Boston Beer Company: A Victim of Its Own Success?

8542177561_9732114554_z

Boston Beer Company, owner of Sam Adams, is struggling to convince their shareholders to hold on, as their stock plunged 12% when the company recently released their dismal first quarter results for the year. According to their numbers, so far their quarterly revenue fell 5% year over year, which doesn’t sound horrible. However, that translates into a 48.8% drop in net income after factoring in a 6% decline in core shipment volume.

What happened with our nation’s biggest, craft brewery? It turns out growth in an industry is can be a great thing, but it also means lots more competition for the companies in that industry. The craft beer industry reported a 2015 13% rise in volume from the previous year, with 620 new breweries opening up. That’s 620 more breweries fighting for Sam Adams’ market share, and it looks like for the moment, the little guys are winning. Jim Koch, Boston Beer Company’s founding chairman, explained it like this…

“Our total company depletion trends declined in the first quarter, even as the better beer and craft categories appear healthy. We believe Samuel Adams has lost share due to the increased competition and continued growth of drinker interest in variety and innovation.”

The very industry that Sam Adams helped to build up over the last 25 years is eating it for breakfast. Part of the issue is that based on last year’s numbers, Boston Beer Company was expecting a huge growth and increased capacity to be able to meet that projection. When the demand was not there, the hit was much harder had they not been growing at the pace they took on.

Another factor is that in an incredibly competitive market, especially here in San Diego, Sam Adams is barely considered craft beer. They produced just shy of the 6 million barrels of beer that is considered the limit for a brewery to still be considered craft and their beer is just not what craft beer drinkers tend to look for when bellying up to the bar at Hamilton’s or Toronado. Obviously, this country’s craft beer market is more than San Diego, but any craft beer hub is probably going to have the same feelings about Sam Adams, and that is a real struggle for the beer company. As the market is flooded with more craft breweries, ones much smaller than Sam Adams, they get lost in the mix of bigger brands that don’t seem “craft” anymore. They have gotten so huge, they are not niche and niche is “cool.”

So what are they going to do? Boston Beer’s CEO, Martin Roper told investors“We are working hard to improve the Samuel Adams brand trends through continued innovation, executional focus on our core styles and a full review of our brand messaging and packaging, which we hope to complete during the second half of the year.”

Or perhaps, 2016 will be the year that Boston Beer Company sells…Industry insiders have alluded to a possible deal between Constellation, the company most famous for buying Ballast Point for $1 billion last year. Although Koch has always been vocally against craft breweries “selling out” to bigger beer brands, a deal with Constellation wouldn’t have nearly the bad press that selling to AB InBev would. Constellation hasn’t been gobbling up distributors the way that AB InBev has, nor does it have the same reputation for trying to squash the craft beer competition. With Boston Beer being a publicly traded company, Koch has a responsibility to his shareholders to remain profitable, so the pressure is on. In the coming months, we will see if this rumor has any merit, as well as what steps the company takes to get back some of their craft beer mojo.

Anna Brigham

4/27/16

 


San Diego Brewing Community Welcomes Mikkeller

mikkeller_logo1IMG_20160404_123317-819x1024

April 16th was an exciting day for San Diego craft beer drinkers because opening up in the space previously occupied by Alesmith Brewing was non other than Mikkeller Brewing. Mikkel Borg Bjergsø is perhaps the most famous gypsy brewer, known for exploring a huge range of beer styles and fermentation innovations. For the last ten years, he has been the darling of the craft beer industry, making friends and beers with a wide range of brewers and breweries all over the world. With craft breweries opening up all the time in San Diego, why was this opening so special? We think it’s because the partnership and the path that this Danish brewer took to get here is the epitome of why San Diego’s craft beer scene is the best in the world.

