Category Archives: Fun Beer Stuff

Atlanta

The end of this month marks a full 7 months that I’ve been traveling to Atlanta on a regular basis for the planning work that is happening for our brewery restaurant.
Many people are asking me “why Atlanta?”, which is a very fair question. I have no personal ties here, and up until recently, I haven’t spent much time here. But one of my business partners lives in the Atlanta area, and Atlanta was on the short list of places we were considering, primarily because it is a really cool city, and is, in our opinions, under-represented with craft breweries compared to other big cities in the country (though there are some very good breweries here). We thought the potential here was significant. Carey found a building for our business that is absolutely perfect for what we want to try and create. And since then, I’ve been here a lot, and have grown to really like this city and the people that live here.

Atlanta itself is a “happening” city, a lot of the neighborhoods have undergone renovation, and that are filled with unique and excellent restaurants and beer drinking establishments. It’s also a beautiful city, filled with parks, lots of trees, and some amazing homes.

There is a thriving craft beer scene here. Two beer drinking establishments are consistently ranked in the top ten of American craft beer bars (The Porter,  and The Brickstore Pub in nearby Decatur). I’ve been to each many times, they have great draft beer selections, lots of rare bottles stored in temperature controlled beer cellars, educated and knowledgable staff, and they really take care of their beer and their glassware.
There are some really good craft brewers here as well, with many more breweries in planning. This is despite current GA beer laws that restrict the ability of brewers who operate a “brewery” to sell beer out of their brewery, and severely limits maximum production volume of a brewpub that serves food. I’m learning more about the local brewers and breweries with each trip I’ve taken, and we are really looking forward to being a part of the scene here. As I have found everywhere, brewers are kindred spirits, and I look forward to getting to know the Atlanta area brewers better and enjoying their beers.

Some of my favorite beers so far are from Creature Comforts in nearby Athens GA, Scofflaw which really makes great IPAs, and Three Taverns Brewery in Decatur. Terrapin in Athens has been one of my favorites for a long time. Sweetwater Brewing is the largest brewery in the area, we got to visit a few weeks ago, and I was impressed with their operation, and pleasantly surprised at how big they are. They are doing some really cool special beers and wood aged beers, and their core lineup has always been solid. Torched Hop is a new brewpub that is a five minute drive from our spot, and they make really good beer, we’ve been there several times. And there are other brewers in the area I really haven’t had a chance to try yet, including Monday Night Brewing, Reformation, Eventide, Second Self, and others. A lot of brewers are putting some focus on sour beers, and the ones I’ve gotten to try from Orpheus and Three Taverns have been delicious. In short, there is no shortage of good and interesting beer, covering all styles, in the Atlanta area, which has been fun for me to learn!
We rented an apartment in the Inman Park neighborhood since one of our partners, Bob, and I are traveling in for now.  It’s better than staying in a hotel and is giving us a little sense of “home”. It’s not only located in a great neighborhood with a lot of restaurants and cafes, it’s located on the Beltline, a jogging/walking/biking trial that will eventually encircle the entire city, so it is only a 5-10 minute walk to our building site. The apartment is also is a 5-10 minute walk from The Porter, the Wrecking Bar Brewpub, Ponce City Market, and Krog Street Market, which has a great beer store and beer bar called Hop City. I just bought a bicycle for getting around-the Beltline is a wonderful place to do some quick rides and navigate through town.

I’ve been asked a lot about when I’m moving. I have a daughter in high school in CA, and will not move her while she is in school, so I’ll be commuting until she graduates. I do look forward to bringing the family out here, and showing them some of the things I really like in the area.

We still don’t have an official name, we hope to be able to announce something soon. As we start construction in our space, look for more progress updates from me!

The Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group Beers before my time-Pt 1: Elk Mountain Family

There were several “Specialty” beers that were developed by the Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group before I joined the team in 1995. Here’s summary of the Elk Mountain beers.

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These beers were named after AB’s Hop Farm in Bonner’s Ferry Idaho, near the Canada border. It was beautiful location, and AB grew Hallertau, Saaz and Tettnang there, probably the only place that successfully brewed Saaz on American soil, and used those hops in Budweiser and several other beers. It was a cool story, a great farm, and I got to visit the hop farm with a bunch of beer writers in 1997 (more on that later). Anyway, it seemed logical that specialty beers focused on hops got named after this hop farm.

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Elk Mountain Amber Ale: This beer really got me excited for our fledgling new products efforts-I was still a Supervisor at the Ft. Collins CO brewery when this beer was first released in 1995, and I remember going to a special tasting after work in our tour center. As I tasted it, I remember thinking-“holy crap-someone in St. Louis figured out how to use hops like a microbrewer would!” This beer was malty and caramelly and had a significant citrus and pine blast of Cascade hops. This beer made a pretty good impression on beer drinkers-I don’t remember seeing any bad reviews, and I think it lasted about 3 years before finally giving way to the Michelob Specialty lineup. I remember some of my hardcore hunter coworkers in Ft. Collins complaining that the animal depicted on the label was not an Elk…

Pretty simple recipe really, it was 80% 2-Row Malt and 20% 40 °L Crystal malt. Hopping in the kettle was Willamette (an AB standard bittering hop at the time), Hallertau from the Elk Mountain Farm in Idaho, and Cascade. The beer was fermented with NCYC 1044 yeast, an English Ale strain that flocculated really well, and then was dry-hopped with Cascade at 0.25 lbs/bbl, tame by today’s standards, but the beer was one of the hoppiest beers I ever tasted from AB. Starting gravity was 14.5 °P, terminal gravity was 3.2 °P, 5.6% abv, 20 °L color, and my records show 25 IBU, though I think it may have started closer to 35 IBUs before being reduced later.  (As a side note, Doug Muhleman, who was a Brewing Director and then VP of Brewing when I was in St. Louis, was a big proponent of low IBU’s-he felt beers lower in bitterness sell better-his quote was “1,000,000 bbls increase in sales for every point of IBU drop”, referring of course to the American Lager style of beer). Elk Mountain Amber was brewed in the Fairfield, CA and Merrimack, NH breweries, and was the first ale AB brewed in almost 100 years.

Elk Mtn Red

Elk Mountain Red Lager: this beer had a similar malt bill to the Amber Ale, but used only hops from Elk Mountain Farms-Hallertau, Saaz and Tettnang. Probably closest to a Vienna Lager in style, this beer was too crystal malt forward to my tastes, and got a little sweet after a pint. Some interesting recipe tidbits-it was decoction mashed, and was fermented with AB’s house lager strain. 12 °P OG, 2.95 °P TG, 4.9% abv, 20 IBU and 16 °L color.

