Indian Gov’t Issues Arrest Warrant For Mendocino Brewing Owner Vijay Mallya

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Those of you who’ve been in the beer world for a few decades will no doubt remember the tumultuous period around 1997 when Vijay Mallya, and his UB Group, which also owns the Indian beer Kingfisher, started buying up breweries. They picked up Nor’Wester Brewing first, along with a few others, and UB Group consolidated their U.S. holdings under the name “United Craft Brewers, Inc.,” or simply “United Craft.” The first five included Nor’Wester Brewing Company of Portland, OR; Aviator Ales of Woodinville, WA; Mile High Brewing of Denver, CO; Bayhawk Ales of Irvine, CA; and North Country Brewing of Saratoga Springs, NY. United Craft later added Mendocino Brewing Co. of Hopland, CA and Humboldt Brewing of Arcata, CA, and then Carmel Brewing of Carmel, CA. United Craft lists a Sausalito address, which is coincidentally where owner Vijay Mallya also built a multi-million dollar home. But essentially only Mendocino Brewing remains of the breweries as a viable brand, although Humboldt was sold off.

I remember when UB initially bought Mendocino Brewing and Mallya began visiting their distributors. He would attend distributor meetings with an actual entourage, including bodyguards, which was not exactly endearing to anybody. Within a short time the Mendocino brand, which had been very successful locally, began to fall precipitously. It’s never really recovered, though they do quite a bit of contract brewing out of their Ukiah facility. Mallya has a fairly ruthless reputation for his business practices, and I’ve spoken to at least two people who’ve done business with him in other industries who’ve had nothing flattering to say about the way he conducts himself, so the news being reported by the Drinks Business came as no surprise, except perhaps as to why it took so long. Undoubtedly, there, as here, the rules for billionaires are different than it is for you and me.

According to Drinks Business report, “Indian authorities have issued an arrest warrant against Vijay Mallya, the former head of United Spirits, just days after freezing his passport.”

The warrant was issued on the “third strike and out” practice of the Indian Enforcement Directorate (ED) when the colourful former tycoon failed to appear at the third time of asking at a Mumbai court to answer allegations of misuse of funds loaned to his Kingfisher Airlines by a state-owned bank, IDBI.

This is one of 17 Indian banks seeking to recover some $13 billion from Mallya. Last month they rejected his proposed scheme to repay $600 million.

It is alleged that Mallya used part of the $134m loan from IDBI to buy properties overseas. The airline, which was never profitable, collapsed into bankruptcy in 2012 with debts approaching £1bn.

Mallya has consistently denied impropriety and his private holding company, UB Group, said that the full loan, including up to $65m alleged to have been diverted to Mallya’s personal use, had been “used for legitimate business purposes only”.

The statement said that the arrest warrant was “erroneous and unjustified”.

Mallya, who is thought to be in Britain, has been ordered by India’s supreme court to disclose all his assets to the authorities.

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Inside the newer Mendocino brewery in Ukiah.

Czech Republic Wants You To Call Them “Czechia” To Sell More Beer

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This is interesting, if odd, news. The Czech Republic wants you to call them “Czechia,” believing that the shorter name is easier to remember and will ultimately sell more Czech — excuse me — Czechia beer. According to the CIA World Factbook, the official name of the country is simply the Czech Republic, in the local language, “Česka republika.” The “name derives from the Czechs, a West Slavic tribe who rose to prominence in the late 9th century A.D.”

The nation’s website claims that “apparently it’s difficult for a country to make its way in the world if it has not got a shortened, easy to pronounce, name; something that fits in big letters on a shirt. And the Czech Republic has been dealing with that handicap ever since the split up of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Various unofficial options have been tried, Czech, the Czech lands, for example, but the safest option has often been to revert to the full, official name. After months of deliberations, they think they have a solution. Here’s what they decided.

Czechia-no

Now, the Czech Republic appears ready to end confusion and take the plunge with an official choice. Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek, who is often confronted with confusion over the name, explained what is at stake.

“We are not talking here about the official political name, Czech Republic, Česká Republika, which is clearly established. But in Europe, every country or almost every country, has a shortened geographical title, for instance the Polish Republic is just Poland, and the same follows for others. In our case, unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple because we have not been able to share with the rest of the world the shortened name we use in Czech, Česko. But for us there exists just one possible option as a correct translation of that and that is something along the lines of Chequia or Czechia.”

