Brewer Eric Rose’s new brewpub, Hollister Brewing, in Goleta, California (just outside Santa Barbara), got a nice write-up in the L.A. Times today in their food section. Really the piece was about Santa Barbara’s beer scene and included Telegraph Brewing, Island Brewing as well as Firestone Walker (which at one point the Times referred to as Walker Firestone), but Hollister got most of the attention. Also, I discovered Santa Barbara brewers don’t like a lot of hops. That should come as a bit of a shock to Eric Rose, whose IPA in the past has been fairly loaded with the stuff. All kidding aside, it’s nice to see some attention paid to craft beer by the LA Times, which is the fourth largest newspaper in the U.S.
Sad news indeed was the passing of Kurt Vonnegut yesterday. Besides being one of America’s finest minds and literary talents, he was a favorite author of mine since I first read Breakfast of Champions at around age 14 or 15. Over the next few years I read Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle, Player Piano and Welcome to the Monkey House, along with most of his other early books. Till the end his mind remained as agile as ever, evidenced by his searing appearance on Jon Stewart last year.
Paul Gatza, Director of the Brewers Association, reminded me of a story I’d almost forgotten about Vonnegut’s family and their association with beer. His grandfather, Albert Lieber, was heavily involved in the brewing industry in Indianapolis, Indiana. Albert’s father, Vonnegut’s great-grandfather, was Peter Lieber and he owned P. Lieber & Co (a.k.a. City Brewery) which later joined with two other Indianapolis breweries to form the Indianapolis Brewing Company in 1887. And in 1904 they won the grand prize gold at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Apparently one of Vonnegut’s short story collections also recounts this story, possibly “Palm Sunday.”
There’s a nice history of this at Indiana Beer, so let’s pick up the story with their account.
Kurt Vonnegut’s grandfather was Albert Lieber. The recipe for a dark lager beer that Peter Lieber devised was brewed by Wynkoop Brewing, Denver, in 1996 to celebrate the new library there. It was called Kurt’s Mile-High Malt. A “secret ingredient” of the brew was coffee.
I also recall someone telling me the father of Wynkoop’s founder — and current mayor of Denver — John Hickenlooper was a friend of Vonnegut and that he, too, is mentioned in one the novels, but I can’t for the life of remember if I ever knew which one.
One of the more personal tributes I’ve read was by Denver Post staff columnist and sports writer Woody Paige, a self-avowed fan, and entitled “My muse, more or less.” In it, he tells an undoubtedly more accurate tale of how Kurt’s Mile High Malt came to be.
Vonnegut came to Denver in 1996 to show two dozen of his sketches at a gallery and to introduce a new short story he had written for the label of a beer bottle. As he might say, most of what I’m telling you is true, except the parts I’m making up.
The owner of a LoDo microbrewery had the grand idea of producing specialty beers with famous authors writing stories for the labels. The brewpub owner, a disheveled sort, worked up the courage to ask Vonnegut to contribute, and he agreed, under the condition that the beer’s recipe be the same as his grandfather’s, brewed commercially in Indianapolis before Prohibition.
It turned out that the brewpub owner’s father lived down the hall from Vonnegut, and was his fraternity brother, when they attended Cornell. (Vonnegut later attended Tennessee, which is my school, and you’re thinking I’m making all of this up.)
The secret ingredient in the beer – called “Kurt’s Mile-High Malt” – was coffee. Vonnegut’s story on the label was entitled “Merlin,” about a golden knight with an automatic weapon.
Vonnegut documented his Denver visit in his last biographical novel, “Timequake,” and told of meeting his friend’s son — the brewpub owner.
The barkeep’s name: John Hickenlooper.
“Ting-a-ling,” as Vonnegut would write.
Hickenlooper knew of my idolization of Vonnegut and invited me and my daughter to spend time(quake) with Vonnegut. My daughter sat on a bus bench with him and talked about colleges, and I later had a beer with him.
