porter.   I was a little worried these pancakes would turn into something sickening sweet you might have at IHOP.  Instead, these fluffy pancakes had a great complex chocolate flavors with a smokiness from the porter that were a hit for all ages at the family breakfast table.   My 10 year old daughter remarked, "The beer gives it a nice flavor," despite her unfamiliarity (thankfully!) with Stone Smoked Porter and asked, "Can you make this again?".  My twelve year old son has autism so is a man of few words but declared them simply "Good".   And lest you think I served alcohol to my kids for breakfast, Dodd illustrates that for most recipes, a majority of the alcohol cooks away.

Some may call this book yet another gateway for people to enjoy craft beer.   Others may point to this book as further proof that beer is the new wine.  Without getting get into some deep culinary discussion here, I'll just say that years from now, I'm sure my copy of The Craft Beer Cookbook is going to have lots of well worn pages with food stains all over them.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The "Let's Go 510k": No More Horsing Around with a Toe Injury

And they're off at the Let's Go 510!  Look closely and you can
see me in the middle with the grey singlet
(Photon from Brazen Racing)
I found myself walking up to the starting line of the Let's Go 510 10k thinking, "Just try to finish".  If I ever went to the starting line in any race with the goal to simply finish in any race in my 30+ years of running, I can't remember.  Of course, finishing any distance race is an accomplishment in itself, but I've been fortunate to complete all but one of the nearly thousand races I've ever entered.

The source of my concern wasn't my fitness, the race distance, the course, or the weather conditions.  It was my little left index toe.

For the past couple weeks, I've felt great in my half-marathon training leading up to the Monterey Bay Half-Marathon in November, but my little index toe on my left foot had other ideas.  A couple weeks ago, I'd notice it would be sore at the end of runs.  Then, a few days later, the pain would start to flare up 5-6 miles into a run.    I never gave it too much mind and really didn't do things like ice it down like you're supposed to do to keep it from getting worse.   Before I knew it, it would start hurting after a mile of running and the pain during a simple 6 or 8 mile run would require me to stop every 2-3 miles to flex my toe and let the pain subside a bit so I could manage to get home.  Some time off and sort runs of 2-4 miles helped but it was still hurting. There I was at the starting line of a race I signed up for weeks ago as a tune-up four weeks before the Monterey Half-Marathon.  The idea when I signed up for this race weeks ago was this 10k was be a test of my fitness with four weeks to go before the half-marathon.   Instead, it turned out to be a wake up call on just how bad my toe had gotten and how little I had really done to treat the injury. .  "If you can't run a 10k now, how are you going to do a half-marathon in four weeks?" I was asking myself sitting in my car putting on my racing flats, fifteen minutes before the start.

The crowd was excited enough from the fun atmosphere surrounding Berkeley's Golden Gate Fields horse race track where the race stared and finished.  "Here's goes nothing," I thought as the starting gun went.   I felt OK through the first mile, with just a dull ache in my toe and came through the first mile in 6:03.  A little too fast, but I concentrated on maintaining 6:10 pace as we ran alongside the Berkeley Marina and into Cesar Chavez Park, coming through mile 2 in an encouraging 6:07, the toe increasingly feeling more sore.   A guy in the East Bay spirit of things wearing an Oakland Raiders t-shirt pulled up to me and we battled through the slightly uphill third mile in 6:22, the toe feeling worse but still bearable.  I was actually more concerned with my faltering pace and holding off the Oakland Raiders guy than my toe at that pint and pulled away from him around mile 4, coming through in 6:10.  Not only was I pulling away from that guy, but my toe was actually feeling a little better and I'm thinking, "Hey, I'm going to finish this thing."

That's me on the Golden Gate Field Horse Track.
I'm going to finish!  (Photon from Brazen Racing)

Unfortunately, my reduced fitness due to backing off with the injury showed in the last couple miles, as Oakland Raiders caught and passed me big time just before mile 5, and I struggled through the last mile, slogging to the finish on the Golden Gate Fields Horse Track in 39:01.  But h, that still took 11th overall and first place for the old guys 46-49 age group, and that's still pretty good.