Mikkel started out in 2004, brewing beer in his Copenhagen kitchen. By day he was teaching kids math and physics and all his other time was spent experimenting with hops, malts and yeasts. He paired up with his childhood friend, Kristian Keller, and they began a series of beer experiments that focused on the extremely hoppy styles of beer that they were tasting from the U.S.  Their big breakthrough came, however, with a stout, a coffee stout to be exact. In 2006, their stout, Beer Geek Breakfast was voted the number one stout in the world on Ratebeer.com and at the Danish Beer Festival, two American distributers travelled across the pond to court the two Danish brewers. Although Keller left in 2007 to pursue a different career, Mikkel continued brewing in Danish microbreweries to try and keep up with the demand created by partnering together with the American owned Shelton Brothers.

Here is where the story gets adorbs…while trying to perfect the recipe for his coffee stout in his kitchen all those years ago, Mikkel reached out to a brewer who he deemed having “The best stout I’ve tasted in my life.” The beer was Speedway Stout and the brewer was Peter Zien, owner and brewmaster of Alesmith Brewing. Their friendship continued over the next 10 years as Mikkel travelled around the world brewing his award winning beers at different breweries who he developed relationships with.

Beer_Geek_Breakfast

So when Alesmith decided to move to a newer, bigger facility, just down the street from their old digs, they began shopping around for buyers. Zien reached out to his long-time friend about buying the brewery and finally settling down. After much discussion, they decided a creative partnership would work out perfectly and Mikkeller began the process of moving into the 20,000-square-foot facility.

This sort of friendship to partnership story is what the craft beer community was built on. Sharing information, ideas, recipes and helping out fellow brewers has always been a fundamental reason why this community is so close-knit and supportive. San Diego in particular has a wonderful craft beer community, which we are truly lucky to be a part of.

I had the pleasure of drinking some delicious Mikkeller beers last year in San Francisco when I stopped by Mikkeller Bar. I was not only impressed with the Mikkeller beers on tap, but the rest of the beer list was world-class.  Upon hearing that Mikkeller was coming to San Diego and opening their first brewery, I was ecstatic.

Now that they have a dedicated space to work their magic stateside, Mikkeller plans on doubling their production while keeping with Mikkel’s signature mindset of “attacking a wide-range of beer styles including experimental beers and one-offs, taking chances and brewing as the mood strikes him.”

Look for Mikkeller beers to begin popping up on craft beer bar tap lists across San Diego and definitely make a trip to the new Mikkeller Brewery off of Miramar road and taste the new brews and recent collabs they have to offer.

imgres

Anna Brigham

4/22/16

 


All About the Hops: Hop Shortage on the Horizon

7964387124_6db8248822_z

Hops are a hot commodity these days. With the hop-heavy, craft beer industry booming world-wide, hop farmers are feeling the pressure. Not only are there more breweries than ever, with 620 hop-seekers opening up in the last year alone, but IPA, the most popular  style of craft beer, uses up to six times the hops that other beers use. As if that weren’t enough, according to the International Hop Growers Convention, due to the extreme heat and dryness of last summer, the European hop market shrunk by 27%. Hops thrive in lots of sunlight, moderate temperatures and moisture. With two of these factors being insufficient, it caused what many industry insiders are calling “the worst crop for the central European hop industry within decades.” It’s feared that if the European hop market doesn’t get at least an average harvest this year, there could be a serious global hop shortage on the horizon.

With the rise of demand, hop farming is sure to expand, but since a hop crop takes 3 years to mature for harvest, there will likely be a pinch in the market the next couple of years. Furthermore, areas like New Zealand, responsible for the delicious Nelson Sauvin and Matueka hops, have no more room to expand their hop farming industry, further limiting the already tight hop market.