Elk Mountain Harvest

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1995 Elk Mountain Harvest:

This was a special beer we brewed in the fall of 1995, right after I joined the group, and it’s claim to fame was that it was dry-hopped with fresh hops from the Elk Mountain Farm. AB called the hops “baby hops” because they were harvested earlier than normal-something that a lot of brewers and hop growers are looking at right now. Could this have been one of the first wet-hopped beers of the modern craft brewing era? Almost Pilsner like, this golden ale was bright, crisp, and had a really nice peppery spicy hop character. I don’t remember much about it, except that it was all malt, had a small amount of crystal malt and some wheat malt. Elk Mountain Harvest Ale was only a small batch and wasn’t released to the public, only given to our Distributors, though the neck label hints that it may be brewed again in 1996 for public release, which never happened. Because we never brewed it again, and because I liked the beer, I remember using this recipe to form the basis for the later release of Michelob Pale Ale.

American Hop Ale and 1996 Winter Brew: The recipes

I was straightening up the bookshelf in my office today and found an old spiral bound notebook that I used to log my old home brewing recipes in.  And as a nice surprise, I found tucked between the pages some recipe summary spreadsheets on some of the beers I’ve been discussing recently that I was involved with at AB in the 1990s. I thought maybe I’d share a couple of these.

American Hop Ale:

This was one of my favorite beers we brewed in The Specialty Brewing Group. The last of the American Originals, it was a deep amber/brown ale, malty, but not sweet, with an intense hop bitterness and floral, spicy hop aroma. Without a doubt, the most aggressively hopped beer we released while I was in the group.

Grain:
91% American 2-Row malt,
8% 40 dL Briess Caramel malt
1% Briess Black Patent Malt

Mashing:
The mashing profile is described as an “Upward Infusion w/ Reverse Boiling Water Pumpback”. That’s a mouthful, and the German term for it-that the old school German Brewmasters at AB used: “Hochkochmaishverfahrven” (forgive any spelling errors-I’m going off a 20 year old memory here!) was even worse. To understand what this means, you need to understand AB’s brewing process a bit:

At AB, most brands were mashed in at a fairly low temperature for protein rest, and a cereal boiling process was used in a separate cooker. In what AB called the American Double Mash process, the rice or corn after being boiled a short time to liquefy the starches, was pumped back to the mash vessel containing the malt, and that process, coupled with steam flow to the jackets on the mash vessel, helped raise the overall mash temperature to the desired conversion temperature. This is very similar to the traditional German decoction mashing technique.

The problem with this technique is that it produced a very fermentable wort, meaning it didn’t leave behind a lot of dextrins and other complex carbohydrates that an ale brewer would get using a traditional infusion mash profile, as was common in craft brewing in those days. So the specialty beers made using the traditional AB mashing schedule came out thin and too dry, and lacked mouthfeel. To fix this situation, Frank Vadurro, Sr. Asst Brewmaster in Merrimack, NH, Denny Franz who ran the Corporate testing program out of St. Louis, and Al Linnebach, who was running the pilot brewery (RPB) at the time, devised this process in which the thick malt mash was pumped into a second mash vessel containing only water that was at boiling temperature. It’s very similar to the jump mash process described in Kunze’s excellent  Technology of Brewing and Malting. The result was that the mash almost instantaneously increased to the proper conversion temperature, bypassing the beta amylase window (144-149°F) that results in highly fermentable wort. It was a neat technique to get some body and mouthfeel in these beers, and we used it for a lot .

Hopping:
Not a lot of detail available on my sheet, but the hops used were Cluster and American Fuggle (which is the same hop as Willamette. Legally, for labeling purposes, they are interchangeable). The beer was then dry hopped with 3/4 lb/bbl Fuggles. I remember we tried Cluster on a pilot brew and felt it was a little too catty for this beer.

Fermentation:
Yeast was NCYC 1044 Ale yeast. I don’t remember exact fermentation temperature but I think it was around 72 °F.

Analytical Targets:

OG: 14.8 °P
TG: 4.5 °P
IBU: 50+
ABV: 5.6%
Color: 16 °L

1996 Anheuser-Busch Winter Brew

As discussed in the last post, this was the second, and arguably the best, Winter/Holiday beer we brewed while I was in the Specialty Brewing Group. Here’s a recipe summary:

Grain:
68% 2 Row Malt
19% 40 °L Briess caramel malt
10% 20 °L Munich Malt
3% Briess Chocolate Malt

Mashing:
The mashing profile was the upward infusion process similar as described above for American Hop Ale

Hopping:
Willamette, Cascade, and Elk Mountain Farms Idaho-grown Hallertau and Saaz. I wish I had record of which hops were added early and which were added late.

Fermentation:
AB Lager yeast strain, probably at about 55 °F for primary, then cold lagered at 40-45 °F for 3+weeks

Analytical Targets
OG: 13.6 °P
TG: 4.95 °P
IBU: 2
ABV: 5.6%
Color: 16 °L

 

Anheuser-Busch Christmas and Winter Brews of the mid 1990s

Merry Christmas!

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The lights hung at the St. Louis Brewery at Christmas time were always magical to me.

Most brewers know this fact: call a winter seasonal beer a “Christmas” beer or “Holiday” beer, and you can’t give the stuff away the day after Christmas. It’s one reason why Stone Brewing Co. has never really done a Holiday Seasonal , and I don’t expect we ever will (the Stone Vertical Epic 12.12.12 is the possible exception-but that had additional staying power because it was part of a series).  Anheuser-Busch felt the same way, and experienced this very real effect after the release of their 1st holiday beer in a long time, the 1995 Christmas Brew Beer. It stopped selling very quickly after the holiday season, and there was a fair amount of inventory that eventually had to be destroyed. After that, the holiday beers we brewed were called “Winter”, which still suffers from the same seasonal effect, but not to such a large degree.

I worked on 4 Holiday beers at Anheuser Busch-in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998. I honestly don’t remember a heck of a lot about the brewing and recipes for three of them, but I love telling the story of one in particular.

