Monday, July 16, 2018

Craft Beer Connections - Brewery Influence Web

On Friday I posted a visualization of the connections between the ownership of American breweries, both craft and macro. I was inspired by this graphic of American food companies and leaned heavily on existing aggregations. The response was enthusiastic. Between Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit it was viewed ~150,000 times, plus being featured in a Paste Magazine article.

However, it's the Internet so of course there were complaints:

- You're missing (insert recently sold or Canadian brewery)!

- You're lumping in total ownership with partial!

- List the rest of the 124 AB InBev owned breweries!

- That brewery is closed now!

- That logo is for the 7 Bridges in Da Nang, not Jacksonville!

I spent far too many hours over the weekend correcting, tweaking, and expanding the graphic to address many of those issues. Thanks to those who created other sources I could use as source material (/u/Hraes' spreadsheet, Craft Beer Joe, Philip H Howard, and of course Wikipedia).

Any visualization is a balancing act of information and intelligibility. My first version was likely too simple to provide any deep understanding of the complex web of brewery ownership... while the updated version may be so complex that it is overwhelming (and that's still without 108 AB Inbev brands).

Feel free to let me know if I missed anything. I intentionally left-off private equity firms that own a piece of a single craft brewery (e.g., BrueryStone). I'm sure that there are other conglomerations outside the US that didn't come to mind. It's already starting to look like one of those crazy conspiracy diagrams, so I'm not sure how much more I could add.

With this many complex relationships it is difficult to be completely accurate while maintaining legibility... especially when it comes to unique situations and convoluted relationships. So here it is without distinguishing different levels of ownership.

If you're reading this after July, 2018 don't expect the graphic above to be up-to-date. Obviously no rights other than fair-use claimed on the brewery logos.

I didn't start working on this with the goal of changing what beers people drink. I don't refuse to buy beer from "sellout" breweries... but all-else equal, I'd rather my dollars didn't go to a company that uses its size to muscle small craft breweries off the store shelf or tap list (for example). It's the same reason I stopped shopping at Northern Brewer and Midwest. In that regard there is a big difference between breweries owned by AB InBev, and to a lesser extend Molson-Coors, compared to those owned by CANarchy and Duvel-Moortgat. Even with those though, I'd rather support a small brewery where the money goes back into the brewery, rather than a private equity firm or international conglomerate.

Independent craft beer isn't always delicious. Wide-scale distribution of delicate beers takes both skilled brewers and a level of packaging and distribution channels that many small breweries don't have funding for. That said, I'm not going to buy an insipid or uninspired beer simply because it has a low-level of DO (dissolved oxygen) and an absence of diacetyl and acetaldehyde. There are enough great beers available that I don't need to sacrifice on quality or consistency!

Here is an interesting piece on the Old Dominion-Fordham relationship with AB InBev. Jim Lutz, CEO: "In the years I’ve been here I’ve only met with the AB InBev people twice..." I was fond of Old Dominion before they were acquired in 2007. The first noticeable change was that the tasting room went from smoke-free to smoking permitted. Pretty quickly they closed the brewery in Ashburn, VA and moved production to Fordham's facility in Delaware. The old head brewer didn't follow (he, along with the equipment, became Lost Rhino). I may be out of the loop, but I remember Old Dominion producing a few interesting beers (like their Millennium barleywine aged in barrels... and even a version with Brett). Now all I see from them are pin-up girl logos and uninspired beers. Whether that is the result of AB InBev or the brewery itself doesn't change many of the reasons I don't buy their beers.

While the Brewers Association had to draw a line somewhere for what is craft, I don't find anything special about the 25% non-craft brewery ownership definition. What really matters is the relationship between the brewery and ownership. How much control of the beers is put into the hands of marketing or accounting? What sorts of incentives/investments are there for brewing innovation versus sales growth. Are resources primarily used to increase consistency/quality, or reduce costs? In the past BA has been all too happy to raise the barrels-per-year cap for Boston Beer, even though producing ~4,000,000 bbls/year as a publicly-traded company owned by a billionaire puts their trade-group needs much closer to a macro brewer than it does mine as a ~1,000 bbl/year start-up brewery.

We're at an interesting time in the growth of craft beer, hopefully the visualization helps illustrate that! 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Buckwheat Saison with Cashmere Hops

Shaking the wort to introduce oxygen.The Bootleg Biology isolated version of my house Brett-saison culture is available for the next few days, so I decided to hustle to write this post featuring my OG blend... especially because after I just quit my day job of the last 12 years with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Gotta get that yeast money until Sapwood Cellars is up and running!

I'm a bad microbe owner. I don't do well when I have to keep a culture going with regular feedings. Whether it was kombucha, ginger beer plant, or sourdough eventually whatever the yeast or bacteria it ends up in the fridge, ignored until I toss it. My house saison culture was getting close, having sat in a growler for nearly seven months since the Juniper-El Dorado Saison. Luckily, years of neglect and mistreatment have selected for only the hardiest bugs...