The rest of day I got serious about icing my toe every couple hours and also started applying Zim's Max Freeze, this gel I got as a free sample a fews months ago from the Zim's Max Freeze folks in hopes I would promote it on this blog which I never got around to really testing.  The day after the race, the toe handled an 8 mile training run OK so it looks like I've turned the corner with the toe injury and more diligence, I should get to the Monterey Bay Half-Marathon starting line OK.  And since Max Freeze seems to be part of the solution, I'll say "Thanks Max Freeze".

So time to get this toe thing straightened out and bring on the Monterey Bay Half-Marathon!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Strike CEO Jenny Lewis and Brewmaster Drew Ehrlich Talk About Their New Brewery

Drew Ehrlich and Jenny Lewis at a recent beer festival
It's been a busy year for the South Bay's Strike Brewing.   In addition to the busy day to day operations of growing their two year old business, they won gold at the U.S. Open Beer Championships with their Imperial Red and expanded their distribution into Southern California.  On the personal side, CEO Jenny Lewis had a baby and Brewmaster Drew Ehrlich got married.  And now just this past week, they've announced the opening of their own brewery in the first quarter of 2014

Over the past two years, Strike has been contract brewing at the Hermitage Brewing facility just south of downtown San Jose.  Strike has now leased approximately 5800 square feet at 2099 South 10th St., San Jose, where they will begin building their brewery located barely a 10 minute walk from the Hermitage facility. 

I caught up with Jenny and Drew last Friday as they emerged from a brewery planning meeting.   They took a few minutes out of their busy time to talk about the new brewery in the works.

Q: What was the process like?
Jenny: It was very long and we had to be very patient.  It had always been our goal to move into a brewery when we started and we’ve been looking at buildings for two years.

Q: What was the biggest hurdle?
Jenny:  Capital has always been the biggest hurdle and that’s true for most businesses.  Of course, we also needed to find a building with the right utilities and layout where we could build the brewery.

Q: What made the deal happen?
Jenny:  We found the building a long time ago.  What made it happen now was a combination of raising money from a group of angel investors and an SBA loan.  A big part of my role since we launched in December 2011 has been raising our Series A round.

Q: What will you be able to do with your own brewery you couldn’t do as a contract brewer?
Jenny:  This will really help us control our brewing schedule and manage our own inventory in ways we couldn’t before.  Hermitage has been a great launching point, but contract brewing put us under certain constraints.  Drew’s always wanted to brew more interesting beers which he can now do at our new brewery.
Drew: There are a lot of beers I’ve wanted to make, like sour beers and barrel-aging some of the current beers in our line-up.  I’ve wanted to try some lagers and Jenny’s been bugging me to do a fruit beer.

Q: With Hermitage’s Brewery only a short walk away, do you think the South San Jose industrial park you’re locating in can become a beer destination?
Drew:   We certainly hope so. One of the impetuses for creating Strike is that we didn’t see the San Jose area as a great destination for beer lovers, such as San Francisco, Portland or San Diego.    We thought we could help fill an unmet demand here.
Jenny: We wanted to be near the sporting arenas in the area, like the San Jose Giants Stadium, Sharks Ice, the Fairgrounds and (San Jose State’s) Spartan stadium where there are a lot of potential partnership opportunities.
Q: Any developments you can share when the brewery opens?  When will the tap room open?
Jenny:  We don’t want to put exact dates on things based on the uncertainty of the permit and build out process.  We hope to be brewing by the beginning of next year and open the tap room as soon as possible after that.  Being up and running by SF Beer Week is our goal.

Q: What sort of risk are you taking on by this move?
 Drew:  Luckily we’ve gotten our beer out there and won some awards, so there is not as much of a risk as when we first entered the market.  It gives us the opportunity to maintain our flavor profile, and brew really consistent high quality beers.  Right now, Lagunitas is building a new brewery in the Chicago area and they’re going to have to make sure the beer coming out of that brewery tastes the same as before.  We’ll be going through that same process and we have to do it quickly.

