Monthly Archives: August 2014

The return of Ballantine IPA

ballantine IPA label

While I was researching for my book on IPA, I really gained a huge appreciation for the influence of historical beers on today’s beer styles. Many of these influential beers no longer exist, yet they provided inspiration for many of today’s brewers, and it’s been quite rewarding to learn about many of these beers.

A great case in point is Ballantine IPA. I was somewhat familiar with Ballantine IPA before I started researching the book, mostly through an article that Gregg Glaser wrote for Modern Brewery Age back in 2000 (the text of that article is at the bottom of this post). And as I started researching American IPA brewing, I came to understand exactly how important this beer was. Not only was it one of the best selling IPAs in American history, with over a 100 year tradition, but it also provided substantial influence to both Fritz Maytag at Anchor, whose Liberty Ale was inspired by it, and Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada, who has acknowledged that Ballantine IPA was an inspiration for Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Pre-1970s Ballantine IPA is described in literature as a beer with a starting gravity of 18 degrees Plato, an alcohol content of 7.4%, 60 IBUs, aged for a year in oak vats, and dry-hopped with a unique process using Bullion (and apparently at times Cluster) hops. In other words, this was a real beefy IPA, similar in intensity to the best Burton IPAs of the 1800s and the best craft brewed IPAs today.

Ballantine Shepps TX ballantine_india_pale_ale_poster-re561ef9be5514219bb93f79c3e32c8f5_5jt_400

Ballantine IPA fell victim to the homogenization of American beer in the 1950s-1970s, a development I detailed at length in my book. The demise of many regional breweries and classic beers styles occurred as the American Lager gained a stronger and stronger stranglehold on the American beer scene. With the buyouts and closings that occurred during this time, Ballantine went from being the 3rd largest brewer in the US in the 1950s, to eventually being sold to Falstaff, and having the brewing moved from Newark, NJ to the Narragansett Brewery in Rhode Island. The Ballantine IPA recipe went through several modifications and was eventually dumbed down to the point of being a shell of its formal self.

The history of Ballantine IPA has been well documented on the internet, on sites like this, JessKidden’s great documentations of historical breweries here and here, and Bil Corcoran’s blog site My Beer Buzz. I used all of this as part of my research for the book, and since the book was published, I’ve been able to be involved in the brewing of two Ballantine IPA-inspired beers. The first was this Collaboration originally done with Dave Yarrington at Smuttynose Brewing Company and Tod Mott, then at the Portsmouth Brewery, a beer we called Cluster’s Last Stand (the name came before we decided the recipe). The grain bill was from the first Ballantine recipe in my book, and we hopped the beer with Bullion and Cluster hops, and a bit of Tomahawk hops. Dave at Smuttynose has now rebrewed and packaged Cluster’s Last Stand a couple of times, and somehow our co-founder and CEO Greg Koch was able to take part in one of those re-brews. I’m not sure how I missed out on that brew day! The second was a recipe that I asked Kris Ketcham, our Brewing Manager at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens-Liberty Station, to brew, and it used the same grain bill and 100% Bullion hops. Kris released this in February 2014 and called it Valentine IPA, an homage to Ballantine. Both beers were resiny, hoppy, extremely bitter, and delightful.

Stone-Smuttynose-Custers-Last-Stand-690x414

So I was quite excited to see that Pabst was reintroducing Ballantine IPA this September. I am seeing a lot buzz around this beer on the internet. Articles and blogs like this one are popping up all over social media sites. And a very gratifying development regarding the release of Ballantine IPA is that my IPA book had a role in it.  The Pabst Brewmaster in charge of developing this beer, Greg Deuhs, has given me a couple of shout outs in this story here and on this radio interview on WILK 103.1’s Friday Beer Buzz , and I’m beyond pleased that some of what I was able to cobble together about Ballantine IPA played any part in its resurrection.

I was lucky enough to have a a colleague “with connections” send me a prototype unlabeled can of the new Ballantine IPA, which I tried very recently with a friend. The beer is a beautiful amber color, hoppy as hell, huge powerhouse of hop aromatics, lots of citrus and herbal earthiness. This is a beer I definitely order again, just a really intense American IPA.

