Blog Entries by Jeff Cioletti

Savor & the City

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, brewing, craft beer, hops, alcohol, brew

The Brewers Association traded the Beltway for Broadway for the sixth edition of Savor, its craft beer/food pairing extravaganza, hoping the one-year detour to the Big Apple would boost craft’s profile in the eyes of the largest media market in the U.S. and, arguably, the world.

The annual rite of late spring had made its home at Washington, D.C.’s National Building Museum—save for its inaugural edition, which was at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

“Being in New York puts craft brewers on center stage,” Brewers Association craft beer program director Julia Herz told Beverage World during the event at Manhattan’s adjoining Metropolitan Pavilion and Altman Building. “In D.C. we had Brewers on an amazing stage, but New York is a great home for a year and we’re reaching a different audience.”

The organization already had hosted 6,500 at the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) in the nation’s capital in late March and decided one event in the first half of 2013 in the District was enough. Savor had provided an opportunity for brewers to meet with their legislators, but CBC fulfilled that objective this year.

 “Why not come to the biggest media and food market?” Herz added.

Missing from last month’s event were the National Building Museum’s stately, atrium-style high ceilings and towering columns, but the classy, low-lit cocktail party vibe was still intact at the New York venue. As was the foodie’s paradise of culinary creations prepared under the direction of chef Adam Dulye, designed to pair with everything from a pilsner to a Russian imperial stout.

But despite New York City’s cred as a media and gastronomic center, the city still lags behind cities like Portland, Ore, Philadelphia and Chicago when it comes to being considered a “beer town.” That’s been gradually changing, especially with the efforts of established locals like The Brooklyn Brewery—the No. 11 craft brewer in the country this year celebrates its 25th anniversary—and Sixpoint Brewery. And a few new ones are opening in the city each year. Additionally, distributors like Manhattan Beer and L.Knife-owned Union Beer have been leading wholesalers of craft. New craft-centric beer bars seem to be opening every month as well; a local organization has created the Good Beer Seal to recognize such destinations.

Still, New York’s been a tricky market, especially when you consider how much competition there is for the drinker’s attention. And, of course, space isn’t something that’s in particular abundance in New York City.

Many craft breweries outside the region—including larger, established ones like Savor supporting brewery New Belgium—have yet to enter the market.

John Bryant, co-founder of Spokane, Wash.-based No-Li Brewhouse had considered the market, but has been hanging back, largely because of packaging issues.

“We were looking at New York and we were advised early on that the 22-ounce bottle package, which is what we’re in, wasn’t really relevant to the city,” Bryant explained as he poured from those same bottles of No-Li’s Jet Star Imperial IPA and Wrecking Ball Imperial Stout. “The were saying a lot of the smaller stores, up and down the street, are carrying six-packs, but they weren’t doing a lot of 22s on the shelf….But we’ve since been learning that with the 22, people are actually starting to experiment more.”

Bryant said he hoped Savor would attract a new level of attention. “Savor is in the capital of media, food and culture,” he said. “Boston’s great and North Carolina’s great, but New York’s where trends start.”

Eugene, Ore.-based Ninkasi Brewing Co. isn’t available in New York either, but part-owner and founding brewer Jamie Floyd was sampling Believer imperial red ale and Tricerahops imperial IPA, with an eye on the bigger, national picture. “It’s kind of more for the broader, national exposure,” Floyd revealed. We also spend a lot of time as a company working on food and beer pairings.”

As for entering the New York market, “We never say never,” Floyd said. “We’ve talked about it but we’re not looking for East Coast distribution at this point. We’re in the process of a $20 million expansion right now and that will allow us to continue to fill in more of the West Coast.”

One West Coast brewery that is available in the city is Hood River, Ore.-based Full Sail, though it took about 24 of the company’s 26-year history to finally get there. Founder and CEO Irene Firmat was pouring a pilsner from Full Sail’s LTD series and its Pub Series extra special bitter. “[Savor] is a celebration of beer and food and taking seriously, but still having a whole lot of fun,” Firmat said. Full Sail’s Savor participation extends back to the first edition in D.C. back in 2008. So which host city does Firmat prefer?