CHRISTMAS BREW 1995

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This beer’s development started in the late summer of 1995, a few months after I had moved to St. Louis to join Corporate Brewing/Brewing Process Technology/The Specialty Brewing Group. Dan, my predecessor in New Products, spearheaded this project from the office of the VP of Brewing, and Paul and I worked on putting this concept from Dan and Directors and VP level Brewmasters together. This was the first Christmas beer that AB had done in years, if not decades. All I really remember about this one is that it was all malt, had a nice amber color, and a balanced and slightly aggressive hop profile, with some late hopping intended to emphasize pine flavors.

The back label text: “In the 1890’s, Adolphus Busch began a tradition of brewing special beers for the holiday season.These beers are offered to friends and customers. We are proud to bring back this tradition with a limited bottling of Christmas Brew 1995”.

SPECIAL WINTER BREW 1996

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I remember we worked very closely with Corporate Brewing Directors and and the VP of Brewing on this one. This beer was re-named Winter Brew to avoid the intense seasonality of Christmas beers. I don’t remember much about the recipe, except it was again an amber/brown lager, more in line with a Muenchener Dunkel, not very hoppy, with a really nice rich and smooth malt character. I remember being very pleased with the end result, and one of my lasting memories about this project was that VP of Brewing Gerhardt Kraemer was very happy with it and congratulated us on it.

Note that both the 1995 and 1996 beers were packaged in the same bottles used for the American Originals.

The back label text: “”At the turn of the century, Adolphus Busch began a tradition of brewing special beers for the holiday season.We are proud to continue this tradition with a limited bottling of our 1996 Special Winter Brew. I’ve brewed this beer to be a rich, flavorful lager that’s perfect for the celebrations of the season.”-Gerhard A. Kraemer, Head Brewmaster”.

MICHELOB WINTER BREW SPICED ALE:

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This 1997 Holiday beer had the best label and the most convoluted story. I can laugh about it now, but this beer was brutal to develop, and caused a few sleepiness nights.

By the Fall of 1997, The American Originals beers were either gone or on their last legs. Because of the huge success of Michelob Amber Bock,  Marketing was putting a huge focus on expanding the Michelob lineup with a series of specialty beers-more on those beers in an upcoming post. It’s worth noting that a new Specialty Brewing Group marketing person was on board, and the shift from the American Originals to the Michelob lineup was a very calculated move.

New Products was normally given one brew a week at the 10 Bbl the Research Pilot Brewery (RPB) attached to the the main St. Louis Brewery, and if I remember correctly, at the time they were brewing 10 brews total per week. Most of what they brewed were variations and tests on Budweiser-some really cool beers-single hop variety Budweiser and the like. Since we had reasonably frequent access to the RPB brewing schedule, we set a goal for ourselves to pilot brew at least one example of every recognized beer style in the RPB. We figured if we did this, we’d learn a lot about each style and perhaps have some good recipes in our back pocket, because there were many times when the new product releases came at you fast, and there wasn’t enough time to really run a lot of trials to finalize the recipe.

At some point in 1996 or 1997 I came up with a recipe for a Scotch Ale that the RPB brewed for us. It was really tasty strong, malty ale, and became a favorite of August Busch III’s-the story was that he often poured the beer at his house. In fact, I know we brewed it a couple of more times at the RPB so it would be available if he wanted it. I’ll share much more about that beer in a later post, but the point is when we were given the news that the 1997 Winter beer would be part of the Michelob Family, we suggested this Scotch Ale, and everyone involved, all the way up to VP level executives, agreed on that direction. So this beer seemed a no-brainer, especially since it was confirmed that AAB III already liked it, because getting his approval on a new beer was often the hardest part of the process. And we already had approval from all other high level management people, because they had already tasted the beer.

We had starting brewing full sized 400 bbl batches of the Michelob Holiday Scotch Ale in Merrimack, we had purchased and shipped in all the malts, sent in some copy for the label and marketing material, and everything was moving forward very nicely.  And when the first batch was in the aging tank, Marketing pulled an abrupt about face, and told us they wanted a Spiced Ale instead. This was a definite “WTF” moment, and we tried and tried and couldn’t get them to see the logic and agree to go back to the original plan. We needed up dumping the in progress batches.

So it was already late in the game-it was probably September by this time, and the Winter beer had to be in distribution by late October. Paul, Steve and I quickly put together some kind of traditional spiced ale, using spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove, and we asked the RPB to brew it as a priority. 2 weeks later, we were tasting in the Corporate Taste Panel-called the “220 Panel”, with Doug Muhleman, who had taken Gerhardt Kraemer’s spot as VP of Brewing. Doug tasted the beer, looked at us and said: “guys, this beer tastes like a Betty Crocker Spice Cake. If we’re going to do a spiced ale, I want us to use more exotic spices. Let’s not be so predictable”. I actually liked his feedback and agreed with him, though I still hated the idea of doing a spiced beer at all.

So we quickly came up with another recipe that used things like Cardamom, Coriander, and a couple of other eastern spices, and 2 weeks later we were again sitting in the 220 Taste Panel, and tasted the beer with Doug. This time, he liked it, which was a good thing, because we were sweating bullets-we were quickly running out of time to get this beer recipe sent out, get the beer brewed, fermented and bottled in Merrimack in time for the scheduled release. The phone calls I got from Marketing and the brewing team at Merrimack were relentless. They needed to know what the beer was and if it would be ready in time.

The next step in the taste approval process, after VP of Brewing approval, was the Marketing and Sales Team, and ultimately the beer ended up at August Busch’s desk for final approval. We could not brew this beer for real until we had his approval. In what I consider a classic AB moment, when he tasted the beer, he got in touch with Doug Muhleman and said something to the effect of “What the hell is is this!? When I drink a spiced Christmas Beer, I want something with cinnamon. And clove. And nutmeg! Something traditional!” How ironic, how deflating, and how frustrating it was to learn of AAB III’s comments and being faced with going back to the drawing board.

So we quickly went back to the original recipe with some modifications Doug made while playing around in his kitchen at home. I do think he enjoyed this level of involvement with creating a beer, and I remember he found this crazy liquid brown sugar that we added to the beer that give it a really nice molasses touch. I know we used a little chocolate malt in it and plenty of 40L crystal malt. The powdered spices were all added during the kettle boil. We got the beer brewing in Merrimack and made the release date by the skin of our teeth. And unfortunately, by most accounts, the beer was a flop. Certainly not as popular as the 1996 Winter Brew had been.

The beer itself was a moderately strong brown ale, with pronounced spices, followed by a cocoa and molasses finish. Not one of my favorite beers that I worked on, for a lot of reasons.