NewBallantine

 

The late, great Ballantine.(traditional American ale)
From: Modern Brewery Age | Date: 3/27/2000 | Author: Glaser, Greg
Modern Brewery Age

The real story of the greatest of the traditional American ales.

Mention the name Ballantine to beer lovers, especially beer lovers with more than a few flecks of gray in their beards, and more often than not they will begin to rhapsodize rapturously about this famous ale. You’ll hear stories of old bottles mysteriously and wondrously discovered and tasted; tales of long-discarded techniques employed by the original brewers; accounts of the slow, steady decline of the beer’s greatness as it passed from brewery to brewery, the result of corporate takeovers.

Beer writers often praise Ballantine. Michael Jackson, writing in the August 1980 British beer journal, “What’s Brewing,” described Ballantine IPA as “wonderfully distinctive … an outstanding American ale unique in its fidelity to the East Coast tradition of Colonial ales.” More recently, in the February-March 2000 “Celebrator Beer News,” Fred Eckhardt wrote, “Ballantine IPA would be a good choice for the greatest and most enduring American brewing triumph of the early and mid-20th century.” Pat Baker stated in an interview, “Ballantine IPA was just such a beautiful looking beer. It had a deep amber color and a sparkling head. And of course the hops were just monstrous. It was one of those beer tasting experiences that just stays with you.”

Intrigued by such writings and comments, I decided to delve deeper into Ballantine lore and search out its history. This is what I discovered:In 1830 Peter Ballantine, a Scottish brewer from Ayr, emigrated to the U.S. Several years later, in 1837, he opened a brewery in Albany, New York, and named it Peter Ballantine and Sons. The brewery moved to Newark, New Jersey, in 1840, where it remained until purchased by Falstaff in 1971. (From 1879 to 1911 Ballantine operated a second Newark brewery, and in 1943 the company purchased Newark’s Christian Feiganspan Brewery and ran it as a Ballantine plant until 1948.) At its peak in the 1950s, P. Ballantine & Sons brewed five million barrels a year.

Production of all Ballantine beers (there were several) moved in 1971 to the Narragansett Brewery in Cranston, Rhode Island. Narragansett, which opened in 1890, was purchased by Falstaff in 1965 and closed in 1983. Falstaff, bought by Pabst in 1975, moved Ballantine production to their Ft. Wayne, Indiana, brewery in 1979, where the brand remained until 1991 when the plant closed. (This was the old Berghoff Brewery, purchased by Falstaff in 1954.)

From 1991 to 1996, Pabst brewed Ballantine in Milwaukee. There is a possibility that towards the end of this time Ballantine may have also been brewed at the Heileman Brewery in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, where some Pabst brands were made. During 1996 to 1999, Ballantine came out of Pabst breweries in Tumwater, Oregon, and San Antonio, Texas. Today the brand is solely brewed at Pabst’s plant in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, the original 1972 Schaeffer brewery that was later sold to Stroh in 1980 and acquired by Pabst in 1999.

Through all these moves, Ballantine ales constantly changed character. The brands most often brewed were Ballantine XXX and Ballantine IPA, the latter being the most widely loved and praised. In Newark, Ballantine IPA was a strong, 7.5% abv amber ale with great hop bitterness (60 International Bittering Units or IBUs) and a powerful hop aroma. This aroma came from hop oils distilled from Bullion hops at the brewery and added to the storage tanks. These tanks them-selves were unique, in that they were made of oak. Ballantine IPA was aged for a full year in the wood, a technique unheard of today except for the most artisanal microbrewery. The woody character found in Ballantine IPA was as important to the beer’s profile as were the hop oils. The Newark brewery also produced a special ale named Ballantine Burton. This extra strong beer, perhaps 10% abv, was aged an amazing ten years in wood and bottled sporadically as holiday gifts to brewery employees and friends. The labels created for these bottles would sta te the date the beer was brewed and bottled and the name of the recipient.