So hops are hard to come by because of poor crops and a sharp increase in demand, but was does this mean for the average craft beer consumer? Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom…

1. Hop Contracts Are King

Most breweries have hop contracts which are generally set out for several years. Even small breweries like Thorn have hop contracts, so the pinch is really going to be felt at brand new breweries and brewers looking to get in the industry. Ideally, if someone is thinking about opening a brewery, they are procuring their hop contract 3 years before they even open. When they can’t do that, then they have to beg, borrow and steal to get the hops they need for their brews, while building relationships with new and existing hop farmers to get a hop contract when the supply allows for it. Higher demand means higher prices and for those breweries that don’t have a hop contract that can translate into a higher cost that will likely be passed down to consumers.

2. No Hops? No Problem

The silver lining with this looming hop shortage is that brewers will get have to get creative to fill their brew schedules and taps. Sure that means seeing less IPAs at your local watering hole, but it also means seeing and increase in different styles. Look for more cask beers, wheat beers, lagers, porters and pilsners to make an appearance. Here at Thorn Street Brewery our beers using the lowest amount of hops are Foreplay Belgian Blonde, which derives much of its flavor from yeast and Castaway Coconut Porter and Santos Coffee Stout, which both lean on their dark and toasty malts for flavor. On the other end of the scale, our hoppiest beer, The Menace IIPA, uses an immense amount of hops, clocking in at around 4 lbs of hops per barrel. One barrel is equal to two 15-gallon kegs, so in a 7-barrel batch, yielding 14 kegs, our brewers are stirring in more than 28 lbs of hops per brew of The Menace. This is part of the reason why this beloved beer isn’t available all the time; it’s expensive!

3. The Rise of the Sours

Sours have always been popular with hardcore craft beer connoisseurs, but we expect them to become even more prevalent on beer boards across the industry. This is because casked beers like sours derive flavor from the aging process. The acidity and bitterness that is often brought into a beer by hops is instead aged into the beer, giving a depth of flavor and a delightful tartness. Also expect to see more fruit beers like lambics along with yeast driven beers like many Belgian styles to make regular appearances on craft beer boards.

When it’s all said and done, for many small and emerging breweries without hop contracts, the forecast for hops looks bleak. However, even breweries with contracts can fall victim to poor harvests from increasing global temperatures. We aren’t worried though…even though the next couple of years might be light on hops, we expect them to be rife on creativity and exciting new brews that use different means to impart flavor and bitterness.


Celebrity Brews: Famous Faces in Craft Beer

It seems as though the celebrity products are popping up everywhere these days. They offer up their names to endorse all sorts of products from make-up, to clothing, to restaurants, to fitness regimens. It only seems fitting that they would get into the craft beer industry too and who can really blame them? They like drinking good beer, they want to learn more about the process and they have lots of money…seems like a solid plan. Here are five celebrities with skin in the craft beer game along with average beer drinkers opinions on the whether or not the beers are worth trying…

1. Hanson Brothers – Hanson Brothers Beer Company

1379106310-hanson

Sure these three count for one on our list, but they seem to operate as a unit both in and outside of music. This trio from the 90’s is responsible for the infectious pop song, MmmBop which was stuck in your head pretty much all of 1997. Though they never found that same sweet success of their first album, in more recent years these brothers have been trying their hand at brewing. Hanson Brothers Beer Company is based in Tulsa, OK, and the boys take their brewing seriously. Their flagship beer is beautifully named, Mmm Hops Pale Ale, has been around for a few years now and they are recently expanding their beer line to include Inland Porter.

The Skinny:

According to Beer Advocate reviewers this 7.2% American Pale Ale scores a 79 and receives an “Okay” rating. For comparison, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale received a 91 on BA. Comments include, “Tastes of sweet malt, slight hops, pale malt, and a hint of yeast. Overall, poor appearance, weak aroma, weak body, and poor blend.” and “If you don’t like the flavor of IPAs but want to drink them anyways, this is the beer for you. Super malty–hits the mouth like a bottle of soy sauce.”

