The Nostalgia Series: (Ale Street News 2003)

A Visit to Anderson Valley

By Jack Curtin

Crazy Bob was behind the counter at Horn of Zeese (cup of coffee), a small dining establishment in Boonville, Cal., where we were having breakfast after a long night’s drinking with Fal Allen, general manager of Anderson Valley Brewing Company. That session had taken place at the nearby Buckhorn Saloon, site of the original brewery, and we definitely needed a cuppa or two. I eventually asked what seemed an innocuous question: where might I find a phone booth bearing the old Boontling identification, “Bucky Walter?”

Boontling is an folk language invented in the late 1800s and spoken only in Boonville. There are two theories as to how it came about. One side argues that the men of the community developed a code for campfire conversation to allow them to exchange tales about which wives they’d been fooling around with. The other says local women created the language so they could gossip about other women and their husbands without concern.

Like virtually every language born in an isolate community, Boontling derives from a combination of utilizing the names of local residents to signify some special event or characteristic, borrowed words from homeland languages spoken by early residents and the incorporation of commonly used local slang (“bright lighter” equals someone from the city). While it is fading away now, spoken only by real old-timers, a few locals do maintain a serious interest in Boontling’s preservation (Peter Suddleth, graphics director at AVB is one) and almost everyone can give visitors a example or two. The one most commonly offered is “Bucky Walter,” which means a Payphone (Walter was the first man in town to own a telephone and he’d charge a nickel, or bucky, for others to use it).

Given that, inquiring about a Bucky Walter hardly seemed provoking, but Crazy Bob went off almost before the words were out of my mouth. “Pacific Bell is taking them all down, painting them over,” he sputtered. “Everything has the corporate name on it now. Nobody asked us if that’s what we wanted, they just went ahead and did it.” Whoa. You obviously don’t mess around with a man and his Boontling in these parts.

If Boontling is a symbol of Boonville’s isolated past, the town itself has moved quite nicely into the present. It’s still well off the beaten path, hidden away in the heart of Anderson Valley, about two hours north of San Francisco in Mendocino County. Once know for its apple growing and vineyards, the valley today draws a steady stream of tourists interested in cycling and hiking in the old-growth redwood forests that fill its coastal hills (the Mendocino coast is about 40 minutes west). The area is still replete with vineyards.

People visit Boonville for a lot of reasons. We came for the beer.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company was created in 1987 by chiropractor Dr. Kenneth Allen and his wife Kimberly in an old commercial building in the center of town (it should be noted here that the center of town is only a few hundred yards from either end of town). The original 10-barrel brewery was housed in the lower level beneath the Buckhorn Saloon, which was then a brewpub. It became a 30-barrel system, with bottling line, when moved to its present location on the edge of town in 1996. That 30-acre site has its own water supply and waste treatment facility as well.

Even as that was happening, Ken Allen was preparing for a quantum leap. He had already acquired a 100-barrel brewhouse from a defunct German brewery in 1995 and construction of a new Bavarian-style AVBC brewhouse began in 1998. An additional 85-barrel kettle from a second German brewery was added to the mix when the new plant opened in April 2001. “Just in time,” says GM Fal Allen (no relation), who came to the brewery in 2000 after a nine years as head brewer at Pike Brewery and an earlier stint at Redhook Ale Brewery. “We were already at capacity with the 30-barrel system.”

The brewery currently produces eight bottled beers which are available throughout California and in 20-plus other states: Boont Amber Ale, Hop Ottin’ IPA, Poleko Gold Pale Ale, Belk’s ESB, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, High Rollers Wheat, Deep Enders Dark Porter and the most recent addition, Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale, released in November of last year. Fal Allen says that an AVBC Triple is planned for release later this year. Beer names, you might note, all have either a local town or region or a bit of Boontling in their names (hop ottin,’ for example, means “hard working hops”). And in one of those little oddities I love, it turns out that the ESB, which is the weakest seller in the line, is absolutely killer in North Carolina, where the major portion of its national sales are recorded.

Anderson Valley is also host for the “legendary” Annual Boonville Beer Festival, which was held for the seventh time on April 19. This year’s celebration brought roughly 3000 visitors for the day, about half of them brewers and brewery workers. “We have a big party and dinner for all the brewery people on Friday night,” says Fal Allen, “and many of them camp on the grounds.” At least one of the major San Francisco breweries has to close down the weekend of the festival because so many of its workers head north to attend. “We had more than 250 beers for people to try,” reports Allen, “from 66 breweries which came for as far away as Quebec. We had 18 food vendors, two bands and beautiful California sunshine.”

How to sum it all up? Well, as they might say in Boontling: Anderson Valley beers are surely worth boarching (partaking of repeatedly). These brews are not just shy sluggin’d gorms neemer (a breakfast drink) and a man could easily become stook on (in love with) them. Bahl hornin’ (good drinking) for sure.

Oh, and one more thing: all the Bucky Walter signs are not gone and we have the photo to prove it.

Posted in Beer History, Beer Is Good, Good Old Days, Nostalgia | 1 Comment

The Nostalgia Series: Every Day Is April Fool’s Day (Beer Yard 2006)

Long ago and far away, when we were young and excited and could all laugh at one another, April 1 was always a special day at the Beer Yard website (as it was and still is for many others), and as part of retelling our craft beer history in the Nostalgia Series, I figured some laughs would be more than appropriate. And so here we go, back to April 1, 2006 and the stories that appeared that morning.

The Bengel Report

“Dan is new to beer writing but he’s already perfectly suited for the job,” says his friend and sometimes aide Steve “youse guys” Rubeo. “He never wants to pay for a beer and he’s always snooping around where he’s not wanted.”

Reacting to complaints that all the news here at The Beer Yard “reads like it was being writting by some tired old guy pecking away at his computer out in the sticks somewhere,” we have added raconteur and Pottstown bon vivant Dan Bengel to our editorial staff. He will produce a regular feature to complement our weekly and boring Monday Morning Brew.