Czechia in English, and various similar forms in other languages, is reckoned to be the most faithful translation of Česko. And it will be raised at a meeting on Thursday evening attended by the foreign minister, prime minister, heads of two chambers, and the president. If the idea is approved, then the shortened name will be registered with the United Nations, and should start to become common verbal and visual currency.

Minister Zaorálek says sporting bodies for one appear to be keen for a final agreement on a shortened name.

“Perhaps it will be something of a relief for them because it will be clear what must be written on the kits and there will be a general agreement about that. The problem is that we have not been able to agree on this as fast as we would have liked. I had the idea that it would be great if we could have got this done in time for the Olympic games but this whole process of approval by constitutional officials and the government has taken a certain amount of time and in the meantime they have had to start making the uniforms. So if it not this time it will be the next. And I have seen that sportsmen and women are willing to do this but they need some time to prepare.“

Some are asking whether Czechia might not cause confusion among the geographically challenged. In a far from isolated example, in 2013 the US broadcaster CNN confused the Russian province of Chechnya with the Czech Republic, suggesting that the Boston Marathon bombers came from the Central European country.

Czechia-yes

It’s worth noting that the local term for the country is “Česko,” so it’s not to far off from that, though it seems like it will take some time to get used to it.

Business Insider asserts in their headline that The Czech Republic is changing its name to Czechia to make it easier to sell beer, adding “Because the name of the country is quite long, companies often brand their merchandise with the word “Czech” to show which country their product comes from. One company that does this is Pilsner Urquell beer, which has “Brewed in Plezen – Czech” written on the bottle. The problem with this is that the word “Czech” is an adjective so can’t really be used as a proper noun.”

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So the official line doesn’t mention beer as one of the reasons for the country’s new nickname, but several news outlets have brought it up. For example, the New York Times mentions Pilsner Urquell, and their use of “Czech” on packaging already, rather than the official “Czech Republic.”

Variants that did not make the cut included “Czechlands,” “Bohemia” and, simply, “Czech.” (Pilsner Urquell, the storied beer maker, uses “Brewed in Czech” on its cans.)

But they’re hoping to make the change before the Olympics take place, hoping that the Czech Republic’s team can be referred to instead as the team from Czechia later this year in Brazil.

“It’s not good when a country does not have any clearly defined symbols, or cannot say clearly what its name is,” Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said on Tuesday, unveiling the proposal. “It would be good to set the record straight once and for all. We owe this to ourselves and to the world.”

On Thursday, Czech officials said they would have the name added to the United Nations database of geographical names, which records country names in the world body’s six official languages.

Fans of the change have set up a website, Go Czechia, to dispel myths about the name, its origins and other facts surrounding it.

Czechia

There’s also an interesting post from transculture, written by faculty of the School of Humanities within the Faculty of Arts, University of Wolverhampton, entitled From Czech Republic to Czechia, in which they reprint an excerpt from an article by linguist Tom Dickins, who wrote ‘The Czech-speaking lands, their peoples and contact communities: titles, names and ethnonyms’, published in The Slavonic and East European Review, 89 (3), 2011, pp. 401–54. Here’s what Dr. Dickens had to say:

“The degree of acceptance of short forms for the Czech Republic in foreign languages varies significantly. Some languages have largely embraced a new descriptor; for instance, French Tchéquie, German Tschechien and Spanish Chequía. Others have proven more resistant. Neither Czechia in English nor Cechia in Italian (which is perhaps too close to cieca [blind woman]) have become so well established, despite their endorsement in 1993 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, and their appearance in official geographical lists.105

There can be few precedents of a small state attempting to impose usage of this type on the speakers of major foreign languages, so it is difficult to predict the likely degree of acceptance of the promoted forms. For what it is worth, a poll conducted in 2006 found that ordinary Czechs overwhelmingly prefer the adjectival form Czech (used as an odd-sounding substantive in English) to Czechia, Czechlands and Czecho.106 Amongst native English speakers, Czecho, the misnomer Czechoslovakia (cf. continued references to ‘Yugoslavia’), the Czech-speaking lands and the Czechland(s), all appear to be more common than Czechia, for which there is only one citation in the Bank of English corpus.107 It is striking that even English-speaking Bohemicists are reluctant to adopt Czechia, and in some cases oppose it on the not altogether rational grounds of euphony.