“I’m a native New Yorker,” she said, “so I’m a little biased.”

Farm to Bottle

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, brewing, craft beer, hops, beverage, alcohol, brew

Craft brewers across the country have been known for their embrace of all things local and that dynamic has manifest itself further in New York City with the launch of Brooklyn Brewery’s Greenmarket Wheat. The brew, inspired by the Belgian wit style, is the result of Brooklyn’s collaboration with non-profit environmental group GrowNYC, which, among other activities, helps build community gardens and runs New York City’s best-known greenmarket in Union Square. The effort involved working closely with New York State farmers and malters.

The collaboration is result of New York Gov. Mario Cuomo’s 2012 Farm Brewery License legislation aimed at expanding the growth of craft breweries and increasing demand for locally grown products to brew beer across the state.

Greenmarket Wheat, which is brewed from 70 percent New York State-grown wheat and barley and packaged in a 750 ml cork-finished bottle, will be available on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Union Square Greenmarket and at Riverpark, chef Tom Colicchio’s restaurant where the beer was first poured during an unveiling event Wednesday afternoon. There are also plans to sell it at Whole Foods locations and other restaurants in the city interested in serving Greenmarket Wheat.

During Wednesday’s launch event, Brooklyn Brewery co-founder and president Steve Hindy described the path to making Greenmarket Wheat a reality.

“There is a demand for local produce, locally produced products and locally grown commodities and foods, but seven years ago you couldn’t get the grain to make this beer,” Hindy said. “Things have changed in the meantime thanks to the work of GrowNYC and the wonderful greenmarkets. [The markets are] such an incredible addition to the community in New York. There are people I see on Saturdays at my greenmarket whom I don’t otherwise run into. It’s not just a great place to buy your vegetables and your greens and everything else, it’s a great place to run into friends and it really creates a sense of community…The greenmarkets bring the bounty of New York to New York City and with this beer we’re supporting farmers upstate who are growing grain and providing a market for them.”

Hindy credits famed graphic artist Milton Glaser, who designed Brooklyn Brewery’s logo, as well as the iconic “I Love NY” logo, with bringing the brewery and GrowNYC together on the project. Glaser is a regular at the city’s greenmarkets and was also on hand at the unveiling.

“I’ve seen the city change so much in my time and one of the great changes in the city in terms of quality of life is the curious intersection of brewing and farming,” Glaser said. “Saturday morning is the time that my wife Shirley and I go out to start our day by going to the greenmarket…It’s a fabulous way to start our day and has so much improved the quality of civic credibility and comfort…I appreciate both the opportunity to continue to work for the Brooklyn Brewery and the greenmarket because of the common purpose of making feel good about being here and affectionate towards one another.”

Greenmarket Wheat uses raw wheat from North Country Farm in Watertown, N.Y., wildflower honey from Tremblay Apiaries in Chemung County, N.Y. and pilsner barley malt from Valley Malt in nearby Hadley, Mass. Malting only recently returned to the region.

“Throughout history there have been maltsters in any community where people grew grains and people drank beer,” noted Valley Malt owner Andrea Stanley. “And recently has that disconnect gone farther and farther away from where many of us live. And so in 2010 when we wanted to start using local grains in our home brewed beer, we found out that the closest malt house was in Wisconsin and we needed to grow a railroad car worth of grain if they were going to malt it for us. We decided that maybe we would step forward and maybe reconnect this part of our local food system.”

Right now, Brooklyn Brewery’s Hindy said, supplies of Greenmarket Wheat are only limited by the availability of local ingredients. “Really the only thing that’s going to prevent us from selling a lot of the beer is ensuring that we can get enough grain to brew it,” he said.

Brooklyn Brewery vice president and brew master Garrett Oliver says he hopes to be able to eventually boost the already high percentage of local ingredients used.

“We’ll keep the label saying 70 percent,” Oliver said, “but I’d like to be able to get to 80 percent, 90 percent and eventually 100 percent New York State-grown ingredients.”    

