Thursday, November 20, 2008

Will Beer Be the Next Casualty of the Crisis?

The downturn could hurt high-end brewers

The beer industry is often described as immune to economic downturns. After all, when people get laid off, they want to nurse their sorrows with a cold one, right?

It turns out that, as the beer industry has gone increasingly upscale, the answer to that question is no longer simple. In recent years, beer sales have been relatively flat except in one category—craft beers, which are made by small, independent brewers. Amy Mittelman, author of Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer, says that the heyday for such high-end, specialty beers could soon be over as consumers look to cut costs. Mittelman spoke to U.S. News about the future—and history—of the American beer industry. Excerpts:

Amy Mittelman, author of Brewing Battles.
Amy Mittelman, author of Brewing Battles.
Over the past several years, why have the more expensive beers taken off while sales of mainstream beer have been flat?
It has to do with the wider trends in American society. As you've seen things become more commoditized, people seek authenticity and realness in those commodities. You see it with coffee, too.

In general, craft beer is seen as being more locally produced with more of a real face. It's not as big and doesn't feel like an anonymous corporation. [Craft brewers'] hallmark is making beer the classic way with no additives. It harkens back to the early years in America, where there were local breweries and saloons.

Do you think that will continue or reverse if the economy undergoes an extended slowdown?
It's hard to say. We've been hearing about comparisons between what we're in now and the Great Depression. [Back then], one of the first things [Franklin] Roosevelt did was legalize beer. He saw beer as a [morale] booster and part of the economic recovery package. He knew that legalizing the industry would bring jobs and production and rev up the economy.

In bad times, do people seek relatively inexpensive comforts? Probably yes. If times get really bad, they may look for the lowest price points. But relatively speaking, even expensive beer isn't that expensive.

Is it a myth that people drink more beer when the economy is going badly?
It depends. Throughout the 1990s, beer sales were kind of flat because of tax increases. When economic times are frightening, people do turn to alcohol to help with that, depending on how curtailed people's spending becomes. But in general, people do turn to alcohol.

Why do you think beer—mostly in the form of references to "Joe Six-pack "—plays such a big role in political debates?
That gets at why beer is so central to American culture, going back to the beginning of the beer industry. In America, it was really centered around working-class life. The great heyday of the brewing industry, before Prohibition, was in the late 19th century. Cities all across America would have many brewers and saloons. Beer was cheap compared with wine or hard spirits, so it became the working-class choice. . . . Now, it's ingrained that regular guys drink beer.

Is that stereotype true—are there lots of "Joe Six-packs" out there?
I don't know what [that term] means. It's silly. It's an advertising concept. It's not real. Beer is a very popular product, and by some estimates, more people drink beer than drink milk. All kinds of people drink beer.

What are the biggest challenges you think the beer industry will face over the next century?
As a whole, it will be increasing competitiveness and consolidation—who will be able to survive on that global level. In general, our societies go through swings in personal behavior. We might put restrictive measures around people's personal autonomy and pleasure-seeking behavior.

Do you think we could go back to Prohibition?
The myths and negative impression of Prohibition are a pretty big deterrent, but you might see a bigger emphasis around drunk driving. College presidents recently spoke out about the drinking age. You might see greater taxes. In the past, the government has sought money from "sin taxes" to deal with economic downturns.

Are people price sensitive—do they buy less if taxes go up?
The theory behind those sumptuary taxes is that the demand is inelastic [meaning people aren't greatly affected by price changes], but I think you could see some shifting. If there's going to be a reduction in consumption, the bigger companies that have more placement in more stores are better able to withstand that. So, we might see people seeking lower-priced products.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Going to California...

er, actually, we already went and came back. BUT while we were there we had the opportunity to taste some brews that aren't normally available here in the tri-state area. We flew to L.A. and drove with our friend Josh to San Francisco. Once there, we had 2 main beer destinations in mind (aside from all the other non-beer-related awesomeness that is San Fran), Toronado and City Beer Store.

