All posts by The Beer Professor

Neil Reid is Professor of Geography and Planning and Director of the Jack Ford Urban Affairs Center at the University of Toledo. He studies and writes about the beer industry.

Two Days in Hong Kong

I just returned from a ten day trip to Asia, which included two days  in Hong Kong. The main purpose of my trip was to attend the twenty-fifth biennial Pacific Conference of the Regional Science Association International that was held in Tainan, Taiwan. When my travel agent told me that getting to Tainan necessitated an overnight layover in Hong Kong I jumped at the opportunity to extend that to three nights. I had never been to Hong Kong before and so this seemed like the perfect chance to spend a few days there.

I enjoyed a San Miguel Pale Pilsner while in Hong Kong

The craft beer scene in Hong Kong, as it is in much of Asia, is an emerging one. I tried to get a count of the number of craft breweries in Hong Kong. Wikipedia listed eighteen craft breweries, sixteen of which have been established in 2013 or later. The most popular beers consumed in Hong Kong are those brewed by San Miguel Brewery, a Philippines-based brewery that has brewed beer in Hong Kong since 1948. In 2015, 33% of beer consumed in Hong Kong was brewed by San Miguel. Not surprisingly, beer imported from Europe is popular, with Carlsberg and Heineken being the market leaders.

Dragon’s Back Pale Ale brewed by Hong Kong Beer Company
Sevens Stout brewed by Hong Kong Beer Company
Hong Beer Company’s Betsy Beer – specially brewed to be consumed at 35,000 feet

While in Hong Kong I sampled quite a few beers brewed by the Hong Kong Beer Company (HKBC). HKBC was established in 1995 as the South China Brewing Company. The switch to its current name occurred in 2003. Another change took place in 2013 when the brewery was purchased by Devin Otto Kimble and Daniel Flores, owners of Singapore’s Brewerkz Restaurant & Microbrewery. The actual brewing at HKBC is done by Simon Pesch, a former brewmaster at Pyramid Alehouse in Berkeley, CA. I tried three of HKBC’s beers while in Hong Kong – Dragon’s Back Pale Ale, Sevens Stout, and Betsy Wheat Ale. The last of these three has quite an interesting backstory. Betsy is brewed in collaboration with Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s flagship air carrier. It has been well documented that, when in the air, the dryness and low pressure combine to dull one’s taste buds. For example, a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics found that flying at 35,000 feet reduces the sensitivity of a person’s taste buds to sweet and salty foods by anywhere between fifteen and thirty percent. This inspired HKBC, earlier this year, to create Betsy. According to HKBC Betsy is “a unique wheat beer” that is brewed “to combat the negative effects of airline cabin conditions on passengers’ taste buds”. HKBC are not the first brewery to brew beer especially for air travel. Since 2014, the Copenhagen – based craft brewery Mikkeller has been brewing beer for the Scandinavian airline SAS. And it’s not only beer – Australian airline Virgin Australia serve a Shiraz wine (The Duo) from South Australia’s St. Hallett Winery that is blended to be served on aircraft.

I was having lunch in Hong Kong International Airport, waiting to catch my flight to Dallas, when I spotted Betsy in the restaurant’s cooler. So I ordered one, realizing that I was consuming it at twenty feet above sea level (the elevation of Kong Kong’s International Airport) and outside the stuffy confines of an economy class cabin. The beer is named after an aircraft  called”Betsy”. Betsy was Cathay Pacific’s first aircraft, a Douglas DC-3, that flew passengers around the region during between 1946 and 1953. As it modernized its fleet the airline sold Betsy in 1955 and it was soon forgotten. Then, in the 1980s, Betsy was found flying cargo in the Australian outback. In 1983 Cathay Pacific purchased Betsy, restored her 1947 livery, and then donated her to the Hong Kong Science Museum, where visitors can see her today.

Kowloon Tap Room was a great place to sit and watch Hong Kong go by

In addition to some of the beers brewed by the Hong Kong Beer Company I did sample quite a few more of Hong Kong’s other craft brews. Of those I tried my favorites were Thundergod Pale Ale by Moonzen Brewery and Classic Pale Ale by Young Master Brewery. While roaming the streets I was fortunate enough to happen upon the Kowloon Tap Room. This is a small bar that has a number of Hong Kong craft beers on draft. This is one of those bars whose front is two garage-type doors which, when rolled-up, allow the bar to become a extension of the sidewalk. It is a great place to sit, enjoy a couple of beers, and watch Hong Kong go by.

Local craft beer the Kowloon Taproom cost US $7.75 for a 12oz pour

Craft beer is not ubiquitous in Hong Kong, but it is not a rarity either.   Both of the hotels I stayed in, a Sheraton and a Marriott, had local craft beers on draft. The industry is in its fledgling stage. Like the United States craft beer attracts a younger clientele, with the requisite disposable income. Craft beer is not cheap in Hong Kong. At the Kowloon Taproom a 12oz pour craft beer ran 60 Hong  Kong Dollars (about US $7.75). However, that number should be placed within context. According to a 2015 study of beer prices in seventy-five cities across the globe by the travel search site GoEuro, Hong Kong is the second most expensive city in the world in which to drink beer. The average price of a 12oz beer is US $6.16.

Hong Kong was my first international trip this year. In the coming months I will be in Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, and Canada. I look forward to exploring the craft beer scene in all of these countries.