To some extent, the Czechs recognize the anomaly of the situation, as exemplified in the variety of terms which they use to promote themselves abroad, including Czech/CZ made (which invites the unfortunate pun šmejd [junk]), Made in Czechia, Made in (the) Czech Republic, Made in Czech R./Rep./CR/CZ, Czech (Team) or Czech Republic (on sports kit), Czech beer or Brewed in Bohemia/the Czech Republic/in Plzeň, Czech (on the Prazdroj bottle) and Moravian wine.”

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Asahi Buys Grolsch, Peroni & Meantime

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Business Insider is reporting that Anheuser-Busch InBev, who’s in the process of closing the deal for SABMiller, agreed to sell off Grolsh, Peroni and Meantime Brewing, which is part of SABMiller’s portfolio, most likely in order to smooth the regulatory approvals necessary to close the transaction. In fact, this deal in contingent on the other one, so that if the ABI/SABMiller deals fall apart, then this one won’t go through either and they’ll remain part of SABMiller.

SABMiller posted a short press release today:

SABMiller plc (“SABMiller”) has been informed by Anheuser Busch InBev SA/NV (“AB InBev”) that following its announcement on 10 February, it has accepted the binding offer from Asahi Group Holdings, Ltd (“Asahi”) to acquire certain of SABMiller’s European premium brands and their related businesses (excluding certain US rights), following completion of the relevant employee information and consultation processes applicable to the sale of these brands and businesses.

The acquisition by Asahi of these premium brands and related businesses (comprised of the Peroni, Grolsch and Meantime brand families and related businesses in Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and internationally (“the Business”)) is conditional on the successful closing of the recommended acquisition of SABMiller by AB InBev as announced on 11 November 2015, which itself contains certain regulatory pre-conditions and conditions, and the approval by the European Commission of Asahi as a purchaser of the Business.

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NBWA Brewery Count Over 4,800

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Some very interesting analysis from the NBWA, and their economist Lester Jones, about the number of breweries in America. Lester’s analysis uses slightly different metrics from the TTB and doesn’t define craft breweries as narrowly as the BA, and also the TTB doesn’t distinguish exactly what mat beverages are being made, if they’re licensed as a brewery then they’re included in the data. Those difference in calculating show the NBWA’s number for how many breweries there in America is 4,824, or over 550 more. But even more remarkable is that based on the number of “permitted breweries on record” at the TTB by the end of last year, that number could swell beyond 6,000, which seems absolutely crazy. The number is California alone, at 788, is just shy of 800. Sheesh!

Here’s the entire analysis below since the whole summary is worth reading:

Each year, the NBWA requests data from the TTB on tax paid withdraw volumes by size of brewery. Once again, this year’s TTB data provides some interesting brewing industry insights into the dynamics of the U.S. brewing industry. This data also is helpful for us to supplement the Brewers Association data on overall independent craft beer growth and brewery count. According to the BA, craft brewer volumes grew by 13 percent to 24.5 million barrels in 2015. The BA also reported 4,269 total operating breweries for 2015. As with all statistics, how the numbers are collected and reported can vary across organizations. In our industry, the numbers also change quickly.

As of April 2016, the U.S. domestic brewing industry had 4,824 reporting breweries according to the TTB. As with the BA’s brewery count of 4,269, this number is expected to change as additional new brewers are counted that may not yet have been fully recognized and/or reported by either the TTB or the BA data. The data presented below is for all types of malt beverage manufacturers and recognizes only the individual facility, not the ownership or control group.

