Lagunitas Announces Third Brewery

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I’ve been traveling most of this week, so I missed the announcement Wednesday by owner Tony Magee when he unveiled plans for a third brewery on Twitter. When I interviewed him for a profile piece in in Beer Connoisseur magazine in 2012, he was already thinking about a third location after Chicago was up and running, but at that time was leaning toward New Orleans. But it turns out the new brewery will be in Southern California in the town of Azusa, which is in the San Gabriel Valley and is part of Los Angeles County, about 25 miles east of the city of L.A. This third brewery is a whopping 178,000-square feet and will reportedly have “an initial capacity of 420,000 barrels” which can be raised to one million barrels over time. By contrast, Chicago, when completely finished, will be able to brew 1.2 million barrels a year, and when an expansion in Petaluma is done, they’ll go from a capacity of 450,000-bbl to 750,000-bbl.

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Tony teased out the new space on Twitter with this blueprint.

It’s location is also “spittin’ distance” from the Miller facility in Irwindale. Construction has apparently already begun and is expected to open by early 2017. The decision was prompted by nearing capacity in Petaluma, which is expected to be at 85% in about 18 months. Magee said the L.A. space will be “similar in scale and operation to their Chicago brewery,” so that’s pretty promising. If it’s anything like the Chicago brewery, which I just visited Monday, it will be spectacular.

UPDATE: Lagunitas posted some photos of the ongoing construction which has already begun in Azusa.

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First Time Craft Beer Drinker’s Slow-Motion Reactions

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This reminds me quite a lot of those BuzzFeed videos my wife and kids are always showing me of people trying different national or ethnic foods for the first time, although this one is showing the reactions of various people trying different styles of beer for the first time. Each person is shown naked (or at least as far down as we can see) and we’re also shown the style they’re trying and then their reaction is shown in slow-motion. It was created by Bierdeluxe, a German online beer store. From a main page of craft beer, there’s a picture of each person representing the broad styles from the video, which has as its title “If you’ve never tasted Craft Beer, then you’ve never tasted Beer!,” and clicking on each takes you to a page where the beers they have for sale in that style are displayed for purchase. It’s an oddly effective way to shop, if a little weird on several levels, but it’s also kind of funny, displaying that German knack for knowing what’s funny and/or odd but still not being able to work out which one it really is in the end.

Cancer Charities Grow Cancerous

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One of the byproducts of keeping a close watch on prohibitionist groups and other so-called non-profit organizations is that I’ve become quite jaded not just about those particular ones, but about the charitable industrial complex in general. It’s really become big business and, in my opinion, most have strayed very far from the (hopefully) good intentions that spawned them. Longtime readers will recognize this thread, that many of the charities and organizations that choose to attack the beer community from the high moral ground, are themselves often in no position to take such a lofty nose-in-the-air position.

In recent years, several cancer charities have criticized the alcohol industry for our fundraising efforts while hypocritically working with KFC and other unhealthily partners, as I detailed a few years ago with Biting the Hand That Feeds You. Between several of these cancer charities, and the usual prohibitionists, people who work in the alcohol field who want to do good and raise money for a cause that’s dear to them are routinely insulted and criticized for doing so. But taking a closer look at the charities themselves, as I started doing a few years ago, it’s not always clear how much actual good they’re really doing.

Just how many charities are there? In the U.S. alone there are a staggering 1.5 million non-profit organizations, the vast majority of them characterized as public charities. That’s essentially one charity organization for every 213 people in America. Of those, I don’t know how many are involved with cancer, but you can bet it’s a lot. In a partnership between the Tampa Bay Times, the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, and CNN (who joined the partnership in 2013), they examined all of the charities and created a list of America’s 50 Worst Charities. Of the top ten, the second worst charity in the U.S. is a cancer one, the Cancer Fund of America. In fact, fully four of the top ten are cancer charities. In the full list of the top 48 worst charities, ten of them involve cancer. A surprising number of them are also about missing children, veterans and police and fire fighting groups, sad to say.

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But what prompted this was a report on Mashable I saw recently entitled Cancer charities allegedly misused $187 million for concerts and dating sites, U.S. says. Apparently, “Law enforcement from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, along with the Federal Trade Commission” charged four of them — Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, Children’s Cancer Fund of America and the Breast Cancer Society — “with taking money that donors had given to help cancer patients and using it to on themselves as well as their families and friends,” in an amount in excess of $187 million. The money was used “to buy cars, trips, luxury cruises, college tuition, gym memberships, jet ski outings, sporting event and concert tickets, and dating site memberships,” and even for providing lucrative jobs to friends and family. Two of the charities, Children’s Cancer Fund of America and the Breast Cancer Society, will be shut down. I don’t know why the other two would continue.