The Neck Label Text: Left: “The addition of spices during the brewing process is one of the Brewmaster’s seasonal traditions, as spices can add excitement and festiveness to a brew.” Right: “The traditional spices used in this winter offering add a unique contrast to the sweetness emanating from the caramel and chocolate malts used in brewing this hearty ale.”

 

1998 MICHELOB WINTER BREW ALL MALT LAGER 

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I remember very little about this beer, Winter of 1998 when was I was transitioning out of new products to some extent-I had been moved to work as an assistant to a Brewing Director for 5 months before being shipped out to the St. Louis Brewery in May of 1998. I still had my hands in new products for a while, as I was transitioning out and the new team was transitioning in.

Like the 3 previous beers, this 1998 Holiday beer was brewed in Merrimack, NH. It was a moderately strong  amber lager, most likely brewed with a lot of 40L crystal malt. But I really don’t remember much at all about this one. Looking back on it, I wonder why we didn’t make this beer an ale, like the previous year’s beer.

The Neck Label: Left: “Winterbrew is an all-malt brew with a  full-bodied taste and a rich amber color. It’s moderate hopping provides a nice balance to the sweet taste of the malt.” Right: “The use of generous amounts of specialty malts and an extended layering period make this a truly special brew, a great match for your holiday feasts”.

This was the last Holiday beer for a few years-in the early 2000s, AB started doing them again, I remember a high end, higher alcohol Budweiser beer in beautiful 750 ml bottle, and the next year a Michelob vanilla/ and bourbon barrel aged beer, but I wasn’t involved in those projects.

 

The 4 American Originals: Beers From My Past. Chapter 2

 

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Now it’s time to talk about the beers that were introduced under the American Originals umbrella in the Fall of 1995: Faust, Muenchener, and Black and Tan, and later, American Hop Ale. Unfortunately, I don’t have any records of the actual recipes used for these beers, but I’ll talk about what I remember, which may be a bit hazy, it was almost 20 years ago!

faust posterFaust Bottle

FAUST:

Faust Lager was first brewed in 1885, for a friend of Adolphus Busch named Tony Faust, who owned Faust Oyster House and Restaurant in St. Louis. The restaurant had a long history and several versions of the place existed since the 1800s. When I lived in St. Louis, there was a Faust’s Restaurant downtown in the Adams Mark Hotel (now a Hyatt Regency), a spot where I did a couple of beer tastings for the American Originals, and once had a really nice meal there with my wife. I believe the restaurant is now closed.

The German legend of Faust involves the story of a man who, in search for the meaning of life, sold his soul to, or made some sort of deal with the Devil, represented by Mephistopheles. Later  a famous play written by Goethe, it’s a standard of German literature. So Adolphus Busch’s inclusion of Mephitopheles in the branding of the beer makes perfect sense.

The beer itself was a very popular beer in its time and lasted well after the end of Prohibition. I remember visiting swap markets and antique shops in the St Louis area when I lived there in the 1990s and seeing many (empty) bottles of Faust for sale.

The re-introduced Faust Lager was my favorite of the first 3 American Originals. It was all malt: American 2 Row malt and a malt called Hi-Dried Malt, which was a 6-Row malt that was kilned to about 20°L, similar to a light Munich malt. We called the Hi-Dried Malt “dry-roasted” in the marketing materials, which I always found odd (we could have called it kiln-roasted), and expressed concern that people might think we were using peanuts in our beer. Faust also used a blend of German, Czech and American Hops. Unfortunately I don’t remember all of the hops used, but I know Czech Saaz and Cascade were part of the mix. This beer, when fresh, had a nice toasty malt character, and a pronounced floral hop aromatic, and pretty substantial bitterness for the time (especially for AB). If I remember correctly, the IBU target was 28, and the color target was 7-9 dL.  Unfortunately, this beer aged very poorly in the bottle. The hops faded quickly and the toasty malt character evolved into a very grainy and harsh note.

BlackandTanposterBlackandTanBottle BlackandTanStein

BLACK & TAN

Black & Tan was a traditional porter, which caused a lot of confusion when we were doing events for these beers. I remember frequently having to explain that this beer wasn’t a blend of two beers, like the classic Black & Tan made from Bass and Guinness, or like Yuengling’s Black & Tan.

The name Black & Tan from 1899 had unknown origins. We had two stories we told about the origin of the name, though we were never clear which (if either) was the truth. The first was simply that the beer poured black, with a tan head, which made the most sense to me. The second story, from AB Corporate Historian Dr. Bill Vollmar, suggested the beer was named after the British Military force that was stationed in Ireland during the war for Irish independence-they were nicknamed Black and Tans because of the color of their uniforms.

Bill Vollmar had two full bottles of Black & Tan from before Prohibition in the archives, and he often jokingly offered one to me to open and drink. I was tempted, but it felt almost sacrilegious to do this, and Bill also insisted that if we opened it, I’d have to drink the entire bottle, which scared me a bit. It would have been great if we could have tasted it and analyzed the beer as well, but we never did.

Black & Tan Porter was all malt, brewed with 5 malts, including chocolate and black malt, crystal malt, and I believe hi-dried malt again. It was pretty bitter, maybe 35-40 IBUs. I always thought it was bit harsh on the finish, and felt we made a much better Porter when we did Michelob Porter a couple of years later. That said, it was a pretty aggressive beer for Anheuser-Busch, it was the second ale (after Elk Mountain Ale) that we made in the 1990s.

The ale yeast strain we used most often at Anheuser-Busch was an English strain, NCYC 1044, which reputedly was developed for experiments with continuous fermentation processes in England in the 1950s or 1960s. It was a really hearty yeast, produced a lot of fruity esters, and had the advantage that it settled out, or flocculated, strongly when the fermentation was complete. This was really important at Anheuser-Busch, because the ales were made in Fairfield, CA and Merrimack, NH, and both breweries had old-fashioned rectangular fermenters (we called them “shoebox” fermenters).  A yeast with good flocculating characteristics was critical for being able to recover enough yeast to repitch more brews.

Muenchener BottleMuenchener Poster

MUENCHENER

I hesitated to include this beer, primarily because this beer was simply a blend of the Faust and the Black&Tan. This method was something that the VP of Brewing wanted to try-he wanted use the Black & Tan as a “stock ale” to blend with other beers to create new beers. Contrary to what might be conventional wisdom, Anheuser-Busch did not normally use this practice. Every beer, with a couple of exceptions, was brewed as it’s own brand in the brewhouse, each with a separate recipe, different malts and different hops. Other large American Lager brewers often blended beers and/or labeled the same beer with several different brand labels, but AB didn’t do this. So the Muenchener was a pretty big departure. It was a nice beer, I’ll give it that. The blend worked, and I enjoyed it.