2. Adrian Grenier – Churchkey Can Company

Churchkey_beer

Best known for his role as Vincent Chase in HBO’s Entourage, Adrian Grenier branched off into craft beer in 2012 when he founded brewery, Churchkey Can Company with a good friend and they tapped a couple of home brewers to bring their beer vision to life.  The whole deal there at this Seattle brewery is that their beer comes in a flat-top can which has to be opened with a metal component called a churchkey. This uber-hipster opening method is definitely something that fell by the wayside once can pop-tops were invented, but Churchkey Can Company is intent on bringing it back with the tagline, “It’s worth the effort.”

The Skinny:

Their flagship beer (aka the only beer they brew) is called Churchkey Pilsner Style Beer and it received a 81 on Beer Advocate, garnering it a “good” rating. Comment for this beer include, “Overall kind of an average pilsner out of a novel can.” and ” Taste is smooth clean and very straightforward. Very decent for a pilsner. And loving the church key open method.”

3. Wil Wheaton – Stone Farking Wheaton W00tstout

2015_w00tstout

Wil Wheaton is best known for his late 80’s role in Stand By Me and a bunch of movies/TV after that you probably don’t remember. He’s always held a certain fan-boy style fame, wielding his nerd crown all around cyberspace, interacting with fans on sites like Reddit, regularly. Let’s get down to the beer though. This self professed “beer geek” partnered together with Drew Curtis and Greg Koch of Stone Brewing and together they came up with Stone Farking Wheaton Wootstout. This beer has been brewed every year since 2013 with the 2015 batch being a barrel aged version.

The Skinny:

This 13% ABV beer gets rave reviews on Beer Advocate, getting a sweet 90 rating from beer reviewers. Comments range from, “A flavorful and powerful stout, although the very high ABV is evident throughout, at least until it kicks in and you go numb,” to “Simply bitter and sweet together in perfect harmony. Full coating of gorgeous black tar. Too bad it isn’t an every day brew.” The moral of the story for other celebrities looking to get into craft beer is to start out partnering with a great brewery and move on from there.

4. Tom Green – The Tom Green Beer

is-the-world-ready-for-tom-green-beer

We might be really stretching to call Canadian talk show host, and former Mr. Drew Barrymore a celebrity, but we still have love for this weird dude. Green collaborated with Canadian brewery Beau’s to bring you this namesake milk stout. This quote pretty much tells you everything you need to know…

‟This is The Tom Green Beer,
It’s not The Green Tom Beer,
This is my favourite beer,
Because it is my beer.”

– Tom Green

The Skinny:

This milk stout receives a solid 84 on Beer Advocate with critics saying, “Good creamy stout that showcases a dark velvety foam, chocolate coffee flavor balanced by the lactic sweetness,” and “Overall, I like this beer. Worth checking out, maybe even getting a twelve pack of, but not a case; unless that case is cheap.”

5. President Obama – White House Honey Ale

Yes, we consider President Obama something of a celebrity. With those dazzling, pearly whites being flashed all around, one might forget that he is, for the moment, the leader of the free world who is also the first president to brew beer in the White House. White House Honey Ale was brewed with honey from the White House hives, in their kitchen with a home brew kit that Obama bought in 2012. He hasn’t wasted any time with other styles either, and has brewed two more styles with his home brew kit, White House Honey Blonde Ale and White House Honey Porter.

The Skinny:

Since this was never commercially produced we don’t have a Beer Advocate score to go by, however we do have the recipe for you here if you want to try out this presidential brew yourself…

wh_beer_recipe_honey_ale_2


Another One Bites the Dust: Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. Sells to AB InBev

10349893736_df45ba8bd1_k

It was announced earlier this week that Virginia based brewery, Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co., was bought by Anheuser-Busch for an undisclosed amount. This is hardly a surprising move for the beer giant, as it just follows their recent model of expanding their craft beer portfolio by buying up already successful craft breweries.

While unsurprising, the sale once again shines a spotlight on how Big Beer is dealing with the stagnant sales of beer overall when compared with the enormous growth in the craft beer sector. They have decided that they can’t beat craft beer, so they might as well join the movement. This might be good for the individual breweries who are swallowed up by these global corporations in terms of their opportunity for larger distribution and brewery expansions, but how does it impact to the craft beer industry as a whole?