Jenny:  There’s always a financial risk in business and it can come from anywhere.  It is scary going out on our own and starting something from scratch, trying to pay salaries to support families and grow a business.  But it's also rewarding seeing this goal finally realized after five years of planning.  I’m excited to see what the next few years bring.
Q: Over those last five years, there have been a lot of new breweries.  I can go to my local Safeway or Costco and now find bottles of Strike, but I can also find bottles of other beers from breweries I never used to see there.  Do you have any concerns about the increasingly crowded craft beer marketplace moving forward?
Drew:  Not really.  There was a study done by the Brewer’s Association and they concluded the market was not yet saturated.  It also compared the beer market in the US to other the beer markets in other countries which indicated there’s room for more breweries here.
Jenny:  There are a lot of breweries coming online, including nano breweries, contract brewers and brewpubs.   Hopefully we’ve done a good job differentiating our niche so far, and I think moving into our own space will only help that.
Drew:  Plus we don’t mind other breweries in the area.  The nature of the craft beer enthusiast is to try a lot of things.  So even if they drink something from another brewery around here, they’ll get drawn into trying something else and eventually they’ll try something from Strike.  There’s a sort of symbiotic relationship between breweries in the same geographical area, to a point.

I found talking with to Jenny and Drew during the interview was like talking with a couple kids who couldn't wait to move out of their parents house.  It's just beer, but moments like this remind us lots of hopes and dreams revolve around it.  The South Bay brewing scene just got a lot more interesting.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Beer of the Month: 395 IPA from Mammoth Brewing

For October, the title of Beer of the Month is bestowed onto 395 IPA from Mammoth Brewing, which I picked up on a trip to Yosemite National Park the weekend of September 28-29th.   Mammoth intentionally keeps their operation small, and you can't get their beer outside of their small distribution region in and around the Yosemite Valley, so tasting some Mammoth brews unavailable back home was a nice little side benefit of the trip. This beer, named after a road running by the National Park, has long been a favorite beer of mine.  It's one of the more unique IPA's you'll find, brewed with mountain desert sage and mountain juniper berries.    There's a light toastiness from the malt, a noticeable gin note from the juniper berries, and dominant citrus flavor from the hops.  It's a dry IPA that lets of that complexity flow, and tastes smooth despite a strong hop whollop.

I make an annual trip to Yosemite with friends and family to experience the surreal scenery, full of shear cliffs, dramatic waterfalls, and towering peaks.  I'm especially proud of my ten year old daughter and twelve year old autistic son who tackled a six mile hike through steep, rocky to Vernal Falls high above the valley with my wife and I.  It was great family experience exploring one of America's revered places and learning a lot about ourselves.  We finished this trip in the nick of time because shortly after that, the Washington dysfunction all too common these days shut the Federal Government down and Yosemite National Forest with it.

You're probably as sick of this shut-down mess as I am, and it's doubtful anything I write here is going to change your mind or break the gridlock in Washington.  I avoid delving into politics on my blog as beer and running draw people in from all walks of life and all are welcome on the open roads or to share a pint.  I'm one of those damn liberals, so you can probably figure out where I stand.

So I'd like to make this gentle reminder that Yosemite was long ago preserved by far-sighted minds in our Federal Government who saw a problem and addressed it, and pretty much everyone thinks they did a good job about it.  While rewarding family vacations are important, what's more important are our livelihoods which require a functional Federal Government.   An unintended consequence of the shutdown is that we all gained a new appreciation of what the Federal Government does for us every day, even if we don't like paying our taxes or dealing with rules. 

So I'm optimistic that a year from now when our family comes back to Yosemite, saner heads will prevail and our country will be both better and wiser from our collective experience, as contentious and destructive as things are right now.  I'll drink a 395 IPA to that.
This land was made for you and me.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Rambles: Checking out some new fall beer releases

In additional to the fall season bringing great running weather, there's plenty of new fall beer releases.  I've been checking out the various "macro-craft" breweries fall releases, and here's a little round-up of what I've tried.

Sierra Nevada Flipside Red IPA 
Leave it to Sierra Nevada to produce a hoppy fall release.  It's brewed with red caramel malt which blends which blends with the citrus and tropical hop flavor and a soft resin-like finish.  I found this one pretty satisfying.

Anchor Brewing Bigleaf Maple Autum Red 
Brewed with maple syrup, I found this one woody, a little grainy and lightly earthy with toasted malt flavors.   I've long been an Anchor fan, but I didn't find all the flavors to work for me in this particular execution.