Milk, Bread, and Beer

My wife and I met some friends for dinner a few weeks ago. We went to a Mexican restaurant, Cocina de Carlos, that neither my wife or I had tried before. It was an excellent choice – the food was freshly-made, helpings were generous,  and the service was both friendly and attentive. The owner and chef Carlos Mendez is from Jalisco in Mexico which, in my opinion, added some authenticity to our dining experience. In addition to excellent food Cocina de Carlos also had a nice offering of five beers from a brewery whose beers I had never tried before – 5 Rabbit Brewery in Bedford Park, IL. 5 Rabbit describes itself as “the first US based Latin American-inspired brewery” who “hope to bring the energy, passion and amazing richness of Latin culture and cuisine to the delicious world of craft beer.” So with dinner I enjoyed two of 5 Rabbit’s brews – their Gringolandia Super Pils and their 5 Lizards Cerverceria (a Witbier)

After dinner we popped into the Kroger supermarket that was just across the parking lot from the restaurant. While we needed a few grocery items, the real motivation for our visit was to check out the in-store bar. The store is a Kroger Marketplace – a concept that the Cincinnati-based retailer introduced in 2004. In addition to the standard groceries, a Kroger Marketplace (which is typically ~125,000 square feet in size) offers a whole host of other goods such as clothing and housewares. Add to that a Starbucks, a bank, a medical clinic staffed by a nurse practitioner, plus other services and you have a true one-stop shopping venue. And don’t forget the bar.

The bar at the Kroger Marketplace in Perrysburg, OH
The Kroger Marketplace bar had a nice selection of beer on tap
My Rounding Third Red IPA from Cincinnati’s MadTree Brewing Company

So after putting a few items in our grocery cart we headed off in search of the bar. We found it quickly. I was impressed. There were seats at the bar for around ten people and a couple of tables away from the bar each of which could sit six to eight people. The bar sold both beer and wine, with samplers of both available for purchase. There was an impressive portfolio of a dozen craft beers on tap. I opted for Rounding Third Red IPA from Cincinnati’s MadTree Brewing Company while my wife had a glass of red wine. As we waited to place our order at the bar an older getleman, sitting on one of the bar stools, engaged us in conversation. As he rattled off the day’s of the week and times of the day when the bar was busy and when it was quiet it quickly became apparent that he was a regular. I never thought of a bar in a grocery store being my regular watering hole, but I could see how that might work for some folks. After getting our beer and wine my wife and I sat and enjoyed our drinks. And as we did so I thought about how pleasant it would be to have a beer once or twice a week at the grocery store. This particular Kroger is some distance from our house, while the Kroger nearest our house has no bar; the good news, however, is that the Toledo City Council recently provided the necessary approval for a new Kroger Marketplace store to be built to replace our currently bar-less Kroger – fingers crossed that it will have a bar.

Kroger is not the only grocery retailer to have an in-store bar. Whole Foods stores across the country have in-store bars whose offerings include craft beer. Lowes Foods, a grocery store chain with  a hundred or so stores in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia,  have an in-store Beer Den where shoppers can sample a beer or pick up a pint, which they can enjoy while picking out their weekly groceries.

The Beer Professor enjoying a pint at The Paula Brown Shop in downtown Toledo

And grocery stores are not the only non-traditional venues now serving craft beer. A growing trend around the country is the availability of beer on tap in bicycle shops. Watts Dixon has ten beer taps in his bike shop,  Revolution Cycles, in Greensboro, NC. According to Watts one strategy to counteract the growing preference for internet shopping is to offer consumers what he calls “experience-based retail“. According to Maria Sicola, a San Francisco-based real estate research consultant, while most “stuff”can be purchased online, people will still go to brick-and-mortar locations to have “experiences”. Being able to sit and have a beer while getting advice on different frame bags for your bicycle is a lot more fun than browsing Amazon and adding an item to your shopping cart. In Toledo, OH, where I live, there is a home accessories store called the Paula Brown Shop which has an in-store pub called, appropriately, The Pub. At any given time it has a selection of six rotating craft beers on draft. So celebrate the purchase of your Simon Pearce Woodbury Vase with an Alaskan Hopthermia Double IPA at the bar.

Hair salons are another place where craft beer is becoming available. In California, for example, barber shops and beauty shops can serve complimentary beer and wine to their customers. According to the owner of Fine Men’s Salon in San Rafael, CA serving beer “is part of our business model” and is designed “to improve the atmosphere and make the customer feel a little special.” At Salon Saloon in Traverse City, MI customers can enjoy a beer while getting a haircut. As the salon’s tag line says “you sip, we snip”. The beer comes from Right Brain Brewery, which shares a space with the salon. As if that is not enough, the stylists at Salon Saloon have been chosen for “their intelligence, skill, and ninja-like reflexes.”

The availability of craft beer in these non-traditional outlets bodes well for the craft beer industry. The more venues that offer craft beer the greater the likelihood that people will buy it. In a world where craft beer is battling for precious shelf-space in grocery stores that is a good thing. And to that I say “Cheers”.

Last Call?

Jim Koch, who founded Boston Beer Company in 1984, is an iconic figure within the world of craft beer.  Forbes Magazine refers to Koch as a “founding father of the American craft brewery movement”. There can be little argument that the entire craft beer community, brewers and consumers, owe Jim Koch a huge debt of gratitude. Pioneer, innovator, entrepreneur – and so many more adjectives – can all be used to describe Jim Koch. So when Jim Koch speaks people listen. His opinion carries weight, as it should.

So earlier this month, when Koch wrote an editorial that was published in the New York Times I read it with interest. It was titled Is it Last Call for Craft Beer? and was published, appropriately enough, on April 7, National Beer Day. I am not sure who came up with the title of the editorial (whether it was Koch himself or someone at the Times) but it is highly provocative. In it Koch outlines what he sees as some of the major challenges facing the craft segment of the American beer industry. According to Koch, as a result of “slack government antitrust oversight” the American craft brewing industry is in for some very tough times ahead. Koch bemoans the recent (October 2016) acquisition  of SABMiller by AB InBev. This, he noted, resulted in a six percent increase in beer prices and the loss of 5,000 American jobs as the merged company engaged in cost-cutting and other efficiency actions. The control and influence that the mega-brewers have over distributors is also of great concern to Koch; a situation that will make it increasingly difficult for craft brewers to acquire increasingly precious shelf-space for their products.  In his final salvo against Big Beer and government regulators Koch notes that the acquisition of American craft breweries, by AB InBev, MolsonCoors, and Heineken, has created a situation where the beer drinker is being duped into buying beer that appears to be craft, but is really brewed by subsidiaries of the mega-brewers. Overall, Koch paints a bleak picture of the potential future impact of current trends in the American beer industry. This editorial was followed by an interview on CNN.  In the interview Koch focuses on the fact that when a consumer picks up a beer that is brewed by a former craft brewery (that is now owned by a mega-brewer such as AB InBev) there is no indication on the labeling that the brewery that produces the beer is owned by a mega-brewer. Koch suggests that disclosure of ownership should exist, as this would allow the beer drinker to look at a beer label and thus be easily able to discern who owns the brewery that brews their beer.

