More Encouraging Numbers for Craft Beer

The Brewers Association, a trade group representing the nation’s craft brewers, holds bi-monthly Power Hour online teleconferences for its membership. Yesterday Ray Daniels, founder of the Cicerone Certification Program, sent out a series of tweets detailing the news from the latest edition. These new numbers provide another shot in the arm for the American craft beer industry. A couple of things stand out to me here. Firstly, our own Great Lakes region is a leader in the growth of the industry. Let’s keep it up Upper Midwest beer drinkers! Secondly, there are a lot of new Pale Ale and IPA brands coming out. I know they are popular, especially here in Minnesota, but let’s keep expanding our selection. After a while the IPAs all begin to taste the same.

Here are Ray’s tweets.

Listening to BA Powerhour on first hald of 2010 sales data. Craft volume up 11.9%! #powerhour

Sadly, Progressive Adult Beverages seem to be the one other sector of the beer business that is growing (other than craft).

Symphony IRI Group shows craft beer being 8.7% of the total beer market in H1 2010. #powerhour

Sales of craft beer 22 oz bottles up 28% in 2010 vs. 2009 in supermarkets. #powerhour

Bad news: progressive adult bev sales in 24-oz can sales are exploding, esp in convenience stores. #powerhour

Blue Moon $ sales up 27% vs 2009, and is SIG’s #1 “momentum” brand. Amazing. Shocktop up 34%. #powerhour

Newcastle Brown up 10% this year: I’d say that’s good for craft as it helps to create craft drinkers. #Powerhour

3 of top 10 new brands are IPAs … the rest are Progressive Adult Beverages like Smirnoff Blueberry & Limonade. Sad. #powerhour

What recession? First half craft sales showing best growth of any year since 2007. #Powerhour

Stone & Alaskan Brewing are #9 and #10 of the top ten craft brewers in US with folks like Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium at top.

New Belgium is growth leader among top craft brewers, up 28% in dollars year to date. That’s amazing for a brewery that size. #powerhour

SN Torpedo is fastest growing of the top 15 craft brands: up more than 200% versus last year. #powerhour

Top 10 major brewer brands DOWN more than 5 million cases so far this year. #powerhour

Good news is that craft lead brands continue to grow–a good sign of vitality for the sector. Way to go craft brewers! #powerhour

Craft sales growing in all regions of the US, but Southeast is #1 and Great Lakes is #2. Cool! #Powerhour

8 of the top 15 new craft brands this year are IPAs. #powerhour

Craft sales account for more than 20% of all beer sold in supermarkets in Portland, OR and other PNW markets. #powerhour

511 craft beer UPCs (products) being sold in California.

Great Lakes is leading region for case and dollar craft sales growth in the US. Time to hire more people! #powerhour

More households in the US now purchasing craft beer versus a year ago–better than any other segment. #powerhour

Dan Wandel from SIG says craft beer the “shining star” of US beer market, on track for 6th (I think he said) year of >10% growth. #powerhour

A Bit More on the Fulton Beer Lease Signing

The guys at Fulton Beer have been taking some heat recently, in part because they currently contract brew in Wisconsin. The argument goes that if they contract brew they aren’t really a brewery, and if they contract brew in Wisconsin they aren’t really Minnesotan. Thus, a group of guys who all live and work in Minneapolis, registered their company in Minnesota, and put forth the effort to make a regular 3:00 AM trek to Black River Falls in order to make their beer themselves are not Minnesota brewers.

While I understand this argument, I don’t altogether buy it. There are many ways to reach the goal of being professional brewers. No matter what route one chooses to take, a sound business plan is a must. If contract brewing allows you to keep the business operating while you build the capital to invest in your own brewery, that’s a sound business decision. If you find the contract opportunities in Minnesota to be limited, especially if you want a hands-on contract relationship as opposed to one in which you are just having your beer brewed for you, and you choose therefore to head to Wisconsin, that is again a sound business decision.

But all of this should soon become moot. The Fulton guys have taken a big step that will take some of the wind out of their critics’ sails. On August 18th they signed a lease on a building that will house their future brewery, possibly the first packaging brewery in Minneapolis in nearly a decade.

According to a press release that I received today, they have researched brewing equipment and plan to purchase a 15 to 20-barrel brewhouse soon. Initial production from the new facility will be limited to kegs and growlers, but will eventually include limited run 750 ml bottles. They will host tours, tastings, and special events at the brewery.

So where is this brewery-to-be located? Other than to say that it is in Minneapolis, the exact location remains a closely kept secret. According to the press release, “Fulton is withholding details on the building location until the conclusion of a contest in which the first person to find the new brewery space will be rewarded with the very first growler produced in the brewery. Instructions and clues to the contest are available at Fulton’s Facebook page.”