“Dan is new to beer writing but he’s already perfectly suited for the job,” says his friend and sometimes aide Steve “youse guys” Rubeo. “He never wants to pay for a beer and he’s always snooping around where he’s not wanted.”

This is Dan Bengel, with all the news that I can remember. It was a long week…

Word from Heavyweight is that Tom and Peggy are making a soy stout for those who can’t drink milk stout…I hear that Dogfish Head is making a chicken and dumpling beer to get the over-65 crowd into their brewpub. It’s based on an 83-year old recipe created by Sam’s 85-year old grandmother in her crib…

Barrel-aged beers are all the rage these days. Down at Monk’s, Tom Peters is reportedly aging his Flemish Sour in old coke barrels for people who want a real cherry coke and we hear that Weyerbacher will be putting its wheat beer in bourbon barrels this year…Out at Sly Fox, Brian O’Reilly has announced he’s moving on from 12oz cans of Pikeland :Pils and Phoenix Pale into a 7oz canning program, with Ichor quadruple being the first brand in the new line. “This married thing can be a strain at times,” he said, “and when you need a quick pick-me-up. a 750ml bottle is too big and a 12oz can at 5% is too small. A 7oz can at 10.5%? That’ll be just right”…

And This Just In! Victory Brewing Co. is buying the old Sunnybrook Brewery. It’s not quite clear yet what the plan is, but insiders say that Ron and Bill are not necessarily looking to expand but rather looking to move their business to a location a certain Richard Ruch is not likely to visit every day. Every damned day! All day!

This is Dan, signing off, with a thought for the day: young man, you owe me a beer….

Beer Yard Expands, New Acquisitions Will Change Local Beer Scene Forever

Guyer buys everything in sight

“I just got tired of all the bickering,” Beer Yard owner and parttime employee Matt Guyer told a press conference in Wayne early this morning as he announced that he had acquired Yards Brewing Company, Kunda Beverage and Friedland Distributing as part of a complex financial deal which gives him almost as much influence in the Philadelhia beer commnity as Tom Peters.

“And I just might go after Monk’s next,” Guyer said.

Guyer, who acknowledged that he’d been saving for months now “to maybe buy a house or Belgium or something,” decided to instead expand his empire into wholesaling and brewing “so I won’t get, you know, bored all the time.”

Kunda Beverage and Friedland Distribution agreed to have the former acquire the latter and all its brands in an deal announced what seems like years ago but things have been hung up over a position taken by Yards Brewing with regard to, documents show, ownership of “some driver named Roy.” Guyer said that under his ownership, “everybody will be on the same page and they’ll each get all the Roy they can handle.”

As part of the new corporate structure, happy-go-lucky Beer Yard employee Mark Sauerbrey will be in charge of customer and public relations. “It’s a job Mark was born to do,” said Guyer. “His love for people is legendary.”

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The Nostalgia Series: Every Day Is April Fool’s Day (Beer Yard 2005)

Long ago and far away, when we were young and excited and could all laugh at one another, April 1 was always a special day at the Beer Yard website (as it was and still is for many others), and as part of retelling our craft beer history in the Nostalgia Series, I figured some laughs would be more than appropriate. And so here we go, back to April 1, 2005 and the stories that appeared that morning.

Victory Brewing Will Shutter New 50-barrel Brewery, Reclaim Old Brewhouse from Weyerbacher

Downingtown brewery will lower its sights and aim for a more comfortable niche, founders say

Co-owners Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski of Downingtown’s Victory Brewing Company, one of the real success stories in local craft brewing, say they will shut down their recently installed 50-barrel brewhouse “as soon as we can manage it” and reacquire their old 25-barrel system from Weyerbacher Brewing of Easton as part of a revised business plan that “will enable us to rediscover our original vision.” As part of the downsizing, the on-site brewpub will also cease operation.

“When we were just a couple of kids on a schoolbus in Collegeville, with some bottles of lager stolen from our parents’ refrigerators in our lunch boxes, we wanted to grow up to be brewers, not businessmen,” said Covaleski. “We have seen the mountain, climbed to the top and, well, it just wasn’t all that much fun.”

Covaleski said he and Barchet will “go back the way it was,” doing everything themselves and letting most of their employees go. “It will mean an entirely different lifestyle,” he added, “and we will produce many fewer beers in much more limited distribution. Even our old plant will be more than we really need. The thing is, we’ll be doing what we love.” Barchet nodded in agreement throughout his partner’s presentation and later told bystanders, “this will mean I’ll have more time at home to grow hops and other stuff.”

Contacted in Easton, Weyerbacher owner Dan Weirback said his company will not object to giving up the old Victory plant, and in fact was looking forward to it. “To tell you the truth,” he said, “with the added capacity, we’re were brewing all too many bourbon-barrel aged beers and it’s been debilitating our staff. Somebody’s got to empty those barrels, you know. Now, if you’ll eschshuzz me, I gotta go take a nap.”

Victory’s far-reaching decision immediately inspired legal objections. A laws suit filled within an hour of the news conference by a person identified in court documents only as “major investor Richard R.,” demanded that the brewery continue to operate its on-premises restaurant. His argument: “If they close, where the hell am I going to go every day?” He was supported in his action by his wife, who filed a separate affidavit urging the court to “force Victory to maintain its brewpub and my sanity.”


News & Notes

Flying Fish renames Farmhouse Ale, new Sly Fox varietal (?) project, Tom Kehoe recreates the past and you’ll never believe the truth about Fergie

New Jersey’s Flying Fish Brewery announced today that it will change the name of its best-selling “Farmhouse Ale” to “Traffic Circle Ale,” effective immediately. “We want to fully identify with the culture of our home base,” according to brewery founder Gene Muller, “and ‘farmhouse’ doesn’t quite do the trick.” He said that “Strip Mall Ale” was considered and rejected because “people might then think we’re located in the Greater Northeast.”…Sly Fox brewer Brian O’Reilly, who was so excited about “serving and pouring greatest variety of IPAs ever offered by one brewery at the same time” in his 2004 IPA Project that he could hardly control himself, told the Beer Yard exclusively today that he will attempt a similar feat in 2005, brewing “12 distinctive Light Beers to all go on tap the day after Thanksgiving. We’re it calling Project Bringing In The Light.” When asked about which hops and malts would be used, O’Reilly snorted, “Hops? Malt? Are you kidding? Have you ever tasted a light beer?”