Not surprisingly Koch’s editorial has provoked a number of responses from those who follow the beer industry. Rich Durpey, writing for The Motley Fool, notes the irony of Koch’s displeasure at federal regulators doing little or nothing to halt the acquisition frenzy. It is ironic, Durpey points out, because the whole craft beer industry was “born out of deregulation” when President Jimmy Carter signed legislation in 1979 that legalized home brewing. Durpey makes a number of other points in his commentary which you can read here.

While I appreciate and value Jim Koch’s perspective, I find his prognosis overly pessimistic.  I see a much rosier future for America’s craft brewers than the one implied by Koch. Back in May of 2015 I penned a piece in which I shared some of my thoughts on the future of craft beer in America. And the two years that have passed since I wrote that blog entry have not dampened my optimism. So let me touch on a couple of points raised by Koch.

Lagunitas Brewing Company – a former craft brewery that is now partly owned (50%) by Heineken

Yes, mega-brewers have bought their way into the craft segment by purchasing craft breweries. So, for example, Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Company and New York’s (actually Patchogue’s) Blue Point Brewing Company are both now owned by AB InBev, while Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, GA is owned by MolsonCoors. But there are over 5,000 craft breweries in the United States. AB InBev or MolsonCoors or Heineken can’t buy them all. Heck, it is unlikely that they could purchase all of the 186 regional craft breweries (these are craft breweries producing between fifteen thousand and six million barrels of beer per year) that exist in the United States. Yes the mega-brewers will continue to make strategic acquisitions of craft breweries. Most, if not all, of these will be acquisitions of larger craft breweries. AB InBev are not going to acquire a small brewery producing a couple of hundred barrels of beer per year. These acquisitions will continue to have a negative impact on the craft segment’s market share of the overall beer market. However, the vast majority of America’s breweries will remain independent. And the vast majority of those that remain independent will be small-scale producers. According to data collected by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau seventy percent of US breweries in 2015 produced a thousand barrels or less of beer per year. So the craft beer drinker has nothing to fear. Even after acquisitions occur, there will still be thousands of craft breweries producing dozens of different styles of beer. And this beer will be brewed by highly creative brew masters for whom experimentation and innovation is embedded within their DNA.

Small distributors like Cavalier Distributing focus on the craft beer segment

Another issue raised by Koch is his concern that the mega-brewers will, because of their size, have an unhealthy control and influence over distributors. This is a very legitimate concern, especially for craft breweries that are looking to expand the geographic footprint of their market. In practical terms market expansion for a brewery means getting its six-packs and kegs onto retail shelves and into bars which are at a greater and greater distance from where their brewery is located. For craft breweries who feel that they may not be treated fairly by large distributors one option worth considering is to contract with one or more of the growing number of smaller craft-beer-focused distributors that are popping up across the country – distributors like Cavalier Distributing (who focus on Florida, Indiana, and Ohio), Phoenix-based Arizona Beer and Cider Company, and Weigand Family Distribution who are located in Los Angeles and serve the Southern California region. As noted by John Verive, writing in Beer & Brewing Magazine, “the independent beer wholesalers provide access to the market for small breweries, they develop the marketplace for craft beer, and they have a big influence on beer culture.”  I fully admit to being no expert when it comes to the distribution side of the industry. It is a surprisingly complex piece of the beer industry puzzle. And the fact that each state has its own regulations regarding the distribution of beer, only increases this complexity. Indeed, as I write this, there is a distribution battle going on in North Carolina over the minimum production threshold after which a brewery can no longer self-distribute and must use a distributor.

Breweries, like the Vice District Brewing Company in Chicago, IL, focus on serving local markets

The need to work with a distributor is greater for breweries looking to expand their market reach. Indeed, one of the key strategic business decisions facing a brewery owner concerns the desired scale of production and geographic extent of his or her brewery’s market. Research by Tom Wesson and Joao Neiva de Figueiredo suggests that breweries that focus on serving a smaller geographic market perform better than those serving geographically more extensive markets. Focusing on more restricted geographic markets allows breweries to allocate scarce marketing resources more effectively, while establishing more authentic relationships with distributors, retailers, and customers. At the same time a local focus allows a brewery to leverage their beer’s locally-made attributes, while delivering it to the customer in prime condition. I raise the findings of Wesson and Neiva de Figueiredo because it does suggest that staying small and focusing on local markets can be a winning strategy for craft breweries.

The craft beer drinker is a smart and savvy consumer

Finally, to Koch’s point about disclosure of ownership. In his CNN interview Koch suggests that beer drinkers are being duped by mega-breweries into thinking that they are drinking a beer made by a small-scale, independent, brewery when, in fact, the beer is produced in a brewery owned by a mega-brewer. While some people may be unaware that Goose Island Brewing Company is owned but AB InBev or that Terrapin Beer Company is owned by MolsonCoors my experience is that many people who drink craft beer on a frequent and regular basis are well aware of which craft breweries have been acquired by which mega-brewers; especially if ownership is an issue for them. And if, while browsing the beer aisle, they are uncertain about brewery ownership the World Wide Web is only a smart phone away.