Toronado was a relatively long walk from our hotel, but it was well worth our venture. It's got a great atmosphere as well as delicious beer at very fair prices. We could hardly believe our eyes when we saw that all four Russian River brews were either $4 or $4.50! I guess NYC has tainted us a little bit in that respect.

The next day before we had to leave SF we stopped at City Beer Store. Lots of good stuff here. Picked up as many Russian River beers as we could for our camping trip. Unfortunately didn't have the time to try their taps. Here's what we came away with:

Russian River Damnation
Russian River Temptation
Russian River Redemption
Russian River Pliny the Elder
Port Brewing Hop-15

and a few other random singles including a watermelon beer. Needless to say, it'd be nice to have Russian River and Port distribution back here on the east coast. Also worth noting was the Blue Palms Brew House in Hollywood. Good beers at decent prices, right on Hollywood Blvd.!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Visual interlude

Photo taken September of 2007, during our first batch of beer ever. This pot of liquid ended up as Ten Dudes Cherry Poppin' Stout.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dogfish Head Sah'tea

Lets have a go at a proper review for this one!

Enjoyed 2 pints of this at the brewpub alongside some of the best calamari you'll find anywhere. I had zero expectations on this one, since I had never heard of it, never seen it, and knew nothing. One never knows what to expect from Sam and the boys.

Poured a cloudy yellow with an orange tinge, thin white lacing remains intact.

Aroma bright banana and lemon; sour... obviously a wheat yeast doing the work on this one.

Taste.. thick rolling mouth-feel meets perfect carbonation to form an almost neutral feel. Becomes more and more quaffable with every sip. Flavor hits with a barnyardy orange with an amazing clean finish of lemon and gentle spice. DFH says we've got india black tea in here.. and indeed the finish reminds me of a sip of clean hard water black tea. Hops barely show in the background but provide a most perfect balance. Amazing!

Drinkability will rival anything you can think of, and sitting there with their buttermilk calamari made for a near euphoric experience.

PLEASE somebody tell them to put this in a champagne bottle and let us all have some more of what might be the most well-balanced thing to ever flow from our friends at Dogfish Head!

Serving type: on-tap

For the record, the DFH website has this to say:
A modern update on a 9th century Finnish proto-beer.
Brewed with rye, we caramelize the wort with white hot river rocks, then ferment it with a German Weizen yeast. In addition to juniper berries foraged directly from the Finnish country-side we added a sort of tea made with corriander, caramamom, lemon grass, Indian Black Tea, and ramps leaves. The spicing is subtle and balanced and Sahtea is a highly-quaffable, truly-unique brew with a full-mouth feel.

6% abv

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A fruit revelation

I can remember trying a Dogfish Head beer called Festina Peche a year or so ago, and really not understanding why a brewery would put out such a thing. It was thin in body, high in carbonation, and was the opposite of whatever I knew "real beer" to be at the time. Fast forward to September of 2008 (last night to be specific) and here I am opening a similar beer just to get it out of fridge. I refer to the Founders Rubaeus, a beer made with 5 (5!) separate additions of fresh raspberries during fermentation. It also happens that I am reading the Lambic section in "THE BREWMASTER'S TABLE:DISCOVERING THE PLEASURES OF REAL BEER WITH REAL FOOD" by Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery.
By coincidence, my super-hot girlfriend places a chunk of Trader Joe's chocolate next to me while I'm in the middle of sentence that reads something to the effect of "there is no better combination in this world than a raspberry lambic beer and chocolate." So there it was, and that is what I did... and the second this beer (not a Lambic, but similar) washed away that chocolate... I realized A.) why we have taste buds, and B.) exactly why this beer was created. End of story. Any fruit beer like this, raspberry, peach or otherwise, will AMAZE you when you try it with a hunk of chocolate.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sixpoint Beer Pairings at The Habitat

So glad to finally see The Habitat have a beer event! And what a great one to kick it off. The way this one worked, as you can see above, is that it was $20 for four 8oz. Sixpoint pours paired with four different small servings of food.

