Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Albany Ale: Fall Into the Gap

I added the "Albany Ale" tag to the headline of this post, but "technically", this one's not about Albany Ale, directly. It's about hops, early-American hops—specifically—so the title isn't that divergent. Besides, it I haven't written about Albany Ale in a while, and I didn't want you guys to forget about it.

Alan and I have been inspired by Martyn's recent post about American hops and early 19th-century British beer. His find of a newspaper report of the 1817 arrival in England of the ship Golconda with— among other things on-board—two bags of hops, has opened up a floodgate of questions about those early-American hops.

We do have a slight problem though—a gap, if you will—and I think Alan sums it up best in the first line of the second paragraph of one of his comment on Martyn's post:
"Not yet clear what was going on from 1670 or so to 1770, except there was a hell of a lot of brewing under English rule…" 
Why in the world would an 18th-century
Albany watch-maker need hops?
Alan expresses my sentiment, as well, about our research of the 100 years-or-so of New York beer history between the Dutch control of New York and the American Revolution. Not clear, indeed. In fact it's down right foggy. We know that beer was being made, and at a pretty good clip—in both Albany and New York City, as well as up and down the Hudson Valley—but we don't know much about that industry, or if you could even call it an industry. Let's look at the raw materials needed for beer. We have a pretty good understanding where the mid-19th century Albany Ale brewers sourced their ingredients—central and western New York. Both barley and hops farms were plentiful throughout that region. Rewind one hundred years and it's nowhere near a clear. This isn't just a New York issue either—where did Philadelphia or Boston or Williamsburg get their ingredients?

So, hops are a good jumping off point. Simply asking where they came from gets the ball rolling on this gap in our research. Where was—or more to the point was there—a hoppy center of the early-American and colonial brewing world in what would become the United States?

Let's start out with what we do know.

We know that by the mid-19th century, New York State had a well established hops industry, and Central New York would eventually produce 90 percent of the United States hop crop. We know that twenty-five years earlier eleven counties in Central New York would be growing and processing hops. Thanks to Martyn, we know that by 1817 the somewhere in United States had the capacity to produce enough hops that could be exported to England—a country, by the way, which had burned the White House and U.S. Capitol just four years earlier. We know that James Coolidge emigrated to Madison County, New York, from Massachusetts, bringing with him rootstock from that area in order to open the first "commercial" hop farm in the state—which he did in 1808. That year is exactly twenty-five years after the end of the American Revolutionary War—just enough time for the state to recover, economically and figuratively, from the war and a nasty infestation of the Hessian Fly which decimated the areas grain crop, after the war.

Newspaper adverts during the late 1780s, and well into 1790s show an increased demand for hops—to the level that non-brewers and non-hop growers were getting in on the act (see the above ad from the Albany Gazette, in 1789). They also show English hops being imported into and sold in New York City in the late 1770s and early 1780s, which makes sense, as the city was occupied British territory during the war. In the 1760s, a Committee for Agriculture was formed concerning a mode or proof for premiums on Agriculture. This committee set prerequisites on the quality of crops and agricultural goods, including flax, hemp, cheese and of course, hops. Prior to that these, admittedly New York-based newspapers, also show a pre-Revolution, thriving hops trade, albeit one that may have been bit un-organized. Throughout the 1740s and 50s, adverts appear for hops arriving through, what looks like inter-colonial trade, particularly Boston, Philadelphia and New York City—the earliest one found, advertising "Boston Hops by the Bale" in a 1749 ad in the New York Evening Post. Hops seem to be moving between these cites fairly regularly. There is almost no evidence that hops were being imported from outside the colonies—with one exception.

In the March 17, 1760 edition of the New York Mercury, a Hanover Square import merchant in New York City advertised "To be sold, a choice parcel of NEW-HOPS…" the ad does not specifically note that these are English hops, but it continues, "…likewise a parcel of Cheshire and Gloustershire Cheese, and Calvert's best Porter." I am assuming that all of these products were British-shipborne.

