Tender Is The Beer

Here’s an interesting looking gadget. Heineken teamed up with Krups, the people who make those high end coffee machines, to create the BeerTender. Essentially, the BeerTender is a mini kegerator that holds 5-liter kegs. As fr as I can tell it’s already available in eight European nations and beginning March 1 will be sold in the U.S. at Williams-Sonoma stores. At least that was the announcement made at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, which began on Monday.

It’s a beautiful looking piece of equipment and would be great if it could be used with those 5-liter kegs of German beer you see everywhere. I sort of doubt they will, though, they’ll probably only work with Heineken mini-kegs and the other brands they deign to package them in the minis.

Here’s some info about the BeerTender from the Unofficial Heineken USA BeerTender Fan Site, BeerTenderUSA:

Imagine…fresh Heineken and other European beers on tap whenever you want it.

The Heineken BeerTender … is a personal draft beer (or draught beer, if you prefer) system for home use. The system consists of a draft beer dispenser and the exchangeable BeerTender kegs each holding and chilling four liters of premium European beer. While at-home beer taps are nothing new, the BeerTender system is unique in its size, style and function.

The recyclable BeerTender four liter keg is inserted from above into the BeerTender, which keeps the beer cold and fresh for up to 30 days from the first glass. Then run the keg’s plastic tube to the BeerTender’s tap and you’re done. It’s that simple. Inserting a keg takes less than 15-seconds.

Heineken has also made the Krups BeerTender sold in France and the ones coming to the US compatible with its standard five liter DraughtKeg kegs (which are available in most US supermarkets) by using a special tube (a five-pack comes with the BeerTenders sold in France and to be sold in the US). Replacement five-packs will be available after March 1 at www.BeerTender.com.

In the US, Heineken is preparing for the launch of the BeerTender on March 1, 2008 after performing a market test in Rhode Island. The current US DraughtKegs, while compatible with all BeerTenders (with the special tube) will not dispense all the beer. To answer this, Heineken is introducing a BeerTender compatible US DraughtKeg (five liters) that comes with the special tube and has a bigger carbonator inside. That keg is will be available nationwide in both Heineken and Heineken Light. Other European beers are available in Europe.

Operating the BeerTender is a snap. While some models have computer operation and temperature controls with an LCD display, pulling a beer is as simple as pulling the BeerTender’s handle. And if you’ve got kids, you can easily remove the BeerTender’s handle. Best of all, the beer only touches the easily removable spout under the handle, making clean-up between kegs a breeze.

BeerTenders are not cheap. List price in the US will be $400, with street prices down to $299. European versions are just as expensive.

It would certainly look great sitting on the bar, if only it didn’t have that Heineken label on it. Damn.

 

Urban Brewery Construction

Hopworks Urban Brewery, the new brewery owned by Christian Ettinger — the award-winning former brewmaster at Laurelwood Public House — it not yet open and looks to be several weeks away, especially the public area upstairs in their location at SE 30th and Powell. The brewery, which is located downstairs under the bar and restaurant area, is a little closer to completion and apparently the bottling line has already been delivered and is just waiting to be installed. Christian and his assistant brewer, Ben Love (who recently left Pelican Brewery), held an open house for OBF attendees to show off their progress in getting the brewery up and running. They were pouring their IPA (which was, of course, brewed elsewhere) and grilling brats outside the brewery in the back. It was great fun seeing their enthusiasm for getting it up and running. They’re feeling like it’s so close they can taste it. It will certainly be fun to see it next year when it’s fully operational.

HUB brewers Ben Love and Christian Ettinger.

For more photos of the Hopworks Urban Brewery under construction, visit the photo gallery.
 

Kitsock on Cans

A colleague of mine, Greg Kitsock, has been published a few times in the Washington Post lately, and that’s great news since so few beer writers break through through the wine glass ceiling of most major newspapers. Kitsock is now doing a biweekly column in the Post. And if that wasn’t terrific enough for him and the beer community at large, his column is also being syndicated, presumably by Post-affiliated papers. For example, I just stumbled on an article he did about canned beers and Oskar Blues in the Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky. The original piece ran in the Washington Post a little over a week ago. That’s great news as far as I’m concerned.

Oskar Blues Expands

Got the following press release today from Oskar Blues and thought I’d pass it along unadulterated.