Yards founder Tom Kehoe announced this morning that, to help perpetuate a sense of the wellspring from which Philadelphia’s craft brewing tradition sprung, he will partition off the rear third of his new SUV and install the complete original Yards brewery in the space. “It will be a traveling exhibition of living history,” said Kehoe. “I’m also thinking of filling the back seat with oyster shells to promote our Oyster Stout. Whatever works.”…In a real shocker, today’s installment of “Ask Fergie,” the Philadelphia Weekly advice column penned by Fergus Carey, of Monk’s, Grace and Fergie’s Pub fame, reveals that Carey is neither from Ireland nor Irish at all, but actually the black sheep scion of a Main Line family who took up the identity of “some guy wandering through town back in 1987; I gave him bus fare to New York for the right to use his name. It was just a lark to start, but it turned out it was a good way to avoid going into the family business. But now that me…I mean, my…income from ‘Ask Fergie’ has made me rich beyond me…darn it, there I go again…my wildest dreams, I thought it was time to come clean.” The good news is that, while Fergie isn’t Irish, partner Tom Peters, despite claims to the contrary, apparently is.

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the Nostalgia Series: (from The New Brewer, Spring 2009)

Beginning in 2009, I have written one of the four primary articles in the annual “Industry Review” issue of The New Brewer, the bi-monthly magazine published by the Brewers Association. These stories summarize performances at all levels in the craft brewing world. My assignments over the years have been reporting on either microbreweries or brewpubs. This was the first of those seven (and counting, I hope) stories, looking back at 2008, written at time when all the explosive growth in the industry was still something brand new and awesome. 

MICROS: A Tale of Nine

By Jack Curtin

Their stories were spun out of the deep hill country of Texas and from a 115-year old historic former creamery in Arizona, writ thrice over in beer-loving Colorado and twice in sunny California, told in a New York hamlet famed for its celebration of the national pastime and again in the shadow of the Keystone State’s capitol building, the accomplishments measured within the geographic limits of single states and in markets spread across the nation.

What they did is merely one part of a much larger tale–the continued growth and strength of American microbreweries—but the shared achievement of a small band of U.S. micros last year marked a special moment in that chronicle of success.

2008 marked was the seventh straight year in which craft brewing maintained its growth pattern, with a total production of 8,596,971 barrels. Microbrewery production overall was up 13% and a record-breaking nine U.S. micros topped the 15,000 barrel mark and officially became regional breweries.

The nine new regionals, listed by percentage of growth, are Firehouse Brewing Co., San Diego, CA (17,500 bbl, 83.4%); Oskar Blues Brewery, Longmont, CO (29,500 bbl, 50%); Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY (16,800 bbl, 57.6%); Real Ale Brewing Co., Blanco, TX (16,629 bbl, 44.5%); Troegs Brewing Co., Harrisburg, PA (19,000 bbl, 30.1%); Bear Republic Brewing CO, Healdsburg, CA (18,204 bbl, 31,5%); Avery Brewing Co., Boulder, CO, (15,860 bbl, 21%); Left Hand Brewing Co., Longmont, CO (16,660 bbl, 12.8%), and Four Peaks Brewing Co., Tempe, AZ (16,257 bbl, 9.9%).

The Brewers Association’s Paul Gatza noted that “most of these companies been around for a while and developed almost a critical mass of awareness in their regions,” suggesting that familiarity can breed something far different from contempt. He added that strong distributor support helped many crafts take advantage of that recognition factor. “Distributors are also being more supportive of craft products and getting them into the marketplace over the last few years. They’re seeing slower growth for the major domestics and smaller margins there and imports dropping. That makes crafts very appealing from a pure business sense.”

Better distribution was indeed one of the factors most mentioned by representatives from the nine breweries in interviews with New Brewer, along with improvements in overall infrastructure, often begun earlier, which began kicking in strongly during 2008. Several also emphasized the personal bonding between craft brewers and their customers, a factor which they see as a real advantage, especially in the current economic climate.

Real Ale in Texas, which grew by 5118 barrels, has a 50 barrel brewhouse, installed in 2006 (moving up from a 15 barrel system) and owner Brad Farbstein said the accumulating effects of that upgrade and the move to the largest Anheuser-Busch wholesaler in Texas, Ben E. Keith Beverages, mid-way through last year, were the primary reasons for its growth. “We are located in the hill country between Austin and San Antonio,” he said, “and sell our beer only in Texas and most of it within 50 miles of the brewery. We were able to build our new plant with a grant from the state which created the water and sewer lines we needed in exchange for our doubling our work force by hiring moderate and low income employees. We made more beer and sold more beer.” He noted that new beers created by head brewer Tim Schwartz, who came on board six years ago after ten years at Austin’s Bitter End, has had a major impact in Real Ale’s development and growth.

Jim Scussel, one of the co-founders of Four Peaks in Tempe, also takes pride in the fact that his beers are sold only in Arizona and that the company, which was up 1406 barrels, works with a single wholesaler. “It makes it very simple and easy dealing with one distributor versus ten or twenty of them, all with different agendas,” he said. “Our philosophy is the rifle approach–going deep in our backyard–versus the shotgun approach–spreading it across the country and seeing what sticks. We save a lot of money on marketing and transportation costs this way.” They have a restaurant in the same building as the 20 barrel brewery, a refurbished creamery which was built as an ice house in 1892, plus a bar and restaurant ten miles away in North Scottsdale.  Sales at the two locations accounted for roughly 19% of 2008 sales, according to head brewer Jim Roper. “Our growth has been steady over the years,” he said, “This year we plan to begin bottling one of our draft-only beers and are installing a canning line for two of the other drafts. Packaged beer is where we should see the most growth but we also expect draft volume to continue to increase.”