Uinta Punk'n
From Utah's Unita Brewing, it's a dry beer  with amber malt, the slightest hint of pumpkin, a little nutmeg and virtually no hops presence.  If you don't like beers that taste like pumpkin pie, this is the one for you.

Anderson Valley Fall Hornin' 
What's great about this one is that it tastes just like a big ol' pumpkin pie, with lots of pumpkin, nutmeg and other aromatic spices sitting atop plenty of lightly sweet, toasted malt.  Another reason to be a Anderson Valley fan.

Sudwerk Harvest Lager
OK, let's get this out of the way.   Sudwerk out of Davis, CA makes pretty straightforward traditional German beers, and rarely delves into any particular creative or original.  That didn't stop me from trying their Harvest Lager, a light, clear, dry and fresh with a little toasty malt character.  No, beers like this aren't very sexy but a well executed lager like this one is an underrated simple pleasure.

Guinness Red Harvest Stout
Beer Geeks who sneer at this brew are ignorant
of beer snob history
Even Guinness is getting in the seasonal fall beer act.  These days, beer geeks tend to sneer at Guinness as a multi-national macro beer.  There was a time, maybe 20 years ago back when craft beer was a lot harder to find and ordering a Guinness Stout conveyed a certain beer sophistication, since most everyone else in the bar thought it tasted like mud.  As you might have guessed, I enjoyed many a Guinness back in the day, high on my horse and content I was in the know enjoying the good stuff, while the rest of the unwashed was wallowing in light lagers.  So for you beer geeks who insist on sneering at Guinness, please learn your beer snob history.  As for their Red Harvest Stout, it's a surprising light beer, with the classic Guinness roastiness and a touch of caramel malt, and works for me as a refreshing fall session beer. 

Stone 17th Anniversary Gotterdammerung IPA - OK, it's not a technically a "fall beer", but I loved the anniversary release from Stone.  And let's just say I've found their annual anniversary releases to be very much a hit or miss proposition.    This one has got lot's of biscuity malt, with strong spicy grapefruity punch of hops.  I like it!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"The Breweries of Santa Cruz County" now in ASJ

Uncommon Brewers in Santa Cruz
The latest issue of Adventure Sports Journal has hit the streets and includes my write up of Santa Cruz Breweries.  The title "The Breweries of Santa Cruz County" is a slight play on the novel title "The Bridges of Madison County" but unlike the male lead character in that book, I didn't have an affair.  Indeed, my wife and I really enjoyed spending a couple weekend days in Santa Cruz to do research for the article, and yes, I use the term "research lightly". 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Talking with Phil Cutti and Patrick Horn about the new Headlands Brews

Phil Cutti (left) and Patrick Horn, co-founders of Headlands Brewing
There's so many new breweries these days, it's hard to keep track of them all.  One that's definitely been on my radar screen is Headland's Brewing.  Co-founder Patrick Horn was part of San Francisco's legendary Pacific Brewing Laboratories, sort of an underground brewery/large scale home brewing operation run out of a San Francisco garage producing an eclectic and tasty mix of brews of every possible description.  Horn has recently left Pacific Brewing Laboratories to start Headland's Brewing three months ago with Phil Cutti, head brewer at Southpaw Barbecue.  Phil is also an endurance swimmer and former exercise physiologist at Stanford Sports Medicine.

The brewery is named after the Marin Headlands, and they are currently seeking a permanent brewery and tap room location in either Marin County or San Francisco, which is where most of their beer is distributed.  For now, they are brewing under contract at various Bay Area breweries, and as far as the South Bay goes, the only place you can find Headlands is at Campbell's Spread and Liquid Bread.

I caught up with Phil and Patrick at Campbell's Spread last week where they graciously introduced me to their beers.  Somehow, they've developed the unique and all too rare talent to put subtle twists on traditional beer styles in such effective and effortless ways, you end up wondering why brewers haven't been doing it that way all along.  So without further ado, let's delve into the beers of Headlands.

