The Upside of Nano Brewing

A few weeks ago I visited a new brewery. Upside Brewing is, according to Google Maps, 9.4 miles from my house. The brewery is located in Sylvania, OH, a suburb of Toledo. Upside opened in September 2016. You’d think that The Beer Professor would know about the opening of a new brewery so close to his home but I did not know of its existence until about a month ago when I read this article in The Toledo Blade. Shame on me, but from what I can tell the brewery opened up without a great deal of fanfare. The Sylvania Advantage had ran a story back in May 2016 about the upcoming opening of the city’s first brewery. But I do not read the suburban community’s newspaper that comes out twice a month.

Upside Brewing is a nano brewery inside J&G Pizza Palace in Sylvania, OH

Upside Brewing is located inside J&G Pizza Palace on Sylvania’s Main Street. J&G’s has been part of the Sylvania landscape since 1971; its current owners, the Dallas family, took over the business in 1979. Along with my wife and two friends I visited J&Gs on a Saturday evening. The place was packed; we waited forty-five minutes for a table. Such waits, especially on a Saturday night, are not unusual apparently. Having been around for over thirty-five years this pizza joint has a loyal customer base; plus it has a relatively small seating capacity. As we stood at the front of the restaurant waiting for our table I watched pizzas being made; many of which were picked up by customers for home consumption – J&Gs was doing a brisk take-out trade.

Upside Brewing is inside J&G Pizza Palace

The evening we were there J&Gs had four of its own beers on draft – Palace Cream Ale, Division Street IPA, Ten Mile Amber Brown Ale, and Bavaricana Witbier. The also had one guest tap – Sunshine Daydream Session Ale from Fat Head’s Brewery in Cleveland, OH. I opted for the Palace Cream Ale with my pizza. The beers are brewed onsite by Nick Dallas, son of owners Mark and Jill Dallas. Dallas  started homebrewing a little over five years ago and now uses a one-barrel brewing system to make J&G’s beers.

Upside falls into the category of a nano brewery. There is no official definition of what constitutes a nano brewery although the generally accepted definition is a brewery that uses a three-barrel brewing system or smaller. Nano breweries produce small amounts of beer. For example, Vine Park Brewing Company in St. Paul, MN brew only six to eight gallons per month.

Nano breweries have a number of advantages over their larger peers. First, they are relatively inexpensive to start and operate. Start-up costs are generally somewhere in the five figures. According to Mark Garrison, a writer for Slate, nano breweries provide “an opportunity for skilled homebrewers to dip a toe into the commercial market, without having to find investors or take on crushing debt to secure the kind of funding required to start a microbrewery or brew pub.” This is especially the case when the nano brewery is an add-on to an existing successful business, as is the case with Upside Brewing. If a nano brewery does have plans to grow, however, a couple of years as a successful nano brewery strengthens the position of the brewer when he or she goes seeking investment to expand.

Long Island Oyster Stout – one of the beers brewed by The Blind Bat Brewery

The small size of nano breweries affords brewers with a lot of latitude to experiment, which is good news for beer drinkers looking for new innovative brews. As noted by Derek Pettie, writing in Beer West, “nano breweries are able to experiment at will because of the low stakes and freedom to, well, brew whatever they want.”  Paul Dlugokencky, owner of of Blind Bat Brewery in Long Island, NY stated “I brew what I’m interested in drinking, as well as what I think might be interesting to brew. At my size, I can afford to take a chance on what might be considered to be an odd or weird beer. Commercial appeal [hasn’t] been a factor in anything I’ve brewed.” A nano brewery allows brewers  to test the market for their beers, while developing a customer base. This reduces the risk should they decide to scale-up and invest in a larger brewing system. Nano breweries also tend to get to know their customers fairly well. According to Tony Ammendolia of Final Gravity Brewing Company in Richmond VA, “being as small as we are allows us to have face-to-face interaction with all of our customers, since the only place you can get our beer is in our tasting room.” Indeed a couple of years as a successful nano brewery strengthens the position of the brewer when he or she goes to seek investment to expand.