Highlights from the 2015 TTB brewery count data include:

  1. The small brewer group (making less than 7,500 barrels) accounted for less than 2 percent of all domestic volumes yet accounted for 93 percent of all breweries. The smallest of this group has 566 breweries reporting less than one barrel of production each in 2015. These super small brewers can thank the contracting brewing industry for helping them sell almost 100,000 barrels – a figure well beyond their reported production capacity.
    The medium brewer group (making between 7,501 and 60,000 barrels) is a much smaller group consisting of 246 breweries, but these few breweries account for 1.6 times more volume than the 4,475 breweries in the small brewer group.
  2. The large brewer group consists of only 82 breweries making between 60,001 and 1.9 million barrels. This is a unique group within the industry as they pay the mixed rate federal excise tax of $7 for the first 60,000 barrels and $18 on each barrel over 60,001. While a much smaller group of only 82 breweries, they collectively produce more than four times the amount of beer as the medium brewer group. The large brewer group also has the largest range of production volumes and saw the fewest number of new entrants (17 breweries) into its ranks in 2015.
  3. Finally, we get the extra-large group. This is a group of only 21 breweries that produce more than 84 percent of all domestic beer – more than five times the amount made by all 4,803 combined. The closing of the MillerCoors brewery in Eden, North Carolina, will reduce this class of brewers by one in future reports and will take a significant-sized brewery offline for the first time in many years.
  4. The industry added around 1,500 new breweries in 2015 – that is equivalent to four new breweries a day entering the marketplace. As a highly capital-intensive business, starting small is the name of the game. Growing a beer brand takes a long time, and economies of scale are earned over decades. The largest U.S. breweries have been in operation for decades, and economies of scale should help maintain the beer volumes even in the face of declining per capita beer consumption.
  5. With more than 6,000 permitted breweries on record at the end of CY 2015, 2016 is set to be an even more competitive year for the brewing industry. Just as economies of scale drive the brewing side of the industry, logistical expertise and local market insights drive the efficiencies inherent in beer distributor networks. Working together and maximizing their comparative advantages, brewers, distributors and retailers will deliver unprecedented choice and value to American beer consumers in 2016.

Brewery counts by size 2015_Page_1

Brewery counts by size 2015_Page_2

ABI Buys Devils Backbone

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In what’s becoming almost routine news, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced this morning the acquisition of Devils Backbone Brewing of Roseland, Virginia.

Here’s the press release:

Today, Anheuser-Busch announced an agreement to acquire Devils Backbone Brewing Company, the leading and fastest-growing craft brewery in the state of Virginia. Devils Backbone will be the latest partner to join the diverse portfolio of craft breweries within The High End, the company’s business unit comprising unique craft and import brands.

“I am extremely pleased to announce the partnership of Devils Backbone Brewing Company with Anheuser-Busch. While we are joining a creative group of craft breweries in the division, Devils Backbone will retain a high level of autonomy and continue its own authentic DNA within The High End framework,” said Steve Crandall, co-founder and CEO of Devils Backbone Brewing Company. “The existing management team plans to stay on board for many years, while continuing to innovate and bring locally crafted Virginia beer to the nation.”

In 2008, founders Steve and Heidi Crandall opened the doors to Devils Backbone Brewing Company in the Virginia Heartland, after being inspired by a ski trip to northern Italy in 1991 where they had their first taste of Germanic style beer. After success with the first brewpub, Basecamp, the decision was made to break ground on the Outpost facility, in Lexington, Virginia. Originally projected to produce 10,000 barrels of beer in its first ten years, the Outpost produced almost 45,000 barrels in its first three. Steve credits much of this early success to the excellent network of distributors within his system, which is weighted heavily towards Anheuser-Busch.

“I congratulate Steve and Heidi Crandall and the entire Devils Backbone team as they partner with Anheuser-Busch,” said Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. “Through the strength of Anheuser-Busch’s network of distributors, Devils Backbone’s award-winning craft beer will soon be available throughout the country and beyond. I want to thank Devils Backbone for their immense contribution to Virginia’s world-class craft beer industry, and I look forward to the additional exposure for Virginia as a leading state for craft beer lovers.”

Today, the Outpost Brewery & Taproom in Lexington serves as the primary production brewery while the Basecamp Brewpub & Meadows in Roseland, serves as a visitor destination. Devils Backbone takes full advantage of the scenic 100-acre Basecamp property surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering a variety of opportunities for guests to enjoy the outdoors. In 2015, the two locations hosted more than 500,000 guests.