When Ballantine moved to Rhode Island, the IPA aging was first lowered to nine months, then six and finally to five. Oak barrels were replaced by wax-coated cyprus, according to Bill Anderson, Narragansett’s master brewer in the early 1970s. Hop oils continued to be used for a while, with a distillation unit on premises, but this process was later abandoned. Overall IBUs for the IPA dropped to 50, then 45. Bullion hops were used at first, but were later changed to a blend of Brewers’ Gold and American Yakima. The IPA was dry hopped in storage tanks after the hops were put through what Anderson called a hammer mill. “We ground them to a consistency that was a cross between corn flakes and sawdust,” he remembers. The strength of the beer remained constant during most of the Narragansett years, at 7.5% abv, but Anderson says this was later reduced to 6.7%.

In that same 1980 What’s Brewing article quoted previously, Jackson wrote of the Ballantine IPA: it had a “thick, rocky head, delightfully hoppy nose, powerful and lasting bitterness, extremely firm full body, superb balance and soft natural carbonation.” Alan Kornhauser, a Ballantine aficionado and brewmaster for Pabst Brewing Company, Far East Division, based in Zhaoqing, China, remembers the Rhode Island-brewed Ballantine IPA as, light and refreshing, with great hop aroma.”

Ballantine Burton was never brewed outside Newark, but XXX came out of Narragansett as a golden ale of about 23 IBUs and 5.6% abv. Another ale produced there was Ballantine Brewers’ Gold, a strong (7% abv), moderately hoppy (30-34 IBUs) golden ale. A lager was also made.

Once Ballantine production moved to Ft. Wayne, a decidedly different beer emerged. Gone were the wooden aging casks; gone were the hop oils. “It stopped tasting like Ballantine at that time,” recalls Kornhauser. “It must have been a different formula and maybe not even an ale yeast. And the hop aroma was gone.” Pat Baker remembers much the same: “The wood character disappeared and the hop character faded.”

I couldn’t find anyone to provide notes on Ballantine when it was brewed in Milwaukee, Tumwater or San Antonio, but I did speak with Dan Melideo, master brewer at Pabst’s Lehigh Valley plant, Ballantine’s present home. Melideo says that today Ballantine XXX, the only Ballantine in production, finishes with a strength of 5.45% abv (a far cry from the original) and is hopped to a bitterness of about 22 IBUs (again, much lower than in the past). And the hops have changed again. Melideo uses Cascade hops in the boil and also in storage to dry hop the beer. Aging in wood remains a thing of the past. Jim Walter, VP of Business Administration for Pabst, explains that Ballantine XXX is marketed primarily in the northeast corridor with some sales in the Mid West and West Coast. He says that in the future Pabst may also see a market develop for Ballantine IPA.

Before joining Pabst in China, Alan Kornhauser was a brewer at Portland Brewing in Portland, Oregon. While there he wanted to recreate the Ballantine he knew and loved from years ago, and to introduce this re-creation to West Coast beer lovers, unfamiliar with the old ale. He says he brewed the best version of Ballantine XXX he could in 1996. The beer, originally named Summer Ale, is now called Portland Pale Ale in some parts of the country, and Kornhauser’s Oast Ale in the Pacific Northwest, where it is available from April through August. Kornhauser wanted to use hop oils just as was originally done in Newark and Rhode Island, and he built a still to extract oils from Oregon-grown Brewers’ Gold hops. Not completely satisfied with the results, he sent a batch of hops to England where he knew of an established hop distillery. The hop oil returned to Oregon was blended with the oil he extracted and used in his ale. The result is a 4.7% abv ale with about 28 IBUs and a highly aromatic fragrance from the hop oi ls. In comparing it to his benchmark, Ballantine XXX, Kornhauser says that for flavor it rated eight on scale often, but for hops it was a perfect ten. “The burp after a few sips was all hop oil,” recalls the proud brewer. The Narragansett-brewed Ballantine IPA was the model Kornhauser used when he developed Woodstock IPA for Portland Brewing, a beer in year-round production. Woodstock is a 6.3% abv ale with 45 IBUs (no hop oil, but plenty of dry hops) and a noticeable woody flavor from Kornhauser’s “secret oak aging process.”

“These were two of my favorite beers in the world, Ballantine Ale and IPA, and I was very fortunate that Portland Brewing allowed me to try to recreate them as best I could,” says Kornhauser.

