A few words on when big buys small

I have been pondering this subject for a few weeks and so, in the grand tradition of better late than never, here’s a few words from my brain on the subject …

There’s been a lot of activity recently when it comes to the subject of big beer companies buying craft beer companies. When I started writing this post it was just after Heineken purchased a 50% share of Lagunitas, America’s fifth largest craft brewer by volume. I’m not sure if 24 hours passed by before the news broke that MillerCoors bought an undisclosed majority share of Californian Saint Archer Brewing Co.

Read: Heineken taking 50 Percent Stake in Craft Brewer Lagunitas

Read: MillerCoors Acquires San Diageo’s Saint Archer Brewing

As expected, the opinions were divided with social media comments firing back and forth like a frantic table tennis tournament. It’s the same every time. Some cry “sell out” and declare they’ll never drink beer from that craft brewery again, others insist it just means bigger distribution and the beers will remain the same.

Meanwhile, as this post still sat in my drafts folder, things got a lot closer to home with Mountain Goat announcing they had agreed to a purchase by Asahi – 100% ownership stake.

Read: Mountain Goat Press Release, Monday 28 September 2015

Once again I braced myself to read outraged cries though it seemed to be a lot less than I was expected but not by much.

There has been some excellent local commentary from some of my favourite beer writers which I encourage you to read –

Crafty Pint: Same Same but Different

Ale of a Time: A naive snob’s perspective: Big business and selling out

Ale of a Time: A naive snob’s perspective part II: I worry

Beer is Your Friend: The Mountain Goat sale – put the pitchforks down people

Australian Brews News: Mountain Goat – This Day was Always Coming

Of course, I have been pondering the subject myself and so, in the grand tradition of better late than never, here’s a few words from my brain on the topic –

macro before proven craft …

It seems that with one click of the article link, the craft brewery is condemned to the “yellow fizzy lager” pile. One day they are lovable craft, you’re sharing their beer with your friends and talking about how great they are and then WHAM suddenly they are heartless beer demons who’d sooner sell their grandmother than further the craft beer industry.

For me, it’s a matter of wait and see rather than condemn and assume.

P.S. Do we think that Heineken or Asahi drinkers are currently freaking out that their beers are about to go all “crafty”* on them?

*whatever that means

the challenge of identity …

Episode 55 of Radio Brews News, the podcast by Australian Brews News, featured an interview with Adam Ferrier, a consumer psychologist. It is this interview that keeps coming back to me when I think about the loud and sometimes angry reactions on social media, you know the ones I mean, the “grab your pitchforks” variety of comments.

But maybe the upsetting part isn’t that we think our beloved craft brewery has “sold out” but they have betrayed our identity.

For the craft beer drinker the beer in our hands says a lot about who we are as a person. It says we appreciate well crafted beer, it says we want our beer to be made with natural ingredients, it says we want beer made by passionate people and sometimes it says that we are slightly obsessed – insert rare, vintage, barrel-aged, sour, wild, combination of all of these, here. Often what the beer in our hands says is that we support local craft breweries and not big corporations.

Brands have an identity and we reflect ours in the brands we attach ourselves to. Once our beloved craft brewery is in the hands of an overseas company perhaps we feel they have left us with little choice but to cast them aside. Financial, distribution or any other business reasons aside, our feelings are hurt and we don’t identify with them. It’s Arnie in True Lies. And yet they very well may still reflect all the other things we love – the passion, the commitment to quality and innovation – aren’t these still important too?

Profits …

Another frequent comment is about profits staying local. I do like knowing that when I buy from an independent craft brewer that the money is staying in Australia. I really do. I also love beer and if I want to try something that is owned by Asahi, Coca-Cola, SABMiller then I’ll purchase it and that’s okay too.

This Tweet from Rob Ruminski made me laugh a lot –

Twitter

Weekend Reading #47

For those lazy weekend mornings when you just want to stay in bed and catch up on a little reading – Weekend Reading is a weekly post with the articles I’ve enjoyed in the past seven days and hope that you will too.