“Devils Backbone has captivated beer drinkers in Virginia since opening its doors eight years ago,” said Felipe Szpigel, President, The High End. “From the beginning, they have shown creativity and talent with the great beers they brew, and they’ve been able to use the authentic offerings at Basecamp Brewpub & Meadows to cultivate a fun, outdoor lifestyle that resonates with everyone. Pair these qualities with dynamic leadership and a dream to do something bigger, and you have the recipe for an even more promising future.”

While best known for its flagship Vienna Lager, which accounted for nearly 60% of Devils Backbone volume in 2015, the portfolio also includes other award-winning year-round favorites like Eight Point IPA and Schwartz Bier. Developing beers with personality and individual integrity of flavor has helped enable Devils Backbone to win four National titles: 2014 Great American Beer Festival Mid-Size Brewery & Brew Team, 2013 Small Brewing Company & Small Brewing Company Brew Team, 2012 Small Brewpub & Small Brewpub Brewer, 2010 World Beer Cup Champion Brewery, and the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest Best of Show medals in 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012.

First Beverage Group acted as financial advisor to Devils Backbone Brewing Company. Anheuser-Busch’s partnership with Devils Backbone is expected to close in the second quarter, subject to customary closing conditions. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

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Scranton Media Family Buys Flying Fish

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I somehow missed this news, which seems to have come out without too much fanfare a few days ago. Maybe we’re becoming desensitized to brewery M&A? Certainly Twitter wasn’t abuzz with the news. Flying Fish Brewing, one of New Jersey’s earliest small brewers, was bought by the Lynett and Haggerty families, who own Times-Shamrock Communications. They own a dozen newspapers and eleven radio stations. On April 8, they announced that they’d bought a controlling interest in the Somerdale, New Jersey brewery, though the deal was quietly done a month earlier, on March 11.

Flying Fish was founded in 1995 by Gene Muller. They started in Cherry Hill, but moved to larger quarters in Sommerville four years ago.

According to the Scranton Times-Tribune (one of the papers owned by the family), this is how it went down.

The family’s expertise in marketing, events and promotions will help the brewery continue to grow and expand its footprint, said Bobby Lynett, manager of L&H Brewing Partners, the entity that now holds a majority interest in Flying Fish. They declined to disclose the cost of their acquisition.

“Flying Fish is a nice brewery with good people and a great product,” said Mr. Lynett, a publisher of The Times-Tribune. “We want to help it grow.”

Flying Fish currently employs 33 people who produce about 24,000 barrels of beer each year.

Gene Muller, founder of Flying Fish, said he began looking for new partners when some initial investors began to cash out on their investment in the company. He joked that the Scranton family emerged as a good fit “because they are Irish.”

Mr. Muller, 61, believes Flying Fish will benefit from events and other business interests of the Lynett-Haggerty families, whom he refers to as “The Scranton Guys.”

“There are obvious synergies,” he said. “We saw an opportunity to inject some enthusiasm into the company and take care of our initial investors. The Scranton Guys are part of a 100-year-old company. They understand the long-term horizon.”

The capital for L&H Brewing Partners came from some individual family members and Elk Lake Capital, set up by the family to invest in non-media companies to add diversity to the family’s holdings beyond Times-Shamrock’s media holdings of newspapers, radio stations and outdoor advertising. Elk Lake already owns a land-surveying company and water-testing company.

Toasting the Class of '96: Greg Koch, Mark Edelson, Bill Covaleski, Tom Kehoe, Gene Muller & Sam CalagioneAt a Philly Beer Week event celebrating the Class of '96: Greg Koch, Mark Edelson, Bill Covaleski, Tom Kehoe, Gene Muller & Sam Calagione.

First Casualty Of Cuban Tourism: Beer Shortages

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You’ve no doubt seen the news that we’ve finally relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba, along with many other changes to our policies regarding the island nation. Last summer, the two countries agreed to reopen embassies on their respective soil, and re-establish diplomatic relations. President Obama recently visited Cuba, the first American head of state to do so since 1928, 88 years ago. Despite the travel ban, small numbers of Americans had been visiting Cuba by going through Mexico or other countries where travel there is not restricted. But now that it’s legal again, record numbers are visiting, leading to the first real problem caused by this influx of American tourists. According to Mashable, Tourists are drinking all of Cuba’s beer.