The original Muenchener (aka Columbian Muenchener) was first brewed in 1893 and was awarded the “Best Muenchener” in the Columbian World’s Fair Exposition in Chicago in 1893. It was definitely inspired by the popular Dunkle beers from Munich.

MuenchenerFaustSwingTops

 

The swing-top bottles above were a complete fiasco. Marketing wanted these for special events, which required hours and hours of hand-bottling at the Merrimack brewery. Who knew what the air levels were in these beers, but I bet they were terribly high.

 

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AMERICAN HOP ALE:

Shortly after the first 3 American Originals rolled out, AB’s marketing department wanted to us to start working on the 4th beer. They initially wanted either “White Label Exquisite Pilsner” or “Old Burgundy Lager”. We didn’t have any archive information on either one of these beers, so were a bit unsure on how to approach brewing. I remember being kind of excited to brew the White Label-I looked at it as an opportunity to brew a real hoppy Bohemian Pilsner beer, but that ended up being a no go, because we already had Faust, and marketing didn’t want to add another golden lager to the mix. It didn’t help Old Burgundy Lager’s cause with us brewers that marketing was insisting the beer have a Burgundy wine like character, as opposed to a red color-which is what we assumed inspired the name of the original beer.

After a lot of back and forth, and after also briefly considering other pre-prohibition beers like Union Man’s Lager, and Bock (which was denied because of the presence and popularity of Michelob Amber Bock), I came up with the idea of brewing a version of American Hop Ale, using the two American hop varieties that were available to AB in the 1890s-Cluster and Fuggles. Surprisingly to me, marketing loved this idea. The original 1895 American Hop Ale was a very low alcohol mail order beer, a hop tonic, that was used for medicinal purposes, but I proposed we brew a strong, very hop-forward ale, and that seemed to be a popular direction.

American Hop Ale holds a very special place in my heart, as it was the first (and one of the few) beers that I worked on at AB that was exclusively my recipe, and it didn’t get changed, altered, or dumbed down at all as it went up the Corporate approval ladder. It was an all malt beer, brewed with 2-row malt, 40L Crystal (I think) and just a touch of black malt-I believe just under 1%, which gave the beer a beautiful deep red color. We used Cluster and Fuggle hops exclusively, and we had co-workers in the Brewing Process Technology group that had a lot of fun referring to this beer as “Clusterfuggle”. American Hop Ale was likely the most bitter beer AB had ever brewed, coming in at close to 50 IBUs, and was dry-hopped with Fuggles.   The beer was what I envisioned at the time as kind of an English IPA…I’ve learned a lot about English IPAs since then, but back then this beer fit my understanding of the style.

American Hop Ale didn’t last long. The bottle in the picture above was the only bottling run this beer ever had, marketing made the call to make this a “draft-only” product, which sealed its doom. People who tried it gave it great reviews, but the beer never got the exposure of the first three, and by the time it was released, marketing was already moving away from the American Originals concept in favor of the Michelob Specialties.

Happy Holidays!

Next up: The Christmas beers

 

 

Beers from my past-Pt 1: The Anheuser-Busch American Originals

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I’ve been getting pinged a lot lately in Social Media about the recent re-introduction of Anheuser-Busch’s Faust Lager. This spurred me to go into our garage over the Thanksgiving weekend and pull out a bunch of the stuff I saved from my time in New Products at Anheuser-Busch.  It was a great trip down memory lane, I actually saved quite a bit from that time, including full bottles of just about every beer I worked on in my 3 years in Corporate Brewing and a lot of the marketing materials we developed.  I decided it might be fun to write about these beers and some other beers that I’ve been involved with brewing over the years. This is the first in the series, there will be several more. I’ll try to relay what I remember as the story for each one of these beers-as every beer has it’s own unique history.

In 1995, after 3 years of working as a brewing supervisor in AB’s Ft Collins Brewery, I was asked if I’d be interested in moving to St. Louis and working in Corporate Brewing in Mike Meyer’s Brewing Process Technology Group, which was primarily a brewing engineering projects group, but also had the fledging new products group as well. The brewing managers involved in new products were considered part of Anheuser-Busch’s Specialty Brewing Group-which wasn’t really a separate entity, but included our group and folks from marketing working together to create  the brewing process and marketing campaigns for these new beers.

When I interviewed for the job, AB had just recently released their first forays into Specialty Beers (we did not call them “craft” or “micro brewed”):  Elk Mountain Ale, Elk Mountain Red Lager and Crossroads (a German Hefeweizen) were most certainly inspired by the growing craft brewing movement, while Michelob Amber Bock and Red Wolf were more American Lager style “crossover” beers. More on these beers later.

While I interviewed, I learned about the latest project, The American Originals project-a marketing effort to reintroduce some long forgotten brands from AB’s pre-prohibition portfolio. I loved the hoppy Elk Mountain Ale, and the opportunity to dive into the history of AB and recreate some very interesting beers seemed like a really cool opportunity. So I was thrilled when I was offered the job, and we left Colorado to move to St. Louis.

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The original lineup proposed for the American Originals included Faust, Muenchener, Black&Tan, Bock and Union Man’s Favorite Lager.

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Here’s a list of lager beer styles brewed by AB in its history. Not all these beers fit into traditional beer style categories, obviously.

When I got to St. Louis, Dan Kahn and Paul Mancuso had already developed test brews and had mostly completed the recipes for the first three American Originals beers: Faust Lager, Muenchener, and Black & Tan Porter. Dan had just been promoted to be the Executive Assistant to Gerhard Kraemer, then VP of Brewing, and I was taking his place on the team. My job was to work with Dan and Paul to finish the recipes and get them out to the Merrimack and Fairfield breweries for brewing.

The story told about the American Originals beers was that AB found old recipes from Adolphus Busch in their archives, and used his handwritten recipes to recreate some of the more flavorful beers that existed before prohibition. But what we brewers actually saw during the development of these beers was just a small notebook of Adolphus Busch’s in which he scribbled down malt and hops for some of these early beers. The notes were very vague, giving pounds of German hops, or American hops, and weights of malts which had very little descriptors. They weren’t recipes by any means, and so the decision was made to brew beers “in the style” of the originals, based on what little recipe information and marketing and tasting comments we had access to. This made for some awkward conversations and interviews about the origins of these beers.