Congratulations guys. I look forward to eventually bringing home a growler of Fulton Beer.

With Lift Bridge in the process of putting together their Stillwater brewery, Fulton signing the lease, and Harriet Brewing not far behind, (I’m not sure how far along the 612 Brew folks are.) things are heating up for the Minnesota brewing scene.

Lansdowne – A New Artisanal Reserve Cider from Crispin

Last night I had the opportunity to sample a bottle of Lansdowne, the newest Artisanal Reserve cider from Minneapolis headquartered Crispin. This newest addition to the Crispin lineup is named after the Lansdowne Road Stadium, home to Irish rugby until it’s demolition in 2007. Crispin owner Joe Heron is a big rugby fan. The company even sponsors rugby teams.

Irish rugby is not the only thing Irish about this cider. Continuing the experiment started with The Saint, a cider fermented with Belgian ale yeast, Lansdowne is fermented with Irish ale yeast and finished off with organic molasses for a startlingly stout-like effect.

Lansdowne joins Honey Crisp and The Saint in the Artisanal Reserve series and should appear in stores in the next few weeks.

Here’s my notes:

Crispin Cider Company, Minneapolis, MN & Colfax, CA
Style: Cider with molasses and Irish ale yeast
Serving Style: 22 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Malty, caramel, and butterscotch. Perhaps even a bit toasty. Fresh apple isn’t timid, but stays slightly in the background. Reminds me of the apple butter my grandma used to make.

Appearance: Light fizz. Murky amber. Remember to rouse the yeast to get the proper effect. Not especially pretty to look at.

Flavor: Autumn. Ripe red apples. Mostly sweet, but has a light, balancing, acidic tartness that prevents it becoming cloying. The molasses comes through strong at the start giving mouth-filling caramel and burnt sugar flavors. Raisins. The yeasty butterscotch from the aroma carries into the flavor, again reminding me of grandma’s apple butter. Big and full-flavored.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied and slightly viscous. The thickness is cut by a refreshing, spritzy carbonation. A touch of warming alcohol.

Overall Impression: Upon first smelling this cider I got a mental image of fall-colored leaves blowing in the wind. This cider screams autumn. Big, rich, and sweet with complex caramel, fruit, and butterscotch flavors, it is perfect for the light chill of October in Minnesota. To those who complain that Crispin ciders are too sweet, this one will seem over the top, as the molasses/burnt sugar sweetness is only barely balanced by the apple acidity. Those who are particularly sensitive to buttery diacetyl may not be crazy about this one. I am particularly insensitive to diacetyl and found it quite pleasant. Perhaps my favorite of Crispin’s Artisanal Reserve ciders.

It’s Back! Beer 101 at the University of Minnesota

This fall I’ll be teaching the course A Perfect Pint: Basics of Beer Tasting and Appreciation for the Compleat Scholar program at the University of Minnesota. Classes begin Wednesday, October 27th and run four consecutive Wednesday evenings from 7-9 PM. Tuition is $160. Last spring the course sold out. Don’t miss your opportunity. Go here to register for the fall term.

Most people readily accept the notion that wine is a beverage worthy of contemplation and consideration. Recognition of the subtleties of varietals and terroir is firmly established. After 50 years of a market dominated by light lagers, the same cannot be said of beer. For most people beer is a pale-yellow, fizzy liquid with very little flavor and hopefully even fewer calories. But good beer never went away and is currently enjoying a worldwide renaissance driven by the emergence of small craft breweries throughout the United States. Well-crafted beer rivals wine for flavor and complexity. Join the instructor, a certified Beer Cicerone, or beer adviser similar to a wine sommelier, for a course on the basics of beer tasting and appreciation. During each session you will learn about beer styles, ingredients, brewing processes, and history through presentations and tastings. You will gain an understanding of how ingredients such as hops, barley, and yeast contribute to the overall character of particular beers, as well as how regional, historical, and economic forces contributed to the emergence of particular types of beer. Participants pay a $40 fee to the instructor on the first night to cover cost of food and beverage.

Michael Agnew is a certified Beer Cicerone and the founder of A Perfect Pint, which offers beer tastings and educational experiences for private and corporate events. He is a national beer judge for the Beer Judge Certification Program, consults with restaurants about their beer offerings, and has taught classes at Kitchen Window and Cooks of Crocus Hill.

Beer Classes with Michael Agnew at Chef’s Gallery in Stillwater

I’m happy to announce a couple new beer classes for the fall, this time at  The Chef’s Gallery in Stillwater. Located in the Grand Garage in historic downtown Stillwater, Minnesota, the Chef’s Gallery is a complete source for all your culinary desires. They pride themselves in having everything from the expected to the extraordinary: the finest cookware, bakeware, utensils, gadgets, gourmet food, dinnerware, and serving pieces from around the world. What they don’t have, they will happily order for you.