Three different models of nano breweries have been identified:

1. Proof of concept. These are started by brewers who have plans for larger scale breweries. However, they refuse to or do not have the capital to invest in a larger brewery. They use the nano brewery to test the market for their beer. One example of such a brewery is 56 Brewing of Minneapolis, MN. They started out in a 700 square foot space in the northeast of the city in 2014. They very quickly outgrew this space and in 2016 vacated it to move to a larger facility. Starting out small, however, proved to be a smart business move according to 56’s co-owner Kerry Johnson. Commenting about their growth strategy Johnson noted that “starting small and building our reputation is a huge asset.” The space that 56 moved into in 2014 had previously been occupied by NorthGate Brewing who, in a similar fashion, vacated it when the space was no longer large enough. After 56 moved out another nano- brewery, Broken Clock Brewing, moved in and are now brewing there.

Chris Harris, owner of The Black Frog Brewery in Toledo, OH

2. Second income. In these cases passionate homebrewers want the best of both worlds – to run a brewery while maintaining the security afforded them by their regular jobs. While keeping their day jobs these individuals brew in the evening or on their days off. The Black Frog Brewey in Toledo, OH is an example of such a brewery. Owner and brewer Chris Harris works full time as a claims representative for the Social Security Administration. His brew days are Wednesday and Sunday,  while the Black Frog taproom is open on a Friday and a Saturday.

3. Add-ons to existing restaurant pubs. Many restaurant owners recognize the value of brewing their own beer on-site and adding it to their menu. Lack of space means that a nano set-up is ideal. Upside Brewing is an example of this model. To some extent this is a low risk approach as the brewery is being added to what is hopefully an already successful business. There is a built-in potential customer base and, as long as there is space to add the brewing equipment there is no additional outlay needed to acquire space.

It was the Austrian economist Leopold Kohr who championed the idea that small is beautiful- if you want to see evidence of the efficacy of this idea look no further than your nearest nano-brewery.

Three Things I’ve Learned Drinking Craft Beer

Growing up in Scotland I was (and still am) an avid football fan. That’s the football played with a round ball, or soccer as it is referred to in the United States. My passion for the sport has not waned over the last four and a half decades. And thanks to the wonders of the internet I am able to watch livestream coverage of games played by my favorite football team back in Scotland, Glasgow Celtic. And I can also follow all the news and gossip by connecting to the webpages of Scottish newspapers such as the Daily Record or The Scotsman. A common feature that has recently made an appearance in these, and other, newspapers is the “Three Things We Learned” column (sometimes it’s five things). Typically these columns will focus on the weekend’s fixtures or a particular match-up and will detail three (or five) things that a particular journalist feels were learned from the set of fixtures or from a particular fixture. As I was reading one of these columns the other week it got me thinking about craft beer and the things that I have learned as a craft beer drinker. So here goes – in no particular order – three things I’ve learned drinking craft beer?

Brewery Staff Are A Friendly Lot

Lansing Brewing Company in Lansing, MI – one of the craft breweries with a friendly and knowledge staff

I have visited dozens of craft breweries, not just in the United States but also  in a number of other countries including Austria, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden. A common characteristic of almost every single craft brewery in which I have spent any time is the friendliness, passion, and knowledge of the staff. I like to visit craft breweries when they are quieter – late afternoon is one of my favorite times. I do so partly because I do not particularly like noisy bars. Also, those quieter periods are the perfect time to engage the bar staff in conversation. The bar staff in a craft brewery tend to be very knowledgeable and passionate about the product they are selling. They can also tell you about the brewery itself – the background of the owners, the size of the brewing system used, and the history of the building in which the brewery is housed. And it is a knowledge that they love to share. So I have spent many pleasant hours in craft breweries sitting on a bar stool chatting with bar tenders, asking questions and listening intently. And in the process I have learned so much about the craft beer industry. Not only do the bar staff know about the craft brewery at which they work but they also know about the other craft breweries in town; so my final question to them is often to ask their recommendation for the next craft brewery I should visit.

