Skunked Beer: Hide Your Shame

Wired magazine had a short article today giving a basic overview about how beer gets lightstruck, entitled What’s Up With That: My Beer Tastes Like a Skunk’s Bathwater.


It’s a fairly basic explanation of the process of a beer becoming lightstruck — often called skunky — written after interviewing Roger Barth, author of the textbook, the Chemistry of Beer. The author even takes a little thinly-veiled swipe at Corona. “This could explain why certain clear-bottled brands suggest you squeeze a lime into their beer to mask the skunk before taking a swig.” But it was the final sentence that had me in stitches. “But if you must, for reasons I will never understand, drink a Heineken, I suggest you get it on tap and hide your shame in a dark corner of the bar.”


Craft Beer By State

The Brewers Association released in an interactive infographic of sorts, showing State Craft Beer Sales & Production Statistics for 2013. Below is California, but there’s a similar chart for each state, with their respective numbers and rankings in a variety of categories. You can also follow links to find breweries within each state, along with specific state laws regarding beer and alcohol.


Where Do You Fit In The Next Session?

For our 94th Session, our host for the second time is Adrian Dingle, better known online simply as Ding through his Ding’s Beer Blog. For his topic, he’s asking folks to ponder their place in the world. Not the wider world, the whole ball of wax, but our little self-staked piece of it, the collective known as the beer community, or “Your role in the beer ‘scene’. What it is?

[W]here do you see yourself? Are you simply a cog in the commercial machine if you work for a brewery, store or distributor? Are you nothing more than an interested consumer? Are you JUST a consumer? Are you a beer evangelist? Are you a wannabe, beer ‘professional’? Are you a beer writer? All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above? Where do you fit, and how do you see your own role in the beer landscape?


So time for a little self-examination — rubber gloves not included. To participate in December’s Session, simply try to figure out your very existence and post your answer on Ding’s comments section to his announcement or otherwise send Ding your link to your contribution by December 5th.


Which one are you?

Brewing: Love & Talent With Peter Bouckaert

You’re probably familiar with Ted Talks, but there’s also independently organized Ted events, known as TEDx. Recently Peter Bouckaert, the brewmaster at New Belgium Brewing gave one at TEDxCSU, the Fort Collins extension of the talks. In the talk, “[h]e explains his personal journey of challenging limitations to “brew” together a life of creativity,” and the YouTube page describes Peter as having “made a career through utilizing innovation and working outside the box.”

A Belgian native, he is a Biochemistry engineer, with a specialization in Brewing and Fermentation technology from the University of Ghent, Belgium. Before joining New Belgium in 1996, and moving to the US, he worked in the Belgian brewery world in breweries with difficult to pronounce names like Zulte and the world renowned Rodenbach. He was the 2013 winner of the Russell Schehrer award for innovation in Brewing.

It’s only a little longer than fifteen minutes. I only wish it was longer. Enjoy.

Top 10 Beer Brands Worldwide 2014

Last year, I posted a list of The World’s Top 10 Beer Brands . That list, from Drinks Business, was for sales as of the end of 2012. Earlier today, the Wall Street Journal tweeted a chart showing a newer list of the top ten, from Euromonitor International. Their data was accompanying a story, SABMiller Considers Best Route to a Global Beer Brand, though I couldn’t see the context, since only WSJ subscribers could see the entire article. No matter, I was keen to see if this year’s numbers were similar, as you’d expect, from last year, even though the source of the information is slightly different.


It’s pretty close to last year’s list. The top two, both Chinese brands, remain unchanged. But Bud Light has jumped up from #5 to claim the third spot, while Bud slipped down one to #4. Yanjing Beer, which was #4 on last year’s chart, slipped to #6, while Brazil’s Skol shimmied up from seventh to #5. Heineken moved up one to #7, while another Chinese brand (owned by ABI) — Harbin — is at #8, but was not on last year’s list. Finally, Brahma and Coors Light switched placed at the bottom of the list. Last year, Coors Light was #9, this year it’s Brahma. Corona was #6 on last year’s chart, but is not on the list at all this year.

Session #93: Beer Travel

Our 93rd Session is hosted is Brian Devine, who writes The Roaming Pint, along with Maria Scarpello, and the pair “have been traveling around in their 29-foot RV, named Stanley, since August 2010 seeking out all kinds of great beer destinations.” For their topic, they’ve understandably chosen Beer Travel.

Since travel is such an important part of our lives I wanted our topic to focus on beer travel. In Session #29, Beer by Bart asked writers to tell them about their favorite beer trips to which they got some great responses of personal favorites and general tips for certain cities.

So as not to tread over old ground my question is going to focus on the “why” more than the “what”. So I ask you fellow bloggers and beer lovers, why is it important for us to visit the place the where our beers are made? Why does drinking from source always seem like a better and more valuable experience? Is it simply a matter of getting the beer at it’s freshest or is it more akin to pilgrimage to pay respect and understand the circumstances of the beer better?