The London Renaissance

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer, craft beer, London, Camden Town Brewery, Sambrook’s Brewery

About six months ago, in one of my blog posts at beverageworld.com, I wrote about the bizarre experience of having an English brewery tour guide tell me that the U.K. craft beer scene is still about 15 years behind that of the U.S. Most of my visits there had been driven by the romance of immersing myself in British beer and pub culture and tradition—one that, on many levels, had influenced the craft movement in the United States.

I returned to London last month and figured I’d adhere to my usual itinerary—typically, it’s all about the pub crawl for me, having a pint or two of real ale from some traditional breweries at a variety of neighborhood locals that tend to be light on the tourist element (the way I like it). I had planned to do the same, but a friend had recommended that I integrate into my circuit one of the newer breweries that have been popping up in the city over the past few years.

I’ve been aware of the small boom in craft beer startups in the U.K., in large part influenced by what craft’s accomplished in the states. But I’ll admit I didn’t have a firm grasp on just how explosive it’s been in the past few years just in the capital city alone. So I decided to hit the Camden Town Brewery, a great little spot not too far from the Kentish Town tube stop. With brews like Gentleman’s Wit and Hells Lager, a wheat and a pale, it hits on most of the popular styles of European origin that inspired U.S. crafts. But Camden wears its U.S. influence most on its sleeve with USA Hells, a twist on its Hells Lager with American hops. While there, I ran into Mark Dredge, author of the just-released “Craft Beer World,” who noted that during each of the past handful of years, the number of craft breweries opening in London has been in the double digits and that I can’t leave town without stopping by at least a few of them. So, next I headed over to the Swansea district to Sambrook’s Brewery, one of the veterans of the new class—having opened “way back” in 2008. Sambrook’s kind of bridges the gap between the old and the new. Sambrook’s brews mostly cask real ales in keeping with the British tradition, but with an appeal to the younger generation of craft enthusiasts.

Next stop was a couple of brewers only open to the public on Saturday. Luckily, they were within a half mile of each other in the Bermondsey district. First was the Kernel, whose brews use a lot of the hops popularized in American crafts A real standout is Kernel’s Export India Porter, which successfully merges roasty with hoppy. The Kernel experience had a sort of Brooklyn Brewery vibe, circa a decade ago. The final stop was Partizan, one of the newest breweries in London, having just opened about six months ago. It’s London’s answer to nanobrewing, located in a garage-size space down what locals once considered a sketchy little alley. It, too, plays up hop varietals popularized by U.S. West Coast craft brewers and sports some of the most artfully rendered label designs on either side of the Atlantic.

So, before I knew it, my expected pub crawl had morphed into a brewery crawl as a whole new London—bathed in craft beer—has awakened.

Toasts & Spills: Spring 2013 Edition

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Category: General Blogs

There’s quite a bit to talk about this month, so I figured it was as good a time as any for another edition of my semi-regular thumbs-up, thumbs-down feature, Toasts & Spills.

Let’s start off on a positive note and propose a Toast to Justice Milton A. Tingling of New York, who last month invalidated NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on sugar-sweetened beverages in sizes larger than 16 ounces—a day before it was to take effect. Calling the restrictions “arbitrary and capricious” and acknowledging the ban was fraught with loopholes, Tingling, at least for now, killed a misguided law that would do little to combat the obesity epidemic and a great deal to punish the beverage market and undermine consumer choice.

And while we’re at it, how about a Spill for the mayor of the great city of New York for vowing to appeal Tingling’s decision. Bloomie should just leave well enough alone and move on. I’m actually a fan of his calorie-posting initiative at foodservice establishments in the city, his efforts to get rid of trans fats and, my personal favorite, his indoor smoking ban. These, in my opinion, were smart public health actions. The big soda ban, not so much. Just let it go, Mr. Mayor.