There’s A Craft Beer for Everyone

Something for everyone- Barley’s Brewing Company in Columbus, OH
Samplers are a good way to taste test a variety of craft beers

I have a number of friends who are not beer drinkers. Their preferred libation is wine. However, in going to craft breweries with them, to my joy, all of them have discovered at least one beer that they enjoy. In most cases these beers happen to be stouts or porters, particularly those that contain coffee or chocolate flavoring. In some respects I am not surprised that these friends have found a craft beer that they genuinely like. The Brewers Association recognizes the existence of over 150 different styles of beer. There is  Scottish-style Heavy-Ale, Finnish-style Sahti, Swedish-style Gotlandsdricke, English-style Brown Ale, German-style Kölsch – the list goes on and on. With so much choice there is surely something for everyone, and my, albeit limited, experience suggests that this may well be the case. So the next time you are in a craft brewery and a friend or family member tells you that they do not like beer, challenge them. Purchase a sampler of five or six different beers and have that person try them all. It might also be an idea, in selecting the composition of the sampler, to enlist the help of the friendly and knowledgeable bartender (see above) and have that person chat with the non-beer drinker to see what tastes and flavors appeal to his or her palate. So don’t take no for an answer when you offer to buy your non-beer drinking friend a beer. Their experience of beer up to that point has probably been Budweiser or Coors Light – so this is your opportunity to expand their horizons and introduce them to wonderful and diverse world of craft beer.

It’s Getting Harder to Drink Macro Beer

I rarely drink macro beer – but here I am doing it at a University of Toledo football game

I attended quite a few weddings last summer. All of them had an open bar. At the final wedding of the summer season I arrived at the reception and went up to the bar to see what was on offer – Budweiser and Bud Light. I opted for the Bud Light and went back to my table. After my second sip I realized that I could not drink any more. It simply was not a taste that I enjoyed. I had four or five hours ahead of me that evening and I am sure that I was close to breaking out into a cold sweat at the thought of drinking Budweiser or Bud Light all evening. Several years of drinking a wide range of flavorful craft beers had finally taken its toll. I simply could not tolerate the taste of macro-produced American-style pale lager – even if it was available for free all evening, as it was. A few minutes later I found myself back at the bar to see what they had for purchase. To my horror the bartender told me that they had no beer for purchase – only Budwesier or Bud Light for free. The bartender must have seen the expression of panic on my face because he quickly added that there was another bar in the building, which he assured me had a fine selection of craft beers for sale. I found it and spent the rest of the evening going back and forth between my table and the bar. The beers were around $6-$7 each so instead of drinking free all evening I forked out somewhere in the region of $35 on beer. But that is where I am when it comes to drinking beer. I’d rather pay for a good craft beer than drink a free Budweiser. I do not consider myself a beer snob. I do not look down on people who drink Coors Light. Live and let live –  if someone enjoys the taste of Miller Genuine Draft let them drink it. There are times, albeit very infrequently, when I do not drink craft beer. On those occasions my beer of choice, more often than not, is Pabst Blue Ribbon.

So here’s to beer drinkers everywhere – drink what you enjoy and enjoy what you drink.

Black Swamp, Black Frog, Black Cloister

There are five breweries in the city I call home, Toledo, OH. Three of these have one thing in common; they all have the word Black in their name; Great Black Swamp Brewing Company, Black Frog Brewery, and Black Cloister Brewing Company. Despite this Continue reading Black Swamp, Black Frog, Black Cloister

Slàinte, Salud, and Saħħa

Slàinte, Salud, and Saħħa – three words that are all used in the same way and to convey the same sentiment. Slàinte is Scots Gaelic, Salud is Spanish, and Saħħa is Maltese. All are used as toasts when glasses of alcholol are raised and all essentially translate as “good health”.