Tom Acitelli’s “The Audacity of Hops”

At the end of the day I have a tremendous amount of faith in the power of the consumer. It was the craft beer consumer, turned brewer, who created the craft beer industry. If you ever have the time, read Tom Acitelli’s book The Audacity of Hops. It tells the story of the America’s craft beer revolution. When I first read Acitelli’s highly readable and informative book (and I have read it several times) I was struck by the importance of the individual in the industry’s emergence and growth. Individuals (including Jim Koch) who did not accept the beer that the mega-brewers were selling to them; who knew better beer was possible. These early pioneers in the industry had vision, tenacity,  and passion to not only not accept the status quo, but to do something about it. In my eyes the craft beer consumer is no fool; he or she is at least as smart as the smart phones that they carry in their pockets. If ownership is important the craft beer drinker will seek out a beer that meets their ownership criteria. If being locally-made is important to them (and it’s important to about half of craft beer drinkers) they will drink predominantly locally-brewed beer. The future of craft beer will not be decided in the boardrooms of AB InBev, MolsonCoors, or Heineken. Rather, it will be decided by people like you and me and the answer we give when a bartender asks us “What will you have”?

Further Reading:

Acitelli, Tom. 2013. The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution. Chicago Review Press: Chicago.

Wesson, Tom and Joao Neiva de Figueiredo. 2001. The importance of focus to market entrants: A study of microbrewery performance. Journal of Business Venturing, Volume 16, Issue 4, Pages 377-403.

Lime City Brewing

One of Cedar Creek’s Church buildings

A few weeks ago, on April 1 to be exact,  my wife sent me a YouTube video via Facebook messenger. It was a video about a new brewing initiative that was in the process of being launched in the northwest Ohio area -Lime City Brewing. The video (which can be viewed here) is just over three minutes long. It was produced by Cedar Creek Church. Cedar Creek is a large non-denominational church which has five campuses throughout  northwest Ohio. According to the video Cedar Creek was getting into the craft beer brewing business.

Cedar Creek’s video was filmed inside the Black Cloister Brewing Company
Martin Luther was known to enjoy a few beers

The video caught me by surprise. I had not read anything in local media about Cedar Creek brewing beer. There had been no mention of it on social media. None of my craft beer friends had said anything to me about it. So as I watched the video I found myself trying to process and make sense of what I was hearing and seeing. There were parts of the video that seemed to add up (yes this looks real) and parts of it that had me scratching my head. The video opened with a representative of the church introducing the audience to Lime City Brewing. As he did so I quickly recognized where the filming had taken place; Black Cloister Brewing Company in downtown Toledo – the huge black and white wall mural was unmistakable. Why had they filmed the video here? Was their brewery still under construction? After watching the video a second time I realized that there was never any actual reference to a physical brewery – this was a “brewing initiative”. The thought then quickly passed through my mind that perhaps Lime City were contracting with Black Cloister to brew their beer for them. Knowing what I knew about the brewing set-up at the Black Cloister this did not make sense to me so I dismissed that possibility. The tag line associated with the new brewing initiative was introduced as  “Brew Well Do Well”. This seemed like an appropriate tag line for a church-sponsored brewery. Yet it sounded familiar. Then it struck me that it was very similar to Black Cloister’s tag line – “Brew Good, Do Good”. The presenter then noted that there is a long history of brewing being associated with the Christian faith. He mentions Martin Luther and the tradition of beer being brewed in monasteries. This was correct. It is well documented that Martin Luther enjoyed a few pints, while his wife Katie brewed beer for the household. And there is a tradition of European monasteries brewing beer since the Middle Ages. Today some of the best beers in the world are brewed by or under the supervision of Trappist monks. The video then cuts away to the brewmaster who runs through Lime City’s portfolio of beers – Perrysburg Porter, Findlay IPA, South Toledo Stout, West Toledo Weiss, and Whitehouse Wheat. The brewmaster looked the part, complete with beard and a Lime City Brew t-shirt. At various points during the video you see bottles of Lime City’s brews. I am not sure what is inside the bottles but each one has a very authentic looking label. I must admit the labels impressed me – they were, in my opinion, both attractive and well-designed. The video finishes with the individual who introduced the new brewing initiative standing behind the bar at the Black Cloister. He has six packs of the five Lime City beers in front him. He tells the audience that supplies of the intitial batch of Lime City beer is limited, but that an order can be placed at livingitstout.tv. So I went to the website and scrolled down until I found the “Buy Now” icon. I clicked on it, not sure what to expect next. This took me to a YouTube video in which Ben Snyder (lead Pastor at Cedar Creek Church) informed viewers that the church was in fact not brewing beer and that it was all an April Fools prank. In producing the video he hoped that it would “create conversation about Church”. He then spent the next minute or so inviting viewers to worship at Cedar Creek while also noting that a lot of time, energy, and talent went into the making of the video I had just watched.

The video caused quite a firestorm on social media across northwest Ohio. Quite a few people were upset and/or offended by it. This included both those who worship at Cedar Creek and those who do not. Cedar Creek’s Facebook page was inundated with comments about the video. A number of my own Facebook friends posted their own thoughts on their own personal Facebook pages, with each of these postings generating a number of comments. Some of the opinions expressed were knee-jerk, while others were carefully thought out and very well articulated. Some  people were upset that their church produced a video about alcohol, seeing it as condoning its consumption. They were particularly upset about the timing of the video; just a few days before its release a drunk driver had caused the death of three area residents. Others were upset at the Black Cloister Brewing Company for allowing Cedar Creek to film the video at their brewery, thereby being complicit in the prank. I have my own personal opinion and perspective about both the video and the resultant backlash against it. But I am going to keep those to myself. This is a blog about beer. It is not a blog about theology or religion.