Ale of a Time | A naive snob’s perspective: Big business and selling out

Recently there has been a couple of movements in the US craft beer world – Heineken purchased a 50% stake in Lagunitas, MillerCoors bought out Saint Archer and AB InBev purchased Golden Road Brewing. As expected there has been a lot of comments and in fact I have a blog post on this topic still in my ever growing “drafts” folder.

In the mean time here is an interesting post from Luke at Ale of a Time looking at the Heineken & Lagunitas deal.

Beer Syndicate Blog | Gose and Gueuze: A Tale of Two Sours – Act 1

Following seven or so hours of indulging in sours at last weekends Zwanze Day, I went in search of more information on sours. I came across these two great blog posts on the difference between Gose and Gueuze. Entertaining and educational – I love it!

ArtVoice | Is the craft beer explosion creating a market bubble?

There are a few reoccurring topics in the world of craft beer; like ‘what is the definition of craft?’, craft beer can only be independent and how many litres defines a craft brewer. The idea of a craft beer bubble is another one; whether we will reach a point where new breweries are no longer sustainable. Everyone is looking at the U.S. to see if the bubble will burst.

Weekend Reading #46

For those lazy weekend mornings when you just want to stay in bed and catch up on a little reading – Weekend Reading is a weekly post with the articles I’ve enjoyed in the past seven days and hope that you will too.


Draft Magazine | Garage Project is the hottest brewery you’ve never heard of (till now)

Oh America, you’re in for a treat! Of course here is Australia we have known about Garage Project for a while and know they are beautifully crafted. This is a nice piece about Garage Project hitting the states.

Crafty Pint | Brew & A: Will from Feral Brewing

I always find interviews with brewers interesting but rarely do you find interviews with brewers that also include pubic hair, short shorts, cheese making and dry retching. If you have met Will this will probably make a lot of sense, if not, well click the link and met Will. Trust me, he’s delightful!

Crafty Pint | Five Years of Endeavour

Another great read from Crafty Pint. It has been a while since I have tried the beers from Endeavour but I did always like their approach to beer – beers that would change from year to year because the malts and hops used are only those from that year. This article is interesting in a couple of days – the impact a single word can have on a brand, in this case it’s “vintage” and the evolution of how contract brewing is viewed.

Beer Pulse | Heineken acquires 50% stake in Lagunitas Brewing, founder to continue leading company

This is probably not news but I thought I’d throw it in here anyway. As with every single transaction like this every craft beer drinker has their opinion, some stronger than others, but this is a topic for another blog post that I would like to post soon.

Thrillist | Want to Work in a Brewery? Here’s Advice from People Who Do

I have always figured that being a brewer was mostly emails, numbers and spreadsheets and a lot of cleaning. This confirms a lot of this.

 

 

 

Beer Interpretation #1: Hoppy

So in the first of what I hope will be a continuing series of posts, though I make no promises on regularity of said posts, I am going to get into some beer jargon and try to drill down to the basics and interpret the lingo. First up: “HOPPY”

Hops are just one part of the craft beer world that beer nerds, and I include myself in this, tend to get a little crazy about. If you find yourself enjoying craft beer you inevitably find yourself drinking lots of beers and participating in conversations that involve sentences like: “I hear the brewer used five different hops and then did a 30 minute late hop addition before dry hopping with Australian Galaxy.”

If you’re tipping your toe in the craft beer world hearing something like this might make you screw up your face as you try to decipher the weird craft beer jargon.

So in the first of what I hope will be a continuing series of posts, though I make no promises on regularity of said posts, I am going to get into some beer jargon and try to drill down to the basics and interpret the lingo. First up …

“HOPPY”

This is a tricky one because “hoppy” as a descriptor for beer does not actually give you a really good idea of what the beer is going to taste like. When you think about it that’s a pretty bad descriptor given the whole reason for a descriptor is to describe the damn thing. Saying a beer is “hoppy” is kind of like saying a meal is “spicy”, I don’t know about you but there are about two dozen spices in our kitchen pantry and they are all different. Same goes for hops.

There are lots of hop varieties with a wide range of characteristics and the brewer adds hops at different stages of the brewing process which also affects what the hops will do the beer.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s go back a little.

WHAT THE HECK ARE HOPS?