First up was Sweet Re-Action paired with Salted Plantain Chips. Wow, delicious stuff. Apparently this Re-Action is the original recipe before they first brewed Sweet Action. The plantains' saltiness lent the perfect partner to the sweet yet mildly hoppy Re-Action.

Next was the Belgian Rye-PA with Chorizo Sausage. This was originally supposed to be the Belgian IPA but the Sixpoint guys accidentally brought the wrong one. Not a problem though, it was still quite good. My only problem here was that the sausage was so spicy that it somewhat overpowered the taste of the beer. And the spiciness lingered a bit into the next pairing.

Then there was the Brownstone Ale with the Ropa Vieja Empanada. The empanada is tasty and makes for an interesting pairing with the brownstone. You can really taste the brown and maybe chocolate malt there. Mild yet detectable hops.

Finally it was the Carob Porter (also known as Black Market Porter) with a small chocolate cherry truffle. The Porter had notes of coffee and chocolate, perfectly complimented by the rich chocolate truffle.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

12 Months. 12 Homebrews.

It's now been one year since we ten dudes started our homebrewing adventure. last night, we sampled one of every beer we've made to really get a sense of what we'd accomplished. It was surprising to realize that we have actually been brewing at a beer a month pace for 12 months. And even though not every brew turned out the way we wanted them to, it was still pretty awesome to see all of these laid out at once.

We all agreed that our very first beer, one brewed using a kit from Homebrew Heaven, was one of the best. Unfortunately, our purchase of a 55lb bag of Dry Malt Extract confined our latter brews to very similar tastes and textures. This of course leaves us with much room for improvement. Soon, we begin our attempts to brew with all grains rather than dry malt, and that should give us the ability to change up the flavors and styles more accurately.

And of course, Lucky Number 13 is already almost ready to go:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Summer? OVER

Yesterday was the first day where you could almost feel a chill in the air, so why not declare the summer officially over with a Oskar Blues Ten FIDY Imperial Stout? This is for sure one of the best imperial stouts out there, and for now I'll declare it the best I've ever had. Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout is right there too, but at least this we can get out hands on. Anyways, cheers to snow, freezing weather, and room temp Ten Fidy!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Just kidding!

Now that my lst post is out of the way and never to be seen again, here's something slightly of note.
Since I work at Time Out NY mag, I sometimes am privy to junk that people send into the office unsolicited(handed over from the editors). THIS junk however is beer, and possibly not junk at all. What we have here are two bottles of "SAMPLE" beer from Samuel Adams, a brewery who likes to think of themselves as craft. We've got a Blackberry Witbier (capped with a regular Samuel Adams cap) and a Coffee Stout (with a blank gold cap). A few of these came by wrapped in bubble wrap and I got all giddy... until I tasted one. I'm regrettably not a fan of the lighter, highly effervescent and fruity witbier style... I just don't think it does the fruit any real justice. This version of the style may well be liked by some, but to me this one was a whole lot of fluff and no real flavor. Coffee stout yet to be tasted. Can't wait to hate it and be able to swear off Sam Adams for life as mass market titan who THINKS they remember what good used to taste like... but don't remember how to brew it! I will however let the beer speak for itself.

5 Year anniversary of Hop Nation Blog

After 5 long hard years of posting every single day to the Hop Nation Blog, I've decided to take a break to spend time with my family and enjoy the other things life has to offer. I know for our fanbase this will be a tough thing to hear, but I've thought long and hard and in my heart I know this is the right thing to do.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Green Flash!

Tonight we went to Hop Devil Grill ( for their Green Flash Brewery night! We sampled:

American Double / Imperial Stout
8.80% ABV

Surprised at how little of the nearly 9% ABV came thru.

8.50% ABV

Good and tasty, but nothing all that memorable.

American Double / Imperial IPA
9.00% ABV

HOP CITY! Bitterness off the charts. One is about enough.

American Amber / Red Ale

Well-balanced, tasty. Perhaps a little over-hyped.

American IPA
7.00% ABV

This is really Green Flash's crowning achievement so far. It's the perfect amount of hops and drinkability.