That leads me to a totally unsubstantiated and evidence-less theory (My personal, favorite kind of theory.) Could it be at all possible for the Crown to have viewed hops as they did tea—a required import that was also to be taxed? Granted, tea was used to support the trade form another British colony, and then heavily taxed to pay for it's standing Army—I don't think that's the case for hops. My theory is that because England had and existing and thriving hops industry, the Crown may have imposed an importation of hops into the colonies in order to regulate the amount of hops grown in North America. The Dutch appear to have done this, during their control of New Netherlands, so why not the Brits?

I'm not saying hops were not grown in the colonies, they obviously were, but think about this—hops grow wild and do particularly well across almost all of the Continental United States. On the East Coast alone hops can grow from North Carolina to Maine—an area several times larger than the hop growing regions of England—If England had supported a hops industry, as they did with cotton and tobacco, it would have killed the English hop industry—simply by the colonies ability to produce them in vastly greater numbers. Why not force an importation which, in case of an emergency—such as the English hops glut of the 1760s, that plummeted the price of hops in England—could be shipped to America and taxed to relieve offset any loss?

Again, no proof—just an idea.

Theory or not, and even knowing what we know, we still don't have a very clear picture of where these hops came from. We know where they were traded or shipped from and how they were sold and inspected when the arrived. But, where they were grown—be it in colonies or not—no. As it sits now, it looks like there wasn't an "industry" per say, more like a loose collective—substance farms growing a variety of crops like flax, corn, hemp and hops, then selling that harvest at market. Enough farms do that, and hop supplies can sustain themselves. While Alan's statement that "there was a hell of a lot of brewing under English rule…" is true, it's also relative to population. Looking at New York specifically, the population of the state of New York in 1850 was a tad over 3 million, one hundred years earlier, the colony of New York in 1750, it was just under 77,000. 77,000 people don't need an industry.

Where does that leave us? About where we started. If anybody has any ideas about the pre-19th century hoppy America—theories or otherwise—I'd love to hear them.

Maybe we can close this gap.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Lest We Forget

U.S. Army officers posing with captured German
steins during the first World War.
Courtesy of periodpaper/

The men of the 300th Combat Engineers kicking back a few bottles.
Courtesy of

U.S. Air Force fighter pilots enjoy a break
from the Korean War, in early 1953.
Courtesy of

Sailors on board the USS Collenton drinking—what appears
to be—Ballantine, during the Vietnam conflict.
Courtesy of

SPC Sung Kim (R) and his friend SPC Contreras (L) sampling $1 Heinekens
and Coronas, at Camp Lemonnier in Dijbouti, during Operation: Iraqi Freedom.
Courtesy of

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Question of Loyalty

Hot on the heels of the realization that I am an un-loyal brand consumer,* contributor and brand research consultant, Robert Passikof has listed how well and to what degree the large breweries on the American market are engaging customers with their brands. Passikof's company Brand Keys, uses predictive behavior in determining brand equity and loyalty as an indicator of profitability. The list compares—what Pasikoff refers to as—"regular" strength and light beer brands. The top six spots for the "regulars" are:
"Fredo, don't forget to bring a sixer of
Sam for the fishing trip."

1. Coors/Sam Adams**: 90%
2. Heineken/Miller**: 88%
3. Budwesier: 85%
4. Busch: 83%
5. Corona: 80%
6. Michelob: 78%

The top for the light beer category:

1. Coors Light: 89%
2. Amstel Light: 88%
3. Sam Adams Light: 85%
4. Bud Light: 83%
5. Corona Light: 80%
6. Busch Light: 78%

A few changes from last year— Heineken and Miller rose two and five spots—respectively—and Budweiser jumped five spots from number eight, last year, to number three, this year. Neither Stella nor Guinness made the top six this year—Stella falling from last year's number two spot and Guinness dropping of the list from five. Corona also fell, but stayed within the top six—from three to five. 

On the light beer front, Coors Light trumped Sam Adams Light, moving from second last year to first this year—booting Sammy to third. Amstel blasted up from the seven spot to fill the Coors Light void, and Corona Light usurped Natural Light in the five spot—dropping the later from the list all together.