Does anybody have a copy of the story or the label? I’d love to include it here if anyone does have it. Thanks. We’ve lost one of this country’s literary treasures, IMHO. Let’s all raise a glass to his memory with Vonnegut’s own words.
Still and all, why bother? Here’s my answer. Many people need desperately to receive this message: I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.
So it goes. (from Slaughterhouse Five, 1959)
UPDATE: Craig Hartinger from Merchant Du Vin sent me this photo of a reproduction poster of the Indianapolis Brewing Co. from around the same time as they won the gold medal in 1904. There’s also one of these hanging in the Celebrator’s offices, too. Thanks, Craig.
Last week in the northwestern Washington Tri-City Herald there was a nice profile of a small Washington brewery, Laht Neppur Brewing, which is the last name backwards of the owners, Court and Katie Ruppenthal. The brewery is located in Waitsburg, Washington, which is in the southeastern part of the state, a little bit north of Walla Walla. The Ruppenthal’s brewery has been open a little over six months, having sold their first beer last June.
According to the article, they first thought most of their sales would be to local bars and restaurants but the brewery in their converted workshop has become a popular local hangout in its own right. Several of their popular beers sell out before they can be delivered outside the tiny brewery. But the Ruppenthal’s brewery is very laid back, with customers able to cook their own food on the grill. It’s become a community center of sorts.
Given the recent discussions about children at beer places, this passage lept out at me.
Children are welcome and even have their own toy boxes and a tiny broom to push around the broken peanut shells that litter the concrete floors. “We have a cement floor and metal furniture,” Katie said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, they’re going to break something.”
But earlier in the article, co-owner and brewer Court Ruppenthal muses that his brewery is more like a “nano brewery” than a microbrewery, which started me thinking. A microbrewery is defined as a brewery that “produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year.” There are a few other bits to the definition, but that’s the main distinction. Above that are regional breweries (up to 2 million barrels) and then, simply, breweries (or big or national ones, with over 2 million barrels). There are only four breweries making more than 2 million barrels per year, and 53 that produce between 15,000 and 2 million (according to the 2006 figures from Modern Brewery Age). So out of roughly 1400 U.S. breweries, only 57 are large, leaving around 1,343 microbreweries (including brewpubs, whose definition has to do with their percentage of packaged beer sold).
So it seems to me on a practical basis, the term microbrewery doesn’t seem as useful anymore, or at least seems to need some modification. The various sizes of the remaining breweries and some patterns there seem to suggest some changes to the definitions. For example, below 15,000 annual barrels there are only five that brew more than 10,000 each year. Looking at the next 5,000 barrels down shows another big drop off, with only 19 breweries producing between 5,000 and 10,000 barrels per annum. So that means there are still a whopping 1,319 breweries that make less than 5,000 barrels per year.
If we keep going, only 10 make between 4,000 and 5,000 barrels annually, 16 between 3,000 and 4,000, and 17 between 2,000 and 3,000. This means 1,276 make less than 2,000 barrels of beer each year. Fully 67 breweries make more than 1,000 barrels so that’s still approximately 1,209 below a thousand barrels per year. The reason for doing all that math is to show that the overwhelming majority of breweries make a very small amount of beer each year. This is not to take anything away from their efforts, but in terms of what’s important to their interests, I have to believe they’re different from that of the larger concerns. There’s such a wide range of sizes within the definition of microbreweries that there must be a correspondingly varied set of issues they face, as well.
So I’m not quite sure where you’d draw the line, though at either 2,000 or 1,000 seems prudent. Those breweries, I think, we should define as nano breweries. Technically, the prefix “nano” means one billionth but more colloquially simply is used to denote the very small (as in nanotechnology). Fittingly, the Jargon File says the following about nano:
– pref. [SI: the next quantifier below micro-; meaning *10^(-9)] Smaller than micro-, and used in the same rather loose and connotative way. Thus, one has nanotechnology (coined by hacker K. Eric Drexler) by analogy with `microtechnology’; and a few machine architectures have a `nanocode’ level below `microcode’.
