A blog that explores the seemingly endless beer options available, and occasionally brings up your Mom.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

We must go TO the beer!

     In the United States there are currently 1,500 breweries producing beer. This includes commercial breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs. But we easily notice that our beer stores are not packed with 1,5000 different brands. In order to try all the tasty brews this country has to offer, you must go TO the beer itself. In New York, where I live, I am lucky to have the some of the finest craft breweries in the world on my local grocery shelves (and the laws to allow such a thing!) But when it comes to famous micobreweries like, New Belgium, Three Floyds or Dark Horse, to just name a few, we just can't get that here. This is for several reasons, the main reason being that craft breweries simply can't produce enough beer to supply the whole country. Remember, to be considered a "craft brewery" you must legally produce UNDER 6 million barrels a year (1/2 barrel = what you did a keg stand on last night). This means that if every person in the United States wanted to receive beer from one specific micobrewery, the most anyone could obtain is an amount just over two 6-packs to last the whole year (assuming people are sharing properly). So heaven forbid you like the beer, because that is how thin distribution would be. Also, distributors are just not in favor of cross distribution.
     Distributors are the middle man between beer and the consumer. Breweries sell their beer to a distributor, who then sell it to a retailer, and only the retailer can sell to a consumer. This system is called the "three-tier system" and wealthy lobbyists make sure it stays in effect each year, and to their benefit. So for instance, if you owned a grocery store across the street from your favorite brewery, you wouldn't be allowed to purchase beer directly from the brewery for your store. Instead, the beer gets picked up by a big truck along with other beer and products, is then taken to the distributors headquarters, and sits until you place an order for it (tick tock tick tock). Then the truck is re-loaded with beer and other products and is shipped to your store. In this common situation, this is literally the biggest waste of gasoline, time and money (the breweries). So we have this continuing cycle of breweries who can not produce enough beer to supply the country (because they need to stay under 6 million barrels, legally), selling their beer to a distributor that in itself cannot legally distribute to the whole country (cross expansion laws). So the lack of variety on our grocery shelves is due to all that mess.  Of course there is an upside to this three-tier system, like the opportunity for small breweries to have their beer in more prominent locations and stores, because, they couldn't have done that otherwise (....?). But don't get me wrong, it's not that distributors are comprised of bad people, it's just that they should hang out with landlords, ya know?
     On a hoppier note, I have had the great pleasure of trying some crafty beers that I can't find in my current town (Thank you, Vinny!). I encourage you to make time in your calendars for your own brewery road trip to get some eye opening tours and new friends for the fridge. Chances are, those beers might not be at your corner store anyway, and plus, it's fun to be the middle man sometimes. Here are a few beers that I recently tried for the first time, that I can not purchase in New York (and now you know why).

Bell's Brewing Co., Hop Slam (10% ABV) - Not only do I like this beer for it's cool bottle cap, but it's an incredibly smooth Double India Pale Ale, considering that it's 10% ABV! I let this beer warm up to close to room temperature before trying it, because I really wanted to taste all of the different hops they packed into it. There is no restraint on this aroma, the thick scent of citrus, pine and grass went right through my head! This tangy aroma balanced out the malt wonderfully, right until the last sip. Personally, I was surprised by the unexpected sweetness of this beer. I was expecting a bitter dry bite, but the hops just roll along the palette, leaving flavors of citrus, sweet malt and fruit. They did a good job of keeping the alcohol flavor under control too, allowing the floral aroma create most of the taste. The upmost fitting name for a beer I have tried yet, because I could undoubtedly Hop Slam this baby all day.

21st Amendment Brewing Co., Monks Blood (8.3% ABV)
- Okay, I may be sounding a bit like a "book cover judger" today, but 21st Amendment has some of the best packaging out of any brewery I have seen. The designs on their cans are so well done and epic, that if you saw this at your grocery store, you'd buy it just based on the artwork. But I am here to tell you that you should buy 21st Amendment brews for two reasons, one being that you can start a classy collection of beer cans in your office without question, and two being that it's some damn good beer. Monks Blood just came out this past February and is the result of a trip to Belgium by 21st Amendment founders, Nico and Shaun. Inspired by their travels, they created Monks Blood, a Dark Belgium Ale that is brewed with vanilla beans, cinnamon, dried black mission figs and aged on oak chips. You can pick up the strong scent of figs immediately, followed by a sharp sweetness that may be due to the Abbey Ale yeast or the cinnamon. A very enjoyable Belgium ale that cleans up very nicely, no left over sour flavor here. This beer really warmed me up inside and would pair perfectly with an elegant dessert (or a tub of ice cream, whatever). 

Founders Brewing Co., Red's Rye PA - (6.6 % ABV)
- I didn't look into who Red is, but I like his take on a Rye Pale Ale. Hoppy, bitter and dry. The scent from the Amarillo hops bring out a floral, citrus-spice aroma. Very distinct smell, a little grapefruit with rye coming through, offering a scent similar to that of pepper, very sharp. The taste is bitter, hops are very much present and the rye offers an earthy-malt sweetness. A lot is going on in this beer, and it's almost difficult to distinguish some of the complex flavors. This may be due to the Belgian caramel malts they use, of which I am not too familiar. All I know for sure is that if I come across this beer again, I am buying more than a bottle.

It's no surprise that adventurous folk are the ones who like craft beer, since they are the ones traveling and finding it. The current system of obtaining beer works, actually, that's the motto for those in support of the three-tier system "The Three-Tier System, It's What Works!" But I think it is fair to say that just because something is working, doesn't mean we need to stick to it. Imagine if we lived in a world where all businesses refused to progress and build a sustainable future for themselves and others. When we build dead ends for small businesses, how are the bigger ones going to get out too? Maybe they have bigger trucks for us to fit into?


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