So let’s turn to the beer aspect of this. In this regard I want to make a couple of points. First, it is not out of the realms of possibility that a church might consider getting into the brewing business. In fact, go to Orlando, FL and you will find Castle Church; a Lutheran church that owns and operates its own brewery. The brewery cleverly leverages its Lutheran connection – among the beers brewed at Castle Church Brewing you will find  Katie’s Kölsch (named after Martin Luther’s wife), Mighty Fortress Doppelbock (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” is one of the best known hymns written by the Luther) and Indulgences IPA (Luther was against the selling of indulgences by the Catholic Church). Now I really do not know enough about Cedar Creek to say whether they would pursue such a venture. But if they did, they would not be the first. And as noted in their video, beer and Christianity have a long relationship  dating back to medieval times when European monasteries brewed beer. The monks would drink beer during the Lenten period as a source of sustenance. Tom Schaeffer, the CEO and co-founder of the Black Cloister Brewing Company, where the video was filmed, is an ordained Lutheran pastor.  The congregation at his church, Threshold, supported his decision to establish Black Cloister. Last year I attended Threshold’s Easter worship service which was held in the Black Cloister’s tap room.

Second, the fact that Cedar Creek opted to pretend that they were going to brew beer is informative of the status of the craft brewing industry in the United States. Craft beer has arrived, it is here to stay, and increasing numbers of people (even those who do not drink craft beer) are aware of its existence. It is not a passing fad and indeed one may even argue the case that it is now part of mainstream American culture. I suspect that the folks at Cedar Creek were clearly aware of craft beer’s rising star when they brewed  up their April Fools prank. This is not a video that would have been produced twenty years ago.

Third, I was intrigued, and frankly impressed, by the lengths to which Cedar Creek had went to pull off their prank. The name, Lime City Brewing was appropriate. The original Cedar Creek campus is located on Lime City Road in the suburban community of Perrysburg, OH. But it was the bottles and labels that really impressed me. It was clear that a great deal of thought had went into designing and producing what, to all intents and purposes, were authentic-looking beer labels. Not only that, but considerable thought had also went into the naming of their five beers. All five beer names – Perrysburg Porter, Findlay IPA, South Toledo Stout, West Toledo Weiss, and Whitehouse Wheat – were named after the five locations in northwest Ohio (Perrysburg, Findlay, South Toledo, West Toledo, and Whitehouse) where Cedar Creek have campuses. Naming beer after local places, people, and historical events is not uncommon in the craft beer industry. Indeed, in collaboration with two colleagues (Peggy Gripshover of Western Kentucky University and Tom Bell of the University of Tennessee) I am currently working on a project examining the names that Ohio breweries give to their beers. We are particularly interested in those beers that are named after Ohio places, people, and events. To date we have identified over one hundred and sixty such beers in Ohio. Naming beers in this fashion is tied to with the broader neolocalism movement, by which the names given to beer (and other products) are one of the numerous ways in which beer both reflects and promotes its localness.

So at the end of the day I am not sure to what extent Cedar Creek Church achieved their intended objective (“create conversation about Church”) with their April Fools prank. They certainly attracted a lot of attention and generated a lot of chatter on social media. Much of the response that they received was negative. I suspect that Cedar Creek, in making the videos, knew that this might be the case. As I read much of the critique of the video I was reminded of Oscar Wilde’s Lord Henry, who said in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Over-the-Rhine

A few weeks ago I spent the weekend in Cincinnati, OH. My oldest daughter moved there back in February.  She recently graduated from Nursing School at the University of Toledo and is now working as a Registered Nurse at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati. I like Cincinnati. It was, in fact, the first large American city that I visited after I arrived in the United States from Scotland in 1985. I was a graduate student at Miami University in Oxford, OH. Oxford is a college town and so a day-trip to Cincinnati, which was a short fifty minute drive to the south, was arranged within the first few weeks of arriving on campus. It was the first of numerous trips I made to the Queen City during my two years as a student at Miami; on one of those I even toured the now closed Hudepohl Brewery.

Bill (left) and Mike (right), our highly informative and entertaining brewery tour guides

For the beer lover, Cincinnati is a wonderful place to visit. Not only does the city have some fantastic craft breweries but it also has a rich brewing history. On this particular visit my wife, daughter, and I decided to spend part of Saturday afternoon learning about some of this history by taking a tour of the city’s historic Over-the-Rhine brewery district. We opted for a one hour walking tour that was offered by the Over-the-Rhine Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (BDCURC).  The BDCURC was established by local residents in 2005 as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. It’s mission is to “make the Brewery District a healthy, balanced and supportive neighborhood economy by preserving, restoring and redeveloping our unique brewing history and historic urban fabric.” The tour started at the Rhinegeist Brewery on Elm Street. It was led by two volunteer guides, Bill and Mike. Mike, as it turned out, had a connection with the city I live in, Toledo, OH. He is a retired English teacher who completed his undergraduate education just down the road from Toledo, at Bowling Green State University. He had done his student teaching at McTigue Elementary School in Toledo. Mike and Bill’s tour was well-organized, did not involve too much walking, and was highly informative. The cost was $15, with the money being reinvested in the neighborhood; some of it going to help preserve historic brewery buildings.

The Over-the-Rhine District was settled by German immigrants. Overall, during the 1850s close to one million Germans arrived in America, making it the  peak decade for German immigration to the U.S. Not surprisingly, as was the case with migrants from other countries, the Germans tried to preserve many of their cultural values and traditions after they arrived in the United States. According to one commentator “when they settled, they often established German-speaking communities, setting up their own churches, schools, newspapers, and other institutions, and keeping their cultural traditions alive in the New World.” Many of the German immigrants settled in the industrial Midwest in cities like Milwaukee, WI, St. Louis, MO, and Cincinnati, OH. Indeed, such was the size of their German populations, these three cities comprised points on what was referred to as “the German triangle“.   By the end of the nineteenth century an estimated sixty percent of the Cincinnati’s population was of German heritage.

Preservation of cultural identity is easier when immigrants cluster together in space and interact on a daily basis at work and at home. In the case of Cincinnati, German immigrants settled primarily in what would become known as the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. According to Colin Woodard, contributing editor to Politico Magazine:

“By the 1870s it [Over-the-Rhine] was one of the densest neighborhoods in the Western Hemisphere, with German-speaking churches, German-language schools and newspapers, and a network of breweries built atop enormous beer cellars, themselves connected to taprooms and beer gardens by clandestine tunnels, built to circumvent city ordinances.”