AB had a Corporate Archives room underneath the big tour center in the St. Louis Brewery. And we also had a Corporate Historian, Bill Vollmar, who was heavily involved in developing the campaigns for these beers, and later supported them with travel to the various tastings held in Seattle and Denver. Bill was an interesting guy, he knew his history, and enjoyed traveling around and showing people some of the things he had in the archives, like the old pocketknife that Adolphus Busch used to give out to customers that had a little picture of himself on the inside that could be seen by looking through a small sight glass in the body of the knife.

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An 1893 letter written by Adolphus Busch copied from the archives. He was complaining about a counterfeit Budweiser being brewed in the west.

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The cover of the American Originals Sell In pamphlet. Most of the beers never made the cut, though there was a lot of interest in White Label Exquisite and Old Burgundy Lager

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There were a lot of beers that were considered for the American Originals lineup, but eventually only 4 brews were made before the series was canned in favor of the Michelob Specialty Beers Series: Faust, Muenchener, Black &Tan and later, American Hop Ale, which was brewed instead of Old Burgundy Lager or White Label Exquisite because I suggested we brew a really hoppy ale using only American hops that were available in the 1890’s (Cluster and Fuggle). I will write about each of those beers individually in my next post.

Why did the series fail? Lots of reasons, but for one I think the lineup was largely uninteresting to craft beer drinkers. It didn’t help that the first two cities we rolled these beers out to were Denver and Seattle, cities that were already well entrenched in craft brewed ales. Lager beers like Faust or Muenchener had little hope of making a dent in those markets. I question why we didn’t focus these beers in the midwest, they weren’t even available in St. Louis for quite a while after the first release, which made absolutely zero sense to me.

Another reason is simply the dynamics of AB’s marketing department. The marketing team that introduced the American Originals eventually got promoted to bigger and better things, and then new managers were brought in. New managers that wanted to “hit their own home run” as we used to say. They weren’t interested in perpetuating someone else’s project, so they came up with their own ideas. If you look at AB’s specialty beer/new beer releases over the recent years, you will see drastic shifts in direction about every 2 years. A lot of that has to do with the revolving door of the marketing team.

And really, what craft beer aficionado wanted to drink specialty beers from Anheuser-Busch? Very few craft beer fans would even give them a shot. This was a real learning experience for AB, and prompted the investments in Widmer and Redhook later in the 1990’s.

And finally, in the AB culture at that time, everything revolved around Budweiser. We couldn’t talk about these beers on their own, all conversations had to relate back to the Budweiser quality message and the rich traditional German brewing heritage that AB had. While it was a good, strong message, I believe it also derailed any efforts made for these beers to have any substantial impact. Wholesalers had more incentives to place Budweiser, and later, in one of the most disheartening conversations I ever had with marketing, I was told that AB did not want to grow the specialty category.

Next Post: The 4 American Orginals Beers: Faust, Muenchener, Black&Tan, and American Hop Ale.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Asheville Revisited

I had the pleasure of returning to Asheville, one of my favorite places, in mid-December for some more great beer events and some great music. I’ve been there twice now, both times in 2013, and have really fallen for the town. The people there are so nice, always rolling out the red carpet, it’s in a beautiful setting, and the beer scene is great.

Our first event was a “Tap Takeover” event at the new Thirsty Monk, at the Biltmore Park area, in between Asheville and the airport. Stone Southeast Regional Manager Scott Sheridan and I had visited the original Thirsty Monk in downtown Asheville on our last visit, and this time we had well over 30 taps pouring some core Stone Beers and many rare beers from our archives. It was a super fun event and very well attended. Barry, the owner of the Thirsty Monk, and GM Dylan put on a great event, and it was packed with beer fans. I met a bunch of brewing students from a local community college, AB Tech, while there, and that was fun.

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The Stone Tap Takeover at The Thirsty Monk in Biltmore Park.

The next day Scott and I had breakfast at a great place called the Sunny Point Cafe. I’m normally not one for a Bloody Mary, but I had to get this bacon infused one. And the food was amazing-comfort food plus. I had an omelette called “The Southern” with bacon, diced tomatoes and pimento cheese filling. Fantastically rich!

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Bloody Mary with bacon and bacon wrapped jalapeño. Nice way to start our day.

Then we stopped by the new Sierra Nevada Brewery for a quick visit. Located just behind the Asheville Airport, the brewery was still under construction, but they had started test brewing. It looks like when they finish the facility will be just as stunning  as their Chico location. I can’t wait to see it when it’s done, they are projecting late summer 2014. When we were there, the area was still a major cvonstruction zone, with scaffolding and tarping all over the brewhouse, and a big hole in the ground where their pub will go. But what they are doing there will be absolutely amazing.

From there we drove south to Greenville, South Carolina, and met up with Mike Okupinski and Ed Buffington at the Community Tap, a beer and wine store and tap room that has a fantastic selection. I had known Mike on Facebook for a while, but we never had actually met, so it was great to see him, and see everything that they are doing to promote craft beer in the Greenville area.

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After an afternoon “Meet and Greet” at the Community Tap, we then packed in Mike and Anna’s new minivan and drove out to the Greenbrier Farms for a farm to table Stone Beer Dinner that Community Tap set up with Scott and the the team at Greenbrier Farms. This location is beautiful, and they set up the dinner in a barn that was a bit cold for a thin-blooded Southern Californian like me, but there was a bonfire in the middle that kept everyone warm and in good spirits.  Amy, Chad, and Roddy, the folks that run this farm, are very cool, and the meal was fantastic, the beer pairings superb. At the end of the dinner, Mike absolutely floored me by presenting me with a hand-built electric guitar that was made by his father. An SJO Custom, it’s a beauty, and plays great! To say I was moved and touched by the kindness here doesn’t do the emotions I was feeling any justice at all. I’m still totally blown away by this.

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Farm-to-Table beer Dinner at Greenbrier Farms

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Chicken was the main course. Paired wonderfully with Stone Pale Ale and served with mashed potatoes, carrots and greens.

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The full menu from our beer dinner

 

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Look at how beautiful this guitar is! I was touched beyond words.

After dinner, we had a couple of beers at Barley’s in Greenville, a very cool craft beer spot. Drew was a great host, and we tasted some really cool beers there. I should mention that Barleys has won our annual “Most Arrogant Bar” contest 2 years in a row!