Point Bonita Rustic Lager (6.2% abv, 40 ibu)
Lager's are decidedly unsexy in the craft beer world, the style suffering from guilt by association with tasteless lagers from soulless multinational corporations.  Beers like Point Bonita go a long way in changing that perception.  It has a substantial, almost creamy mouth feel and 17% of rye malt in the grain bill gives it a peppery character that melds nicely with the Liberty, Crystal, and spicy Saaz hops.  Quite possibly my favorite Headlands Beer.  If it's possible for a brewery to make a sexy lager, Headlands has done it.

Groupe G Belgian RyPA (7.6% abv, 65 ibu)
Rye makes another appearance in this riff of the IPA style, and Belgian yeast lends it usual aromatic qualities.  A unique blend of Mosiac, Warrior, Glacier and Ahtanum hops impart a tropical and slightly floral character to the brew.  There's a lot of flavors going on there which isn't always a good thing, but here, they all come together really well.

Hill 88 Double IPA (8.8% abv, 90 ibu)
As Patrick Horn poured this one, he declared, " Lots of breweries make double IPAs by cramming as much hops as they can into them.  There's a time and a place for that, but it's not what we wanted to do here."  True, any new craft brewery is almost obligated to release a double IPA and there's effectively an ibu arms race going on amongst a lot of craft breweries which thankfully Headlands has declined to participate in.  Believe it or not, at 90 ibu's, this one comes seems quite balanced.    A malt bill including Crystal, Victory,  and Carapils    results in a pretty dry double IPA, and the blend Summit, Chinook, Centennial and Ahtanum hops shine through without becoming overwhelming.

Those three beers comprise Headlands' current line-up available in both cans and on draught.  Now we get to the really good stuff, the special releases Headlands has available only on draught.

Bay Trip Triple
This Belgian Triple is brewed with coconut and demerara sugar.  As Patrick Horn explains, "Coconut sugar has a high level of unfermentable content, so it leaves behind of a lot of coconut character."  The result is a coconutty, tropical flavored Belgian triple.   Just when I thought I've tasted pretty much everything, Headlands comes up with something totally new and original, at least to me.  Absolutely delightful.

Liver Let Die Smoked Black IPA
The name is an odd homage to boxing great Smokin' Joe Frazier who passed away due to liver cancer last year.   Black IPA's are always a difficult balancing act between the strong roasted malt flavors and bitter hop flavors.  Headland's ups the degree of difficulty by adding yet another strong flavor to balance with 4.7% peak smoked malt added to the mix.  And it's smoky!  The malt also lends a strong chocolaty character which the Simcoe and Centennial hops match in their intensity.  Quite a balancing act and they pull it off.

What's next for Headland's as far as the beer is concerned?  They have a Fall Saison in the works, brewed with green peppercorns and fresh chanterelles to give it an earthy character.  Phil Cutti has brewed with chanterelles many times before but admits, "I've never brewed with them as large as this one, so ramping up will bit of a crapshoot".  Considering the various risks they've pulled off in their other brews, I wouldn't bet against him.

While they clearly know brewing, Cutti and Horn have a strong business sense as well.  I asked them point blank, "With all the new breweries and the market in danger of over saturation, are you concerned?".  Patrick Horn conceded, "I think we're going to see a consolidation.  But we're smart enough to navigate through that."  Horn went on to say, "We have hop contracts in place which is important.  Hops are a big expense in making beer and a lot of new breweries don't have hop contracts, and either unable to get them, or have to pay high prices for them when there's a shortage."    Phil Cutti added, "We have investors who know our business well, have dealt with things like market bubbles before, and they give us a lot of good direction."  Headlands has also recently hired Inna Volynskaya to handle the finances.  Volynskaya brings an MBA from Presidio Graduate School and supply chain experience from Lagunitas to Headlands and as Horn casually explains "she yells at us when we're being idiots."