The Washington Post also detailed the story, and also published their 5 reasons why it took the feds so long to catch on to the cancer charities scam.

I find it incredibly sad that the state of charities has become so deplorable. It’s to the point where you don’t know whether you can even trust someone soliciting donations, no matter how worthy the cause might sound. The odds are becoming increasingly likely that it may very well be a scam. And undoubtedly that hurts however many charities remain that are actually staying true to their purpose, because at least in my case I’m not giving to anybody until I’ve had a chance to look into the charity asking for my donation. And without the time to adequately do that most times, my default position is a blanket no. So I think the state of the charitable industrial complex has itself become a cancer of sorts, eating itself. With trust in non-profits understandably plummeting, what will that mean for the good work of the few? The sham charities are harming not only the people they bilk out of their cash and savings, but making many others, I have to assume, reluctant to donate to any charity without first knowing more about them. There must be a special circle of hell reserved for these people, praying on people’s better natures with their own worst.

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Beer Excise Taxes By State 2015

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Back in 2009, I wrote a post about Beer Excise Taxes By State, based on data from by the Tax Foundation, and they also created a nice map of the 50 states with the individual beer excise tax brewers in each state has to pay in addition to the federal excise taxes, too.

They’ve now updated that map with more recent tax rates as of January 1, 2015. As they note, “[t]ax treatment of beer varies widely across the U.S., ranging from a low of $0.02 per gallon in Wyoming to a high of $1.29 per gallon in Tennessee.” They also acknowledge that “taxes are the single most expensive ingredient in beer, costing more than labor and raw materials combined,” citing an economic analysis that found “if all the taxes levied on the production, distribution, and retailing of beer are added up, they amount to more than 40% of the retail price.”

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The Top 20 Most Popular Beers Sold In America

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Despite being primarily a wine site, Vinepair often has some interesting beer content. A few months ago, they created a chart of The 20 Most Popular Beers in America. The rankings are based on IRI data from 2013, which is a little odd since more recent figures are undoubtedly available. But in the top sellers, they don’t change all that often so it’s likely still reasonably accurate.
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In the “Details” below, the twenty beers are listed with a number of pieces of other interesting data, including the number of cases, price per case and their Beer Advocate score.
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SABMiller Acquires Meantime Brewing

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Global beer company SAB Miller has announced the acquisition of London’s Meantime Brewing in effort to enter the UK craft market.

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From the press release:

Meantime is a pioneer in British modern craft beer, giving SABMiller an entry point into the fastest-growing segment of the UK beer market and complementing its imported super-premium lagers such as Peroni Nastro Azzurro and Pilsner Urquell.

SABMiller plans to grow sales of Meantime’s beers nationally and explore export opportunities in its European markets under the continued leadership of Nick Miller, Meantime CEO.

Meantime was established by Brew Master, Alastair Hook, in 1999 with a brewery in Greenwich, London. The business has since created a successful range of British and international beer styles.

Sue Clark, Managing Director, SABMiller Europe, said: “Meantime has been at the forefront of the modern craft beer movement in the UK and brews an outstanding range of beers across a variety of styles. At SABMiller we love local variety, and carefully nurture our 200 local and heritage beers. Meantime, born in a city with a rich beer heritage, will be a special new addition to the SABMiller family.

“Nick Miller, Alastair Hook and their team have built a strong sense of pride and identity within Meantime, which has an excellent reputation for brewing consistently high quality beers and for industry-leading innovation. This expertise will boost our strategy to develop beers that appeal to more people, including women, and which can be attractive alternatives to wine and spirits.”

Nick Miller, CEO, Meantime, said: “I can say from personal experience, that SABMiller is a great company to be joining forces with. They see the opportunity, and believe in the longevity, of modern craft beer in the UK.

“SABMiller shares our passion for putting great beer first, and making, selling and marketing it responsibly to beer aficionados worldwide. The team at SABMiller have stressed how important our culture is to our success to date, and have a strong track record in retaining the special identities and heritage of the local businesses they’ve bought in the past.

“We are all excited about the opportunity to continue growing Meantime. We are also thrilled and flattered that SABMiller has given us a remit to innovate. This is a massive compliment and acknowledges our position as pioneers in modern craft beer.”

Volumes of beer sales at Meantime grew by 58% in 2014, outpacing the UK beer market’s 1% growth during the same period and making it one of the top-performing modern craft breweries in the UK.