It’s safe to say that bottles of the old, original Ballantine IPA, the Newark and even the Rhode Island versions, are not to be found today. If any exist, the beer would have aged into something completely different, as have old bottles of Ballantine Burton. With regrets, none of us can taste this highly lauded ale. With Pabst’s Ballantine XXX being brewed so differently from the original, it’s hardly fair to compare it with the older version. The most that diehard beer lovers can do is read the reviews of the past, talk with any gray-beards they can find who tasted the original Ballantine ales and search out microbreweries such as Portland Brewing Company who brew hoppy ales. Those are our best chances of getting even the slightest handle on the late, great ale they called Ballantine.

Gregg Glaser is a beer writer and educator who makes his home in Wilton, CT. His writings are a regular feature in Modern Brewery Age.

My Favorite Beer Cities

Another one I never got around to posting because sometimes life gets in the way:

Stephen Beaumont wrote a post a while back on his World of Beer site that “there is no such thing as a “best beer city””, his point being that the enjoyment of beer relies as much upon atmosphere, situation, and history as much as the overall beer and brewery selection in any given city. I kind of agree with him, despite the fact that I called Portland, Oregon America’s best beer city in a previous post. But this is highly subjective, admittedly, and so I thought maybe I’d just list my favorite beer cities, and why I enjoy them as much as I do, without trying to decide which is best, because I like them all for different reasons.

I did not list any cities I haven’t been to, so if a great beer city is not on the list, that would probably be why. So here they are, in no particular order, and special thanks to Stone’s Brewery Reps in each of these towns, because they are the ones that always show me what’s new:

Portland, Oregon: Nowhere I’ve been is craft beer as pervasive as I’ve seen in Portland, OR. I go to Portland about once a year, and every time I go, I get to visit many new craft beer bars or breweries. There is always something new and incredible. And craft beer is literally everywhere, it’s harder to find a restaurant or bar that doesn’t serve craft beer than it is to find one that does. Portland has a great craft brewing tradition, one of the pioneering towns of the modern day craft beer movement, so it is full of 30 year “tradition” and also some groundbreaking innovation. The Craft Brewers Conference will be in Portland in 2015, and I think we’re cooking up some big activities while we are there. Cannot wait for this.

San Diego, CA: Okay, I’m a homie now, after 8+ years of being here. There are currently over 80 craft breweries in San Diego County, and the beer scene is amazingly innovative and vibrant. There’s a beer style for everyone here. If you want a lager, an English Ale, a sour beer, or a west coast IPA, you can find excellent examples of all of these being brewed within miles of each other. I’m proud to be part of the beer community here, I just wish I lived a little closer to San Diego itself and all the great beer bars there, like Hamilton’s, Blind Lady, Small Bar and Toronado just east of downtown, and The Neighborhood and The Local in downtown. I just read that the ~20 mile stretch along Highway 78 from Escondido to Oceanside is home to something like 30 breweries! My favorite place to get a beer and a meal in the San Diego area is URGE Gastropub in Rancho Bernardo, in between San Diego and Escondido.

Cleveland, OH: I’ve traveled for Stone a few times to Cleveland OH, and always have a great time. There is a hard-core craft scene here, while it might not be as big as the scene is in some other cities, it is passionate, down to earth, and intense. There are some great breweries in Cleveland, including Fat Heads, Market Garden, and Great Lakes, and the city’s residents have really embraced Stone, which always makes a visit fun. I love the restaurants in Cleveland also, not only are there several Michael Symon restaurants, there are places like Melt and Winking Lizard that serve lots and lots of craft beer, and have delicious comfort food with generous portion sizes. Lilly’s handmade chocolates is not only a craft beer bottle shop, but they make incredible chocolates, many of them made with beer. The home brewing scene is big also. Plus it’s also home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so it scores double for me.