In all of the press for this recent sale, the owner of Devil’s Backbone is quoted as saying,

“The existing management team plans to stay on board for many years, while continuing to innovate and bring locally crafted Virginia beer to the nation.”

This statement is meant to put craft drinkers’ minds at ease about the quality of the beer unchanging once a big company buys them out. However, this should not be people’s main concern. All of the craft breweries bought out by bigger beer companies fiercely defend the quality of their beer after the buy-outs. Soothing people’s “worries” that the craft beer they love will still be the same delicious high-quality brew is a straw man argument in many ways. We aren’t that worried about whether Devil’s Backbone, Ballast Point or any other breweries that sold recently will go down in quality. There is always a change in the beer when the brewing is moved from one system to another (say smaller to bigger), but we have faith in the good brewers of these brands that they will be able to adjust their recipes and continue making great beer.

The real issue is that AB InBev owns more than 17 U.S. distributors in all of the top craft beer sectors (CO, CA, OR, NY) and is aligned with 500 other independent distributors. This is what people should be worried about. It’s small potatoes to worry about whether Devil’s Backbone will continue to brew their beer to their high standards when if the current trajectory of AB InBev’s distribution model continues, they will likely own or be affiliated with a majority of U.S. distributors, therefore having a high degree of control over the output of beer onto the market.

14866276305_b29b6e000e_z

When a beer buyer (bar, store etc) tells AB InBev that they want to offer craft beers, AB InBev can now say, “No problem. We have all these different local, craft beers for you to choose from.” Whether or not AB InBev engages in the illegal but rampant, pay-to-play schemes that infect the beer industry is moot because they have figured out their own, legal, way to offer pay-to play benefits to distributors they work with. That’s right, Budweiser offers what is called an incentive program to the network of distributors it works with. According to the Wall Street Journal,

“Distributors whose sales volumes are 95% made up of AB InBev brands would be eligible to have the brewer cover as much as half of their contractual marketing support for those brands, which includes retail promotion and display costs.”

Furthermore, if their sales volume is 98% AB InBev brands, they are eligible for up to $1.5 million and the company estimates that most distributors who participate in the program will receive annual benefits of approximately $200,000.

This is a lot of money to many of these smaller distributors and it makes it very hard for independent craft beer breweries to play on an even playing field with Big Beer. Furthermore, this is talking about the 500 beer distributors they don’t own. The ones they do own will only be carrying their own “craft” beers and after buying up five distributors last year alone, it can be deduced that we will continue to see that number grow in the future.

Therefore, the big issue isn’t whether or not the beer will change after a brewery is bought-out by AB InBev, it’s that the brewery has now become part of a company that is actively working to cut off channels of distribution for other independent breweries. Here in CA we are lucky that breweries are allowed to self distribute, but as the brewery grows to a size where that self-distribution becomes unmanageable, we are met with the challenge of finding an independent distributor who will not bend to the economic will/benefits of AB InBev. For other states who aren’t allowed to self-distribute, this issue is even more important.

AB InBev isn’t going to stop buying up craft beer breweries and they aren’t going to stop buying up distributors. So where does that leave us when they have merged with SABMiller? They will control nearly 30% of the world’s beer from that merger alone, all the while continuing on their buying spree.

People need to look at the craft beer industry long term and seek ways to protect independent breweries from being muscled out by big beer. It’s happening now, as evidenced by the recent DOJ investigation into AB InBev’s distribution practices and whether or not they pressured their newly acquired distributors to drop non-AB InBev brands. What’s it going to look like 10 years from now if AB InBev continues on this trajectory?

This is why the argument over whether or not Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. is still going to make great beer feels like a straw man argument. It’s taking attention off the real issue at stake. If AB InBev continues on this path, except for the ultra- independent craft beer bars and stores, people won’t get a chance to drink anything besides Big Beer owned craft brews. The stable of craft breweries that they bought up in the last few years and continue to buy are simply their ammunition in this fight.