Besides being the thing I do when I sprain my ankle in really lame ways (crossing the road, jumping a small fence, both real life examples) here are five things about hops …

  1. It’s a plant, a climbing one in fact.
  2. The plant produces “cones”, sometimes called “flowers”, and these are the useful bits.
  3. They only grow in very specific climates, fussy little things.
  4. They are used for bitterness, aroma and flavour in beer; in short they are wonderful.
  5. Hops are also a bit delicate, whilst they can be the dominant flavour of a beer, over time it will fade so the fresher you drink a “hoppy” beer, the better.

Oh and bonus fact – it’s related to marijuana, this isn’t a vital fact but people do seem to find this interesting. “If you smoke it you’ll get a lung infection,” a brewer I used to work with would caution those who were really interested in this fact.

Hops at Cowaramup Brewing in 2013 Hops at Cowaramup Brewing in 2013

HOW ARE THEY USED IN BEER?

Lots. That’s the one word answer but that feels like a bit of a cop out so I’ll ramble on a little more.

Basically hops are added at a various stages of brewing. Without going into the brewing process itself and keeping things simple, hops added early will result in bitterness whilst hops added late will contribute to the aroma. Of course, like everything in the brewing process, timing is critical and so it’s not a case of being able to add hops early and leave them for hours on end to get more and more bitterness, too long and things will go very bad unless you like horrible tasting, poorly made beer.

So when someone says a beer is “hoppy”, take this to mean that the brewer has used a lot of hops to make the beer and/or the flavour of the beer is dominated by flavours that the hops have provided.

AND WHAT ARE THOSE FLAVOURS?

Like the spices in your pantry, hops come in lots of different types and all have their own characteristics. Here are some descriptions of hop flavour – floral, earthy, herbal, citrus, pine, resin, grassy, spicy, tropical fruit, lychee, woody, passionfruit, minty, passionfruit, the list is extensive. Flavours tend to be grouped together depending on what region the hops are from, for instance American grown hops tend to be tropical fruit, citrus and pine driven whilst the floral, grassy and earthy tend to be English.

More Reading: Serious Eats | A Beginner’s Guide to Hops of the World

More Reading: BeerAdvocate | Hop Guide (for a list of hop varieties and descriptions)

“Hoppy” is not only a vague descriptor but it’s also a subjective one, your interpretation of “hoppy” is likely to differ from another person. No one is wrong. Also, your idea of what is hoppy can change over time. Remember how big the flavour were when you first tried olives or coffee? Lots of olives and hundreds of coffees later, I bet you don’t rate the intensity of flavour the same.

GO BUY SOME BEER

For that American hop hit …

Feral Brewing (WA) | Hop Hog

Mash Brewing (WA) | Copy Cat

Bootleg Brewing (WA) | Speakeasy IPA

Pirate Life (SA) | Pale Ale

Feral Hop Hog

For that Australian hop hit …

Young Henry’s (NSW) | Newtowner

Northbridge Brewing (WA) | Beerland Pale Ale

For that New Zealand hop hit …

Cheeky Monkey (WA) | Hatseller Kiwi Pilsner

Garage Project (NZ) | Hapi Daze

More Reading: Beer Geek | Kiwi Hops: A Whole New World


More Reading …

Food Republic | Beer Geekery: 13 Things You Probably Never Knew About Hops

Huffington Post | What The Hell Are Hops, Anyway?

Craft Beer | The Secret Life of Hops


To end, I have to say that this post got away from me. I thought it would be quick and now I am slapping myself for being so foolish. Hops is a MASSIVE topic, I can only hope to have brushed the top of this amazing plant and what it does to beer. This has been a super fun post to write, I am looking forward to doing more of these. If there’s a beery word or subject that you’d like me to explore please let me know by commenting below! I’ll do my best to learn with you all too!

 

Gladfield Malt

Weirdly the first I had heard of New Zealand’s Gladfield Malt was through an American podcast called The Session. Husband and wife team Doug and Gabi Michael did a great interview and I was intrigued to hear more. Thankfully Australian Brews News came to my rescue with their own interview.

Listen: The Session 07-20-15 Gladfield Malt

Listen: Radio Brews News, Episode 61 – Quiet Deeds and Gladfield Malt

But still I wanted more so I emailed Gladfield Malt and was stoked to get a reply. For a number of weeks it seems like the calendar gods were intent on preventing us from chatting but finally Gabi and I managed to catch up on Skype.