It's encouraging to hear about their solid business foundation because I looking forward to enjoying many a Headlands brew for years to come.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Session #80: More Like a Correction

For this month's SessionDerek Harrison of "It's Not Just the Alcohol Talking" asks us weigh in our opinions on the prospect of a craft beer bubble.  It's a subject I looked at in detail in a previous post, where I came to a somewhat troubling conclusion that in not too distant future, much tougher times were clearly on the way for the craft brewing industry and my best guess was that a few hundred breweries were going to fail or otherwise cease operations.  Rather than just repost it, let me summarize the major points

1) Bubbles occur when there's too much supply and not enough demand for all the supply to be sold profitably.
A bubble is a pretty loose term for large scale market failure.  I've experience bubbles professionally in both fiber optics and solar panels, and in the United States, we all witnessed the "dot.com" bubble and the housing bubble.  Lots of people describe bubbles using a bunch of big words and technical jargon that sound deep and insightful, but bubbles really aren't that complicated.   Bubbles occur when too much supply is created in a market where there's not enough demand for all that supply to be sold profitably by most of the firms in the market.  While craft beer is growing fast, many breweries are involved in major expansions and over a thousand new breweries are in the planning stages.  Brewing requires large investments in equipment and material, so most breweries take out large loans to pay for start-up and expansion costs.  If all these breweries have trouble finding distribution channels in an increasingly crowded market to sell their beer, or have to highly discount prices leaving them with little or no profit, they could find themselves unable to pay off the loans and may go out of business. 

2) Everyone focuses on the new breweries but established breweries are about to bring at least an extra 4 million barrels of annual capacity online by 2015.
All the new breweries being formed draw most of the attention when a craft beer bubble is considered, but no one seems to pay too much the large expansions taking place within the industry.   Simply counting from press releases and making reasonable and conservative estimates, I find at least  an additional 4 million barrels of annual capacity is about to come on line.  This includes Lagunitas, Anchor Brewing, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium building second breweries and major expansions from breweries like Deschutes, Boulevard Brewing, Dogfish Head and Bell's.  There are numerous monthly press releases from various smaller breweries breathlessly announcing expansion plans and major distribution deals. 

So what?  Well, according to the Brewer's Association, craft beer sales for the first half of 2013 were 7.3 million barrels. If we simply double that number, that means at least 14.3 million barrels of craft beer will be sold this year.   If we compound that number for 2014 and 2015 at craft beer's currently astonishing growth rate at 15%, that means there will be an additional 4,700,000 million barrels sound in 2015 over 2013. 

That means the current 1,605 breweries the Brewer's Association says are in the planning stages will be fighting over the sales of the remaining 700,000 barrels of beer, which works out to 436 barrels per brewery, or a little less than the size that a small brewpub.  Which suggests if you plan to open a small brewpub, there will probably be a place for you.  However, any brewery with ambitions of becoming a regional brewery pumping even smallish 1,000-3,000 barrels of beer each year is facing some very long odds.

It's also important to add I haven't included so-called crafty brewers like Goose Island or the Craft Brewers Alliance in this analysis, since they are not included in the statistics of the Brewer's Association.  Needless to say, they make the situation for any aspiring craft brewer worse since Goose Island is in the midst of a nationwide rollout as Anheuser-Busch transitions their Budweiser facilities to produce more Goose Island.  The Craft Brewer's Alliance recently announced a brewery expansion of nearly 150,000 barrels annually as well.

Can this astonishing growth of breweries continue? 

3) If the Growth of Craft Beer Slows to 5% or even 10%, a lot of breweries are going to fail despite this high level of growth.

I have seen and heard numerous comments assuring everyone that craft beer won't experience a bubble because it will continue grow.  While it certainly true that craft beer is growing and is currently humming along at a 15% a year pace, it's an open question if this high growth rate is sustainable for the next 2-3 years at least.  Because if this 15% growth rate is not maintained, a lot of breweries are going to find themselves is seriously difficult position.

To understand this, consider various rates of growth of the craft beer industry from 5-15% over the next two years and how that will affect the demand over the next two years, assuming 14.6 million barrels of craft beer sold in 2013.

Growth rate in      2014                        2015                      Difference between 2013 and 2015  Sales
                                15%                        15%                       4,700,000
                                15%                        10%                       3,900,000
                                15%                          5%                       3,000,000
                                10%                         10%                      3,100,000
                                10%                           5%                      2,300,000
                                  5%                           5%                      1,500,000

Based on at least 4,000,000 barrels of annual capacity coming online during this period from currently existing breweries, we see that only under 15%-15% scenario will this demand exceed what is already coming online by existing breweries.  Under any other growth scenario, it becomes clear that way too many breweries will be producing too much craft beer that can be sold.  Some breweries will muddle through this, others with strained fiances, questionable business strategies, or simply mediocre products will face tough times and likely fail.  In addition, many new breweries are founded by smart, ambitious 20 and 30 somethings that may find eking out a living with a small brewery struggling in a saturated market is not what they signed up for and fold up their operations for greener pastures.