Mention cans, of course, and most beer people immediately think of Oskar Blues, the guys who did it first. PR maven Marty Jones says their hefty 6,500 barrel increase (both the barrelage and 50% growth were second only to Firehouse) was due in part to the fact that “the novelty of the package is still a major factor. More people are coming around to the concept of good beer in a can and those of us who have gone this route are collectively shrinking the number of negative opinions every day through education and promotion.” He also noted the opening of their new brewery in April and the hiring of Jeff Nickel, a former Coors brewer, and John Bryant, formerly of Odell, as solidifying their efforts. “We also have the advantage of starting out as a brewpub. A brewpub offers an experience you just don’t get anyplace else. People are sticking with us because we are offering something really special and have a very personal connection to a lot of them.”

There’s no brewpub at Troegs Brewing in Harrisburg, but co-founder John Trogner, after attributing their 4,400 barrel increase to the growth of craft beer in general and an expansion into new markets (“we went into New York last year and have just entered Massachusetts and figure that with Boston, New York and Philadelphia we have a solid foothold on the East Coast”), stressed that “one other thing we’re doing is increasing our presence outside the brewery. We were more active in Philly Beer Week this March and plan to be at more beer festivals this year. One on one with customers makes even more sense in a tough economy, because they feel they know us and it solidifies the relationship. It’s not as easy to stop drinking the beer when you feel you know the people who make it personally. We’re sending the brewers and even the guys on the bottling line out to events regularly now. I particularly like `Meet the Brewer nights’ where you can talk about beer with people who want to talk about beer. It gives me a chance to release my inner beer geek.”

Brewery Ommegang went over the 15,000 mark (up 4900 barrels) with a little help from its friends (and owners) at Moorgat Duvel, where 1136 barrels were contract brewed. That was a follow-up to 1961 barrels done in Belgium in 2007. “We just couldn’t keep up with demand,” explained “Minister of Propaganda” Larry Bennett, “so we had to ask Duvel to brew some beer for us in 2007 and early last year. The last of it arrived in this country last summer. We’ve installed several new tanks to serve as fermenters and lagering units and are caught up at last.  For last five years, our average growth rate has been over 30%. Given the economy currently, we’ve projected 25% for 2008 but the first quarter has been so strange, it’s really hard to see what’s going to happen. We’re just sitting tight, looking at things more closely, and being careful. The first quarter will give us a better idea.”

The two California breweries which are on the list are, coincidentally, both run by active firefighters. San Diego’s Firehouse Brewing, which reported upping its output by an impressive 7960 barrels last year, was founded by third generation firefighters Christopher and J.T. Finch nine days after 9/11 and donates part of its proceeds to support widows and orphans of firefighters who die in the line of duty (138 in 2008). Firehouse moved its brewery into a new location last year and finally mastered its bottling line to package its flagship Pale Ale, the two components which account for the growth spurt in Chris Finch’s eyes. “We bought an oversized 30 barrel brewhouse when we started out and installed it ourselves,” he said, “and you always really learn how you want something to work after you start using it. When we moved, we were able to tinker and make some changes and now we’re doing 45 barrel brews. We were pretty much all draft with the pale ale and a light Hefeweizen until late in 2007 and having beer in bottles gave us so many more places to sell it. Our plan this year is to try and add a new beer every month and continue to grow. We’re much more efficient now and with more than 200 firefighters involved in our ownership, we always have plenty of volunteer help.”

At Bear Republic (up 4,361 barrels in 2007) in Healdsburg, which is about an hour north of San Francisco in the Russian River Valley, new bottling and kegging lines and a new 50bbl brewhouse were added over the past two years, according to brewmaster Rich Norgrove, who is also in the fire service. He says that his experience there makes him “the sort of person who always wants to be five steps ahead of the fire. My father (who handles outside sales and the restaurant) and I are both ex-military, and my wife Tami is our CFO, so we have very similar mindset throughout the company.” Norgrove noted that “2008 was probably our biggest year in terms of adding infrastructure” and says that he expects results this year to be driven by packaging, including new 12 and four-packs and some special 22oz releases. “Our distributor has been telling us we need to be in 12-packs and now we’re finally able to do it.” He added that continued success will also depend on Bear Republic’s relationship with its suppliers. “I see the biggest issue over the next year to year and a half as the willingness of our purveyors to work with us as we grow. We are looking very carefully at what our terms are with various sources and solidifying those relationships. In this economy, instead of thinking about a 25 or 30% growth model, we’re looking at about 15 to 20% and running budgets based on that. We’re digging in, in military terms, and are ready to ride it out if we have to.”

Eric Wallace president and founder of Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing, is also looking at a longer horizon after the installation of a 60 barrel brewhouse help spur an 1887 barrel increase in 2008. He says he always has. “I don’t look at the volume number that much, I look more at how we’re doing. Are we financially solvent? Are we building distributor network for the long term or are we just opening markets left and right so we can grow our volume? We make conscious decisions to insure this is a good place to work where everybody can have a life. Our approach is holistic, we have a lot of other things we want to accomplish in our lives and in the end still make the beer that we want to drink. It’s not just about more barrels. What human cost do you have to pay to achieve that? We got out of the distribution business in 2006 and it’s a lot better now with all our energies focused on the brewing side. We fully expect to continue to grow at a reasonable pace.”

The third Colorado brewery in the mix, Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, was up 1996 barrels and owner Adam Avery attributed that to significant growth close to home and additional equipment. “Overall, we saw a 50% increase in gross dollar sales,” he said. “Our higher end products and big seasonals did the job for us, along with an 80% sales jump here in Colorado. Last August, we were running at capacity and had to spend about half a million dollars to add two more 240 barrel fermenters and rip out old glycol system and put in a new one. The silver lining in this bad economy is that money is cheaper for those who are successful so we refinanced all of our equipment into one mega-loan at a super reduced rate. In the end, all that new equipment is costing us not very much more than what we were already paying.”