“The first clear sign that Cuba will have difficulty keeping up with the influx of American tourists — certain only to increase as restrictions are loosened — is a beer shortage.

Good job, America.”

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Bistro IPA Festival Winners 2016

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Today was only a little wet in Hayward for the 19th annual IPA Festival at the Bistro. It was perfect beer-drinking weather once we emerged from judging in the basement all morning. This year’s big winner was Today Was a Good Day IPA, from Pizza Port Carlsbad, which was chosen best in show, out of 64 IPA offerings. The full list of winners is below.

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Perfect Beer Drinking Weather.

Call It Session Beer Day

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If you’re on the internet, Twitter or Facebook today, you’ll no doubt have noticed that people are saying it’s National Beer Day. And it is, but only in the sense that somebody decided to call it that, and lots of people agreed to it, as well. Which is exactly how every holiday got started. But the day should, I think, make sense. April 7 was chosen because it was the day that beer was first available after prohibition ended. Or at least that’s what a lot people believed, and continue to believe. Some even still call April 7 “Repeal Day.” But, of course, it wasn’t. When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as our 32nd president on March 4, 1933, he quickly got to work on one of his campaign promises: to end prohibition.

He wrote to Congress on March 13, 1933:

I recommend to the Congress the passage of legislation for the immediate modification of the Volstead Act, in order to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer and other beverages of such alcoholic content as is permissible under the Constitution; and to provide through such manufacture and sale, by substantial taxes, a proper and much-needed revenue for the Government. I deem action at this time to be of the highest importance.

The very next day, Representative Thomas H. Cullen introduced the proposed legislation in the House of Representatives. Senator Pat Harrison did likewise in the Senate. It easily passed both houses, and was sent to committee on March 20. The re-worked combined document was approved by the Senate later the same day, while the House approved it the following day.

On March 22, FDR signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which amended the Volstead Act and specifically “27 U.S.C.: Intoxicating Liquors,” creating § 64a et seq., allowing for the manufacture and sale of low-alcohol beer, which they defined as 3.2% alcohol by weight (which by the more common standard today, is beer that’s 4% by volume or abv – technically 4.05%). When he signed the legislation, FDR is reported to have quipped. “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

FDR signing the Cullen-Harrison Act.

According to the act, each state then was free to pass it’s own similar legislation and allow 3.2 beer to once again be available. Twenty-one of the states, including California, along with the District of Columbia, took the federal government up on the offer, and passed their own laws to allow low-alcohol beer. The new law took effect on April 7, 1933.

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A raucous crowd celebrating the return of 3.2 beer at the Fauerbach Brewery tavern in WIsconsin on April 7, 1933. They even had a small band playing in a corner of the bar.

So people in those states were pretty thrilled about being able to legally drink beer again for the first time in thirteen years, longer in some states, even if it was only weaker beer. Celebrations were held around the country. Since most breweries knew once FDR took office that beer would likely be back, they started brewing at least by March 22, when the law was signed, so that beer could be ready for early April. This was also the beginning of one of the most well-known marketing strategies, when Anheuser-Busch president Gussie Busch sent a team of clydesdale horses pulling a beer wagon first to present beer to New York governor Al Smith and then down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. to deliver beer to present Roosevelt.

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In the run-up to April 7, people in those twenty-one states started getting pretty excited and started calling the impending day names like “Beer is Back Day” and “Brew Year’s Day” or “New Beer’s Day.” What they didn’t call it was “National Beer Day.” That day would have to wait until December 5, 1933, when Utah ratified the 21st Amendment, the 36th state to do so, and making it the law of the land. The 21st Amendment repealed prohibition and made it possible for beer and wine of all strengths, along with spirits, to be legal again in all 48 states, whereas in April only 21 states legalized some beer, but only if they were low in alcohol. In fact, it wasn’t until 2009 that a man in Richmond, Virginia, who, at the urging of a friend, conceived of calling April 7 National Beer Day.

