It can easily be stated that craft beer in America has been in a constant state of change and flux. Trends come and go. Growth accelerates and wanes. Styles rise to prominence only to be soon usurped by new variations. Breweries open. Breweries close. It is a near constant churn.
But there is a cultural shift that clearly has taken hold as of late. It surrounds NE IPAs.
I am not focusing so much on the fact that a hotly debated NE IPA style has shifted the culture we associate with craft beer. Even its enshrinement as a defined style was not without a lot of debate that left some on both sides seriously unhappy. There are lots of places debating this.
But the style, or more importantly the predominate way NE IPAs are distributed is shifting the way we engage with craft beer.
Can releases at breweries have brought us long lines. People lining up to buy limited four packs or maybe a case of beer. More frequently these lines are getting longer and longer and inherently people start lining up sooner in order to get to the front.
In the past, you went to a brewery or a brewpub and you sat at a long bar or maybe a long table.
Now increasingly we have people standing in long lines. Conversations become less about the enjoyment of the beer in the moment and more regarding the market value based on allotments and black markets.
High tops are replaced by folding chairs. Buying a round replaced with beer swaps in the line.
A lot of this is driven by the distribution format. A limited can release at the brewery for an in-demand short shelf life or every expensive barrel aged beer has implications. Some of this is a natural response. It can be argued this is just how it was always going to play out.
Self-distribution and limited releases as a method have been highly lucrative to many breweries. Some have seen massive or exponential growth occur in literally months.
This has not come without a cost. The lines can be disruptive to neighborhoods. Beer mules are not there for the enjoyment of the beer but to make fast cash flipping the product. Trash from sharing and swapping beers gets left behind by the few troglodytes that still litter… in 2018.
Vine Pair has a story about how this has shifted the fortunes of a number of breweries but also how it has changed the clientele. It is not a flattering article to Vine Pair or the brewers referenced.
One can simply say and without judgment, things have changed. To say it is the same as it ever was is beyond naive.
Therefore the question then shifts to: Is it better this way?
For me, I would rather sit at a long table in the brewery than sit in a long line outside of one, regardless of the beer in my glass.
This is not the end of the world.
This trend will be followed by a new one; just like the last one was.
Sitting in brewpubs are more fun than sitting in line. If you think this is a controversial statement or that opinion is out of line then I don’t know what to tell you. Just getting out ahead of what I am sure will happen with someone.
If you like sitting in lines for beer, good for you. These are truly halcyon days for you.
If you do wait in line, tell the asshole that leaves his garbage to pick it up.
VinePair really went over the edge in the piece linked above.
UPDATE: After I published my fellow podcaster Easy Pretzel had some thoughts. They are shared here for your consideration.
Two points that are the sides of the same coin:
There is a reckoning coming for some Craft Beer drinkers and it is going to come painfully.
These points are as true as they are inevitable.
First the craft beer investor. He picks up 12 bottles of a very limited fruit beer sour expecting them to be the new hotness on the trading forums and then oh… look at that, no one wanted them. Now he is stuck with all these very expensive bottles of beer that he can’t unload. He dropped a couple hundred bucks on these bottles expecting to flip them and make a quick buck and then there was no market. What does he then do? He goes on social media and blasts the beer, the brewer and screams “drain pour” into all the forums. It’s low rent and is bad for Craft Beer all around.
Beer is an investment in yourself and your personal enjoyment. It is an investment in the enjoyment of your friends and the time you spend sharing a great beer with them. Beers are not for flipping like scalpers with Taylor Swift tickets. Even then scalpers know the risk. Sometimes the market goes soft, sometimes it rains and no one wants to go. If the buyers don’t want all the beer you bought, it is not the brewer’s fault. Don’t ask for a refund. That is pathetic. You should be ashamed of yourself.
If you are treating beer like an investment that is a mistreatment of the product. It is meant for consumption and sharing, not speculation. If you are buying and speculating on beer futures I sincerely hope the market goes flat on you. You deserve it.
The other half of this two-sided coin is the forums where these trades occur. Facebook apparently is the dominant market as it has private closed groups. There are plenty of other forums for beer swaps but Facebook appears, at least anecdotally, to be the most prevalent. Let us be clear… They are not a safe haven. There is no safe haven in any digital space. Facebook will not protect your illegal activity. These private groups have hundreds or thousands of traders. In the end… you don’t know them, they don’t know you, and they are not your friends.