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Check out the Rare Beer Cellar at Barley’s. I was honored to be able to drink a couple of very rare beers in that room.

On the way back to Asheville the next day, we stopped in at Oskar Blues brewery in Brevard, just outside of Asheville and near the Pisgah National Forest, for a tour and a couple of beers. Great spot, the beers were tasting excellent, and it’s an awesome place to hang out. Special thanks to Eric Baumann, who I first met at the MBAA conference in Austin in November, who showed us around.

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Each one of these bags, called super sacks, holds 1000 pounds of malt. I want Oskar Blues’ super sack station that they use to hold the bags and weigh out the grain they need. We hope to get something like this in 2014 at Stone.

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Dale Katechis, the owner at Oskar Blues, also builds bikes. Everyone who works there gets one of these Reeb bikes after 2 years (Reeb=Beer spelled backwards). It’s a cool bike, it is belt-driven instead of a standard bicycle chain. There is a ton of good mountain bike riding around the brewery.

 

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The wall of cans, ready to be filled!

I spent the next couple of days meeting up with some other Stone peeps who came down for the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, an annual music showcase. We started Friday afternoon at Altamont Brewing Company, where they had a few special kegs of our beer pouring. And then from there we went to Wicked Weed Brewing, and we enjoyed hanging out a lot with our good friends Luke, Walt and Abby there before the first show.

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The Stone crew and the gang from Altamont Brewing before Christmas Jam!

While at Wicked Weed Friday night (they put on Suede specially for my visit!), I also met Mike, the brewmaster from Green Man-who is doing some fascinating historical recipe brewing-he had a bottle of Burton East India Pale Ale, a recipe from 1850, hopped with 100% Fuggles, that he shared with us and it was stellar. I wrote a lot about historical recipes in my IPA book, and it is cool to see so many people brewing these and other long-forgotten recipes. I’d love to brew some of these beers myself some day.

 

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Warren Haynes rocks!
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Green Man, one of Asheville’s best breweries.

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Check out these historical beers that Mike has brewed at Green Man. The IPA was great, I was sorry I couldn’t try more.

ON Saturday, we spent most of the day before the show hanging out with Luke, Walt and Abby at Wicked Weed again. It was a very fun afternoon, followed by an incredible night of music.

Some of my highlights from the Christmas Jam included on Friday night, Keb Mo, seeing John Scofield for the first time, Warren Haynes and Greg Allman acoustic, and the Phil Lesh Quintet taking me back to my days of going to Dead shows. On Saturday, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals rocked, and Greg Allman & friends were great, playing some Allman Brothers Band classics.

Combining great craft beer with really great music always works for me. We’re hoping this becomes an annual tradition.

 

 

 

 

 

The Bottle Share and the changing landscape of beer drinking

I love craft beer bottle shares. Many of the parties and events I go to now include a large group of serious beer fans, and because of that, I get to taste some really rare beers on a pretty regular basis. The concept of a bottle share is nothing new, but the term “bottle share” is becoming more commonplace as a way to describe what happens. It will be interesting to see how the bottle share concept translates into buying practices of craft beer drinkers as we move forward.

So basically, what happens during a bottle share is that everyone pulls select beers from their own personal collections and brings them to the party. And the bottles are opened sequentially and passed around so everyone who wants to taste can get a bit. It’s an awesome way to share great beers with like minded people. I enjoy these sessions, it’s a lot more fun to taste these beers with others as opposed to drinking them solo.

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The epic Bottleshare that happened after Friday night’s Bluesapalooza show in Mammoth August 2013.

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It’s interesting to think about your own beer buying practices and how they have changed over the years. If you are as old as I am, your beer drinking habits when you first started drinking beer may have been like mine: to get with your buddies, go to a grocery store (in CA) or liquor store and pick up a 6 pack, 12 pack, or case of whatever wasn’t the crappiest , cheapest beer there, but always with an eye on price. If you were celebrating, or had some extra cash, you might spring for an import beer like Moosehead or Lowenbrau, or a higher end American beer like Michelob or Henry Weinhards Private Reserve, but in general, Bud, Miller, Coors or the occasional malt liquor all worked. When I was in college and had no money, I remember $3 12 packs of Hamm’s were the standard in our house.

In the mid 1980’s as I entered the workforce, I became more discriminating, but my routine usually included buying a 12 pack of some standard American Lager (by then I was starting to favor Budweiser), and supplement it with something special, like some single bottles of Bass, Beck’s,  Guinness, or the occasional Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Then, as craft beer started to boom, the pattern stayed the same, but I began to seek out brewpubs when looking for on-premise beer, and though discriminating liquor stores had a decent selection of craft beer, high end beers were still a celebratory luxury item for me. Even when I worked at San Andreas Brewing Co., and could take 5 gallon corny kegs of our beers home with me, I still had some mainstream beer in my house, but by then my consumption of it was dwindling significantly.

When I worked for Anheuser-Busch, I always had plenty of Budweiser at home, and to this day, I still think Budweiser is the best American Lager out there, but my tastes really shifted into the craft realm, and by the late 1990s, my craft beer selection was crowding Budweiser out of my refrigerator.

When I moved to New Hampshire in 1999, and throughout my time there, I became heavily involved in homebrewing again, so most of the beer I drank was homebrew. And fortunately, I lived close enough to Massachusetts to be able to visit great beer stores and stock up on 22 oz bottles or 750 ml bottles on a regular basis (New Hampshire now has a few places that carry a great craft beer selection-my friend Bert Bingel owns a store called Bert’s Better Beers that is amazing).

We started having our annual Superbowl Party and Chili Cookoff when I lived in New Hampshire, and since many of my friends in New Hampshire were part of the Brew Free or Die Homebrew Club, everyone always brought a nice selection of craft and homebrewed beers for group sampling. The same thing happened at the monthly Brew Free or Die club meetings-everyone brought bottles of cool beers to share. This is where I first experienced the bottle share concept, though no one called it that back then. To this day, our annual Superbowl party involves a pretty nice bottle share, and I save some very special beers each year for it.

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My contribution to the Superbowl bottle share at our house. Our guests brought a lot more than this.

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I carried this bottle around through several moves across the country, and finally opened it in 2012 at our Superbowl party. Smooth as silk, intense sherry, simply amazing. One of those beers I’ll remember all my life.

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Bottle shares can quickly get out of control! Be careful.