Before I go on I just want to recommend listening to the interviews on The Session and Australian Brews News because I deliberately didn’t chat with Gabi about things like their malting operations and how Gladfield started because I feel they were extensively covered in these previous interviews.

A huge thank you to Gabi for chatting with me for more than an hour! I hope one day to take her up on her kind offer to visit Gladfield.

a passion for malt …

It’s clear that Gabi is passionate about malt from the way she talks about what her and Doug have achieved in their 11 years of running Gladfield.

“Without good malt, the yeast won’t do anything and the hops will taste bad without the balance provided from the malts,”

Gabi Michael, Gladfield Malt

Whilst beer lovers will discuss hops at length malt often gets overlooked and hence Gabi and Doug often refers to malt as “the forgotten heroes”. As an industry we frequently call out the hop variety in a beer, we discuss where it’s from, how it came about, what other beers are using it but when it comes to malt we rarely bother with anything beyond what type of malt is used. Time for that to change!

really great malt …

According to Gabi, the important question to ask when it comes to malt is: “What barley did they use?”

Hops only grow under specific conditions which is why you don’t see hop farms popping up all over the world. Hops need the right climate and the right conditions. Malt might not be quite as picky but where the malt is grown is still a significant factor to the end result.

Like Gladfield Malt on Facebook | Follow Gladfield Malt on Twitter

“We pride ourselves on growing the best barley in the world,” Gabi says referring to Canterbury barley growers. This is where Gladfield is located, where all their barley comes from, and the area has a reputation for growing some of the best quality barley and wheat. It is Canterbury’s maritime climate that provides optimal conditions that result in grain that is fat and ripe. Gladfield not only grow their own barley but they take in barley from other farms in the Canterbury area, supporting their local farmers and confident that the grain they are getting is the best quality.

“Our quest is to be selling unique malts because they come from a unique area.”

Like almost everything in craft beer, it’s freshness that will separate good malt from great malt.

Customised …

As Gladfield grow the barley and get it direct from local farmers, as well as malting it and then also selling and distributing it, Gladfield are uniquely placed. From growing to selling, they’re in control and it leads to a level of service that is a cut above.

Gabi told me a story about a brewer who had been using their malt and had come to them and asked, “can you tweak this?” and Gladfield were more than happy to help. The result was the creation of their American Ale Malt that Gabi says is perfect for brewing big West Coast IPAs because the malt is mild in the flavour, allowing the hops to shine but still providing a rich body and the colour needed for such that beer style.

It’s this sort of open dialogue between brewer and maltster that Gabi loves and when I asked Dave Bonighton, co-founder and chief brewer of Melbourne’s Mountain Goat, he echoed much the same.

“I like the way we have direct lines of connection from barley grower, maltster to salesperson – they’re the same people!”

Dave Bonighton, Mountain Goat Brewery

Mountain Goat have used Gladfield’s speciality malts in their Rare Breed beers. For instance their India Red Ale brewed in early 2014 used Gladfield’s Redback. “It gave our India Red Ale an amazing deep, blood red colour and a sensational caramel/toffee flavour to boot,” Dave said.

Speciality malts have only been in the Gladfield Malt portfolio for the last three years and Gabi says it’s a fine balancing act to produce base and speciality malts. Though the speciality malts are not significant volume they are still a significant part of the Gladfield family, they even have a pilot brewery on site to help them develop new malts.

Not all malt is the same …

Malt isn’t all the same and so it won’t behave the same either. For Gabi using Gladfield Malt is like driving a Ferrari. “I love saying that,” Gabi laughs. It means there is also a degree of education involved when Gabi goes out and talks about Gladfield Malt. In time Gabi hopes to add a section to the website to aid brewers in getting the most from their malt.


a few beers to try …

Keen to drink some beers that use Gladfield Malt? Mountain Goat’s Rare Breed beers often use Gladfield speciality malts as do Moon Dog Brewery. Cavalier Brewing use only Gladfield for their brews and Rocks Brewing Co in Sydney also use a portion of Gladfield across their range.