Avery offered the most specific details of any of the nine about how he sees the current landscape. “We definitely saw a slowing in growth for the first two months of 2009. We had a great December, the best one ever, and then January and February were just terrible. March, on the other hand, turned out to be an all-time record sales month. We’ve never sold more beer than we did in March. I think what happened is that distributors and retailers are carrying smaller inventories because of slower sales so the pipeline thinned out for a while there, but I can’t be sure. The only thing I can predict is that it’s going to be a volatile year.”

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Beer Business Daily: Beer is 1.5% of National Gross Domestic Product

From this morning’s issue:


As you may know, every other year the Beer Institute and the National Beer Wholesalers’ Association commission a study to show the vast economic impact the beer industry has on the economy.  In short:  It’s effing huuuuge.  In fact, it ends up being 1.5% of national Gross Domestic Product.  That means for every 100 dollars people spend, one dollar fifty cents goes to beer and the stuff that goes into it.

What’s different this year?  Well, the BI and the NBWA have invited Capitol Hill staffers and Congressmen to a press conference to brief them on the highlights of the report.  And despite the late summer date, BI chief Jim McGreevey told BBD that they’ve gotten over 200 RSVPs.  Of course, they’re serving beer at the conclusion which helps.

The beer industry contributes about $252.6 billion in economic output.  Brewers and beer importers directly employ 49,576 Americans. More than 70 percent of brewing jobs are linked to large and mid-sized brewers and beer importers.  The number of distributor jobs has increased by more than 20%  in the last decade, to more than 131,307.

NBWA’s Craig Purser told BBD that this is really just “good  hygiene and like going to the doctor.  We need to communicate to those who make policy that beer jobs are good jobs  It’s not just about quantity, but quality.  These are living wage distributor jobs.”

Jim added, “You know, people on the Hill love beer.  I always see a smiling face when I meet people on the Hill.  These economic contribution numbers make a huge impact to these people when making policty.”

Craig also pointed out that as we see a comprehensive tax bill coming next year, as well as a highway bill,  “everybody is looking for extra tax revenue”  it behooves the industry go get ahead of this.  Jim also added that it also demonstrates how devastating tax equivalency with liquor would be to our vibrant industry.

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The Nostalgia Series: Every Day Is April Fool’s Day (Beer Yard 2004)

Long ago and far away, when we were young and excited and could all laugh at one another, April 1 was always a special day at the Beer Yard website (as it was and still is for many others), and as part of retelling our craft beer history in the Nostalgia Series, I figured some laughs would be more than appropriate. And so here we go, back to April 1, 2004 and the stories that appeared that morning.

Friday Night Tasting: The Beers of Red Bell and Independence

The founders of two legendary breweries will be here to ply their wares and tell sad tales of the death of kings

This Friday’s regular tasting at the Beer Yard will feature bottles of the cult favorite Red Bell Philadelphia Lager and a recently discovered growler of Independence Blonde. Company founders Jim Bell and Bob Connor will be on hand (separately) to discuss their industry leadership during the glory days of their legendary Philadelphia breweries. Join us, 5-7 pm

 Coming Next Week: Yards Millard Fillmore Ale


Standard Tap Adjusts Beer Focus To Be True To Its Name

Serving only draft local beers at Standard Tap was “intellectually dishonest,” says co-owner William Reed; a new approach will attract a different breed of customer and fend off an incipient law suit

Budweiser, Miller and Coors drinkers who felt left out of the fun as The Standard Tap became established as one of the city’s hippest pubs-dissatisfied to the point where there was talk of a class action lawsuit charging that the Tap unfairly discriminated against consumers who choose their beers based upon multi-million dollar advertising campaigns-can breath easier today. The Northern Liberties hotspot is changing its tune.

“I was lying in bed last night trying to think of the next rundown and financially deprived section of the city that Paul (partner Paul Kimport) and I could help be rediscovered if we created yet another cool bar, when I had an epiphany,” co-owner William Reed said, talking loudly in order to be heard over the sound of workmen removing the draft systems from  the Tap’s two bars. “If we call ourselves the ‘Standard’ Tap, then shouldn’t we adhere to the accepted standard? Shouldn’t we be selling only the standard beers that can be found almost everywhere else? Otherwise, our name is nothing but a lie and we’re being intellectually dishonest, not to mention disingenuous.”

Kimport was doubtful at first, Reed admitted, “but when I pointed out that we could also get rid of all this fancy-shmancy food and stop running around looking for fresh and unusual ingredients and just whip up tubs and tubs of wings and stuff like that instead, I could almost see the light bulb go on over his head.”

All the taps will have been removed and bottles and cans of big name domestic beers and top selling imports, including “the finest selection of light and low carb beers on the market today,” will be the only beers available when Standard Tap opens this evening. Reed said that a similar change is in store at the recently opened Johnny Brenda’s. “In fact, over there I think we’ll rip out the kitchen entirely and put in a big six-pack cooler in that area. We’ll just serve beer nuts and maybe a couple of pre-packaged sandwiches we can warm up in a toaster oven or something. It’s gonna be great.”


Dogfish Head Announces 100% ABV, Continually Hopped Beer

“With all that alcohol and all those hops, I think we can safely say this beer will be very highly rated by the online beer groups, even by those members who never get to taste it,” says Calagione

Declaring his brewery the final winner in the ongoing competition with Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) to brew the world’s strongest beer, Dogfish Head founder, CEO and former Hagar Slacks model Sam Calagione announced today the release of Raison C’est Fini, a 100% abv brew which is also “hopped continuously with a blend of every hop variety grown on every continent in the world during the year 2003, plus some stuff that looks an awful lot like hops which I found out behind our Milton brewery.”

Calagione noted that Dogfish Head’s high end, high octane beers “have always been designed to draw wine and cognac drinkers into the craft beer market, but we realized recently that we were focusing on only one segment of the wine market. With the flavor and character of grain alcohol, Raison C’est Fini will attract those consumers at the other end of the spectrum who favor brands such as Thunderbird.. Not that we’re ignoring our established base, of course. With all that alcohol and all those hops, I think we can safely say this beer will be very highly rated by the online beer groups, even by those members who never get to taste it.”