San Francisco Bay Area: Will always have a spot in my heart. I grew up in the Bay Area, and got my first brewing job here. The brewing scene is widespread here, so like most people, I tend to lump many Northern California breweries together as part of the SF Beer scene. I love the breweries here, the ones I knew in the 80’s when I first started brewing, like Anchor, Triple Rock, Sierra Nevada and Drakes, and the great ones that have come since I left, like 21st Amendment, Faction, Russian River, Bear Republic, and Lagunitas. The Bay Area is home to The Brewing Network, and a bunch of great craft beer bars, and is also home to some of my closest friends in the business. My only gripe about the area is that there are still some craft beer deserts-like the San Jose area and the Diablo Valley, though they are getting better. The East Bay is home to me, but I just wish craft beer would take off in my hometown, Walnut Creek. Ol is a good start, but come on! At least Concord “gets it”, kind of. But like people say when I visit the East Bay and ask where I should go:   “you need to drive through the Caldecott tunnel or take BART to get to a great beer place”.

Denver: I lived in Colorado for 3 years, and absolutely loved it. Denver is a cool town, the LoDo area was just taking off when we lived there. The brewing scene in Colorado is legendary, with breweries like Wynkoop and Breckenridge, and there are exciting new brewers popping up all the time. It’s a fun town to visit, which I get to do just about every year when I go out for the Great American Beer Festival. Falling Rock is the legendary beer bar, and is so packed post GABF sessions that I usually end up going somewhere else. But I love to go there in quieter times. My favorite place in Denver: Euclid Hall, a craft beer centric German-inspired gastropub. But downtown is just loaded with great brewers and great beer bars, all pretty much walking distance from each other. When I lived in Colorado, I was in Ft. Collins, and that town is simply amazing, with brewers like Odell and New Belgium, and several others that have opened since I left.

Seattle: Seattle’s scene is legendary as well, and every time I go there-which is on a pretty regular basis because of its proximity to Yakima (where almost all our hops are grown)- there always seems to be a new brewery that is creating a lot of buzz. I like the old standbys, like Pike and Elysian, and love Brouwer’s Cafe, which always has amazing Belgian beer selections. I’m looking forward to trying Toronado next time I’m there, which will be soon.

Philadelphia: I have to admit, I have a hard time figuring out Philly’s beer scene. Not that it isn’t great, but it is a bit unusual in that it seems to be dominated by beer bars and restaurants as opposed to breweries. There are some great breweries in the area, like Victory, Yards and the Iron Hill pub chain that wins so many awards at the GABF every year, but when I go to Philadelphia, I usually end up in a Belgian beer bar-there are several awesome ones in the town. Monk’s is the “must-visit” place in Philadelphia. But Eulogy Belgian Tavern is also great, and I’ve also enjoyed the times I’ve visited the Belgian Cafe, Tria Cafe, and Jose Pistolas.

Asheville: I went to Asheville twice in 2013, and there aren’t words to describe how cool the brewing scene is there. For a town of 80,000+ people, it certainly has a lot of really good breweries and beer bars, and I can see going there a LOT in my future. Wicked Weed Brewing, The Thirsty Monk, and Jack of The Wood are all great places to hang out. I have told my wife more than once that I want to retire there. It’s beautiful, the people are friendly and kind, and the beer is great. Can’t really beat that, can you?

Boston: I lived in the Boston area for 6 years while working for Anheuser-Busch, and the beer scene at the time was pretty much dominated by Sam Adams and Harpoon. I became friends with many of New England’s craft brewers while I lived there and active in the New England District of the Master Brewers Association. I think New England’s craft beer presence was clouded a bit in the early days by the rampant use of Ringwood yeast, but there are many amazing beers there now. I love New England and would move back in a heartbeat if Stone were to move their headquarters there (yeah, right. Probably not going to happen). If you include Maine and Vermont as part of the overall scene, you get some world-class craft brewers like The Alchemist and Allagash added to the mix.  If I had to name a “best beer state”, Vermont might be at the top of my list.

Burlington VT: Simply one of my favorite towns. It’s beautiful, and has a great vibe, and good beer. Not only are there several world-class breweries within the town limits, it’s also just a short distance away from brewers likeThe Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Otter Creek, and so many other great Vermont Breweries. I wouldn’t mind retiring here either, if I can still deal with the cold and snow by the time I get to be retirement age.