Oskar Blues Brewery — the nation’s first microcanning craft brewery and makers of Dale’s Pale Ale — is expanding its brewhouse for the fourth time in four years.

This week the brewery is finishing the process of replacing four 60-barrel tanks with four 120-barrel tanks. The new tanks will allow Oskar Blues to double its brewing capacity. (A barrel equals 31 US gallons.)

“More and more are retailers and beer lovers are asking for our beer,” says Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis. “So we’re doing all we can to give them what they want.”

Last year the microcanning craft brewery (and creator of the Canned Beer Apocalypse) enjoyed its fourth straight year of significant growth, increasing its revenues 121% and its beer production by 64%.

In 2006 Oskar Blues produced 8219 barrels of Dale’s Pale Ale, Old Chub Scottish-Style Ale, Gordon and its other canned and draft beers. In 2005 the company produced 5000 barrels. (A barrel of beer equals 31 gallons.)

Since it began hand-canning its beer (two cans at a time on a table-top machine) in November of 2002, Oskar Blues’ production has grown by about 1200%.

Now that’s a tight fit. New tanks being installed at Oskar Blues in Lyons, Colorado.

More from the press release:

The company’s flagship, Dale’s Pale Ale, is the nation’s first hand-canned craft beer. A robust American pale ale (with 6.5% abv and 65 International Bittering Units) its honors include Top American Pale Ale from the New York Times, Top Colorado-Brewed Beer from the Rocky Mountain News, World’s Best Canned Beer from Details magazine, three “Top-Five American Pale/Amber Ale from Ratebeer.com, and gold and silver medals in the Stockholm Beer & Whiskey Festival.

About two dozen US microbreweries now brew and can their own beer. Oskar Blues’ beers are now canned five cans at a time on equipment from Cask Brewing Systems in Alberta, Canada.

Oskar Blues Brewery is located in Lyons, Colorado (pop.1500), a small mountain town 18 miles northwest of Boulder, Colorado. The brewpub and music venue was opened in 1997 by Katechis and his wife, Christi Katechis. Dave Chichura is the head brewer for Oskar Blues Brewery.

One of the new tanks upright in the brewery.

Sierra Nevada’s New Pry-Off Cap

I made a trip up to Chico, California last week to interview Ken Grossman for an article I’m working on and fortuitously happened upon a new innovation that Sierra Nevada Brewing just launched. They’ve discarded the twist-off crown in favor of a new one they’re calling a “pry-off cap.” They’re using up their old stock now and then replacing it with the new crowns so over the next few weeks or months you’ll begin seeing the new crowns on store shelves. Some, like Pale Ale, have already made the switch.

What’s innovative about this is the material they’re using inside the cap that sits against the top of the glass bottle providing the seal. Oxidation is, of course, probably the most common reason beer goes bad. Twist-off crowns and regular crowns do a pretty good job of creating an oxygen barrier and keeping out the oxygen, but they’re not perfect and some oxidation will occur over time. So Grossman spent the last 6-7 years researching how to make a better seal. What he came up with was a super high-density non-PVC substance that’s used in Germany but is uncommon here. It’s harder than the usual rubbery crown insides and requires a bit more pressure to seal, which is why they can’t use the twist-off cap any longer. But the new substance keeps out oxygen ten times better than anything else Sierra Nevada tested, so having to use a bottle opener is a small price to pay for a fresher beer that stays fresher longer. Now that’s a good use of new technology.

 

Coors’ Ice Cold Obsession

All of the big beer companies and many of the bigger imported ones have at one time or another emphasized “ice cold” as the ideal temperature to enjoy their products. It’s no secret that the closer to freezing you serve your beer, the less of it you can actually taste. So they’re quite right to market their products this way, as for me the less I can taste of them the more I enjoy them. All three of the big U.S. players have used this tactic at one time or another, and then there was the fad for “Ice Beer” a number of years ago. Some imports, like Guinness and Foster’s, have even gone so far as to re-brand line extensions like Guinness Extra Cold and Foster’s Extra Cold, as if changing the temperature makes it a different style. In London, I have seen both Guinness and the Extra Cold version side-by-side in the same pub. It may be a great way to monopolize two taps, but in every other was it’s a travesty.