In order to constantly hop the beer, Dogfish Head engineers took a set of Barbie and Ken dolls and paired them in a manner which Calagione described as “very, very friendly but not `family’ friendly, if you know what I mean,” to create a unique hopping mechanism. “This is so far beyond Randall the Enamel Animal that I get giddy just thinking about it,” he admitted.

The invention, Barbie & Ken Hop Climax, is proprietary and being held in strict security at the brewery. Thus, in order to insure that Raison C’est Fini is being hopped right up until the last pint is drawn, brewer Bryan Selders will be packaged with each keg as it is released. His job is to force hop pellets into the top of the keg as rapidly as he can until it is tapped, then throw fresh hop flowers into each glass as it is poured. Each keg will be priced at $250.00 plus room and board for Selders.

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What’s Going On Here?

I am not abandoning this site, but since I can’t find the time or much inclination to post regularly here these days, I figured I might shift the focus a bit and, in addition to the occasional brand new post, make this a place where I can also retell, in bits and pieces and no particular order, the history of craft brewing over the last two decades as it was recorded by me in various online posts and print articles.

And so it begins…

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The Nostalgia Series: (from American Brewer 2007)


How craft brewing grew on either side of the country.

By Jack Curtin

It began, most of us agree, with Fritz in 1965, sitting at the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Francisco’s North Beach, sipping his beloved Anchor Steam and getting the word from restaurateur Fred Kuh to enjoy it while he could because the then 82-year old brewery was due to close any day. He thereupon hied himself over to Anchor and wrote owner Lawrence Steese a check for $5,000 to keep the place alive, getting 51% interest in the business in return…plus responsibility for all its existing debts. His plan was “to give a little advice and then go away,” but by 1969, he found himself in complete control, embarking on another eight years of modernizing the operation and perfecting the product before Anchor finally showed a small profit and was on the way to becoming the craft brewing icon it is today.

Despite current mythology that nobody really noticed outside of a few prehistoric beer geeks, the resurrection was not entirely ignored by the mass media. The September 4, 1978 issue of Newsweek, in a major feature story titled “The Battle of the Beers,” which detailed the developing battle between Anheuser-Busch and Miller for control of the American beer scene (“Marketing and advertising, not the art of brewing, are the weapons,” the piece noted presciently), Fritz Maytag and Anchor received a photo and full sidebar story. “I’ll never forget the first brew I made,” he told the magazine. “It seems like a very small thing, but it was a great encounter for me.”

In fact, the Newsweek story also gave props to other lonely souls struggling to stem the coming tide, with sidebars about Wisconsin’s Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing and 70-year old brewer Joe Pickett, trying to make a go of it in the former Dubuque Star Brewing Company in Iowa. And then there was this, in the main text: “America’s smallest brewery, the New Albion Brewery in Sonoma County, Calif., was started late last year by an ex-Navy man, Jack McAuliffe, who found most U.S. beers too blah, and wanted to introduce a heady, English-style brew.” There are those who argue, not without merit, that the real beginning of modern day craft brewing was marked by New Albion, and the saving of Anchor was just a precursor, essentially casting Maytag as John the Baptist to McAuliffe’s malt messiah. Whatever, as the kids say.

Our purpose here is look at what happened in the years after those pioneers set things in motion, more specifically the difference fashion in which craft brewing developed on the west and east coasts. The most obvious distinction, of course, is the simple fact that things kicked off on the former well over a decade before the first modern breweries and brewpubs began appearing on the latter. Conveniently enough, the reason for that is just as obvious: call it the inevitability of California, the reality of the more-truth-than-fiction dictum that the way to see what’s coming next in America is to shift your gaze toward the “Eureka!” state.

California’s flourishing and expanding wine industry offered a convenient blueprint for how a small production industry might function and be financed. The existence of that industry meant there already was a network of supporting enterprises which could readily shift over to meet the needs of a emerging business model with similar requirements for tanks, fittings and equipment. Add in easy availability of hops from the Pacific Northwest, a homebrewing-friendly environment even before Jimmy Carter made it legal in 1978 and a back-to-the-land milieu among the younger generations (a precursor to today’s Slow Food movement) and you had a perfect incubator for the nascent craft brewing industry.

Nor can we discount the brewing science and brewery engineering program at University of California-Davis, the only university level program of its kind in the country, which grew out of the university’s already popular Viticulture and Enology department in 1958. Its mere existence, much less the number of aspiring brewers who passed through, was an invaluable asset. Dr. Michael Davis, who came to the U.S. from England in 1960 with a degree in Biochemistry from the University of Birmingham, which also is home to the British School of Malting and Brewing, arrived at UC-Davis in 1962, and became the brewing program’s director two years later. He added extension course on homebrewing to his duties a year or two after he took over. “At the time, the only way to enjoy an interesting and different beer was to make your own,” he laughs. In 1991, Davis created a series of professional brewing programs for UC-Davis Extension, the university’s professional and continuing education provider, courses he continues to teach today as professor emeritus. He says of the pre-Maytag Anchor, by the way, that “the brewing process was very unstable and microbiologically unsound. I could have given them some help with that, if asked, but what they really needed, and got, was what Fritz Maytag provided, financial support and good management.”

Among those who were present during the halcyon days was Mendocino Brewing’s Don Barkley, who calls himself the “last man standing” among the early craft brewers. He began making beer at New Albion in the summer of 1978 while a student at UC-Davis and became the head brewer there in 1981 after graduation. Barkley was part of the shutting down and moving of the brewhouse to Mendocino in 1983 after McAuliffe pulled the plug and says he served the first beer out of the re-established brewhouse in August of that year when Mendocino opened the Hopland Brewery and pub, becoming the first brewpub in California since Prohibition and the second in the U.S. after Bert Grant’s, which opened in Yakima, Washington in 1982. What he remembers about UC-Davis is that wanting to be a craft brewer in the late ‘70s, much less dreaming of opening your own brewery, was still a startling idea to most of his contemporaries. “Even Dr. Lewis, who was the first one to tell me about Jack McAuliffe and Mendocino, kind of smirked when I told him that was what I wanted to do,” Barkley says, “and the first two years I was in the program, the other students considered me an oddball. It wasn’t until my final year that another student, a guy from Chicago, had the same goals.”