Furthermore, with the lack of transparency in the industry right now, most people won’t even know that their choices have been cut down to big beer craft breweries when they go to have a beer at their local watering hole. This lack of diversity will hurt the craft beer industry as a whole, making it harder to start and run independent breweries which are the backbone of this community and ultimately will bring less new and interesting craft beer to the market.

Ultimately, the problem isn’t with Devil’s Backbone wanting to expand their brand and grow their business. The problem is that they chose AB InBev to do that with, and it will ultimately hurt the craft beer community, the very community that these “no longer craft” breweries want to still be a part of.

Breweries who are looking for capitol must decide whether or not their own payoff is worth hurting the rest of the craft breweries that they are leaving behind. There are many ways to get investments in a company with some being easier than others. In the same way that so many of companies are looking at ways to produce their beer sustainably for environmental benefits, breweries need to also look at ways to grow their business sustainably in order to keep the craft beer community thriving and growing as a whole. We need to work together to not only keep this community alive but also to continue offering the wide variety of craft beers that are so readily available now to consumers.


Sake to Me: Not rice wine…rice beer!

Sake is an ancient, fermented beverage, known throughout the world as the perfect accompaniment to sushi and other Japanese fare. When asked about sake, most people will tell you it’s a “rice wine.” Well, most people happen to be wrong, because sake is not technically wine and, in fact, is much closer to beer. Simply put, wine is made by converting the sugars naturally found in grapes to alcohol through the process of fermentation. Beer is made by converting the starches found in grains into sugar, and then fermenting them into alcohol. Sake uses this same method of conversion, using rice that has been polished to remove the bran, instead of barley or wheat which is most often used in beer production.

b9b84c2e-6162-491d-ac5f-cc3aae3bfbb7

There is a difference between how sake is made vs. how beer is made, however, and it has to do with an enzyme called, koji. Koji is a very special fungus used throughout asian cooking to ferment things like soy sauce, rice vinegars, fermented bean paste and alcoholic beverages. This enzyme allows the conversion from starch to sugar as well as the fermentation to happen in one step, rather than the two steps used when brewing beer.

So why does everyone call sake, rice wine? It has more to do with the countless different styles and types of sake than anything else. Also, many sake flavors are more similar to wine than beer because of their sugar content and taste. Overall alcohol content also plays a part in the perception of sake. There is a reason why those teeny-tiny cups are used to consume it. Whereas the average ABV of most beer is somewhere between 3%-10%, the average ABV on sake is much higher at 18%-20%. Wine ABVs are usually between 5%-16% so they are much closer in strength to sake.

Often, when the sake is bottled, water is added to the brew to make it more palatable. Speaking of taste, one of the crucial factors to how sake tastes is in the amount of rice milled to make it. The more milled or “polished” the rice is, the more delicate and clear the flavor of the sake is. Polishing the rice takes time and therefore costs more man-hours when making certain types of sake, raising the their quality and price.

What does all of this have to do with beer? Well, sake and beer are perfect companions and here at Thorn Street Brewery we are super excited to be offering a Sake and Beer pairing coming up on April 10th. Saiko Sake and Sushi Bar in North Park collaborated with us to bring you three different sake and beer pairings. The complex flavor profiles of sakes vary just as much as beer flavors do, so the opportunity to pair the two is truly endless. Here are the pairings we have so far…

Relay IPA with Chrysanthemum Meadow
Castaway Coconut Porter with Cranes of Dewa Kimoto
Abbey Wall Belgian Style Dubbel with Tears of Dawn

There is also a very special sake bomb made by the mad-sake-scientists at Saiko called the Saiko Bomb. They somehow wrap Beautiful Lily Honjozo sake in a gelatin bubble and when you place it in the Tropic Daze IPA and drink it, the sake bursts in your mouth like a delicious piece of fruit. You need to be on the 50 person list to get one of these, but if people who reserved their bomb don’t show up within the first hour of the event, we are releasing them to the general public, so make sure to get on the waiting list when you get here! Here’s a link to the FB event for more info…Kampei!