Among Meantime’s award-winning lagers and ales are its leading brand London Pale Ale, London Lager, Yakima Red, Pilsner, India Pale Ale and London Porter. London Pale Ale and London Lager together account for around 70% of total volumes. Following the transaction, Meantime will open a pilot brewery which will become a centre for SABMiller’s European innovation and new product development.

The acquisition includes Meantime’s retail sites, including the Tasting Rooms and the brewery shop in Greenwich, the Greenwich Union pub, pop-up Beerbox pub, and the Brewery Fresh tank beer concept, which is now in 26 pubs across London, complementing SABMiller’s Pilsner Urquell unpasteurised tank beer in a further four London pubs.

The deal is expected to close in June of this year, and the financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The BBC and the Guardian also have stories on the deal.

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Meantime brewmaster Alastair Hook, with Greg Koch from Stone Brewing, at a British Guild of Beer Writers event during the Great British Beer Festival in 2009.

Let’s Grab A Beer

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Show of hands: who remembers “Here’s to Beer,” the somewhat lackluster attempt by Anheuser-Busch to teach consumers more about beer eight years ago? No? Let me refresh your memory. The original idea in 2005 was to have all of the major breweries work together to promote beer as an industry, rather than promote any one brand, sort of like the Beer Belongs campaign by a brewers trade group in the late 1940s and 1950s. Unfortunately, trust was not strong among the competing larger breweries and none signed on, fearing A-B would run the show and control the message for their own benefit. So A-B decided to go it alone, and launched a consumer website in 2006 called Here’s to Beer. If you click on the link, it still works, but it’s not that first attempt anymore. Before it launched there were press releases and media talking about it, including me in Here’s To Beer — Here’s to Making it Appear Relevant and Appealing. A few days later the website went live and I did an initial review of it, which was not overwhelmingly positive. A year later I started questioning if Here’s to Beer was dead with R.I.P. Here’s to Beer? But it turned out that the reports of its demise had been premature, and a month later Phase 2 launched with an updated website. That website, which used to be “herestobeer.com” changed to “htbeerconnoisseur.com” and that’s the one that is still online, although it doesn’t appear to have been updated in quite some time, if ever. The copyright information at the bottom of the home page is dated 2009, and attributed to “Here’s to Beer, Inc.” which you won’t be surprised to learn is located at 1 Busch Place, Saint Louis,” the headquarters for Anheuser-Busch InBev. So Phase 2 was about as successful as the first attempt, and quietly faded away.

So this past Tuesday, on “National Beer Day,” you may have seen some of these graphics making the rounds on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. I know I retweeted a couple of them.

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It turns out they’re part of a new effort by ABI, this time called “Leg’s Grab a Beer.” Apparently Beer Marketer’s Insights first reported on it, but I saw it on AdAge, in an article entitled Let’s Grab a Beer… With A-B InBev: Brewer Tries Unbranded Beer Image Campaign. The idea, this time around, according to Julia Mize, ABI VP of Beer Category + Community, is wanting “consumers to understand all the different varieties that are available with beer for different occasions.” Which is much more possible now that they acquired several more smaller breweries outright.

But her subsequent statement is really hilarious: “[W]e wanted to do it in a non-branded way so that we make sure we are connecting with the consumers and it’s not forced. It’s not marketing. Our intention here is to just have a resource that is relevant and fun and celebrates beer.” That reminds me of something Bill Hicks said about marketing, “they’re going for the anti-marketing dollar.” Essentially they’re marketing by not marketing, a tactic more prevalent in our more media-savvy present. And while I’m certainly not against a little education, this seems more like a Tumblr than any real effort at that. The plan apparently is for the “site [to] include a combination of original and aggregated content, ranging from ‘deep reads about the past, present and future of beer’ to colorful charts and graphics,” although at least for now there’s a lot more of the latter. Some of the “deep reads” include such titles as “7 Beer GIFs that Will Make Your Mouth Water” and a photograph of “Women demonstrating against Prohibition 1932.” It’s not exactly heady stuff they’re tackling so far.

Here’s to Beer, for all its faults, at least tried to educate consumers. This latest attempt seems more intended to entertain, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The National Beer Day cards were done, apparently, in partnership with Some E-Cards. Sadly, it doesn’t look like you can make your own cards using the beer background. That’s a shame, it would have been fun to make some.