Keep in mind these lists aren't ranking the best-selling beers. Consumer loyalty engagement percentages are predicting the drinkers habits. Basically it's data, obtained via survey, that determines if a consumer is drinking the same beer as they did a year ago, or if they've switched to another brand.

Sam Adams is particularly interesting in this scenario—least of which is because it's the lone craft brew on the list. Sam Adams has consistently ranked at the top of the consumer loyalty lists for the last five years. According to a 2012 article about customer loyalty, by 24/7 Wall St. on, Sam Adams ranked second out 11 brands who received the highest Brand Keys scores in relation to those brands ideal ranking, from that year—and not just beer brands either—Costco, NBC Nightly News, and Purina also made the list with the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare video game franchise placing first. The article notes that Sam Adams had a product score/ideal ranking of 97.3%, and a loyalty score of 130—just 3.5 points shy of the category's ideal score of 133.5 points. The article continues:
Proof that you don't have to be among the biggest to be among the best: Sam Adams has a quite small market share compared to the top-selling brands in the light beer arena -- less than 2% in 2010, according to Beverage Industry Magazine. At least six other light beers are more widely consumed. However, according to the Brand Keys survey, those who drink it have a lot of good things to say about the Massachusetts brew. According to respondents, the Sam Adams Light rates highly as being suitable for drinking in different times and places, for being easy to drink and well made, and for having an "invigorating taste."
Although an "invigorating taste" might be marketing frima-framas, it appears that the people have spoken, and the evidence is pretty clear where folks loyalties lie. A few question arise, however. Is Sam Adams' ranking a result of the craft beer biz and the loyalty to what that industry may tout as a commitment to quality, or simply a testament to the marketing prowess of Boston Beer Company? Second to that, does a rising tide lift all boats? Will we see more increased profitability in the craft beer industry due to product loyalty? Are Sierra Nevada fans only loyal to Sierra Nevada? Are there Fat Tire-ists or Heady Topper-ites? Is the loyalty issue brand-based or craft-based in the world of micro breweries?

I don't know, but if I'm any indication my loyalties seem to lie with my taste buds. Although, I do wish I had grabbed some Boston Beer Company stock back in 1995.

*The more I think about this, I've realized that I can't remember the last time I bought a packaged quantity of a single style—or offering from a single brewery for that matter—in what seems like forever. 

**As far as I can discern, Sam Adams equates to Boston Lager, while Miller means Miller Genuine Draft.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

For Simon

The song says, in heaven there is no beer.

There sure as hell is now.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The iTunes Phenomenon

I've discovered something about myself recently.

"The Swag" - Link Wray
"Extradition" - Ice Cube
"Camarillo Brillo" - Frank Zappa
"Solea" - Miles Davis & Gill Evans
"Cono" - Salif Keita
"Tailgunner" - Iron Maiden
"Lee Majors Come Again" - Beastie Boys
"Lost in the Supermarket" - The Clash
"North to Alaska" - Johnny Horton
"Death or Glory" - Motörhead

Those are the last ten songs played from my iTunes. Nothing to far afield, but I'd say it's a fairly broad range of musical styles and genre. A little punk, metal, old-school country, jazz and rap. For as long as I've been able to throw digitized music onto the computer (or my phone) I've just dumped it there and let it play—no rhyme or reason. Whatever comes on, comes on. I've recently added the Pandora app on my phone and iPad—it's taken the whole unsystematic concept to another level.

So what does this have to do with beer—this is a beer blog after all?

Well, I'm starting realize that my varied musical taste—or randomness therein—reflects my beer drinking habits as well. For the proverbial shits and giggles, I jotted down the last ten beers I've drank, just to see if this randomness was a naturally occurring character trait or if I leaned one way or another beer-wise. Heres' the result:

Sierra Nevada Summerfest
Rushing Duck Naysayer
Home brewed Dunkelweizen
Sixpoint Brownstone
Southern Tier IPA
Cricket Hill East Coast Lager
Saison DuPont
J.W. Lees Manchester Star
Session Black lager
Victory Alt

There you go. Ten bottles (or pints, as it were) and ten different kinds of beer. No repeats in brewery or style—and I swear I picked them subconsciously. Even, the music repeated genres, but not the beer.