Wort from the buckwheat saison... a bit gray.This batch was a bit of a cupboard raid. I had two bags of Arrowhead Mills buckwheat flour that I impulse-bought on sale. A few years ago, I brewed a sour amber ale with buckwheat (milled and pre-boiled) with good results. Buckwheat contains caprylic acid, which there is some chance Brett converts to pineapple-scented ethyl caprylate. It also seems to have the same beer-darkening effect as oats when I left this batch exposed to the air (despite much lower oxidation-catylizing manganese - 1.3 mg/100g vs. 4.3 mg for oats). On the mouthfeel-side, the two contain a similar amount of beta glucans according to this study.

I didn't love the "whole wheat dishwater" gray color of the wort, but it looks great now that it is finished!

I also had a pound of Cashmere hops in the freezer untouched from my last bulk order. They are a relatively recent hybrid of Cascade and Northern Brewer. They seemed like a potential candidate for a NEIPA hop-blend, with positive descriptors of tropical, citrus (including lemongrass), peach, and coconut. I've enjoyed several hop-forward beers with this blend (e.g. New Zealan' Saison). So I added a large dose at flame-out as the sole hop addition.

Despite pitching the yeast directly from the fridge (to avoid gushing), the they woke up in a hurry. By the next day the head was thick enough that it looked more like bread dough than beer. Even if you don't need the culture immediately, clearly it can handle a few months in your fridge!

I decided to leave half the batch as is (currently naturally conditioning in the keg) while the Cashmere dry-hopped half is on tap force-carbonated.

Indian-Subcontinent Saison

Smell – Nice blend of citrusy top-notes plus earthy base from the buckwheat and saison yeast. I don’t get coconut specifically from the hops, but there is richness to the aroma. At less than a month old the Brett isn’t bold, but it doesn't smell completely clean.

Appearance – GLOWING. The ultra-pale base really lets the light into the hazy body. Anti-gravity head retention.

Taste – Grapefruit, melon, faint spices, and a hint of pancake batter. Slight bitterness from the whirlpool addition, no real acidity. The yeast pepperiness isn't as strong as a classic saison, which is one of the things that makes this culture work well with fruitier hops. Not as dry as saisons (including this blend) usually are, not sure if that is poor conversion of the flour or unhealthy yeast.

Mouthfeel - Saisons around 5% ABV are often thin, but thanks to the high FG and the beta glucans from the buckwheat this one has some of the softness of a NEIPA. The carbonation is still a little low, which contributes to that impression as well. That will likely change with more time on gas.

Drinkability & Notes – Saturated with a diverse array of flavors and aromas. Despite the haphazard construction it all actually works. The yeast is subtle enough not to get in the way, and interesting enough to connect the hops and grain. The bigger body makes me forget it is a session beer... especially next to the 2.2% and 1.9% ABV beers on tap now. I'll have to try Cashmere in a cleaner base beer, but a great first impression!

Changes for Next Time – I’ll be interested to taste the non-dry hopped half with more time warm to develop fermentation character. Hopefully the Brett doesn't generate too much carbonation while it is sitting warm. I might go back to whole buckwheat next time to see if that removes some of the "raw" grain notes.

The finished Buckwheat Saison with Cashmere hops.


Batch Size: 11.00 gal
SRM: 2.8
IBU: 31.2
OG: 1.047
FG: 1.010
ABV: 5.0%
Final pH: 4.42
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70%
Boil Time: 60 mins

87.8% - 18 lbs Briess Pilsen Malt
12.2 % - 2.5  lbs Arrowhead Mills Buckwheat Flour

Mash In - 45 min @ 150F

Whole Batch
8.00 oz Cashmere (Pellets 8.50 % AA) - 30 min Steep/Whirlpool Hop

Half Batch
3.00 oz Cashmere (Pellets 8.50 % AA) - Dry Hop @ Day 3

10.00 g Calcium Chloride @ Mash
10.00 g Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) @ Mash


3.00 tsp Phosphoric Acid 10% @ Mash
0.50 tsp Yeast Nutrient  @ 10 mins
1 Whirlfloc Tablet @ 5 min

Mad Fermentationist Saison Blend

Brewed 6/16/18

All DC tap water, carbon filtered. Wort looked a little gray and gloppy thanks to the buckwheat initially. Cleaned up pretty nicely with the boil.

Chilled to 75F, shook to aerate, pitched decanted house saison blend straight from the fridge (harvested seven months earlier... from the juniper El Dorado saison).

Left at 75F ambient to ferment.

6/19/18 Dry hopped half.

6/30/18 Kegged at 1.010. Force carbed for the dry hopped half, 2.5 oz of table sugar for the non-dry hopped half.

Nice looking head!

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