And since we’re talking about the courts and misguided maneuvers, I’d be remiss if I didn’t assign a great big Spill to the truly ridiculous $5 million class action lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch asserting that the mega-brewer is watering down its beer. It’s silliness like this that pushes our legal system toward dysfunction and paralysis, as it’s nothing more than a colossal waste of time that does nothing but clog the pipes of jurisprudence. And if Budweiser is watered down? So what! If the beer’s not flavorful enough for some consumers, then they can go drink something else. Hasn’t anyone noticed that, when it comes to beer, there’s more choice than ever before?  

And that leads us to our next Toast: to U.S. craft brewers. The Brewers Association last month released 2012 craft beer volume and revenue figures and they’re even better than they were in 2011. The segment saw a 15 percent rise in volume and a 17 percent increase in dollars, earning total retail dollars of $10.2 billion. Craft share of overall U.S. beer volume reached 6.5 percent, up from 5.7 percent in 2011, while dollar share cracked the 10 percent mark.

Among the many beneficiaries of such robust craft beer business has been the publishing industry, as craft-themed books have become a genre unto themselves. Our final Toast goes out to author and frequent Beverage World contributor and BevOps craft tasting host John Holl, as his latest tome, “The American Craft Beer Cookbook,” is about to hit stores. The book features a collection of 175 recipes contributed by craft brewers, brew pubs and others in the craft scene throughout the U.S. My wife and I were lucky enough to be guinea pigs when John was testing out a couple of recipes and I can confirm that the book will be worth every penny of the $12.36 pre-order price at Amazon.

And that is where I must end things for this edition, as I am now too hungry to continue writing.

Distilling the Meaning

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: Distilled Spirits Co, DISCUS, spirits

 

We’re focusing a great deal on craft beer this issue (major congrats to Oskar Blues for earning our inaugural Craft Brewer of the Year Award), so it’d probably be appropriate for me to write about craft beer. But, I’ve written a lot of about the subject lately (including in this issue) and I think I want to talk about spirits. 
 
There were a great many statistical nuggets I took away from the Distilled Spirits Council’s (DISCUS) annual media and analysts briefing last month. For one, total spirits volume grew by 3.0 percent in 2012—an impressive number for any mature beverage category, especially when compared with the likes of U.S. beer and carbonated soft drinks. Volume reached 202 million case equivalents. Total revenue was up an even greater 4.5 percent, rising to $21.3 billion
 
A good deal of overall spirits growth is thanks to the premiumization trend, as a sizeable portion of the category’s growth came from the top two spirits price segments, high-end and super-premium, which grew by 4.8 percent and 8.9 percent, respectively. The two segments on the lower half of the price spectrum, value (the lowest) and premium, grew by a much more modest 1.8 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively. Additionally, the super-premium segment is having a much greater impact than it had 10 years ago. In 2003 the value segment’s total revenue was just under $3.8 billion, while super-premium’s tally was a tad lower than $1.5 billion. Ten years later, value’s annual revenue was only a slightly higher $4.1 billion, but super-premium is getting pretty close to matching it at $3.9 billion.
 
There were plenty more facts and figures DISCUS president and CEO Peter Cressy and chief economist David Ozgo presented at the meeting, but I wasn’t struck so much by what was said, but by what wasn’t said—or at least wasn’t said until the final minutes of the presentation. In the same event held in in each of the past few years, the speakers wouldn’t get five minutes into their presentations without uttering the word “recession” or even “economy” (not including Ozgo’s economist title). But this year I was already packing up my laptop (reporters notebooks are for suckers) before a passing reference to the state of the economy was made late in the session. 
 
And I don’t think that was an accident. When your numbers are as good as spirits’ have been—not to mention steady, as 2011 was similarly positive for the category—it’s perfectly safe to get a sense that things have returned to some form of normal. And when the top-shelf price segments are doing as well as they are, it points to a sustainable trading-up trend that, after a brief recessionary hiccup, is back in full-swing. The gravitation back toward affordable luxury over the past three years is a sign that times could actually be heading back into the “good.” 
 
This in no way is meant to cavalierly dismiss the 7.9 percent unemployment elephant in the room. There’s still a considerable way to go until we collectively reach full recovery. But with some consistently solid numbers coming out of the spirits market, it’s okay to surrender to one’s inner optimist.