Beer travel has exploded in the last few decades and has become a far bigger part of the success of smaller and local breweries than we often acknowledge. When I was a kid — yes, I’m old — most of the big breweries offered tours but because there were so few operating in the U.S., they were few are far between. Before I was old enough to drink I’d been inside the Budweiser brewery in Virginia (then associated with what used to be called Busch Gardens: The Old Country, an amusement park in Williamsburg), Yuengling (not too far from where I grew up in Pennsylvania) and the old Reading brewery in my hometown (though not for a tour, my stepfather stopped by to see a friend, with me in tow). But apart from the national breweries and the regionals hanging on by their fingernails, there simply wasn’t a lot of beer tourism opportunities around.

Abroad was slightly different, certainly in nations with rich brewing traditions. But this was before Americans traveled very much, before air travel became affordable for many more people. When I was young, a trip by plane was rare for almost everybody I knew. I was ten before I set foot on a plane, and I still beat many of my friends into the air. By contrast, my kids had flown maybe a dozen times before they reached double digits, and tellingly they’ve been complaining lately that it’s been far too long since we’ve taken a vacation via airplane (so we’re spending Thanksgiving in Hawaii). But back then, most people who discovered good beer in other countries were stationed there as part of their military service or had business travel in Europe. You hear that story repeated a lot.

My first trip to England was in 1982, when I was still a civilian, but I still managed to visit a couple of breweries — Fuller’s and the old Orange Brewery in Pimlico, an early British brew pub. But among my friends, at least, that was still a rarity. I moved to California in 1985, and between the many new breweries opening then along with Safeway’s Liquor Barn chain, things finally started to open up. But it’s been a slow, if steady climb. With renewed interest in beer generally, travel to beer locations like England, Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic seemed to increase dramatically, and there were tour companies set up for the occasional beer tour, and some of the early beer magazines set up their own tours, as well. Little by little, breweries started getting more visitors each year. The smart ones prepared for them, hired tour guides, created gift shops with merchandise to sell, added tap rooms for sampling, which only increased the people coming.

Inside the Trappist brewery at Rochefort.

In the 2000s, beer weeks started emerging, providing even greater incentives for beer travel. Smart tourism boards in cities and towns embraced these as a way to encourage travel to their areas, and the beer weeks that have flourished have been great for their respective hometowns. I used to keep track of all the beer weeks (though sadly have fallen behind) but as of a couple of years ago there were over 100 beer weeks worldwide, though the bulk of them are in North America.

But now that we’re approaching 3,000 breweries in America, beer travel has gone mainstream. There’s just so many to visit, and most new breweries plan for visitors. Few breweries open these days without merchandise, tours or a tasting room. They know people will visit them, in a children of the barleycorn “if you build it, they will come” sort of way. Many guilds and visitors centers have created brewery tour maps as part of the literature available for tourists, knowing many will ask for this information. People, friends and relatives, I know who are outside the beer bubble most of us live or work in, are coming back from trips with tales of breweries visited, something almost unthinkable a decade or two ago. Even my recently retired schoolteacher uncle and nurse aunt, who barely drank a drop before, are counting breweries as places visited in their globetrotting golden years. It’s definitely become a thing, with a life of its own.

But the question posed by this Session’s host was not is it happening, but why? Why do we want to visit a brewery? Why is the source a “valuable experience?” It is, if you think about it, a curious development. Breweries are, at their most basic, factories; manufacturing plants; or temples to scientific and technological achievement. I’ve never admired my television enough to visit the factory where it was produced, nor virtually anything else in my home. These things may even inspire me, or make my life easier, or better, but I’ve never mustered the same curiosity about how they were made that would make me set sail on a pilgrimage to their birthplace. I’m not dying to see where the car parked in my driveway came to life, so to speak. Why not?

I’m sure someone will come up with a better answer, but I think it’s because those are all tools. They remain outside of ourselves. Beer, like all food and beverages, we ingest. It literally becomes part of us. We take it in and it becomes part of who we are. Clothes don’t make the man (or woman), but food and drink do. Food and beverages feed our soul. Food starts grand novels. Drinking fuels poetry.

Given my love for potatoes, you won’t be surprised to learn I’ve visited several potato chip makers. I’ve even been to two pretzel factories. Growing up, Hershey’s Chocolates (near where I grew up) had a wonderful tour inside the plant, the air positively thick with chocolate aromas as you walked past giant vats of it (sadly, today it’s merely a ride at Hersheypark where they pump in the chocolate smells as you sit passively in a moving car winding through dioramas). The point is I want to see where my food comes from, especially my favorite foods.