The name, Over-the-Rhine was coined by locals who would visit Cincinnati’s German neighborhood. The Germans had settled in a part of the city which was close to the Miami and Erie Canal. Residents often referred to the canal as “the Rhine” and so crossing the canal to visit the German neighborhood became known as going “Over-the-Rhine”.

Italiante architecture in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. The building on the left was a home for a member of the Christian Moerlein family while the one on the right served as office space for the brewey.
The old Cristian Moerlein bottling plant where our walking tour started

As we learned on our tour, the Over-the Rhine neighborhood is an architectural gem. It is one of the largest historic districts in the United States, boasting over 350 acres of densely-packed 19th century brick Italianate and German Revival buildings. We saw many of those buildings on our tour. These included buildings that had been homes to some of the Christian Moerlein family, as well as buildings that had served as offices for brewery operations. The Rhinegeist Brewery, where our tour started, was an old Christian Moerlein bottling plant. Christian Moerlin was a German immigrant who established a brewery in 1853. The Christian Moerlein Brewery was one of over three dozen breweries in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. It grew to be the largest brewery in Ohio and the fifth largest in the United States.

By the end of the nineteenth century Cincinnati breweries were producing over a million barrels of beer annually. Almost all of this beer was consumed by the local population, In 1893 forty gallons of beer were consumed for every man, woman  and child who lived in Cincinnati – this was two and a half times the national average. Cincinnati was home to over 1,800 saloons; one for every one hundred and sixty residents. The brewery workers themselves were huge consumers of beer, receiving free beer as a perk of the job. The volume of beer consumed by brewery workers was astonishing. Employees at the city’s Kaufmann Brewey, for example, typically drank 18 kegs of beer a day. This was an average of  35 glasses per worker.

The old Jackson Brewery – lagering tunnels are accessible via grey doors
Nineteenth century lagering tunnels under the old Jackson Brewery

A love of beer was one of the cultural traditions that the German immigrants brought with them to the United States. Up until around 1840 American beer was dominated by ales, which are darker beers made with top-fermenting yeast. Ales were popular in the United Kingdom and had been brought to the Americas by the first British immigrants. In contrast, in Germany, lager was the preferred beer style. Unlike ales, lagers are brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast. Lager yeast was introduced into the United States in 1840 by a German immigrant by the name of John Wagner. Wagner, who was from Bavaria, arrived in Philadelphia, PA, and used the yeast to brew lager for his friends and neighbors. He gave some of the yeast to a fellow brewer, John Manger, who then opened a brewery in Philadelphia . One of the key differences between between ales and lagers is that, as part of the brewing process, the latter undergo what is termed cold conditioning. During this cold conditioning stage, which may last anywhere between four and ten weeks, the beer is stored at a temperature between 33 and 34 degrees Fahrenheit. Indeed the term lager is a German word meaning to store. So the process of lagering is that of storing the beer. During lagering some of harsh flavors that result from the fermentation process are mellowed. Prior to the advent of refrigeration, breweries would lager their beer in lagering tunnels that were located underneath the brewery. These tunnels provided an environment that was cooler than above-ground storage facilities. As part of our tour we visited the lagering tunnels of Cincinnati’s old Jackson Brewery. The Jackson Brewery was open for thirty-two years, between 1887 and 1919.

Patrons enjoying a beer at Rhinegeist Brewery

The walking tour finished where it had started, at the Rhinegeist Brewery. Back at Rhinegeist we were given a tour of that brewery’s facilities. Rhinegeist is a relative newcomer to the craft brewing landscape, having been founded in 2013. In that short time it has experienced phenomenal growth; in 2016 Rhinegeist brewed fifty-seven thousand barrels of beer.  The name Rhinegeist translates as “ghost of the Rhine”. It seems an appropriate name for a brewery that is (a) housed in an nineteenth century bottling plant and (b) is a key player in the brewing renaissance that is occurring in Cincinnati. In addition to Rhinegeist I also enjoyed a beer at Rivertown Brewery and Madtree Brewing Company on this visit to Cincinnati.  On a previous trip back in February I had lunch at the brewery Taft’s Ale House.  All the breweries were full of young people enjoying the fruits of the brewer’s labor. Today’s brewing landscape in Cincinnati is quite different than it was in the nineteenth century. The breweries are more geographically dispersed and are producing a much greater variety of beer styles than their nineteenth century counterparts. But there is no question that locally brewed beer in Cincinnati, as in almost every other American city, is back in vogue. To that I say “Prost”.

Further Reading:

Stephens, Sarah. 2010. Cincinnati’s Brewing History. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.

Morgan, Michael D. 2010. Over-the-Rhine: When Beer Was King. Charleston, SC: The History Press.

 

 

 

Moses’ Acquittal

Jackie Robinson is famous in the world of sport for being the first African-American, in the twentieth century, to play Major League baseball. Robinson’s first professional game occurred on April 15, 1947 when he played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers were the only Major League team for whom Robinson played; his final game for them was on October 10, 1956. Among other achievements Robinson was named Major League Rookie of the Year in 1947, chosen as the National League MVP in 1949, and won the World Series with the Dodgers in 1955.

Advertisement for the Blue Stockings vs. Eclipse game that appeared in Louisville’s Journal-Courier newspaper on May 1, 1884

Robinson was not the first African-American to play Major League Baseball, however. On May 1, 1884, sixty-three years before Robinson played his first game for the Dodgers, a twenty-six year old African-American made his Major League debut. His name was Moses Fleetwood Walker and he turned out for the Toledo Blue Stockings in a game against the Louisville Eclipse. The game, in which Fleetwood played catcher, took place at Eclipse Park in Louisville, KY. ; the Eclipse won 5-1.