The third seminal event in craft brewing history was the creation of Sierra Nevada in Chico, Cal. If Anchor was the reclamation of past glory and New Albion the spark that flickered and died to pass into legend, Sierra Nevada became the shining example of what might come to be. Ken Grossman, who owned a homebrew shop there, founded the brewery with partner Paul Camusi and they put together a 10 bbl system using equipment from defunct breweries, old dairy tanks and a soft drink bottling line. They brewed the first ever batch of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in November 1980 and began selling it in February 1981. It was, of course, an instant classic, a strikingly American beer made with quality ingredients and notable quantities of hops, creating a template for all who would follow. Sierra Nevada became the first new brewery to break out of the microbrewery classification by producing 31,000 bbl in 1990. Grossman remains the man in charge and brewmaster Steve Dressler has been with the brewery since 1983, about the time craft brewing was finally becoming something more than just a glint in the eye of some beer lovers on the nation’s far shore.

To see where that glint led over the rest of the decade, we now jump to the other side of the continent, with a respectful nod to Bill Owens and Buffalo Bill’s, California’s first brewpub, and early-‘80s arrivals Red Hook, Widmer, Bridgeport, Pyramid and other entities which marked the shift of the west coast craft beer epicenter northward, plus a quick glance downward at what the politicians call fly-over country to acknowledge craft brewing’s emergence in Arizona (Riley-Lyon), Idaho (Snake River), Montana (Kessler) and, oh yes, Colorado, where, among other things, something called the Great American Beer Festival was held for the first time ever in 1982 in a hotel in Boulder, with 30 breweries represented.

The east offered a much different landscape than the west in the early ‘80s. For one thing, there wasn’t the same sense of urgency prevalent, probably as a result of the more extensive availability of more and fresher European beers to sate the thirst of those unhappy with the Big Blands. A slow-as-she-goes environment was also a byproduct of the fact that any prospective brewery or brewpub founders had to deal with those people famously here to help, the gummint, in the form of outdated post-Prohibition legislation in many states, laws specifying how and where alcohol could be sold, what breweries could do and whether or not brewpubs might even exist. These had to be changed, rewritten or created brand new on a state-by-state basis, slowing the process by months and years.

It is probably perfect, then, that the most significant new wrinkle in craft brewing which occurred on the East coast bears a name that is near and dear to the hearts, such as they might exist, of lawyers and pols. New Amsterdam Brewing in New York city produced the first-ever contract beer in 1982, an amber ale brewed at the F.X. Matt Brewery in Utica, NY. The contract concept was soon embraced, at least as a initial step, by many of the new breweries that would come to life in latter part of the decade, with Matt and The Lion Brewing in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., as two of the primary producers. Boston Beer Company, which was founded in Boston in 1984, eventually made contract-brewed Samuel Adams the most successful craft brand of all, continuing for more than a decade to have all its products made at various breweries. The company still produces roughly a third of its beers under contract.

The first true microbrewery in the East was William S. Newman in Albany, NY, founded in 1981 and closed in 1987. That was followed by Chesapeake Bay Brewing, in Virginia Beach, Va., which opened in 1984. New England, especially cold and taciturn Maine, about as different as you could get from California, was the area where craft brewing rapidly flourished in the years to follow, so there surely is some sort of cosmic payback to be seen in the fact that Virginia got there first. After all, that’s where the Pilgrims on the Mayflower were bound before they chose to land instead at Plymouth Rock, at least in part because they ran out of beer. Ironic comment by the beer gods or not, Chesbay lasted only until 1988.

In 1984, Manhattan Brewing opened the first brewpub in the East in New York City and 1986 turned out to be a watershed year. Commonwealth Brewing, Massachusetts’s first brewpub, was opened in Boston by Richard Wrigley, who had started Manhattan; Tom Pastorius’s Pennsylvania Brewing Company in Pittsburgh began contract brewing its world-class lagers, becoming the Commonwealth’s first craft brewery (a brewpub and in-house brewing went on line in 1989) and contract-brewed Portland Lager was introduced in Maine by a pair of residents whose dream for a full-scale brewery never materialized. That latter ramped up the beer excitement in a city where interest had been building since the opening of Three Dollar Dewey’s, Allan Eames’ multi-tap, in 1980, and it set the stage perfectly for the emergence of D. L. Geary’s later in the year. Geary’s is today the oldest surviving microbrewery east of the Mississippi.

David Geary became friendly with brewer Peter Maxwell Stuart of Scotland’s famed Traquair House when the latter was touring this country promoting his beers and went over there in 1984 to learn the business, brewing at several locations. While working at Peter Austin’s Ringwood Brewery, he hired Alan Pugsley to come to Portland and help him set up his new, Austin-designed brewery (Pugsley, like the fabled guest who dropped in and never left, had a major effect on the development of American craft brewing in the years that followed, as we shall see). “I essentially cashed in everything and went for it,” says Geary. “We were lucky to have very good distribution and a good network of willing retailers right from the start.” His brewery is almost always cited by others as an example that encouraged them, but Geary shrugs that off with a laugh. “There aren’t very many inspirations in this business, I think. The best you can hope for is grudging respect.”