22fb52d2-c316-4dc2-9f35-04121a7cf62d

 

 


Northeast Style IPA and the Elusive Heady Topper

heady-topper-label

If you are an IPA lover then you are probably well-versed in both East Coast and West Coast style IPAs. East Coast IPAs are known for their malty and slightly sweeter characteristics while West Coast IPAs are known for being hop-forward with a drier finish. But what in the world is a “Northeast style” IPA? I had the good fortune to travel to Vermont recently and drink some really great craft beer. Of course, since I would be driving right by the home of the famously delicious Heady Topper IIPA from The Alchemist in Waterbury, VT, I had to try it out. Heady Topper is the bees knees of the beer world. A couple of years ago it was rated the best beer in the world on Ratebeer.com and although it’s only fallen a few spots on the list, it’s still considered one of the white-whales of the craft beer industry.

e61b92aa-c854-4ec8-b14b-a40cfd4a64f4

This beer’s success is as much about its delicious taste as the way it’s marketed and sold. First of all, you can’t visit the brewery, which personally, I was bummed about. The word on the street is that patrons were enjoying Heady Topper too much and causing problem in the sleepy little Vermont Hamlet of Waterbury, so they shut down the tasting room. So how do you find this beer? You look on their website under “Where to Buy” and find out where they are delivering to that day. Yes that day, because most Heady Topper sells out within minutes of delivery, whether it’s at 7:30 am or 12 noon. This is partly because as popular as the beer is, it’s only delivered to a very small area in Vermont, an already very small state. Barre, Montpelier, Waterbury and Burlington are the delivery locales and people in Vermont take it very seriously. My first experience with Heady Topper was on a cold Thursday, when walking down Church Street in Burlington. I checked out the delivery schedule on my phone and sure enough, we were walking right by Church Street Tavern, one of the spots it was delivered to that day. We popped in for a noontime beer and were in great luck as the bartender told us they had the elusive beer available. The first surprise was that the beer brought to the table in cans. Apparently, the Alchemist doesn’t do kegs and when they serve you the beer, you are supposed to drink it right out of the can. I am happy to drink it any way it’s suggested and I think this is because some people might be turned off by seeing the unfiltered beer in the light of day. When I did pour it in a glass it came out a lovely, golden color with a few floaters. Nothing that would concern me, but who knows about others.  Our server also said that they are incredibly picky as to when/how the beer is delivered and if there isn’t space in the walk-in right when the delivery happens, they don’t leave the beer. Good for them for having high standards and I would guess that every bar that serves Heady Topper complies with this request with no complaints. The second surprise was that the bartender told us they had not one but two Alchemist beers available…they also had Focal Banger, their newer single IPA. Sweet…two tasty beers to try! Getting to the good stuff, does Heady Topper live up to the hype? In a short, yes. The double IPA was delicious and easy to drink. It had a bright and citrusy nose with strong pine and orange scents right off the bat. The beer has been described by many as being “juicy” and I would agree with that. It differs from a lot of the East Coast style IPAs I tried in Vermont because of its lack of malty, sweetness. It’s fresh taste is also what some might describe as dank and stands up to the 8%  ABV, leaving your palette quickly for a clean finish. You can definitely taste the Mosaic hops in the brew, with a floral, fruity taste that just lends itself to being called, “juicy.”