All said and done, I apparently like to drink my beer in shuffle mode.

Friday, May 17, 2013

In Defense of the Hop Bomb (It's Not What You Think)

I suppose I knew that commenting on Jeff's Beevana Facebook post—about Adrienne So's indictment of hop bombs and the beer industry on—would lead me to writing my own blog post today. Deep down I think I knew it from the very first keystroke of that response. I didn't want to do it. It's beautiful outside, and It's Friday afternoon and nobody reads blog posts on Friday afternoons. Yet here I am, defending the hop bomb—or rather the inalienable right to brew the hop bomb.

Here's the long and short of So's position—from the last paragraph of her article.
Craft brewers’ obsession with hops has overshadowed so many other wonderful aspects of beer. So here’s my plea to my fellow craft beer enthusiasts: Give it a rest.
Every so often a statement or article, such as this one, emerges where a fan-boy—or in this case fan-girl—raises stink about "The way things should be". 

There in lies the rub. 

Someone is, yet again, telling me why I should, or why I should not drink one beer over another—be it hop-bombs of craft versus krafty, or whatever. 

I have grown tired of this tactic. 

Moreover, quality it seems has very little to do with it. I read her closing statement as rallying cry to topple the hop bomb—not as a call for better beer but rather, a call for the de-mainstreamification of those kinds of beer. Which to me seems a little ridiculous, because realistically hoppy beers—bombs or otherwise—are still pretty niche.

Now, here's the long and short of my position.

I don't see the need to do way with any beer—regardless if I like them or not. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Data Mismanagement

I'm not trying to get all beer-snob douchey here, but I'm going to be honest with you. I'm not impressed by BeerViz's beer picker-thing.

Data should get some sun,
he's looking a little Helles.
I noticed it first mentioned it yesterday morning on Twitter (why, yes I do have a Twitter account—it's @drindrank1), and then 500 more times throughout the day. Using data collected from BeerAdvocate, the site claims presents a pretty straight forward idea, "Tell us your preferred beer style, and find similar beers to try out."

I guess it kind of does that, but not very well.

Everything starts off—well—a little off. It first asks you "What's your kind of beer? Choose your preferred beer strength to begin exploring similar beers." The viewer is then presented with images of three beer—one Light, one Medium, one Dark. I'm pretty sure I don't have to tell you guys that color and strength are not remotely related, but maybe someone should mention that to the BeerViz developers. In any case, each glass, upon clicking it, has a number of associated styles. In the Light category, for example English Bitter, Munich Dunkel Lager and Faro are represented.

Something seems to have gone a little pear-shaped.

Things get a little confusing in the Dark category, too. Not that they don't have Stout covered (six of the eight beers listed are one form or another of Stout). No Porter, Dunkelweizen or Brown Ale, but they do have a Helles Bock included in this category.


Onto the "Explore Similar Beers by:" area.

Four categories here—Appearance, Taste, Aroma and the generic Overall. Here's where we get into the site's "wheel of suggestion" based on all that Beeradvocate data. Clicking on any of the "Similar Beer" tabs will show you beers that share similar characteristics for that category. By choosing Medium / Taste—for example—someone who may enjoy Dog Fish Head Pumpkin, and wants to find something similar in flavor and color might (according to the wheel) also enjoy Goose Island Matilda—logically. Those looking for something less specific might click the Overall tab. Fans of the classic English Bitter, with all its caramel malt and earthy hops—say like a Ruddles County—might (again, according to the wheel) really dig the six chili pepper-spiked similarity of Twisted Pine's Ghost Face Killah. Those two seem pretty akin.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the developers of this, uh, tool, don't really know anything about beer—that, or they're just sloppy. They seem to be trying to let the data do all the work—and they also seem to be inputting it incorrectly. Data are only as good as they are interpreted—and it doesn't look like it was interpreted that well.