Moses Fleetwood Walker (back row center) and the 1884 Toledo Blue Stockings team

The Toledo Blue Stockings were established, as a minor league team, in 1883. That year they played in the Northwestern League, which they  also managed to win. In 1884 the Blue Stockings joined the American Association. The American Association was an alternative professional baseball league to the National League. The Blue Stockings lasted just one season in the Major Leagues (finishing eighth out of thirteen teams)  and in 1885 were back in the minors, before being disbanded at the end of that season. They played their games at League Park which was located on a city block in downtown Toledo; the block being bounded by Monroe Street, 15th Street, Jefferson Avenue, and 13th Street. This meant that League Park was located just a few blocks northwest of the Fifth Third Field, where the present-day Toledo MudHens currently play.

Moses Fleetwood Walker Ohio Historical Marker

Walker was born in Mount Pleasant, OH on October 7, 1856. He was the third-born son of Moses W. Walker and Caroline O’Harra Walker. In 1879 the Walker family moved to Steubenville, OH and it was probably here that Moses first played baseball. In 1877 Moses enrolled as a student at Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH) where he played catcher and lead-off hitter for the Oberlin College prep team. In 1888 Oberlin fielded its first varsity baseball team, of which Walker was a member. In the final game of the season Oberlin defeated the Univetsity of Michigan, 9-2; so impressed were Michigan with Walker’s performance that they invited him to join their team. So Walker transferred to the University of Michigan in 1882, where he spent his junior year studying Law and playing baseball. The  following year he decided to not return to Michigan, opting instead to sign for the Toledo Blue Stockings. And it was with the Blue Stockings that Walker made history when he became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball.

An excerpt of the letter warning the Toledo Blue Stockings not to play Walker in their game against the Richmond Virginians appeared in The Cincinnati Enquirer.

As an African-American it is perhaps not surprising to learn that, during his career, Walker faced opposition because of the color of his skin. There were a number of times when opposition players and managers objected to his playing against them. For example, on September 5, 1884 prior to a visit to Richmond, VA Charlie Morton, manager of the Toledo Blue Stockings, received a letter from the Richmond Virginians which contained the following:

Dear Sir: We the undersigned, do hereby warn you not to put up Walker, the Negro catcher, the evenings that you play in Richmond, as we could mention the names of 75 determined men who have sworn to mob Walker if he comes to the ground in a suit. We hope you will listen to our words of warning, so that there will be no trouble: but if you do not, there certainly will be. We only write this to prevent much blood shed, as you alone can prevent.

As it was Walker was released by the Blue Stockings prior to the trip to Richmond and so this particular situation never came to a head. After being released by Toledo, Walker bounced around from one minor league team to another before finally retiring from the game in 1889.

Richard Reed’s painting of Moses Fleetwood Walker inside Fleetwood’s Taproom
Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theatre put on a play about Walker’s murder trial

Although not from Toledo, it was in Toledo that Walker made history. And it is a history of which an growing number of Toledoeans are increasingly aware. And beer is playing a part in this increased awareness of Walker. In April 2016 a new bar opened in downtown Toledo. In honor of Walker, it is called Fleetwood’s Tap Room. It is a bar with a craft beer focus and Fleetwood’s menu includes over one hundred craft beers. One of these beers is called Moses’ Acquital, a Brown Ale brewed exclusively for the tap room by the nearby Black Cloister Brewing Company. The brew is the creation of Black Cloister’s Head Brewmaster Shannon Fink. The name of the beer refers to an event that has its beginnings in Syracuse, NY in April 1891. Walker was walking home from a bar when he was challenged by a group of white men. Words were exchanged, Walker drew a knife, and killed a man by the name of Patrick Murray. Walker was tried for second degree murder; the jury, which was all white, acquitted him; hence the name of the beer.  Interestingly, in 2015 a Chicago theatre, the Black Ensemble Theater, told the story of Walker’s trial in a play. Titled The Trial of Moses “Fleetwood” Walker, the play was met with acclaim from a number of theatre critics, with one describing it as a “brave, honest, and powerful drama”.

Island Sanctuary for the Ghost of Moses

Inside Fleetwood’s Taproom there is a painting of Walker that was done by local artist Richard Reed. The artwork in Fleetwoods is not the only image of Walker you will see in Toledo. There is a wall mural in downtown Toledo that bears his image. Completed  in October 2015, it is the work of artists Natalie Lanese and Douglas Kampfer and is called Island Sanctuary for the Ghost of Moses. The mural, at 19 St. Clair’s Streer, is about a block from Fifth Third Field, home of the MudHens.  Walker is the central figure in the mural, which also includes other Toledo-related content such as the city’s High Level Bridge and Mud Hens among the rushes.

In March of this year the Ohio House of Representatives voted 92-0 to designate October 7 (Walker’s birthday) as ‘Moses Fleetwood Walker Day’ throughout the state of Ohio. It still has to be approved by the Senate and the Governor. But if it is, and hopefully it will, this will be a fitting tribute to a great Ohioan.

Further Reading:

Zang, David W. 1995. Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball’s First Black Major Leaguer. Omaha, NE; University of Nebraska Press.

Acknowledgement: Thank you to my friend and colleague Peggy Gripshover of Western Kentucky University for providing me with old newspaper articles about Moses Fleetwood Walker.

Guid Ale Comes and Guid Ale Goes

Back in January I participated in an evening celebrating the life and poetry of Robert Burns. Burns is the National Poet of Scotland. Every year, Scots and non-Scots alike gather on or around January 25 (Burns’s Birthday) to commemorate the life of this literary genius. Growing up in Scotland I cannot recall a time when I was not aware of Burns and his poetry. At the very least, a rudimentary knowledge of Burns seems to be part of the Scottish DNA.