With beer, for me at least, the importance of seeing the brewery is the context. I like seeing where it was created, the space itself, the coiled hoses (ask anybody), the gleaming copper or stainless steel brewery porn. I love the smells hanging in the air, both in and around the brewery. Hearing (and seeing) the brewer explaining his process, or how he came up with the idea or recipe for a beer, is different on his or her home turf, as opposed to a meet the brewer event at a pub or behind a table at a festival.

Similarly, I like to see where the hops were grown, or the barley malted. Does it make the beer taste better? No. Does it even make me appreciate it more? Maybe, but probably not. It’s just the context of seeing where it came from, how it was put together and then tasting the finished beer. It’s a more complete picture, but I’ll certainly enjoy the beer without all that pageantry. That is, my taste buds and stomach will, my soul is another story. For that to be piqued, I need the added context of place; of geography. Where, and under what circumstances, we eat or drink anything, will alter the way it tastes, the very experience of tasting it. We know this to be true, so why should it be a surprise that place matters. Location, location, location.

Wading through the hop fields in Yakima, Washington.

Andy Capp On Beer Tourism

Andy Capp, the British comic strip by Reg Smyth has been running in London newspapers, and around the world, since 1957. Even though Smyth himself passed away in 1998, the strip continued on, done by a trio of writers and artists, Roger Kettle, Lawrence Goldsmith and Roger Mahoney. Capp, of course, is a longtime fan of beer, spending much of his time down the pub. Longtime Bulletin reader Miles (thanks Miles) sent me a link to a recent Sunday strip that tackled the newer phenomenon of beer tourism, relevant to me because when it arrived in my inbox I was indeed touring breweries in Belgium. Enjoy.


CCBA Celebrates 25 Years

This year the California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA) celebrates its 25th anniversary, and they just concluded a two-day conference in Santa Rosa. I missed the first day (traveling home from Belgium) but gave a talk yesterday morning on the history of craft beer in California. But the highlight of day two was a panel discussion with three craft beer pioneers, John Martin (Triple Rock), Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada) and Fritz Maytag (Anchor), moderated by Vinnie Cilurzo (Russian River).


The trio spoke for around an hour, then the audience asked a few questions. I captured the main part of the talk (not the Q&A) in two parts (due to limitations of my camera) which you can watch below. There’s a short gap in between the two videos, only a few seconds. It’s a fun and fascinating talk. Enjoy.

And here’s Pt. 2.

After the talk, John Martin, CCBA executive director Tom McCormick, Vinnie Cilurzo, Fritz Maytag and Ken Grossman.

A Love Story: Brewing Yeast & Fruit Flies

There was an interesting story posted on Popular Science, specifically their BeerSci series. They did a great job of spinning the story as a love story, albeit an unusual one between fruit flies and brewer’s yeast, especially since the original title of the study they’re reporting on was The Fungal Aroma Gene ATF1 Promotes Dispersal of Yeast Cells through Insect Vectors. But it is, and in How Flies Are Responsible For Beer’s Tasty, Fruity Smells, they detail how,”[i]n a series of experiments, biologists from several institutes in Belgium demonstrated that brewer’s yeast makes fruity, floral smells to attract fruit flies. In the wild, yeast might live on rotting fruit and entice flies to come to them there. Yeast and flies’ relationship benefits them both, the biologists found. Previous studies have found that eating yeast helps fruit fly larva develop faster and survive better. This new study found that fruit flies help spread yeast to new environments, like a bee spreading pollen.” In effect, their study demonstrates “the co-evolution of two species.”

Here’s the summary from the original, published in Cell Reports.

Yeast cells produce various volatile metabolites that are key contributors to the pleasing fruity and flowery aroma of fermented beverages. Several of these fruity metabolites, including isoamyl acetate and ethyl acetate, are produced by a dedicated enzyme, the alcohol acetyl transferase Atf1. However, despite much research, the physiological role of acetate ester formation in yeast remains unknown. Using a combination of molecular biology, neurobiology, and behavioral tests, we demonstrate that deletion of ATF1 alters the olfactory response in the antennal lobe of fruit flies that feed on yeast cells. The flies are much less attracted to the mutant yeast cells, and this in turn results in reduced dispersal of the mutant yeast cells by the flies. Together, our results uncover the molecular details of an intriguing aroma-based communication and mutualism between microbes and their insect vectors. Similar mechanisms may exist in other microbes, including microbes on flowering plants and pathogens.


You can also read the entire study as a pdf, but to get a sense of what it all means, read Francie Diep’s How Flies Are Responsible For Beer’s Tasty, Fruity Smells and keep in mind her warning from the outset. “Sorry, but brewer’s yeast did not evolve for you.” Perhaps not, but at least we can still reap the benefits of the relationship between those fruit flies and the yeast used to create delicious beer.