Many servers still cock their head to one side in the manner of a dog just shown a card trick when I ask them to re-pour my beer into a beer glass that hasn’t been frosted in the freezer. I find this especially troubling when I didn’t ask for a frosted glass or wasn’t informed — or more properly warned — it came in one. A waitress once told me they didn’t have any non-frosted glasses in which to serve me my Chimay. I can only imagine she’d never heard of hot water to warm up the glass. But it’s very, very bad for the beer to be frozen in that manner so I’ve never really understood why so many clueless bars even do it. I’ve written about this before here, to wit:

Now generally when beer dips below freezing ingredients begin to break down, primarily the proteins which come out of solution. This causes them to separate and form small flakes that swim around in the beer and make it cloudy. Of course, because of the alcohol beer freezes at a point that’s already slightly below freezing, the exact point depending on the percentage of alcohol. Alcohol itself freezes at -173° F.

This is also the reason frosted, frozen glasses stored in the freezer are such a terrible idea. They also chemically alter the beer and change its taste. The reason you generally don’t notice it is simply because drinking any liquid at that temperature also numbs many of your taste buds. Several volatile components in the beer aren’t released in your mouth and disappear undetected down your throat. The beer’s flavor profile is considerably narrowed and some tastes disappear completely. Cold beer also effects the beer’s balance because hop character survives better than malt or fruity esters. This is the reason bland lagers, which are generally less well-hopped, do better at cold temperatures and explains why ales are generally served at warmer temperatures. A good rule of thumb is the colder the beer, the less of it you can actually taste.

So it’s a bit confusing why so many of the larger beer companies that make their products on such massive scales also tend to be the ones that promote the idea that colder is better, until you remember that they’re pretty savvy marketeers. And if you want the largest possible market share, it’s a lot easier to change peoples’ tastes than actually go to the trouble of educating them about why beer tastes the way it does and that the bitterness is actually a good thing. But if you take steps to insure your product is indistinguishable for your competitor, then you can simply market the brand instead of the beer. The science of advertising and marketing knows far more about branding and how to make people loyal to a particular brand than how to teach a wide range of people something as arcane as beer styles and why beers taste differently. Make them a commodity through marketing and you reduce a lot of your costs because you only have one or two products in many different packages.

But Coors approach to coldness is positively obsessive and for several years it seems all of their big marketing pushes have been geared toward ice cold beer. I believe they’re the only big brewer who ships their beer in refrigerated trucks to wholesalers and distributors, but that may only be anecdotal. Some of their current slogans even include “Taste the Cold” and “Rocky Mountain Cold Refreshment.” The fact that cold doesn’t actually have a particular taste is, apparently, irrelevant. I once had a journalism class in college where we had to read a essay on McDonald’s marketing practices, and there was a part of it that’s always stuck with me. The author visited the plant in New England where all of Mickey D’s Fillet-O-Fish patties are made. After seeing the whole operation from start to finish, he’s handed a cooked one to sample. As he bites into, his tour guide remarks. “Tastes crispy, doesn’t it?” The essayist then thinks to himself that he doesn’t know how to tell his host that “crispy” is not a flavor.

And the same is true for cold, especially in beer where if cold has any taste, it’s the absence of any flavor. But the images and messages we’re inundated with by marketeers are replete with such non-sequitors of logic, and most of us don’t even bat an eye or think about them very much. But it is as effective as it is insidious. The reason we take a shower, wash our hair and make the effort to insure our underarms are odor-free is entirely the work of marketing early in the last century in an effort to sell more soap, shampoo and deodorant. Prior to that time, Americans bathed far less often. Believe me, I’m not arguing we should return to a less hygienic time, my point is only that we take for granted now what once had to be suggested to us was a problem none of us knew we had through marketing and advertising. A particularly pervasive modern example is how big pharma creates a drug you didn’t need and then invents a disease you didn’t know you had that their new drug can magically treat. So instead of creating a drug to cure a disease that already exists, they create a disease and then sell you on the drug that treats it, rather than cures it. There’s far less money in cures than in lifelong treatments. Whoever heard of ADHD before there was Ritalin, or Erectile Dysfunction before Viagra.