Continue reading Slàinte, Salud, and Saħħa

Brewed By The Birds

Polly James (left) and Nerys Hughes (right) as The Liver Birds

 

The two sculptured birds atop Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building

The British can take credit for the creation of some wonderful situation comedies. Growing up in Scotland during the 1970s and 1980s I was a regular viewer of a number of these. Some of my favorites included Only Fools and Horses, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and Porridge. Recently I was reminded of another – The Liver Birds. The Liver Birds ran for ten seasons on BBC from 1969 and 1979. Set in Liverpool the storyline focused on the lives of two women (Sandra played by Nerys Hughes and Beryl played by Polly James) who shared an apartment. The title for the series was inspired by two sculptured birds that are perched on top of Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building. The building, opened in 1911, was built to house the offices of the Royal Liver Assurance Group. The “bird” reference in the show’s title, however, is also a nod to the British slang word “bird”, which refers to a young woman. The American equivalent would be the word “chick”.

In Melbourne I enjoyed this Sunset Ale by Two Birds Brewing Company
Melbourne’s Hairy Little Sista Bar/Restaurant where I enjoyed a Sunset Ale

The show popped into my head, a few weeks ago, when I was in Melbourne, Australia. This was my fifth visit to Australia, but my first to Melbourne. I first visited Australia in 2006. While not much has changed since my first visit ten years ago one change that I have observed is the growing popularity of craft beer. Like Americans, increasing numbers of Australians, are demanding better quality and more flavorful beer than that which is offered by the large macro-brewers. I sampled quite a number of these Australian craft beers on my eight day trip there. One that I sampled was called Sunset Ale by Two Birds Brewing Company. It was recommended to by a bartender in Hairy Little Sista, a bar/restaurant in Melbourne’s CBD. I was with a colleague and we went into the Sista to get a beer. It was my round so I went up to the bar to see what was on offer. The bartender saw me perusing the selection of beers on tap and before I could make a decision she said “You should try the Sunset Ale by Two Birds Brewery. The brewery is owned by two women, that’s why it’s called Two Birds, and they make some really good beer. It’s brewed here in Melbourne”. This particular bird, the bartender, had a sweet smile – I couldn’t refuse her recommendation. And I was not disappointed. Sunset Ale is a tasty amber ale that comes in at an ABV of 4.6%. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I had another the next day in another bar; this time from a bottle.

The two birds behind Two Birds Brewing are Jayne Lewis and Danielle Allen. They both grew up in the city of Perth, in Western Australia and met there while teenagers. Throughout the course of their friendship they both developed a love and appreciation for  beer. Lewis eventually entered the brewing industry where she gained valuable experience working  for a number of Australian breweries, including as head brewer at Mountain Goat Brewery in Richmond, a Melbourne suburb. Allen, meanwhile, was putting her Marketing and Public Relations degree to work. Her passion was the food and beverage industry and she worked for a number of private sector firms following graduation. These included some time spent as Product Development Manager with the Australian retail giant, Woolworths, where she worked on the company’s private label brand of food products, ‘Select’.

In 2011 Lewis and Allen decided to enter the world of commercial brewing. At that point they were not ready to invest in a bricks-and-mortar brewery; instead they contracted with other  breweries to brew their beers. This allowed them to concentrate on other aspects of the business, including recipe development, establishing a distribution network, getting their brand known in the market, and also raising the financing to build an actual brewery. The latter they did in 2014 when they opened Two Birds Brewery in the Melbourne suburb of Spotswood. Within the Australian context Lewis and Allen are pioneers – they are the country’s first female brewery owners. As part of the process of establishing their brewery the Two Birds made several pilgrimages to the United States, one in 2010 and one in 2013. They did so to immerse themselves in the American craft beer scene, to see what they could learn, and to draw inspiration – the fact that they made not one, but two visits to the United States is  a testimony to the cutting edge nature of the American craft beer industry.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have covered the topic of female Brewers in previous entries. In March 2016 I interviewed Shannon Fink, Head Brewer at the Black Cloister Brewing Company in Toledo, OH. In July 2016 I wrote an entry about female-owned High Heel Brewing of Lakeland, FL. Historically, before beer became an industrialized product, the role of brewer was a predominantly female one.