I’m certainly in favor of celebrating beer. I do so pretty much every day in my house. As regular readers know, I keep track of beer holidays, birthdays and historical dates, too. It’s a hobby of mine. You can follow along on the Brookston Almanac. But I think that if we’re going to celebrate a “National Beer Day” that December 5 makes a lot more sense since that’s when beer became legal again nationally in every state in America in 1933, or at least had the potential to do so. More recently, Lew Bryson, launched April 7th as “Session Beer Day” as a part of his Session Beer Project, which is designed to shine a light on and celebrate low-alcohol, but full-flavored beer. And that, to me, makes more sense because it was beer that was 4% abv or lower that became legal today, which is essentially our modern definition of a “session beer.”

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Here’s what I wrote about session beers in 2010, and I think it still holds true today.

While “extreme beers” are the current darlings of the craft beer scene, another kind of beer is waiting in the wings for its shot at the spotlight: Session Beers. They’ve been here all along, but they often don’t get the attention they deserve. If extreme beers are the big bullies of the beer world, loud and brash with huge flavors, showing great depth and complexity, and usually high alcohol, session beers are their polar opposite.

Session beers are, by contrast, light-bodied, with delicate flavors and are often very refreshing. What’s not to like? They’re actually harder to make than extreme beers, because it’s also easier to hide flaws in a big beer. A session beer is a beer that’s naked by comparison. Any defect is immediately obvious.

One of my favorite quotes about making these kinds of beers is by Gordon Biersch brewer Tom Dargen, who once said. “Making [a session] beer is like going to the beach in a thong. You better have all your parts in place or it’s going to be ugly.”

Defining a session beer

So what exactly is a “session beer?” Defining them is actually trickier than is sounds. They’re not exactly a beer style or even a collection of styles, more like an idea. The basic notion is that a “session beer” is one that you can drink during an entire “session” of drinking and still be relatively lucid and hold up your end of the conversation.

Their most obvious characteristic is that they’re lower in alcohol than many mainstream beers, which are usually around 5.5% a.b.v. — alcohol by volume. While there’s no official definition, most people tend to believe that beers under 5% can be considered session beers, and at least a few set the bar even lower.

Bryson defines them as being 4.5% or below and also includes in his definition that they must be flavorful, balanced and reasonably priced. His simplest way of describing them is “low-alcohol, but not low-taste.”

They’re the ideal for beer for an evening at the pub, spending the night with friends, having a few drinks and talking about the day’s events. That’s one of the reasons most British beers that you’ll find at an average pub in England can be considered session beers, at least the cask or real ales. English ales are usually around 4.5% or less but remain surprisingly full-flavored.

Session beers are also similar to so-called “lawnmower beers,” except that they tend to be more flavorful. Lawnmower beers are most often mass-produced light lagers with very little actual flavor or hop character. The kind of beer you want to quench your thirst after mowing the lawn in the hot sun. Session beers are similarly light-bodied, but should stand apart by having delicate, but very obvious hop, malt, and/or other flavor characteristics.

My friend Martyn Cornell, who’s a British beer writer and historian, gave one of the best statements I’ve ever seen about how session beers are not just about being low-alcohol, but are “a combination of restraint, satisfaction, and ‘moreishness.’ Just like the ideal companions on a good evening down the pub, a good session beer will not dominate the occasion and demand attention; at the same time its contribution, while never obtrusive, will be welcome, satisfying, and pleasurable.”

There are plenty of beers that fit that definition being made by craft brewers in America and by small and large breweries abroad, too. Many area breweries and brewpubs have one or two that can be considered a session beer. Check the alcohol level and then give them a taste to make sure they’re as flavorful as you like.

While many are also light in color, golden to amber, they don’t have to be. One of the most surprising session beers is Guinness, because many people believe that dark beers are heavier beers. But that’s just not the case, as Guinness Draught is only 4% a.b.v.

A beery backlash

I should point out that I love many extreme beers and in no way think session beers should replace them, or otherwise diminish their popularity. Extreme beers include some of the best, most experimental, most forward-looking beers ever conceived and brewed. They’ve helped redefine what beer is and what it can be. It’s helped bring foodies into the fold by its ability to be paired with an endless variety of foods, standing up to many dishes that wine cannot. I certainly won’t stop being excited by all the wonderful big beers being made.

But more is not always, well … more. Sometimes less is. Sometimes you just want something that has subtlety, delicate flavors and lets you enjoy your time with friends and family. And that’s why session beers are such a great choice.

Session beers are simply a great concept, and one that promotes both responsible drinking and conviviality, while at the same time not sacrificing taste. I can certainly drink to that.