Now recently Coors appears to turning all of its R&D money into finding high-tech solutions to keep their beer as cold as possible. The first of these was last year’s “Stay Cold Glassware,” which used a double-paned design to keep the beer away from your warm hands thus keeping beer colder longer. Here’s how Coors sold it to the public. “Beer pulled at 35 degrees and served in a room temperature glass will warm to 45 degrees when held for 20 minutes. The Stay Cold Glassware only allows a mere three degree increase in temperature in 20 minutes, thus keeping the beer colder and more refreshing longer.” Then there was this frightening sounding “ice-ready” package innovation, from a Coors press release:

Back by popular demand in retail stores nationwide is the Coors Light Plastic Bottle Cooler Box, the industry’s first ice-ready bottle package that can go just about anywhere. Introduced last summer, the innovative design was recognized by Convenience Store News Magazine as the Best New Packaging Innovation in 2005. Essentially a single use portable cooler, consumers need only add ice to the box to enjoy cold beer anytime. The Plastic Bottle Cooler Box includes 18 break-proof 16-ounce plastic bottles, allowing consumers to take beer where glass isn’t allowed.

In England, where Molson-Coors also owns Bass, to combat the Extra Cold versions of Guinness and others, they spent over $18 million dollars developing the technology for Coors Sub-Zero, a device that chills beer down below freezing, to -2.5° C (27.5° F). It seems little more than a gimmick on display at bars throughout England. When it first came out, my friend and fellow beer writer Stephen Beaumont tried it in Canada and came to the same conclusion in a feature he called “Hey Molson-Coors, What Do You Have Against Taste?

Then there was more money spent developing “Cold Wrap” labels that are designed to absorb the heat from your hand rather than warm the beer to a temperature where you might be able to actually taste it. These debuted on bottles last year. On cans, they spray painted the epoxy linings blue — over the gentle protests of the can manufacturers — and called it “frost brew lining.” Both schemes seem to me a perfect illustration that technology is not always a good thing.

Now AdAge is reporting the next step in Coors cold marketing is “Coors Light Super Cold Draft,” a new “glacier tap” mechanism (pictured above) that delivers beer at 6-10° colder than ordinary taps. In the article, a Coors PR flack is actually quoted as saying they own cold, whatever that means.

“We can own [cold] because of our heritage and our brewing process,” said Sara Mirelez, brand director for the Coors Light and Coors brands.

Hilarious. I think I’ll claim to own sarcasm because of my heritage of using it and my writing process. Okay, people, nobody else better use sarcasm without checking with me first, because I f$@&ing own sarcasm.

But really, there’s a low-tech solution I think Coors is overlooking. I could save them literally millions of dollars per annum if they’d just take my simple suggestion. Ready? Here goes nothing. Hey Coors, how about taking all that R&D money and use it to spend incrementally more on your ingredients to make an all-malt beer and maybe create a pilsner that still tastes good when it’s a little warmer? Then you wouldn’t need all the cold temperature gadgets, saving untold buckets full of money every year that would more than offset the margin loss from using more expensive ingredients. Now that will get me a chilly reception.
 

UPDATE 4.10: Coors has even set up a separate website for Super Cold Draft.

Craft Brewers Pour into Austin in Two Weeks

Austin to Host Conference on Craft Beer

Boulder, Colo. • In mid-April Austin will be flooded with flavorful craft beer and the brewers who make it. That’s when the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association for America’s small brewers, will hold its annual professional conference. Craft brewers from across the country will pour into Austin to attend the Craft Brewers Conference, the brewing industry’s largest gathering in North America. Attendance is expected to exceed 1,600.

Austinites will benefit from this surge of beer culture with public events at local venues featuring special beers on tap, craft beer-paired dinners and good elbow-rubbing time with the royalty of craft brewers. “Austin is a city rich in craft beer culture and we look forward to bringing the industry together in such a beer-friendly town,” said Cindy Jones, Marketing Director for the Brewers Association.

Today, sales of craft beers — beer made by small, independent and traditional brewers — are at an all-time high. 2006 marked an 11.7% increase for the category totaling a retail sales figure of $4.2 billion and 3.2% share by volume of the beer market with over 6.65 million taxable production in barrels. America’s craft beers are now a world-class brand being emulated and talked about globally.

“Having the Craft Brewers Conference come to Austin is a fantastic opportunity for the local brewers to showcase our beers,” says Chip McElroy of Live Oak Brewing Co. “We Austinites are proud of our town and the local things we have produced — especially music and beer. We just had the SXSW music conference in town, now bring on the brewers!”
 