b928ca28-6a71-4a16-b007-5d5424831488

For the longest time The Alchemist only brewed Heady Topper, which at 8%, can pack a punch. Last year, they started canning their second beer, the single IPA, Focal Banger. This beer was also incredibly easy to drink…light on the malts and heavy on the Citra and Mosaic hops. Crisp and balanced and clocking in at 7% ABV, it’s not too much lighter in alcohol than Heady Topper, but has a lighter taste. I preferred the Heady Topper, but enjoyed this beer very much too. The funny thing is that Heady Topper tasted similar to West Coast IIPAs like Pliny the Younger (though with a cleaner finish) and even our own The Menace IIPA, which is known for it’s extreme drinkability. It’s different than a lot of the other East coast beers I tasted because of the lighter malts and that difference reminds me of our delicious double IPAs available here in San Diego. We left Church Street Tavern feeling confident in our ability to find Heady Topper and I made plans to stop at one of the stores listed on their delivery schedule to pick some up on our way to southern Vermont. Had I known it would be so hard to get at a store, I would have bought more right from the bar! On our drive down from Burlington to Middlebury on the East side of the Green Mountains, we stopped at at least five different beer stores, all of which had sold out within minutes of their allotted delivery. There were even signs at a couple of the spots stating, “No Heady Topper, Don’t Even Ask.” I had resigned myself to having the Heady Topper only in my memories when my husband excitedly called me saying he bought two 4-packs. They limit people to only buying 2 each, or else there would be a killer black market for this beer. I was excited for our brewers to taste this beer and tell me what they thought. It turns out they enjoyed the beer very much and commented on the extreme drinkability of this double IPA. Which brings us back to what the Northeast Style IPA is. It’s a sort of hybrid between the West Coast and East Coast styles. Less malts than East Coast, more juicy than the drier West Coast style and completely delicious. A couple of other standouts in the Northeast style of IPA beers were Second Fiddle a double IPA from Fiddlehead Brewing Company in Shelburne VT. This one was just as tasty as Heady Topper and much easier to find. Another beer that we really enjoyed was The Shed Brewery’s, Shed IPA. This little brewery used to be in Stowe, but now shares digs with Otter Creek Brewing Co. in Middlebury, VT which has expanded their brewing program and capacity. Because it was the easiest to find of the three, we drank a lot of Shed IPA over the week and were happy to do so.

Second-Fiddle

All in all it was a beer-tastic trip back East. The craft beer coming out of Vermont is truly something to experience. Hopefully as these quality breweries expand and grow we will  get a chance to buy more of their beers here on the West Coast. Until then, make a point to find some of these delicious beers the next time you are in the North East. Anna Brigham 4/6/16


Coachella 2016 Cancelled!

Music fans are freaking out today over the announcement that Coachella 2016 has been cancelled after the city council of Indio voted in a last minute referendum to turn the festival into a “dry” event. This means no beer, no liquor and a high degree of police presence to curb any drug use. After hearing the news, headliners, Calvin Harris and LCD Sound System pulled out from performing at the fest with other acts following.

Sunset

Calvin Harris is quoted as saying, “I will not stand for this fascist ruling. And people really have to be fucked up to understand my music.”

Sia, who was scheduled to play on both Sundays of the two weekend fest, had no comment, but did have her dance muse, Maddie Ziegler, perform a short interpretive dance highlighting her disapproval of the change to the event.

landscape_nrm_1423441531-463013722

Guns N’ Roses said that they would still play, saying, “We’re all sober anyway and have nothing else going on.”

With pretty much every main musical act bailing on the festival, organizers had little choice but to pull the plug on the whole event. To make matters worse, they are citing a condition in the ticket contract that if the concert is cancelled due to musical acts refusing to play, (vs. for weather or safety issues) that no refunds will be given to ticket holders. Ticket holders are outraged but have no legal recourse. Now, not only are they out $371-$455 in ticket costs, but they have nowhere to wear the expensive and “outrageous” Coachella outfits that they have been planning for months.

900x600xIMG_5153-900x600.jpg.pagespeed.ic.oTgCnbzuB2

The moral of the story is that you should always read the fine print on purchases, drugs and alcohol make music better, and….April Fools!! 😉