Moon Dog and Mountain Goat beers can be found at good craft beer shops like Mane Liquor and Cellarbrations Carlisle | Como Liquor, The Wine Box Shenton Park, Rosemount Hotel, Liquor Barons Carlisle, Thirsty Camel High Wycombe, Liquor Barons Swanbourne and Cellarbrations Como are stocking Rocks Brewing bottles and the Rocks Governor Golden Ale is currently pouring at Hotel Northbridge.

For those WA home brewers out there, all grain brewing supplier Urban Brewer WA is bringing in Gladfield Malt.

Rocks Brewing Governor Golden Ale

 

 

Weekend Reading #45

For those lazy weekend mornings when you just want to stay in bed and catch up on a little reading – Weekend Reading is a weekly post with the articles I’ve enjoyed in the past seven days and hope that you will too.


The Beeroness | Slow Cooker Honey Chili Pulled Beer Chicken Sliders

As much as it saddens me to see television commercials for Hungry Jack’s doing pulled pork sliders, I still love a slider; after all what’s better than having one burger? Having two or three, sliders speak to my inner glutton. This recipe sounds like another cracker from one of my favourite beer and food people so I think I’ll be trying this one really soon.

The Crafty Pint | Beer Food with Beersine: Steak with Beernaise Sauce

Staying on all things beer and food related, this is the second article in a continuing series with Mitch aka Beersine aka head chef at the Monk Brewery in Fremantle. If you are anything like me then you’re the type of person who would have béarnaise with almost any meal if given the chance, well now you can cause you can make it at home and you can make it even better with beer! All thanks to Mitch – check it out.

Craft Beer | Sierra Nevada Creates Game to Celebrate Oktoberfest Release

I haven’t tried this out for myself yet but what a great idea! It’s hard to get and hold peoples attention so this strikes me as a really interesting way to go about it.

Australian Brews News | Pale Ale trademark showdown looms

A number of trademark dispute stories in craft beer have come from the US. For instance Sierra Nevada have faced two in recent months – one with Fort George Brewery and another with Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Read more: Sierra Nevada Facing Another ‘IPA’ Trademark Dispute

Here in Australia it doesn’t seem to happen as much, or we don’t hear too much about it, or perhaps we will start see this more and more. Melbourne’s Thunder Road Brewery has been involved in one or two and their name is also in this story around the term ‘original pale ale’.

 

Beer Podcasts

Being back in a job that requires a lot of driving I have been listening to lots of podcasts, unsurprisingly many of them are beer related.

Here’s my favourite beer podcasts –

Radio Brews News | Matt Kirkegaard and Pete Mitcham 

An Australian podcast from the Australian Brews News team. The friendship and respect between Matt and Pete is clear and makes for fun and engaging chat. Expect interesting interviews with both craft and bigger players in the industry. These podcasts always spark something in my head and I often find myself being challenged with new information or alternative points of view being presented.

Good Beer Hunting | Michael Kiser

An American podcast with some really great and indepth interviews, the sort of interviews you’ll want to save and listen again. From Blue Moon to Brooklyn, Good Beer Hunting covers a lot of territory in the US. I don’t think I will ever delete Episode 53 Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery live at GBH Studio – it was THAT good.

Ale of a Time | Luke Robertson and Dave Ellis

Another Australian podcast with two mates Luke and Dave. The guys call Melbourne home and often get to some great events at various Melbourne pubs, have interesting interviews great industry folk and often manage to include some non-beery stuff too. Great chat and not afraid to voice their own opinions, makes for good listening.

The Sour Hour | Jay Goodwin

One of the newest shows to be added to The Brewing Network, it’s pretty beer nerdy and there’s often times when I get a bit lost in the conversation but I still enjoy it! As the name suggests it’s all focused on sour beers and so it is a pretty unique podcast.

The Sunday Session, also on The Brewing Network, is also worth having a listen to.


And in my search for more beery podcast goodness I have also found The Beerists but I have only listened to one episode so far – Episode 180 Gose. Sometimes entertaining, sometimes a bit like being in a boys locker room but there’s some good conversation and banter in there too. I’ll keep listening and see if it sticks. I also have another Australian podcast lined up to start listening to – Not Two Bright – which comes from Bright in Victoria.