Or at all.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Tax On, Tax Off

There's a beer battle (don't do it) brewing (sorry) between Washington D.C. and public health researchers. is reporting that bi-partisan lawmakers, U.S. House Representatives Tom Latham (R-IA) and Ron Kind (D-WI) are proposing a 50% cut to the federal beer excise taxes, putting it at it's lowest rate in 23 years. The Brewers Excise and Economic Relief Act of 2013 or—coincidentally—the BEER Act, as it's known, would eliminate the tax (for those breweries producing less than 2 million barrels a year) on the first 15,000 barrels produced and reduce the rate from $7 per barrel to $3.50 from the 15,001 to 60,000 mark. For breweries producing quantities above 60,000, the rate rises to $9 per barrel—still less than the existing $18 for both small and large breweries in the U.S.

All said and done, the BEER Act would cut a nickel off the cost of every 12 ounce bottle sold in the U.S.. The bill, introduced last week, hopes to ease the tax burden on the booming beer biz in the U.S., especially smaller breweries. That, and waving the "We love beer!" flag is a great a way to garner re-election votes, because as we all know that's why politicians do everything.

Needless to say The Beer Institute and the Beer Association are rejoicing, but who doesn't like cheaper beer, right?


According to Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post's Wonkblog, (Hey, didn't I evoke the Post's name, just a few days ago?) Duke University's Phillip Cook and UNC's Piette Durrance, who authored a paper in the Journal of Health Economics, might not necessarily agree. You see, Cook and Durrance found that when the Federal excise tax was raised way back in 1991—a mere 6%—there was an estimated 4.5% initial reduction in alcohol-related injury deaths, and the hike had a larger affect on overall violent crime. The article also sites analysis done by University of Florida researchers Alexander Wagenaar, Amy Tobler and Kelli Komro who say,
“Our results suggest that doubling the alcohol tax would reduce alcohol-related mortality by an average of 35%, traffic crash deaths by 11%, sexually transmitted disease by 6%, violence by 2%, and crime by 1.4%.”
Also according to Matthew's article, Cook notes that since the tax isn't indexed to inflation,
"$18 a barrel turned out to be a nickel a drink, and inflation since then has eroded the value of that nickel down to less than three cents ... We’re almost back to 1990 even without any new legislation, in real terms.”
So where does that leave us? Cut the tax and get cheaper beer, keep the tax and save lives. This is like Sophie's Choice for beer drinkers. Seriously though, I can't in good conscience say that a 30¢ difference in the cost of a six pack would be such a burden or a relief that I could justify someone dying—40¢ maybe, but not six nickles worth (That was a joke). Yeah sure, I suppose a nickle per bottle adds up overtime, and saying violent crime will rise by 2% or drop by the same amount—depending on your slant—seems a bit abstract. But, that whole people not being killed in firey automobile crashes—or not as many crashes—makes you think.

I think I'll go ruminate on this over a beer.

*As well as 33 co-sponsors—split nearly 50/50 Dems to GOPers.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Culture Shocked

This week, Stan put up a post, spurned by a Washington Post article about the ever increasing importation of American beer into Germany. Stan, being Stan, is far more diplomatic in his approach than I'm going to be, but I think we're both on the same page. Americans can be a bit douchey, when spending time in other countries—not all mind, you but a select few. Here's an example from one of those few—Matt Walhall, one of three Americans opening what they've dubbed a community brewery
in Berlin.
“This was simply to fill a void...We feel as if we’re teaching a lot of Germans things about their own beer culture that they’ve forgotten.”
That statement—in any context—is an amazingly pretentious thing to say.

I'm all for trying something new, and I agree that American craft beer leans a bit more adventurous than some other cultures, but c'mon. At what point did Walhall decide that "When in Rome" really means, "impose your viewpoint on another culture, while actively engaging those practicing the norms of said culture." As my grandfather used to say: "That's a good way to get popped in the nose"

On a parallel course of douchebaggery, comes this line from the general manager of Brooklyn Brewery, Eric Ottaway, while in Germany:
“The German beer industry has to reinvent itself in a hurry, or it’s going to be a small fraction of what it is now...”
It's not so much what Ottaway said, but how his statement relates to the next line in the article
...Brooklyn Brewery which has been expanding in Europe and has been exporting its beer to Germany through Braufactum, which sells a 12-ounce bottle of Brooklyn Lager in upscale grocery stores for the equivalent of $4.20 — almost three times its typical American price.
Allow me to translate the whole thing for you that for you.