At some point, the PLCB, or another state’s liquor control office, is going to awaken to this concept. It would be very hard for me to actually believe that they have not already. Bootlegging is an old art. Digital message boards and now Facebook are not going to suddenly make all this permissible. Who hasn’t bought a couple bottle of sales tax free wine or liquor and slung it back from Delaware to PA? But running cases and cases of beer across state lines without paying the proper tax is an illegal activity.
I can hear some readers now: “Yeah, but the PLCB does not care about a few tax dollars on only a couple cases of beer.” This can be reasonably considered yet…
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is a regulatory and control mechanism. Control is right there in the name. PLCB’s purposes is to regulate and control the distribution and by extension the consumption of alcohol within the state of Pennsylvania. Many other states have a similar agency. A review of the PLCB About page shows that their primary objective is to regulate and control “the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution, and disposition of liquor, alcohol, and malt or brewed beverages in the commonwealth.” It is only after scrolling through multiple paragraphs about control and regulation that we get to the revenue generated for the Commonwealth’s coffers. Revenue generation is a secondary purpose.
Back to the instant matter… The PLCB even has a very specific FAQ addressing the “May a friend bring a case of beer for me from California when he comes to visit me?” question. You can click the link but in summary: No… unless they apply for a Direct Malt or Brewed Beverage Shipper (DBS) License, pay $250, and jump through a bunch of hoops.
And in case you were wondering… Transporting and selling beer without a DBS License is a second-degree misdemeanor and is subject to a fine of $4 per fluid ounce for each container on premises where the sale is made. Meaning that if you pull this in your driveway, that beer cellar you have have been building for the last six-plus years just got really, really expensive.
It is not unreasonable to state that if you are buying and selling cases and cases of very highly sought after beer that you cannot assume you will not eventually catch the eye of the people whose job it is to regulate that which you are ignoring, booze and the laws that are meant to control it.
Brewers and distributors pay thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and taxes to be legitimate. They operate in a regulated industry. Some could argue that it is highly regulated. If I was a brewer or a distributor and I looked over all the money I paid out, all the paper I filed and I must continue to file, the litany of bureaucratic hoops I am required the jump through… and then saw people slinging beers in papers bags with a massive markup I would wonder “For what is all this regulation actually being used?”
To think that this party is not going to get crashed is naive.
I don’t have exactly clean hands here. I have bought beer on the black market. I will likely do it again. But, I have never resold my beer for a markup. I have never profited from a beer I have bought and handed to someone else. I have traded beers with some close friends. This wasn’t flipping whales, they are friends. I have gifted many, many bottles of beer and I am much happier with those exchanges.
The PLCB is a tax agency. Taxes are social engineering and policy designed to regulate and control that on which they collect. We can discuss whether they should exist or should be controlling alcohol but that is an alternate discussion. This post is about what actually exists. I would love nothing more than to see the PLCB be shrunk from being the leviathan that it is.
If you want to yell at me in the comments or on Twitter about how the PLCB is evil that is fine but this is not a defense of the agency or what it does.
Asking for a refund on a beer is not okay. I have never asked for a refund on a beer and I never will. If you are that unhappy with the product, privately tell the brewer why, or just stop spending your money there. Would you also ask for a refund on a Manhattan that you did not think lived up your exactingly standards? The level of entitlement on the part of Craft Beer drinkers is embarrassing. Stop it.
In episode 14, Ed Grohl, Easy Pretzel, and Bearcat, welcome Scott Smith, founder, and owner of East End Brewing Company. In a far-ranging conversation, we discuss the brewery, Barleywine (#BIL), the trials of starting a brewery 15 years ago, and the sad lonely death of a keg of beer.
Also… Stick around for the After Show
What We Were Drinking:
Easy Pretzel – East End Brewing Gratitude (2015), The Veil Brewing Co. Hornswoggler — Oreo
Ed – The Veil Brewing Co. Coalesce; 3 Taverns Brewery Rapturous; Trillium Brewing CompanyDeciduous, Funk Brewing Company Silent Disco
Bearcat – East End Brewing Homewood Reserve 2017, Founders Brewing Co. Canadian Breakfast Stout (2017)
Scott — VB Hubbards Cave Brewery
Church Brew Works
North Country Brewing Company
Jean Bonnet Tavern
Larry Bell of Bell’s Brewing Company
Don’t Drink Beer
Al’s of Hampden and Pizza Boy Brewing
Pennsylvania Handshake Blog Post
Chance A’ Shahrs
Peat Smoked Malt
London Ale Yeast
Troegs Independent Brewing Company
Gratitude Paper Overwrap (So pretty)
Mary Tremonte (Gratitude Label Artist)
Between Two Fermentors
Pittsburgh Strip District
The Independent, Pittsburgh
Tiki Lounge Pittsburgh
Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Pittsburgh
Hitchhiker Brewing Co.