After I returned from Australia I came across an article about two women, Aida Musulmankulova and Arzu Kurbanova. Musulmankulova and Kurbanova are the owners of Save the Ales, the first craft brewery to be established in the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. The brewery is located in Bishkek, the country’s capital city. Not only are the owners (who also happen to be the Brewers) female but they made the decision to hire an all-female staff.

While female brewers are still heavily outnumbered numerically by their male counterparts there is no question that the number of female brewers is on the rise. And here in the United States we have, I believe, reached the point where female brewers are no longer regarded as a curiosity or an oddity. And while there is still a ways to go female breweres are slowly, but surely, becoming mainstream. And that, surely, is a good thing.

Going To The Dogs

I am writing this in the city of Auckland. It is the last day of a ten day trip to New Zealand. The main purpose of my visit was to attend a meeting of the International Geographical Union’s Commission on the Dynamics of Economic Spaces. The theme of this year’s meeting was ‘New Resource Geographies”. I made a presentation on changes taking place in the American hops industry as a result of the growth of the craft brewing sector. The meeting was in Palmerston North, an inland town of about 85,000 residents, located on the eastern Manawatu Plains of the country’s North Island.

As always, when I travel, I enjoy exploring the beer scene in the places I visit. Like many developed economies New Zealand has an emerging craft beer scene. According to a 2016 report there are 168 craft breweries in this country of 4.5 million people. Craft beer accounts for fifteen percent of the country’s beer sales.

dscn4371
There was a large crowd of people and dogs at the Black Dog Brewery to support its annual fundraiser for the Wellington SPCA
dscn4366
Advertising the SPCA fundraiser with special release XPCA Pale Ale
img_4233
The dogs in attendance at the SPCA fundraiser seemed to enjoy themselves

After Palmerston North I took the bus south to New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. A city of 400,000 Wellington has a vibrant craft beer scene. This was my third visit to New Zealand, but my first to Wellington. While there I took the opportunity to visit one of the city’s craft breweries. Black Dog Brew Co. was established in 2011. Located  right in the heart of the CBD the brewery was a comfortable walk from my hotel. I arrived at the brewery mid-afternoon on a Saturday. As I approached I was a little surprised to see that it seemed to be packed with people – they were spilling out onto the streets. I had stopped in at a few bars on my way to the Black Dog and the Saturday afternoon patrons were few in number. But, as I got closer, I noticed something unusual about the crowd at Black Dog – many of them had dogs in tow. As it turns out my visit to the brewery coincided with the annual fundraiser that the brewery holds for the Wellington branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). I made my way through a throng of people and dogs and found a seat towards the back of the bar. As I looked round I counted  probably a dozen dogs who sniffed around as their happy owners enjoyed a brew. Last year’s event attracted forty or so dogs apparently. This was the third year that the brewery had hosted this fundraiser. And each year they have brewed a special beer; the proceeds from the sale of which are donated to the Wellington SPCA. In 2015 the brew was Skater Hater, a hoppy Pilsner. It was named after one of the dogs who regularly frequents the brewery and has a particular disdain for skateboarders. This year the brewery produced XPCA, a New Zealand Pale Ale. While I was there one of the brewery’s owners, Simon Edward, said a few words about the event and thanked everyone who had come out in support.

img_4253
Black Dog’s Clifford Red IPA

While the brewery was too busy for me to get a few words with any of the owners all indications are that they are dog lovers. In addition to this annual fundraiser and the brewery’s name, a number of Black Dog’s brews are named to have a dog connection. Clifford, a Red IPA, is named (presumably) after the children’s book character, Clifford the Big Red Dog. Then there’s Hair of the Dog, an appropriately-named breakfast IPA that comes in at an ABV of 2.2%. Other dog-inspired beers are Golden Lab (a golden ale), Chomp (a New Zealand pale ale), and Bite (a hopped Pilsner). I spent an enjoyable hour or so at the Black Dog, sampling their beer while watching dog lovers and their pooches.