“The German beer industry can in no way compete with the awesomeness that is American beer—especially Brooklyn Beer—that we will sell to you at an inflated price.

See how the translation helps to cut through the rest of that garbley-gook. This whole statement is about implication and inference.

Truthfully, I hope Brooklyn and Firestone Walker (the other American brewery mentioned in the article) make a great go of it in Europe. Both brewery's beers are fantastic, but I'm pretty sure that the aggregate of German brewers and breweries didn't asked nor particularly wanted to know the opinion of someone outside Germany on how that did or did not run their industry—right, wrong or indifferent.

Would this same conversation have been had in the U.K.? Walhall states toward the end of the article,
“My friends would come to visit me in Berlin, and we would taste beer, and very quickly, I realized, we reached the end. We tasted all the styles,”
First, let me state—more does not equal better, but more importantly, and back to the U.K. question, would any of these conversations have been had by an American brewery to a British audience. Would Sierra Nevada or Sam Adams say to a room full of Brit beer-geeks that 1.) There were not enough British styles, 2.) The British beer industry need to reinvent itself, and lastly 3.) A bunch of Yanks were going to school them on their beer culture.

Probably not.

American beer can be great—with all of its piney, bitterness and potency—but popularity does not denote quality. If it did, Tim Tebow would still have a contract with the Jets. More so, even great American beer doesn't negate German beer—especially in Germany. When it comes to other cultures, sometimes, it's best to heed one American, Abraham Lincoln, who knew that sometime it was better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Don't Blame Me – I'm Just the Messenger

I feel like I need to make some kind of tertiary mention of these, since they're both WTF kinds of videos... released in a single week... and it's still Monday.

Here goes. 

Predator drones or those at Oppikoppi—someone's getting bombed! Yeah... that guy knows what I'm talki-... okay, never mind. Seriously, who thought this was a good idea? We all know the only thing drones are good for is spying on Americans.


Leave it to the Germans to come up with this feat of technological genius. 

You know what's disheartening about this video? The  deflated "Ahhh", after all the bottles are open. It's almost like they all realized that the last 6 months of their lives spent working on this may have been wasted. Plus, not all the bottles opened. Fail.

I can honestly say after watching both these videos. I need a beer. Who's with me?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Couldn't Stand the Weather

Alas Stevie Ray, the big boys of brewing are feeling your lament, as well.

ABInbev is down 5%, MillerCoors is reporting a 3.3% drop—in the U.S.—and Heineken took a loss of 4.7%, globally, in the first quarter of 2013.

And why you ask? What could be possibly be the cause of all this slippage?

The weather—of course.

According to Harry Schuhmacher, the editor of Beer Business Daily, and reported on both AdAge and Time's websites, the macro-beer industry is blaming the weather for its dipping sales. Schuhmacher stated in an email to AdAge:
“Light lagers [like Bud Light and Miller Lite] are more susceptible to unseasonably cold weather than either craft beer or spirits, which are typically imbibed more indoors,”
Annheuser-Busch is reporting a more than 10% loss on Budweiser over the last two years, and Bud Lite—the best selling beer in the world—wasn't so "best selling" last quarter either, with a 6% drop, as well. Their new line of Bud Lite Platinum seems to be faltering slightly too, after what was a fairly successful roll-out. Bud Lites' biggest competitor, MillerCoors' Miller Lite didn't fair any better, dipping almost 9% in the same period. In fact, the only big brewer really making a decent go of the American market is Corona and their importer Crown Imports, who reported a slight sales increase last fiscal year.

I think big beer might be missing the forrest for the trees. Yeah, I can see how the weather might affect sales in the short term, but there's obviously a systemic problem in macro lager production. It's not one thing, or even two things—it a swarm of issues that have finally caught up with them. It amazes me that the big beer makers seem to be oblivious as to what happened to the big American auto manufacturers. Are they not following an almost identical path?

The solution is simple—so simple it's almost laughable.

 Make good beer.

By the way—this all applies to our crafty friends, too.