Dancing Gnome Brewery
The Easy Pretzel NFL Power Poll of Beer
The Neighborhoods of Pittsburgh
A big thanks to Scott Smith for giving us so much of his time. We hope that you enjoy listening to it as much as we did making it.
Mad Elf already went to 11.
11% ABV is one of the characteristics of the Mad Elf line, which include the beguiling Wild Elf and the stripped down Naked Elf.
But what if you still wanted it to be 1 louder. If you needed that extra push over the cliff. What If you wanted to take Mad Elf truly to 11 like Nigel Tufnel? To push it to 11 in every way, not just in the booze.
Then you make Mad Elf Grand Cru.
More Cherry. Specifically, Balaton cherries added to the O.G. Mad Elf’s already potent mix.
Deeper sugars. Specifically, Demerara sugar to compliment the subtle wild honey with a caramel backbone.
More Cherry. More Malt character.
This adds up to a heady mix. We get a deeper hue. A bright mahogany/blood red that just begs to be swirled in the glass. A nose of cherries that are so intense as to make you wonder “How did they do this with a beer?” The flavors are cherry on cherry but never cloying and the Balaton’s tart notes even everything out and makes everyone play nice. A stunningly long finish that shows off the complexity of the brown sugar along with some hints of pepper (a Troegs hallmark). It sips like an after dinner cordial. It is very intense but not aggressive. It soothes and relaxes.
This beer is so cherry… The question is how much more cherry could it be? And the answer is “None. None more cherry.”
Mad Elf 22oz bottles was my go-to host/hostess gift for years. I would show up at a holiday party with a couple bombers in hand and knew they would be greeted warmly. Mad Elf was just hard enough to acquire back home in Pittsburgh so as to make it really special when I sent it out as a gift. But eventually, the bombers ceased and Mad Elf became both ubiquitous and synonymous with holiday craft beer in this region.
Grand Cru brings all that back. A big 750 mL champagne bottle with a nice little black tag with a “From:” and “To:” label ready to go. (Nice work Justin) This gives Grand Cru “a bigger dressing room than the puppets. That’s refreshing.”
The beer inside is a masterstroke and the packaging communicates clearly on behalf of the beer it carries. It is special inside and out.
Grand Cru is offered as the director’s cut of Mad Elf and as a tribute to 20 years of brewing at Troegs. What a fitting description and tribute it is.
For me… I think this is the beer that finishes your evening. It’s the beer you use to toast to the chef, your host, your friends, and your loved one. This a holiday beer at its most refined and worthy of the name Grand Cru.
Happy Thanksgiving and in the words of Viv Savage: “Have … a good time… all the time.”
P.S. In case you cannot tell, I really love This is Spinal Tap. I also really loved Mad Elf Grand Cru.
In high school math courses, the solution is not the whole answer. You must show all work. Scratch paper is provided and is part of the marking. An incorrect solution with proper methodology would typically receive partial credit. Correct answers with no work are suspect. Personally, I hated showing all my work.
For ten of the Troegs Brother’s twenty years of brewing, they have been showing us their work. They have done this with their Scratch series. And those ten years have shown us 300 equations that have been worked out.
Some of those solutions live on:
Back around Scratch 280 or so I openly wondered on Twitter “What will Troegs do for number 300?” It is not a milestone number in the traditional sense; not like 100 or 500. But a big number nonetheless for a brewery that hit 20 years old this summer past. I thought (Read: hoped) they might do a big Barleywine. Maybe even a new Flying Mouflan. Maybe Ed’s longing for a return of the Oatmeal Stout would come to pass.
I was quite off the mark. I was not thinking big enough.
They had a plan but it wasn’t just about making one big beer. I was about celebrating the hop and its harvest. Instead of one beer… We got four big Fresh Hop Ales: #295 Comet, #296 Simcoe, #298 Citra and #300 Mosaic.
#295 Comet came in a 6.8% and used Sunny Brae Hops from Carlisle, PA. A classic hop variety that this beer allows to shine. Tropical fruit with green finish.
#296 Simcoe was my favorite of the bunch. These Yakima grown wet hops gave up their piney mango and earthy flavors in abundance. This was the most dynamic of the bunch. Have I mentioned recently my love for Simcoe?
#298 Citra was a love letter to this ubiquitous hop flower. #298 just nailed down all the flavors we have come to love and expect from Citra hops: sharp grapefruit, lemon and lime rinds. A master class in Citra hops for the uninitiated.