Yes, it is certainly possible that craft beer industry could grow by 20%.  That would be an unprecedented growth rate for a mature product like craft beer, which has been around for decades, and craft beer has never experienced anything close to 20% growth in any year.  It's just not likely to happen.

4) So what do I think will happen?

I see the craft brewing industry going through a similar pattern to bubbles past, with many new entrants and over expansion in a rapidly growing market to the point where it becomes over saturated and only the strongest firms can survive.  But unlike the dot.com, fiber optic, or solar panel bubble I'm familiar with,  I don't expect the majority of the businesses to fail.  Established breweries like Stone Brewing, Sierra Nevada, or New Belgium should do fine.  The current rate of failures in the craft brewing industry is currently absurdly low,  around 40 a year, or 1-2%.

Talk to people in the craft brewing industry, and you'll find them conceding a shake-out or consolidation is on the horizon. In fact, what I've basically done is express in numbers the gut feeling many in the industry have.  So it's pretty realistic to expect a few hundred breweries failing as the market reaches equilibrium.  There is little doubt in my mind we are headed towards a market correction of this magnitude.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Hermitage Brewing Fall Beer Trifecta

From left to right Oktoberfest, Burn's Bitter, and Fruit Crate Pumpkin Ale
Fall is my favorite season, it's crisp cool days making for perfect running weather.   Fall is also the time most breweries put out their fall beers, traditional malt forward beers with a toasty and caramel flavors and low hop profiles to capture the flavors of the season.   Being a malt forward kind of guy, I tend to be a big fan of fall beers.  Wouldn't you know, South Bay's Hermitage Brewing is putting out three new fall beers, and gave me a chance to try them over at their brewery.   I ran into one of my beer blogging inspirations, Hermitage Brand Manager Peter Estaniel at the brewery tap room who gave me the low down on the beers.   So without any further ado, let's delve into these fall offerings.

Burnes' Bitter
The Burnes' Bitter, is well, bitter.  It's got a crisp, clear underlying malt and as Peter explained, "all the hops in this beer come from the UK."  I found the bitterness more herbal and tea-like as typical in British beers, without the spicy or fruity character other hops might bring to the brew.  At 4.5% abv with it's palate cleansing bitterness, it worked quite nicely as a session beer.

Traditional Oktoberfest's are light lagered beers that are a little toasty or caramel with a light hop character specifically designed for large scale consumption in the traditional beer orgy that is Oktoberfest.  This is not your traditional Oktoberfest beer, and that's a good thing.  Hermitage uses Common Yeast which gives it a musty character, the requisite toasted malt, and healthy doses of hops that lend a fruity character and more bitter finish to the brew that is far bigger, stronger and more complex than a traditional Oktoberfest.  Call it a "West Coast Oktoberfest" and while purists may cringe, enjoyable and memorable brew.

Fruit Crate Pumpkin Ale
And now we get to the star of the show, Fruit Crate Pumpkin Ale.  As Peter described, "we took a bunch of organic heirloom pumpkins grown on a nearby farm, then roasted them at the brewery, then ground them up and added them to the brew kettle.  The yeast ferments out of lot of the sugar so it has a little different taste them people might associate with pumpkin".    Unlike many other breweries, Hermitage doesn't add any additional spices to their pumpkin beer.  The base beer is best described as an Imperial Red, very smooth, malty and a little caramelly with low additions of hops to let the pumpkin flavor shine through.  The pumpkin is pretty subtle, and gives the resulting brew a nice twist. Peter found the pumpkin to get the brew a little vegetable like finish, which I also noticed.  At 9% abv, it's works really well as an fall afternoon or evening sipping beer.

Organic Heirloom Pumpkins for the Fruit Crate
Pumpkin Ale Roasting Away (Photo from Hermitage Brewing)