So in computer or math parlance, nano is directly below micro in terms of size. Next below nano is actually “pico,” technically meaning one-trillionth, but at some point it might also be useful to have microbreweries, nanobreweries and picobreweries.
But for now I’d argue for dividing the current definition of micros into two, with micros being breweries that produce between more than either 1,000 or 2,000 barrels per year and nanos being breweries that produce less than 1,000 or 2,000 each year, along with all of the other current parts of the definition. And since there are so few breweries between 10,000 and 15,000 barrles per year, perhaps the upper microbrewery/lower regional boundary should be changed to 10,000. The reason for doing this, I think, is in terms of not just size but the way in which these different size breweries function, are organized and approach the market, which I believe is radically different between all of the divisions. Thus it would make sense to start talking about them as separate parts of the beer industry, in much the same way we do now with the big breweries, regional breweries and microbreweries.
Anybody else have any thoughts or comments to add?
The term “brewster” for a female brewer was used as far back as 1308, according to my O.E.D., when it was common for beer to be made by the woman of the household. Like many early crafts, once the industrial revolution changed the way our society functioned, men generally took over as brewers with the rise of commercial breweries. There were, of course, many commercial beer ventures before that time, but it was the mid-1800s that sealed the fate for the majority of female brewers, and the term fell into disuse. I actually have always liked the word, and I know several women brewers who also prefer the term. Today, only about 10% of all brewers are female.
One of them is Jen Kent, who was named the brewer at Thompson Brewery & Public House in Salem, Oregon at the end of July. Thompson’s is part of McMenamins chain. According to a profile in today’s Salem, Oregon Statesman Journal newspaper, Kent is called “the brew goddess” by her fellow workers and customers. It’s a nice name too, and certainly implies more power than a brewster. Teri Fahrendorf is also quoted in the profile, though she’s referred to as “a respected elder,” a label I think she’d probably object to. I certainly don’t think of Teri as an elder, though I do have the utmost respect for her. All in an all, a pretty good article.
Jen Kent, brewster at McMenamins’ Thompson Brewery & Public House in Salem, Oregon.
(Photo by Andrea J. Wright, Statesman Journal)
Jamie Floyd’s new brewery, Ninkasi Brewing, had a nice profile in the Eugene, Oregon local newspaper, the Register-Guardian. It was in today’s business section and titled, “Brewers Tap Into Trends.” It includes an overview of Oregon’s recent brewing history along with interviews with Jamie Floyd, Teri Fahrendorf and Jack Joyce. The paper also has an interesting article about the likelihood of Oregon raising the tax on beer called “Uncap Beer Tax?”
Jamie Floyd inside his new Ninkasi Brewery in Eugene, Oregon.
San Diego’s Union Tribune yesterday featured an engaging profile of award-winning Pizza Port brewer Jeff Bagby. Since I’m usually railing against coverage in the mainstream media, I want to point out that the Tribune’s columnist Peter Rowe (who frequently writes about beer) did an excellent job on the article. In addition to the profile, he also had tasting notes for some of Bagby’s beers, and — unlike the San Francisco Chronicle — listed all the GABF medals won by local breweries then finished up with a list of upcoming beer events in San Diego. Well done, and congratulations Jeff.
BusinessPOV, a Chicago media enterprise doing online video micro-journalism, contacted me about their latest effort, a video profile of Goose Island Brewing. It includes a short interview with Brewmaster Greg Hall interspersed with footage of the brewery and Goose Island’s beers. It’s a little over five minutes and manages quite nicely to give a good flavor of what their business is all about. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Click above to watch the video profile.
Today’s Honolulu Star Bulletin has a nice profile and interview with Rich Tucciarone, Director of Brewery Operations for Kona Brewing. Rich is a great guy and it’s nice to see him — and the brewery — getting some much-deserved ink in the mainstream press.
Rich Tucciarone (at right) with fellow Kona brewer Britt Antrim (at left) at last year’s GABF.