#300 Mosaic – Could there be a more appropriate hop to cap this foursome and be number 300 than Mosaic? This hop variety is the offspring of Simcoe and Nugget. Two varieties that are found throughout their lineup over the years. This relatively new variety (circa 2012) combines the trustworthy notes of well-established Troegs beers with a look to the future as it brings forth citrus and mango with a resinous finish. Brilliant.
So here we stand… 10 years of Scratch beers. The still new Splinter Cellar, a sight to behold. A new parking lot (wink, wink). The brothers cranking out over 100 different beers a year. Fresh social media campaigns with smart, engaging content that reflect the company culture. A major expansion of capacity that will give them years of opportunity for growth and flexibility. 20 years of work.
Troegs shows all work. Tellingly, they take joy in showing it.
There is much to be excited about if you are working at Troegs or just a loyal follower.
All of this led to me hear “This is the most fun we have ever had” from John Trogner. John said this at a celebration of their 20 years down at the Warwick Hotel. I followed up and asked him what the next 20 years would look like. He looked away and thought for a second. Then he just shrugged and said “I don’t know…” with a crooked little smile.
Maybe when you are working this hard and having this much fun you don’t want to look too far ahead for fear that you will miss the joy of being right here, right now.
Cheers to 300. Cheers to 20 years.
Once again as we approach late April, the return of Harrisburg Beer Week is coming upon us. This year marks the third iteration of the yearly celebration of craft beer in the Central PA area. As such, now provides a great opportunity to assess the current standing of craft beer in the (717) area code.
But first, within the Commonwealth, the past year has brought at least one challenge to local brewers in their changing relationship distributors due to legislation. Across the Nation, the total number of breweries has ballooned from 5,000 just a year ago to 5,300. This rapid expansion has been tempered by a very slight downturn in consumption across the industry. The number of guests at the table grew but the size of the pie remained the same.
Locally paints a far rosier picture. We have seen an impressive number of breweries open. There are more choices for local beer drinkers than ever before and the acceleration keeps going.
Since the last HBW, we have seen Collusion Tap Works, The Vegetable Hunter, Ever Grain, Tattered Flag, Desperate Times, Millworks, and Boneshire open their doors. We have seen the expansion of Appalachian Brewing Company and watched Troegs open its new and absolutely gorgeous Splinter Cellar. There are more bars and restaurants that are featuring local brewers; often in unique and interesting ways beyond just a tap handle. Finally, we saw a massive 12 brewer collaboration at Pizza Boy Brewing Co. that put out an outstanding beer and showcased the comradery here locally.
Looking at all of this, Harrisburg Beer Week is a great time to celebrate this now mature community within the Central PA area.
Over the course of nine days, craft beer devotees will be visiting multiple breweries, bars, and restaurants to sample unique brews or raising a pint of their favorite stalwart. We will hunt down rare firkins, tip back pints of what will be an eminently quaffable new (717) Collaboration Lager, and discuss or debate the virtues of this beer or that ale. All while raising a ton of money for a great cause, the Harrisburg River Rescue.
Much like brewers work hard to keep their lineups fresh, the Harrisburg Beer Week crew have worked hard to keep the three-year-old venture fresh with new gear and some new events or “old” events in new places. The Home Brewers Competition has been moved to the Broad Street Market in Midtown. While the ballpark was a fun and an interesting location, moving to the Market will inevitably create a more “Harrisburg” vibe. There are more events than ever, at more locations than ever. They even have a mini golf outing.
Just like craft beer in Central PA and Harrisburg Beer Week have grown, so has the craft industry throughout Pennsylvania. This provides an opportunity to tell a compelling story.
A compelling story is what GK Visual brought us in their documentary Brewed in the ‘Burg. As craft beer has expanded within the area so has their vision as they take on Poured in PA; a documentary meant to highlight craft beer throughout Pennsylvania. Making a project of this size requires money, a lot of it. That is why they have turned to crowd funding. But backing this project comes with perks; some really great ones. In fact, I have backed this project with my own money and if you love PA craft beer you should back it too.
It doesn’t take much to help out the Harrisburg River Rescue or Poured in PA. Both projects are about doing something positive around something we care about, great beer.
If I missed a brewery that opened since April of 2016, I am sorry but I think I caught everyone. If I missed one, let me know in the comments and I will edit accordingly.
I will have a list of my “Can’t Miss Events” next week so check back.
The new label for (717) Collaboration is amazing. It is so good. I really like it.
Finally, I apologize for the lack of posts here as of late. Between launching the new podcast and writing for October now I just have not had the chance to write much for my own blog. I hope to change that soon and expect that Bearcat on Beer will now be almost entirely my thoughts on what is happening locally.