Whateverandeveramen celebrated the life and poetry of Robert Burns in Seattle, WA and Toledo, OH
Whateverandeveramen sing the songs of Robert Burns at the Black Cloister Brewing Company in Toledo, OH

The celebration was held at the Black Cloister Brewing Company in downtown Toledo, OH. The evening was organized by Brad Pierson who is Director of Choral Activities at the University of Toledo. Brad is a Burns aficionado. He has been organizing Burns’ celebrations since 2014. He started doing so in Seattle, WA while he was in graduate school. This year, in addition to the event in Toledo, Brad organized two other celebrations, both in Seattle. The fact that Brad chose the Black Cloister for his first Toledo Burns celebration is no accident. Brad is a craft beer lover and, in fact, one of the Seattle events that he organized was held in Naked City Brewery and Taphouse. Brad is also the founder of Whateverandeveramen, “a project-based ensemble dedicated to the performance of high quality choral literature of varied styles from all musical eras.”

Brad asked me to participate in the evening and to provide some background on the life, times, and poetry of the great man in between the sets performed by Whateverandeveramen. This I was happy to do. My first contribution to the evening was to regale the crowd  with a brief biography of Burns, while at the same time trying to convey why his poetry was, and still is, considered important.

Burns was born on January 25, 1759 (he died in 1796 at the age of thirty-seven) in the village of Alloway in Ayrshire. His father was a tenant farmer; a vocation that Burns later took up himself. He was the oldest of seven children. Burns was educated both at home and in a formal school setting. At age fifteen he discovered a love for poetry, to the extent that he soon started writing poems.  And it was his poetry that would make him famous the world over.

Burns’ poetry was important for a number of reasons. First, he wrote in the Scots language at a time when to do so was highly unpopular in Scottish literary circles. Scotland had entered into political union with England in 1707 and as a result there was a movement afoot to Anglicize Scottish culture and language. This is something that Burns opposed vehemently. He knew the important role that the Scots language played in Scottish identity.  Second,  Burns “used small subjects to express big ideas“. For example, in his poem To a Mouse he makes comparisons between the lives of mice and men. A farmer, plouging his field, accidentally upsets a mouse’s nest. On doing so he apologizes to the mouse; realizing that he has upset the mouse’s plans.  It is at this point that the farmer recognizes that mice, like men, make plans and that these plans can, in a split second be upset. As Burns notes in the poem – “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley” –  (translated as “The best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew”). In Tam ‘o Shanter he suggests that Tam, upon being chased by witches, should perhaps have heeded the advice of his wife and stayed at home (are you listening gentlemen?).

Postage stamps issued by the Soviet Union in 1956 on the 160th anniversary of Burns’ death

Centuries after his death Burns’ work continued to be recognized and have impact. John Steinbeck took the title of his 1937 novel Of Mice and Men from a line of the Burns’ poem To A Mouse. In 1956 the Soviet Union issued a set of commemorative postage stamps on the 160th anniversary of the poet’s death. In 2008, when asked to name the verse of lyric that had the greatest impact on his life the iconic American artist Bob Dylan identified the poem A Red Red Rose, written by Burns in 1794.

Here I am reciting “Guid Ale Keeps The Heart Aboon”

After some more singing by Whateverandeveramen I got back on stage and recited one of Burns poems – Guid Ale Keeps The Heart Aboon. It was a poem written in 1795, a year before Burns’ death. It tells the story of a farmer and the lengths to which he goes to keep himself supplied with good ale and the price that he sometimes pays for over indulging. The latter included being publicly rebuked by the minister in the local church. Burns lived in post-Reformation Scotland which meant that the Church of Scotland was dominant religious institution. The Church of Scotland, colloquially known as the Kirk, was Presbyterian. It was heavily influenced by the ideas of the French reformer John Calvin and, as a result, was quite puritanical in its outlook. Drinking and drunkeness were most certainly frowned upon; too much beer and you ended up on ‘the stool” in Kirk on a Sunday morning where you would be chastised by the minister in front of the entire congregation.

The individual in Burns’ poem went to great lengths to finance his love of guid ale. He owned six oxen (sax owsen) and found himself selling them one by one (ane by ane). When he had spent that money he sold his stockings (hose) and pawned his shoes (shoon). Drastic steps, but worth it because drinking guid ale lifted his spirits (keeps the heart aboon). It also causes him to meddle with the servant girl (“gars me moop wi’ the servant hizzie”).

Guid Ale Keeps The Heart Aboon

I had sax owsen in a pleugh,
And they drew a’ weel eneugh:
I sell’d them a’ just ane by ane –
Guid ale keeps the heart aboon!

O, guid ale comes, and guid ale goes,
Guid ale gars me sell my hose,
Sell my hose, and pawn my shoon –
Guid ale keeps my heart aboon!

Guid ale hauds me bare and busy,
Gars me moop wi’ the servant hizzie,
Stand i’ the stool when I hae dune –
Guid ale keeps the heart aboon!

O, guid ale comes, and guid ale goes,
Guid ale gars me sell my hose,
Sell my hose, and pawn my shoon –
Guid ale keeps my heart aboon!

Robert Burns Scottish Ale from Belhaven Brewery

The ale for which Burns’ character was willing to go to such lenghths to acquire was known as Scottish Ale (those with an ABV of 6.5% and higher were known as Scotch Ales). Hops were not grown in nineteenth century Scotland; the closest hop fields were in Kent in the south of England.  High transportation made hops cost prohibitive for Scottish brewers; so few were used and with the result that the ales of the period had a sweet, malty character. A number of modern-day breweries produce an ale that commemorates Burns. One of these is Scotland’s Belhaven Brewery who brew a Robert Burns Ale which they describe as a “classic, malty Scottish Ale”.

The evening at the Black Cloister was highly memorable. As a Scot, participating in events liks this affords me an opportunity to reconnect with my cultural roots. I have lived in the United States since 1985; but I still have a strong emotional affinity for the land of my birth. And while I am a passport-carrying American (I became a U.S. citizen in 2003) evenings such as this remind me from whence I came.

 

 

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