There’s definitely some interesting things being shared, but edumacation it ain’t. The other problem I see is something that seems to happen frequently to these sorts of efforts. There was a flurry of posts to the Let’s Grab a Beer Tumblr (might as well call it what it is) but then nothing new since Tuesday, three days ago. That’s a long time for a tumblr to not be updated. I have several, and make an effort to post something at least once a day, while many others post new content far more often than that. But Here’s to Beer suffered from the same problem: infrequent updates gave little reason to return to the site with any frequency. If you can absorb everything there in a few minutes and then there’s nothing new posted, why would anyone become a regular visitor?

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It’s somewhat obvious why they’re doing this, as one of their own posts makes clear. So if beer drinkers are using social media more often, why wouldn’t they realize you have to keep up with the pace of that social media? If they really want something like this to work, they need at least a dedicated person working on this 24/7. That’s what makes a successful Tumblr.

Midway through the AdAge article, the author suggests it’s branding at the heart of this move.

But there is also an inherent fear in industry circles about the so-called “wineification” [how I hate that word!] of beer. This refers to placing emphasis on beer styles, versus brands. For instance, if more people walk into bars and ask for a “wheat beer,” rather than a Shock Top or Blue Moon, brands become less valuable. And good branding equals profits.

“They are facing the ultimate challenge here of trying to promote a category that really lives through its brands,” said one industry executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “So how do you celebrate beer without making it a commodity? The value of the industry is in the equity of the brands.”

I have to take issue with her definition of “wineification,” saying it means “placing emphasis on beer styles, versus brands.” I don’t think that’s it at all. Nobody walks into a wine bar and says “give me a Chardonnay” or “oh, anything red will be fine.” The term generally has been used to suggest that beer is trying to be fancy, or be marketed more like wine, and is usually used derisively (at least by me). I think people do look to drink a particular type of beer they’re in the mood for or for some other reason just want at a particular time, but it’s been a long time (at least a decade or more, I’d guess) since most people would sit down at a bar and ask the bartender for whatever “pale ale,” or perhaps more popularly an “IPA, they have on tap. Brands still matter a great deal, as the spate of recent high profile trademark disputes among brewers should make abundantly clear to anyone paying attention.

But the rest is an interesting insight. Branding is how all of the big brewers made their fortunes, especially when most beer tasted about the same. In effect, all beer was commodified for a long time, which is why advertising, marketing and branding became so important for the success of the big beer companies. It was no accident that year after year, A-B outspent their competition in ad dollars per barrel by a wide margin. I haven’t seen those figures since InBev took control of A-B, but certainly that was the case up until that transition.

Now that smaller breweries have essentially uncommodified beer by offering a wide range of beers that don’t all resemble or taste like one another, big brewers are left asking themselves what to do now. “So how do you celebrate beer without making it a commodity? The value of the industry is in the equity of the brands.” In some ways that, anonymous executive is still engaging in old beer thinking, using the framework of how the industry used to be constituted. One could argue it still is since 90% of beer is of that single, commodified type — American lager — but it’s nowhere near as universal as when I was a kid. And I think even small beer’s 10% slice of the total beer pie is enough to have at least changed many, if not most, people’s perception of it, even if they choose to still buy the big brewer’s beers. Even the loyal customers still buying the bland American beers know about Yuengling, or Samuel Adams, or Sierra Nevada, or New Belgium, or Lagunitas. What the big brewers bought with decades of blanket advertising was not just blind loyalty, but habit. And habits are harder to shake, because they’re no longer conscious decisions.

So I’m unequivocally in favor of beer education for everyone. We’ve known since the beginning of flavorful beer’s rise that education was the path to winning over more beer drinkers. In order to appreciate it, you have to know something about it. That may not be necessary to simply drink it and enjoy it, but to appreciate what you’re tasting, you do have to know a little more.

I think music once again provides a useful analogy. You don’t need to know anything about music theory or composition to love the Allegro con brio first movement to Beethoven’s 5th symphony in C minor, or Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. But if you do, the experience is much richer because you understand what they were doing differently than their predecessors and how they were expressing musical ideas. The history of music is all about rules, and breaking them. Baroque music was very orderly and followed strict rules for its composition, then innovative composers broke those rules and created the classical music period, which in turn had its rules broken by romantic composers, and so on. Each time there was push back from the status quo before the new music became the next established form.