As the craft brewing industry evolves, one of the things I am seeing is that the bottle share experience is manifesting itself in the way craft beer fans buy their beer. It appears to me that our society is evolving from the mode of buying a 6 pack or 12 pack of any single beer, and going towards drinking something different unique with the opening of each and every bottle. And maybe my viewpoint is biased, because of where I work and because of the people I hang out with, but I question whether the 6pack of IPA or Pale Ale is moving from the staple, supplemented with unique beers, to being a dinosaur. I say this as 6 pack and 12 pack sales of our Stone IPA are booming-so I may be way off-base, but I do think it’s worth pondering.

Take a look at IRI data, which is a tabulation of statistics for the kind of beer being bought in grocery chains and conveneience store chains. The old mainstay for craft beer, the Pale Ale, is sinking, while IPA is rising, But the top selling packages for the last several years have been seasonal offerings and mixed packs-usually mixed 12 packs. That’s indicative of craft beer fans’ desire for variety in what they drink.

So what does this mean for craft brewers? Well, it certainly means that new and unique beer choices are an increasingly important part of any craft brewer’s portfolio, and it may mean that relying on a flagship beer may be an outdated business model. I’m not really sure what is going to happen, but I know there are an increasing number of craft beer bars that refuse to carry flagship beers, and insist on pouring only those beers that are rare and/or unique. This is great for craft beer drinkers, but in all honesty, for the brewers, it’s a real challenge. While we all enjoy creating new beers, once you start distributing outside of your home state, the logistics of getting new beers approved by the governments (both state and federal) becomes quite time consuming and expensive. And every new beer requires label approval and abv certification-depending on what state the beer is going to. So if we’re going to a model that includes a lot more special releases or one-off releases, we need to pay very special attention to the timing of getting the approvals done, so we can release the beer when we want to, and when the beer is ready. And we need to have ample supplies of a variety of ingredients, primarily hops, which are getting increasingly difficult to secure. In short, it’s a ton of work, but it certainly keeps things exciting, fun, and challenging. We say frequently that this is the most exciting time in known history to be a brewer, and it certainly is exciting to be a craft beer fan, with all the variety and unique beers that are available.

 

GABF and Yakima, WA

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling over the past month, and decided, after thinking hard about it, to not go the Great American Beer Festival this year. This is the first year in many years that I won’t be going, and there will be some regrets, but I need a couple of weeks at home and in the office before I travel again, to Austin at the end of October for the Master Brewers Association of the Americas National Conference (in my mind, the best set of brewing technical sessions in the USA).

I remember the first time I went to the GABF, back in the early 1990s when I lived in Colorado and was working for Anheuser-Busch. I had a couple of friends fly out to join me, and along with my wife, we went to every session. My expectations were quite high, I had been hearing about this event for several years, and was really glad we finally got to go and experience it. And plus I was able to visit a lot with Bill Millar, who owned San Andreas Brewing Co. and gave me my first brewing job. The number of breweries serving beer blew me away, and I enjoyed trying beers from many brewers I wasn’t familiar with.

Since then, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve missed this epic beer festival. I went again on my own while I lived in Ft. Collins, and then was able to convince the folks at the Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group that we were missing out by not participating in a big way. Fortunately they agreed with me, and we had good booths featuring some of our specialty beers and even some experimental beers over the years. We also worked with the Brewers Association to host some off-flavor training booths at the fest, which we did for a couple of years.

In the late 1990s, when Tom Schmidt, the taste training guru at Anheuser-Busch, decided to retire, he nominated me to take his place on the prestigious Professional Judging Panel that awards the medals every year. To say I was thrilled was an understatement, and I have since judged nearly every year. I’m going to miss it this year, but Stone Brewing Co. will be represented with a judge, and I’ll get back on the saddle for the World Beer Cup at next spring’s World Beer Cup.

So what will I miss? Mostly I’ll miss seeing my friends in the business. There are years where this is the only time I get to see them, and it’s easily the best part about being there. I’ll also miss the judging sessions, which, though very rigorous and fatiguing, are also very rewarding, inspirational, and educational. And they are a great way to get to really know other brewers and the affiliated beer industry folk that serve on the panel. I’ll miss the post GABF parties at places like The Falling Rock, Euclid Hall, Cheeky Monk, Hops & Pie, and Star Bar. I’ll miss visiting the local breweries: Wynkoop, Rock Bottom, Flying Dog, Copper Kettle, Breckenridge, Sandlot, Crooked Stave and others. And I’ll miss the beer, all the new beers I would get to try, and the joy of discovering an excellent brewery that I hadn’t previously known.

So with this list and all these accolades about the GABF, what drove me to not go? Several reasons, the biggest one simply being a need to be at home and get back into my routine for a couple of weeks. The GABF is a marathon for everyone, it’s loud and crowded, especially the Friday evening and Saturday evening sessions, and I tend to lose my voice every year, probably because I spend too much time speaking at high volume, drinking beer while doing so, and getting affected by the altitude and dry air. And when I get home from many consecutive nights of too little sleep and many consecutive days being “on the go” from about 8:00 am till about 2:00 am, it’s taking me longer and longer to recover every year. And finally, since I’ve been at Stone, the only time we’ve won medals have been the years where I haven’t attended, so maybe my staying home will be a good luck charm! Wish us luck this year!

This is the biggest, and still in many ways, one of the best beer events that America has to offer, and if you are a beer fan and haven’t gone, please do yourself a favor and make the arrangements to go in the near future. It gets bigger and better every year, it’s an extremely well run event, and it’s a bucket list item for sure if you like beer.  Stone is going to have a great booth this year. We are serving some very special beers, and for the first time, we will also have a booth representing our Liberty Station Brewery.

This past week, I did a quick trip to Yakima, WA to wrap up our hop selection and speak at the Master Brewers District Northwest meeting. It was a very good trip, and I’m excited about our hops this year. It was great to see my brewing friends from WA and OR, and try “new” (at least for me) beers from breweries like Worthy, Icicle, Pfriem Family Brewers, 10 Barrel, Pike, Bridgeport, Fremont and Two Beers, among others. A lot of brewers in the Northwest are canning their beers, and there was a great discussion on mobile canning lines during the MBAA meeting. And it was neat to see Haas’ new experimental brewing operation, which is an absolute technical marvel, and also Bale Breakers Brewery, owned and operated by several 4th generation hop farmers from the Smith Family at Loftus Ranch. Try their Field 41 Pale Ale, brewed with Simcoe, Citra and Ahtanum hops, some of our favorites at Stone. Wonderful beer.