I’m excited to be teaming with James Norton and Becca Dilley of The Heavy Table for pairings of local beers and cheese. I’ll also be pairing (literally and figuratively) with Chef Bret Bannon. We’ll be exploring pairing great craft beer with appetizers. You can download the complete Chef’s Gallery fall class catalog in pdf format here.

A Perfect Pair: Local Brew and Cheese
With James Norton and Becca Dilley
Thursday, October 7, 7:00 – 9:00 PM
Wisconsin is famous for cheese and beer, with Minnesota not far behind! The wares of the two states’ artisan cheese makers and craft brewers bear this fame out. Michael Agnew is a Certified Cicerone (one with proven expertise in selecting, acquiring and serving a wide range of beers). Together with Becca Dilley and James Norton, authors of The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin, they take you on a tour of the best the two states have to offer, and teach you how to create pairings of these perfectly-matched delicacies. Our Midwestern Tour de Fromage starts with lighter cheese – goats milk, Mascarpone and Camembert – to match the softer flavors of Pilsner, Kölsch or wheat beers. Next is stronger but still fairly mellow cheese – perhaps one soaked in raspberry beer from New Glarus, or cheese with a touch of smoke or washed-rind pungency – with fruity, funky, flavorful ales to match. We will finish with aged Wisconsin cheddar and bleu cheese for bold flavors that stand up to big brash locally-brewed India Pale Ale and Barleywine. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste local cheese and ale at its best.

A Perfect Pair: Craft Beers and Appetizers
With Bret Bannon
Thursday, November 18th, 6:00 – 9:00 PM
The rise in craft breweries has opened a new world of beer and foodpairing. Careful brewing allows for complex and subtle notes similar to those found in wine, and has sent chefs to the kitchen to create the same level of complementary pairings. Tonight we’ll taste a variety of domestic and imported beer, and perfectly pair them to foods based on flavor profiles. Sit back and relax as Chef Bret and Cicerone Michael prepare Chickpea Fritters with Anchovy Dipping Sauce, peppered and Grilled Chicken Skewers with Zippy Dipping Sauce, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Crostini, Creamy Smoked Trout with Apples and Horseradish on Crispy Brown Bread, and Roasted Rosemary, Walnuts and Crispy Panko Calamari with Garlic Aioli.

Boulevard Amber Ale

I love a good American Amber Ale. They are simple beers. They don’t make a lot of demands on you. Yet they are full-flavored and fairly dependably drinkable. Many dismiss them as throwaway beers, the boring bastard stepchild of the big and bitter IPAs and Double IPA’s that beer geeks love to slobber over. To me they are a pub standard. A fallback in times when I don’t want my beer to grab me by the throat and dare me to enjoy it. You might say they are like an American version of the classic English Bitter, beer for drinking and coversating.

Boulevard Brewing Company of Kansas City, Missouri recently added an amber to their lineup, aptly called Amber Ale. They say it’s a “Midwestern version” of this classic style, presumably to set it apart from its highly-hopped cousin the West Coast Amber. Some would say this makes it sound even more boring. But I’m a Midwesterner born and bred. I would say “uncomplicated.”

What ever you want to call it, I got some and I tasted it. Here’s my notes:

Amber Ale
Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Missouri
Style: American Amber Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Huge caramel, like a chewy caramel candy. Sweet and sugary with a grainy malt background. Moderate floral hops. Hints of licorice. Not overly complex, but big and rich.

Appearance: Copper/Amber and clear. The moderate off-white head stuck around reasonably well.

Flavor: The flavor follows the aroma, but doesn’t come off quite as rich, in fact it seems unexpectedly thin given the rich, sugary aromas. Caramel. A bit on the sweet side, with grainy malt underpinnings. Moderate bitterness balances the sweet caramel, but it’s not highly hopped like many west coast examples. They do call it a “Midwestern” version. Moderate floral hop flavors. Candy. Rosewater. Notes of orange citrus almost like a classic English bitter. The finish is sweet and lingers on caramel. The finish is where the richness comes through.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium light body. Medium carbonation. Finish leaves a clinging, coating of sweetness on the tongue. Not that this is a bad thing.

Overall Impression: I won’t say that this is the greatest Amber ale I have ever had. I also won’t say that it is a bad one. It’s simple, clean, easy to drink if a tad on the sweet side, and quite enjoyable. At the same time it doesn’t assert itself as anything special either. While I might not go out of my way to get hold of it, I would certainly drink this one again. Another nice pub fallback. I could see this complementing a roast turkey or even a fried pork chop, although you may want something with a bit more hop bite with fried foods.