I think we’re seeing something similar with beer, too, as traditional rules have been broken, but are often respected, too. Innovation is simply trying something a little different or even going back to something that hasn’t been done for a long time, or mixing the two, or doing something old in a new way. It doesn’t have to mean something particularly snooty or high falootin’ as we so often seem to think. It’s just how change occurs. It’s trying to find something you can call your own that a brewery can sell and make their reputation. Few breweries, if any, will do that making the same thing as everybody else is. That’s how we got in the mess we were in by 1980 in the first place. So we should expect breweries to try something new, with 3,000 of them they almost have to experiment to find a niche, or their place in the market. Some will undoubtedly work better than others, and some will ultimately fail while others succeed. That’s the natural order of things. That’s healthy competition, with breweries competing on taste or what people are willing to support and buy.

I think I’ve veered off quite a bit from where I started with this, rambling on about some unrelated ideas, but the takeaway is that education matters — “Just Say Know™” is my catchphrase — but this may not be the best way to engage more people to learn about beer. Still, I’m up for whatever. Let’s grab a beer.

The Top 50 Annotated 2014

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This is my eighth annual annotated list of the Top 50, skipping last year 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 nine 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; 5th year on the list, same position 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. Gambrinus Company; Same as last year
  11. Lagunitas Brewing; Same as last year
  12. Bell’s Brewery; Up 1 from #13 last year
  13. Deschutes Brewery; Down 1 from #12 last year
  14. Stone Brewing; Up 3 from #17 last year
  15. Sleeman Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
  16. Minhas Craft Brewery; Down 1 from #15 last year
  17. Brooklyn Brewery; Down 1 from #26 last year
  18. Duvel Moortgat USA (Boulevard Brewing/Ommegang); Down 4 from #14 last year
  19. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Up 1 from #20 last year
  20. Matt Brewing; Down 2 from #18 last year
  21. Harpoon Brewery; Down 2 from #19 last year
  22. Firestone Walker Brewing; Up 1 from #23 last year
  23. Founders Brewing; Jumped Up 12 from #35 last year
  24. SweetWater Brewing; Up 2 from #26 last year
  25. New Glarus Brewing; Same as last year
  26. Alaskan Brewing; Down 2 from #24 last year
  27. Abita Brewing; Down 5 from #22 last year
  28. Anchor Brewing; Up 1 from #29 last year
  29. Great Lakes Brewing; Down 2 from #27 last year
  30. Oskar Blues Brewing; Up 3 from #33
  31. Shipyard Brewing; Down 10 from #21 last year
  32. Stevens Point Brewery; Up 13 from #45 last year
  33. August Schell Brewing; Down 5 from #33 last year
  34. Summit Brewing; Down 2 from #32 last year
  35. Victory Brewing; Down 2 from #37 last year
  36. Long Trail Brewing; Down 5 from #31 last year
  37. Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits; Up 1 from #38 last year
  38. Rogue Ales Brewery; Down 2 from #36 last year
  39. Full Sail Brewing; Down 5 from #34 last year
  40. Odell Brewing; Up 4 from #44 last year
  41. Southern Tier Brewing; Down 1 from #40 last year
  42. Ninkasi Brewing; Down 3 from #39 last year
  43. World Brew/Winery Exchange; Down 13 from #30 last year
  44. Flying Dog Brewery; Down 1 from #43 last year
  45. Pittsburgh Brewing (fka Iron City); Down 2 from #47 last year
  46. Uinta Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
  47. Bear Republic Brewing; Down 1 from #46 last year
  48. Left Hand Brewing; Up 2 from #50 last year
  49. 21st Amendment Brewery; Not in Top 50 last year, though they were on the list in 2012
  50. Allagash Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year

Not too much movement this year, except for a few small shufflings. Only four new breweries made the list; Sleeman Brewing, Uinta Brewing, 21st Amendment Brewery and Allagash Brewing.

Off the list was Blue Point Brewing, Cold Spring Brewing, CraftWorks Breweries & Restaurants (Gordon Biersch/Rock Bottom), Karl Strauss Breweries, Lost Coast Brewery, and Mendocino Brewing.

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

Top 50 Craft Breweries For 2014

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The Brewers Association just announced the top 50 craft breweries in the U.S. based on sales, by volume, for 2014, which is listed below here. For the seventh year, they’ve also released a list of the top 50 breweries, which includes all breweries. Here is this year’s craft brewery list:
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Seven breweries are new to this year’s Top 50 Craft Breweries list; Yuengling (due to a change in the definition), Breckenridge, Craftworks Restaurants & Breweries, Green Flash, Minhas Craft Brewery, Narragansett and Troeg’s. Here is this year’s press release. For the past seven years, I’ve also posted an annotated list, showing the changes in each brewery’s rank from year to year. Last year, the BA thoughtfully has already done that, saving me a lot of time and math, but they haven’t done it again this year, so I’ll have that again later today.