St. Louis: I lived 5 years in St. Louis, and of course, Budweiser was king there when I lived there. But I went back last year for the first time in about 7 years, and was excited to find a vibrant craft scene, that includes the great Schlafly beer, and also newer brewers like 4 Hands and Urban Chestnut.  The town will always be beer centric, and it’s great to see people embrace craft beer since the sale of Anheuser-Busch to Inbev.

Austin: Like most people, I tend to think of music first when I think of Austin, but the beer scene is really great. I wrote a lot about the town in a previous post, but there are great craft beer bars and restaurants all over town. And yes, 6th Street, where a lot of the music is, is a bit of a craft beer desert, but you can find good beer if you look hard enough, and on the perimeter of 6th street are some great craft beer places, like Easy Tiger and Star Bar

Temecula:  This is my hometown, and I have to admit, I didn’t like it much when I first moved here over 8 years ago. It was chain restaurant hell, but in the past several years it has became home to some great gastropubs, like The Public House and Sorrel, and there are a bunch of breweries that have opened on the west side of town. Black Market opened a few years ago, was really the first brewery here after Vinnie Cilurzo’s Blind Pig Brewery closed, and they brewed a great Hefeweizen and GABF winning Rye IPA when they first opened up. Since Black Market, several breweries have also opened, owned by really super people who are brewing great beer. The list of brewers in Temecula now includes Black Market, Iron Fire, Refuge, Aftershock, Wiens and Garage Brewing. Many of these breweries sell much of their beer out of their tasting rooms, and are within either walking distance from each other or just a short drive, so a safe brewery crawl is always fun and safe to do on a weekend. Riverside County and Los Angeles are no slouches either when it comes to craft brewing-there are some great breweries that have opened up across the region, and some of my favorite beer bars, like 38 Degrees, Blue Palms, Najas, Haven, Lucky Baldwin’s, Congergation Ale House, and Mohawk Bend are located near LA.

London: I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to travel to London about 6 times in the last 5 years. I love the city, and I love the pub scene in England. Some of my favorite stops in London: The Fuller’s Brewery is still amazing after all these years, and some of the newer craft breweries, like The Kernel and Beavertown are brewing really exciting beers. Meantime in Greenwich does a great job brewing both German style beers and historically influenced English Ales. There are some really great craft beer pubs around London too, including The Rake in the Borough market area, The Craft Beer Co. in Clerkenwell, and the Euston Tap, just outside the Euston train station.

Montreal: Fortunately, I got to Montreal twice when I lived in new Hampshire. It’s a great beer town full of Belgian influenced brewers. I have very fond memories of doing an all day walking brewery/pub crawl with several friends from the Brew For or Die homebrew club. And our Unibroue stop was epic. I’ll never forget going into an Irish pub on St. Catherine Street and hearing an Irish band play Metallica.

Brussels: I’ve only been to Brussels once, and for the best reason: to visit Cantillon. Steve Wagner and I stopped there for a night during one of our trips to London. Jean Van Roy was very generous with his time and his sampling when we told him where we were from. And in the town center, there are the world famous beer bars like Delirium Tremens. The Belga Queen was one of the best dinner experiences I have ever had. Boon Gueze on cask–all night.

Grand Rapids, MI: Made my first visit to Grand Rapids for the American Homebrewers Conference in June, and it’s really a very cool beer town. Founders is right there-their beers are fantastic, and their restaurant serves great sandwiches. Walking distance from Founders is Hop Cat and several other great beer spots. And Brewery Vivant was a fun last minute stop-they are killing it. Lots of really great places. And nearby, Kalamazoo (home to Bell’s) and Ann Arbor-Home to Ashley’s and close to Jolly Pumpkin, are no slouches either!

Now that Stone is working on opening up breweries in Berlin and in a location TBD on the East Coast, I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge of the world’s great beer towns.

 

On my quality soapbox (again)

I haven’t posted here in what seems like forever. Those who know me know that I have a lot going on right now, both personally, and professionally, and the motivation to sit in front of the keyboard and type out my thoughts just hasn’t been there lately.

This is a post I wrote soon after the Craft Brewers Conference in April, and just never got around to posting, so here it is..