Events open to the public include:
 

Event: American Homebrewers Association Rally
Presented by: Independence Brewing Company
Date/Time: Sunday, April 15, 3-6 pm
Location: 3913 Todd Lane #607, Austin, TX
Contact: 303-447-0816 x 123
Cost: Free for American Homebrewers Association (AHA) members or $33 for non-members– which includes a 1 year membership to the AHA!
To kick off the Craft Brewers Conference and support the American Homebrewers Association, Independence is hosting a rally. There will be special guest speakers, brewery tours, raffle prizes, complimentary beer tasting…and to top it all off, they’ll be pouring an experimental beer they’ve been working on. Visit the website for more details. www.independencebrewing.com
 

Event: American Beer Feast
Presented by: Alamo Drafthouse Lakecreek
Date/Time: Thursday, April 19 @ 7:30 p.m.
Location: 13729 Research Blvd., Austin
Contact: 512-219-8135
Showing of “American Beer”, the movie, with director Paul Kermizian and many other special guests. Ticket price includes pre-show appetizers and a three-course craft beer meal (many great beers) to accompany the film.
Cost: Admission is $65 and includes entrance, meal and beer. Guaranteed to be a special evening. Visit the website for more details. www.drafthouse.com/lakecreek/frames.asp
 

Event: Zax Pints and Plates Beer Dinner
Presented by: Zax Pints and Plates
Date/Time: Thursday, April 19 @ 7:00 p.m.
Location: 312 Barton Springs, Austin
Contact: 512-481-0100
Join your friends at Zax Pints and Plates for a 4 course beer and food pairing featuring fine ales and lagers from Victory Brewing Company. Space is limited so make reservations early.
Cost: Open to the public. Admission is $45.
Call 512-481-0100 for more information and reservations. www.zaxaustin.com
 

Event: John Langford Live and in effect!
Presented by: Opal Divines Austin Grill (Penn Field)
Date/Time: Friday, April 20 @ 7:00 p.m.
Location: 3601 South Congress Street. Austin
Contact: 512- 707-0237
A free concert and short film featuring the music of John Langford and featuring Dogfish Head Craft brewed ales.
 

Be sure and visit craft beer hotspots in the Austin area open year-round: Blue Star Brewing, Draught House Pub and Brewery, Fredericksburg Brewing Co, Independence Brewing, Live Oak Brewing, Lovejoys Taproom and Brewery, North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery, Real Ale Brewing Co. Visit beertown.org for a complete list of breweries by state and city.

For more information about the conference visit www.CraftBrewersConference.com. The Craft Brewers Conference is open to brewing industry professionals and media only.

Beer Bottle Workshop

Last Thursday afternoon I attended a Glass Bottle Workshop put on by the California Small Brewers Association. It was held at and hosted by Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma, California. A few dozen brewers, suppliers and one journalist packed in the party balcony at Lagunitas to talk about beer bottles. First, some interesting facts about the beer bottle industry today.

In 1985, there were 110 glass plants in the United States. Today, that number has dropped to less than half, or 49 remaining glass plants. Of those, 42 of them (or about 84%) are owned by the three largest companies; Owens-Illinris oe O-I (19 plants), Saint-Gobain (14) and Anchor (8). Seven companies own the remaining eight, with Gujarat Glass International owning two and the rest operating a single plant each. Like most modern industries today, consolidation has whittled the landscape of glass manufacturers down to a few giants with a handful of small players hanging on for dear life. Typically, that’s good news if you’re a big consumer of glass but not so good if you’re a small player. Part of the reason for the shakeup in glass makers ocurred in 1992-94, when there was a huge decline in the market, caused primarily when most soft drink companies converted from glass to plastic bottles. Longnecks far outsell the shorter Heritage bottle and twist-offs currenty outsell non-twist off.

The breakdown of glass bottles is currently as follows:

  1. 85% Beer
  2. 17% Food
  3. 9% Beverages
  4. 5% Non-Food Jars
  5. 5% Wine
  6. 3% Spirits
  7. 3% FAB (Flavored Alcoholic Beverages)

Tony Magee (from Lagunitas) and Mark House (from Pyramid) led a round table panel discussion about issues facing small brewers regarding bottles.

Later Magee led a tour of Lagunitas’ new bottling line, installed last January, by the Italian company Sympak.

After some supplier presentations and an open discussion, the afternoon ended with a beer social. Here Dan Del Grande from Bison Brewing enjoys a pint from Lagunitas.

And here’s a story about an O-I plant in Colorado entitled the House of Glass from the Scripps Howard News Service.