Essentially every day is National Beer Day, but today should really be Session Beer Day.

session-beer-day

UPDATE 4.8: To underscore my point that many people still incorrectly believe that prohibition was repealed on April 7, witness Summit Brewing’s new poster for 2016, whose title reads “April 7 Celebrate Prohibition Repeal Day.” C’mon guys, I know your heart is in the right place, but this isn’t helping.

summit-repeal-day-2016

The Top 50 Annotated 2015

ba
This is my ninth annual annotated list of the Top 50, skipping two years ago because the BA provided that information then, so here again you can see who moved up and down, who was new to the list and who dropped off. So here is this year’s list again annotated with how they changed compared to last year.

  1. Anheuser-Busch InBev; #1 last ten years, no surprise
  2. MillerCoors; ditto for #2
  3. Pabst Brewing; ditto for #3
  4. D. G. Yuengling and Son; Same as last year
  5. Boston Beer Co.; Same as last year
  6. North American Breweries; Same as last year
  7. Sierra Nevada Brewing; Same as last year
  8. New Belgium Brewing; Same as last year
  9. Craft Brewers Alliance; Same as last year
  10. Lagunitas Brewing; Up 1 from #11 last year
  11. Gambrinus Company; Down 1 from #10 last year
  12. Bell’s Brewery; Same as last year
  13. Deschutes Brewery; Same as last year
  14. Minhas Craft Brewery; Up 2 from #16 last year
  15. Stone Brewing; Down 1 from #14 last year
  16. Sleeman Brewing; Down 1 from #15 last year
  17. Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits; Rocketed up 20 from #37 last year
  18. Brooklyn Brewery; Down 1 from #17 last year
  19. Firestone Walker Brewing; Up 3 from #22 last year
  20. Founders Brewing; Up 3 from #23 last year
  21. Oskar Blues Brewing; Jumped up 9 from #30
  22. Duvel Moortgat USA (Boulevard Brewing/Ommegang); Down 4 from #18 last year
  23. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Down 4 from #19 last year
  24. Matt Brewing; Down 4 from #20 last year
  25. SweetWater Brewing; Down 1 from #24 last year
  26. Harpoon Brewery; Down 5 from #21 last year
  27. New Glarus Brewing; Down 2 from #25 last year
  28. Great Lakes Brewing; Up 1 from #29 last year
  29. Alaskan Brewing; Down 3 from #26 last year
  30. Abita Brewing; Down 3 from #27 last year
  31. Anchor Brewing; Down 3 from #28 last year
  32. Stevens Point Brewery; Same as last year
  33. Victory Brewing; Up 2 from #35 last year
  34. August Schell Brewing; Down 1 from #33 last year
  35. Long Trail Brewing; Down 1 from #36 last year
  36. Summit Brewing; Down 2 from #34 last year
  37. Shipyard Brewing; Down 6 from #31 last year
  38. Full Sail Brewing; Up 5 from #39 last year
  39. Odell Brewing; Up 1 from #40 last year
  40. Southern Tier Brewing; Up 1 from #41 last year
  41. Rogue Ales Brewery; Down 3 from #38 last year
  42. 21st Amendment Brewery; Jumped up 7 from 49 last year
  43. Ninkasi Brewing; Down 1 from #42 last year
  44. Flying Dog Brewery; Same as last year
  45. Narragansett Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
  46. Pittsburgh Brewing (fka Iron City); Down 1 from #45 last year
  47. Left Hand Brewing; Up 1 from #48 last year
  48. Uinta Brewing; Down 2 from #46 last year
  49. Green Flash Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
  50. Allagash Brewing; Same as last year

Not too much movement this year, except for a few small shufflings. The top is virtually unchanged, with only numbers 10 and 11 switching places. And apart from those two small changes, the top 13 were all the same as 2014. The biggest jump came from Ballast Point, which leapt up 20 spots, while Shipyard slipped the furthest, dropping six slots. Only two new breweries made the list; Green Flash Brewing and Narragansett Brewing. Off the list was World Brew/Winery Exchange, a California contract label brewer making private label beers for retailers, and Bear Republic Brewing.

If you want to see the previous annotated lists for comparison, here is 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006.