From April 2014:

During the keynote session of the Craft Brewers Conference, Paul Gatza, Director of the Brewers Association, gave his annual state of the industry talk. In that discussion, he told a story about going to a beer festival and trying many really bad beers from newer brewers. These brewers thought their beer was fantastic, and were buoyed by the positive response they had received from their customers, so they had no idea their beer, from a technical standpoint, was flawed. This is cause for concern. Paul’s  takeaway message: “QUALITY QUALITY QUALITY and “don’t f*@k it up” for the rest of us.” A lot of craft brewing people have spent years building this industry, and one serious quality issue could really ruin the great momentum that has been built.

In the biggest honor of my career, right after Paul’s opening address, I was awarded the Brewers Association Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Craft Brewing, and as I walked up on the stage to say a few words, I decided then and there that I would follow up Paul’s comments with a few of my own, which ended up being something about how the growth of this industry is great, but if you are starting a brewery, please, please, please hire a brewer who knows what the hell they are doing.

A few hours later, Dr. Michael Lewis from UC Davis gave a seminar where he stressed the importance of having technically trained brewers on your staff. And he took it a step further, saying that it is also important that they have an independent certification of their mastery of the craft.

Recently, my friend Jeremy Danner from Boulevard Brewing Company posted on Facebook the following: “Fellow brewer types, as you plan your trips to GABF this fall, if you can afford a week in CO, you can afford a microscope. Buy one.” I loved this post…

If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you already know that beer quality is very important to me. It is important that, as brewers, we all strive to make the highest quality, most consistent beer that we can. As the saying goes, a rising tide raises all boats. On the other hand, a craft brewer making lousy beer can drive fledgling craft beer drinkers permanently to other beverages, like wine or spirits. And that’s bad news for all of us.

Unfortunately, there are some brewers starting up who don’t understand the importance of this, and worse yet, how to achieve it.

I teach the Wort Production and Recipe Formulation for the UC San Diego Extension Brewing Certification Program, and one thing I constantly preach to my classes is that if you are starting a brewery, at a minimum you need to invest in a microscope, a pH meter, and hydrometers. Basic stuff, right? But I’ve walked into so many new breweries that have none of this, or perhaps just hydrometers to check gravity, and it just makes me shake me head. And not enough brewers out there have had any formal sensory training, and know how to identify off-flavors in their beers, and subsequently, how those off flavors are formed, and how to fix them or prevent them.

Again, beer quality, as defined by most brewers, has a very clear meaning: The ability to brew beer with no off flavors, the ability to brew the same beer consistently from batch to batch, to recognize and fix quality issues before the beer gets packaged, having the recognition of when its best to simply dump a beer that has gone south, and the ability to evaluate beer ingredients to brew the best beer possible.

Notice I did not mention formulation. To me, that’s where the consumer comes in. Once all the brewers master the art of quality, their formulations can come under fair scrutiny by beer drinkers, who then use their purchasing power to determine which beers thrive and which beers don’t.

I’ve seen many people take the opinion that having poor quality beer out there won’t affect the overall growth of craft beer. In other words, beer customers won’t turn away from craft after having a poorly brewed beer. In some respects that is true-one bad apple won’t spoil the whole bunch. But here is a reason why brewing quality matters: The craft industry is now a major factor in overall beer consumption. Big brewers are starting to really focus on craft beer, and they have the marketing power to exploit poor quality beer and generalize that across the entire craft beer scene. This is not a joke or an idle threat, look what Anheuser-Busch did to craft beer in the 1990s, when they drove the expose on Dateline with Sam Adams and the concept of “who really brews your beer”. The fallout on craft beer started immediately afterwards, and it took years for the craft beer business to recover, and most contract brewers disappeared. These big brewers understand quality, and have a lot of power, and if they ever figure out how to effectively combine these two elements to convey their message it could have a very bad effect on the rest of the industry. Fortunately, for us, their Executives and Marketing folks still don’t “get” what craft beer is all about, so they haven’t been able to effectively talk about this with any credibility.

As MIchael Lewis says, it’s not good at all for craft brewers to get smug with our success, spend too much time patting ourselves on the back, and rest on laurels, since a potential quality disaster is just around the corner.