John Mallett, production manager at Kalamazoo Brewing in Michigan since 2001, embarked on his career at Commonwealth as Geary’s was being built. He was the head brewer there for three-plus years, a period during he also spent time in Seattle helping owner Wrigley and his team open Pacific Northwest Brewing. Mallett then put himself through Siebold (at least three years’ practical experience was a basis for enrollment in those days) and joined Old Dominion Brewing Virginia as head brewer about six months after it opened in 1990, staying until 1995. “I wanted to brew because I like good beer,” he says of those early days, “but I also had a feeling that something big was happening and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Tim Morse, who already had nine years in craft brewing at Anchor on his resume and was head brewer there before he left, came East in 1986 to work at Hope Brewing, a short-lived Rhode Island company which contracted its beers. As a result, he visited The Lion in Wilkes-Barre regularly and still recalls how old and bedraggled the plant was, a condition which was true of many of the old regional breweries in the East. He was under consideration to be brewmaster there at one point and remembers that “there was this young guy in the lab, Leo Orlandini, who I planned to make my assistant if I took the job.” Morse instead went to Commonwealth in 1990, eventually meeting Grenville Byford and Gary Gut in Boston and became the founding brewer of the John Harvard’s chain which they launched in 1992. Orlandini stayed on and became The Lion’s head brewer in 1995. He was named mid-sized brewer of the year at GABF 2000 and moved up to plant manager in 2005, having shepherded the 105-year old brewery through the shoals of a changing beer scene.

1987 was an important year in Pennsylvania. Stoudts opened the Commonwealth’s first brewpub in Adamstown and began contracting 12oz bottles at The Lion, and Dock Street introduced its F. X. Matt-brewed amber ale in Philadelphia. Dock Street opened a brewpub there in 1990, only a few months behind the Samuel Adams (extract) brewpub which was a joint venture between Boston Beer’s Jim Koch and a local restaurateur. Catamount opened in Vermont that year as well. In 1988, Gritty McDuff’s opened in Portland and Blue Ridge in Charlottesville, VA., while Brooklyn Brewing offered its first contract-brewed beers that spring.

Sisson’s, a good beer bar with ambitions, became Maryland’s first brewpub in 1989, the same year Baltimore Brewing opened. Owner Hugh Sisson, who left the family business to establish Clipper City Brewing in 1995, says the shift from bar to brewpub was a five-year process which accelerated in 1987 when the state legislature changed the law so it was possible. “I was never a fan of basic American beers, he says, “so I originally fashioned the place along the lines of a British pub and brought in more than 100 beers, mostly imports. Then I thought, how about if we brew our own?” Similarly, McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola, Florida became McGuire’s Irish Pub & Brewery the following year. The owners were also inspired by European beers. Founding (and still) brewer Steve Fried says that their dream was to be that state’s first brewpub but that the since closed Sarasota Brewing Company beat them to it by a few months.

Fred Forsley was drinking with his brother in McGuire’s, chewing over what to do about a vacant commercial real estate site he owned in Kennebunkport, Maine, when he was inspired by his surroundings. That led to a partnership between Forsley and Alan Pugsley and the creation of Federal Jack’s Restaurant and Brew Pub and the Kennebunkport Brewing Company in 1992 and The Shipyard Brewing Company in, where else, Portland two years later. Pugsley, of course, had a tremendous impact on the New England brewing scene aside from his contributions at Geary’s and his ongoing involvement in Shipyard and no record of the time would be complete without noting that. The numerous Peter Austin-built brewing systems he installed and, most especially, the love-it-or-hate-it Ringwood yeast he extols, have made him as controversial as he has been influential. When a journalist once described Pugsley as “the Johnny Appleseed of American Brewing,” a well-known brewer cracked “Typhoid Mary would be more like it.” Either way, there was nobody quite like Pugsley on the west coast, which is perhaps the final distinction in how the two sides of the country differed during the formative years.

And that, omissions, short shrifts and all, is how we got from there to here, or at least to 1990 or so. Lying ahead of those pioneering spirits were the craft beer explosion of the mid-‘90s fueled by both contenders and pretenders and the scarifying crash ‘n’ burns at decade’s end which took down most of the latter, followed by what has started out to be a glorious new century for craft brewers. What comes next? Well, history is cyclical after all, so maybe this…

Several decades from now, a 21st century version of Fritz Maytag is sitting at a bar somewhere in California, drinking a pale yellow brew from America’s last surviving no-longer-mass brewery, and this guy who’s resided all his life in a country which had been swept up in the craft beer revolution and has seen the demise and virtual disappearance of what was once called American lager, says to himself, “you know, I really like this stuff. Maybe I ought to buy the brewery and…”


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Trouble at Twin Lakes? [updated 7 July 15]

UPDATE: Twin Lakes announces it will relocate

You do this gig for 20 years, you end up with sources, some good, some bad, some just trying to get you or somebody else in trouble. You figure it out or you don’t manage to do this gig for 20 years.

I am hearing rumors that there is a crisis at Twin Lakes Brewing in Greenville, Delaware (a town for which I have a definite fondness because it was where we–by which I mean myself and all the under-aged Kennett Square reprobates of my era–went to drink when we were, how to put this, nowhere near the age to drink under the law. Spent a marvelous New Year’s Eve there at Buckley’s Tavern one night and another, not so nice, breaking up with a gal (her idea, not mine*). It’s part of my personal who & when nostalgia.

It appears that a hostile takeover by investors threatens the survival of the brewery, which is located on an old estate owned by Sam Hobbs. Apparently, said investors wanted to force him out.

Not sure where it’s going from here. I got sources, not prophets.

*Yes, I realize you will all find this difficult to comprehend

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Session beers are taking over the craft world. Maybe?

This is counter-intuitivity at is finest:

With rising health awareness and concern about binge drinking driving sales of low and non-ABV beers among consumers, it seems counter-intuitive that innovation in strongly alcoholic beers should be rising. But new research from Mintel has found that almost one in four (23%) beers launched globally in 2014 and 25% in 2013 had an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 6.5% or higher, up from just one in seven (15%) beers launched in 2012.

What’s more, largely due to the growth of craft beers, Mintel’s research finds that between 2011 and 2014, the number of beers launched globally with an ABV of 6.5% or over rose by 280%, with the number launched in North America growing by 319%, in Europe by 307%, in Latin America by 260% and in Asia Pacific by 46%.

Around the world between 2011 and 2014, North America saw the most beer launches with an ABV higher than 6.5%, with 46% of launches happening in this region, closely followed by Europe which hosted 40% of launches.

Posted in News, Passing on the Word, The Story Behind The Story, Who Knew? | 3 Comments