The fact that Black Dog were hosting an event to support a local charitable cause does not surprise me. Craft breweries tend to be high connected to and engaged with their local communities. In 2014, for example, American craft breweries raised over seventy-one million dollars for charity, That’s an average of $20,664 per craft brewery or $3.25 per barrel.

In addition to craft breweries Wellington also has a number of craft beer bars. After Black Dog I visited one of those – The Malthouse. Since its opening in 1993 this Wellington institution has been described as the high alter of the local craft beer scene. It was the first bar in the city to serve Heineken. Today if offers 150+ beers, including 25+ on draft, from all over New Zealand and around the world. Non-draft beer is stored in one of six refrigerated coolers, each one set at a different temperature to suit the. beer inside.

dscn4348
Patrons enjoying beer at Wellington’s Black Dog Brewery

It is really great to see the craft brewing movement prosper outside of the United States. And the more I travel, the more I talk to people, and the more I read about craft brewing in other countries the more I notice commonalities that transcend international borders. Whether you are in Sweden, New Zealand, or in the United States there are a growing number of people who desire beer that is of higher quality and more flavorful and more diverse than that which is being offered to them by the large multinational conglomerates. And thankfully there are brewers who are willing to step-up and take the risk of commercializing their hobby to provide the beer drinker with the wonderful array of craft beers that we have available to us today.

Food For Thought

img_3845
Enjoying a beer at the Mad Anthony Brewing Company in Fort Wayne, IN
img_3846
Lansing Brewing Company in Lansing, MI
dscn3158
The Vierling Restaurant and Marquette Harbor Brewery in Marquette, MI

According to the Brewers Association most Americans live within ten miles of a craft brewery. While I have been aware of this fact for some time it really struck home earlier this summer when I was returning home from a family wedding. The wedding was in Noblesville, IN which is about three hours and fifteen minutes southwest of Toledo by car. The wedding was on a Saturday afternoon and so we stayed overnight in nearby Fishers, IN and drove home the next day. Before we left to drive Continue reading Food For Thought

The Columbus Ale Trail

dscn2726
Elevator Brewery & Draught Haus – one of the breweries on the Columbus Ale Trail
img_3840
The Columbus Ale Trail Passport

I was in Columbus, OH a few weeks ago. I was there for a couple of conferences – CEOs for Cities and Data Driven ’16. While my days were spent listening to presentations my evenings were free. My colleague Margie, who arrived in Columbus before me, picked up a small booklet titled
Columbus Ale Trail. It is a pocket-sized, passport-type, booklet that contains information on the twenty-eight breweries that comprise the Columbus Ale Trail. The basic idea is that as you visit an establishment on the trail you get a stamp verifying your visit. Visit four establishments and you receive a complimentary ale trail beer glass (shaker style); visit all twenty-eight and you get a complimentary pack of ale trail playing cards. While most of the breweries on the trail are located in the city of Columbus there are a few that are to be found in outlying communities such as Westerville Continue reading The Columbus Ale Trail

Beck’s, A Lawsuit, and Terroir

image
My $12.00 check

Earlier this summer I received a check for twelve dollars in the mail. It was my share of a class action lawsuit that had been successfully brought against Anheuser-Busch (A-B). The focus of the lawsuit was Beck’s beer. Beck’s is ostensibly a German beer. The Beck’s Continue reading Beck’s, A Lawsuit, and Terroir

Vienna

My wife and I just spent ten days in Austria. Most of the time was spent in Vienna, but we did take the train to Salzburg and spent two and a half days there. This was part of a longer trip to Europe where we also spent some time in Munich, Germany, and Poznan, Poland. The trip was a mix of business and pleasure. I was attending a couple Continue reading Vienna