walmart craft beers

Say Hello to Walmart’s Faux Craft Beer

Everyone seems to want to get into the craft beer game and now Walmart is jumping into the fray. Never one to miss an opportunity, over the summer Walmart quietly began selling beer that, to most people, looks like any other craft beer you can buy on the market.

Where is Trouble Brewing?

Walmart has been selling beers from Trouble Brewing Co. since mid-2016. Apparently, this brewery is based in Rochester, NY and offers up beers like Cats Away IPA, Red Flag Amber and After Party Pale Ale. Seems in line with most craft beer names and the labels are right there too. So we googled Trouble Brewing and found out two things. It’s the name of an Irish craft brewery and also that there doesn’t seem to be any Trouble Brewing in Rochester, NY.

We found some reference to Trouble Brewing being owned by World Brews in Novato, CA, but they are listed as a beer marketing company and winery exchange and they don’t brew anything. We also know it’s not a tiny, hole-in-the-wall brewery with no marketing because if they are supplying 2,200 of Walmart’s stores with these beers, they have to have a decent sized system. So where is this beer brewed? What big brewery is in Rochester? Why, Genesee of course.

It turns out, Trouble Brewing isn’t a stand-alone brewery and the beer under this label is brewed at Genesee in Rochester. In fact, the only way the Washington Post found out where it was brewed was by looking up documents filed with the TTB that list Genesee’s address for Trouble Brewing. It makes sense now why the flavors are purported to be so “flabby,” “watery,” and “lacking an identifiable taste.”

The Bad

What stands out about this situation is that Walmart is intentionally trying to trick people into thinking this is really a craft beer. In fact, their senior buyer for their adult beverage team told the Washington Post that they were “intentional about designing a package that conveyed a look and feel you’d expect of a craft beer.” They are misleading people in the hopes of catching the craft beer wave.

Now, it doesn’t have to be this way. Costco is a good example of how they offer their own house brands (contracted through other companies) at a cheaper price but there is no trick with them. Their Kirkland label is obvious and you know what you are buying. Furthermore, people know that they contract with good companies and the Kirkland brand is seen as an inexpensive, but still quality, brand. Walmart, on the other hand, is hoping buyers who are looking to buy a craft product will be misled into trying Trouble Brewing’s beer.

Apparently, they aren’t fooling anyone who has had an actual craft beer. The marketing may be deceptive, but the taste sure isn’t. Here’s one comment from an article in Craft Kulture, “I did not know that it was walmarts beer. I saw it and with so many breweries out there now, I figured why not. I regret my 13 dollar decision. It’s not really that good.”

The (possibly) Good

So while Walmart isn’t doing anything illegal by misrepresenting their house beer, it’s still a shifty thing to do. There might be a silver lining to all of this, however. Walmart shoppers don’t tend to be the biggest craft beer drinkers. That’s why Trouble Brewing beers only goes out to half of the more than 4000 stores nationwide. Craft beer is still new to a lot of their shoppers and while a great tasting craft beer would seem like what you would want non-craft beer drinkers to try and fall in love with, that doesn’t always have to be the case.

Many people complain that craft beers are too strong, too hoppy, too bitter. Well, these beers may just ease people into the craft beer world, without turning their newbie palettes off. Once they taste something beyond macro-lager, they could move onto other, actual craft beers. Or not, and they will think that all craft beer tastes like crap.

What do you think about Walmart’s faux craft beer? Will it help or hurt real craft beer?

new beer being brewed by hand

New Kids on the Block: Breweries Opened in 2016

2016 was a year of great growth within the San Diego craft beer community. 23 new breweries opened their San Diego doors in 2016 and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome them into the community. This incoming crop is putting out some of the most delicious beers in the county and is showing just how much promise San Diego has to continue being one of the leaders in the craft beer industry.

The 2016 Freshman Class

Take it from us, breweries are not easy to get up and running. Large upfront costs mix with tight margins while working with a product that is highly finicky (brewers are basically freaking scientists) to make opening a brewery no easy feat. So the fact that we have 23 new breweries opening up means that there are a lot of incredibly hard-working people with passion and talent behind these launches.

Here’s a list of the new breweries and what we know about them so far…

  • Amplified Miramar – Known for making some of the best gluten reduced beer around, they have been operating since 2012 on a 3-barrel system (make six 15.5 gallon kegs each brew). Now they have expanded to a 10-barrel system in Miramar so should be popping up on more beer menus near you soon.
  • Bear Roots Brewing Co. – Started by a couple of home brewers with a dream, this Vista ale-house is special because it’s also a home brew store and offers the opportunity for people to buy a package that allows them to collaborate and brew a beer on their system and ends in a private release party where half the proceeds go to a charity of the person’s choice. Rad.
  • Belching Beaver Oceanside – These guys have been around for a while, but opened this new production facility and tasting room in Oceanside in 2016 and are in the process of getting a brand face-lift with new packaging and logos.
  • Bitter Brothers – Started by two brothers who have been brewing for a long time, this brewery is family-style so all the names are themed to this (Prodigal Son and Golden Child to name a few) and people can join their Family Tree Membership program where you can set up a prepaid account for yourself or a friend.
  • Burgeon Brewing – This 15-barrel brewery was started by three high school friends with a passion for homebrewing. Another one for North County, these guys plan to produce a wide variety of styles to please any palate.
  • Burning Beard Brewing – Perhaps the best name of the bunch, this brewery has a rockin’ attitude and brews some really delicious beer. Just another reason to head to East County to check out all of the great breweries out that way.
  • Culver Beer Co. – Both dog and kid friendly, this new brewery up in Carlsbad offers keg sales to people and will also rent you the jockey box and CO2. Take it from a brewery, jockey boxes are basically gold around here so to be able to rent one where you can also get delicious beer is awesome.
  • Eppig Brewing – Joining the North Park contingent this brewery is turning out some great beer already. The brewers both are ex-Ballast Point guys and are now ready to join the ranks of nano breweries here in SD.
  • Kensington Brewing Company (tasting room) – After quietly operating for 3 years on their Grantville 1-barrel system. They opened up a tasting room there in early 2016 and grew to a 3-barrel system, ready to get their beer out to more people.
  • Knotty Brewing – the owner of Knotty Barrel, a beer bar in downtown San Diego, decided to make a go of brewing with the knowledge he has gleaned from 33 years in the bar and restaurant business. These guys are special to us because we recently got to collaborate with them on a baltic porter that they have available in their tasting room right now.
  • Little Miss Brewing – They only opened in August 2016 and have been so busy that plans are in the works for new tasting rooms in both Normal Heights and Ocean Beach. Owned and run by Joe Liscia, who cut his teeth at Green Flash, this was a much-anticipated opening and definitely lives up to the hype.
  • Longship Brewing – Just off Mira Mesa Blvd., this new brewery sports a Viking theme and a diverse array of beer styles on their menu.
  • Mason Ale Works – from the people who brought us Urge Gastropub and actually located in the same space, this new brewery has hit the ground running and already has 4 different beers in cans.
  • Midnight Jack – Chalk up another one for North County, because these guys opened up in Oceanside with another home-brewer-brewery story. (On a side note, how cool is it that our industry is one where people who brew at home can turn it into a business with the right opportunities and skill.)
  • Mikkeller – This opening excited us so much we wrote a blog post about it. Mikkeller is the brainchild of Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a world-renowned gypsy brewer. While he does have his own facilities in Copenhagen now, the old Alesmith location is their new stateside home.
  • North Park Beer Co. – We love our North Park neighbor owned by home-brew darling, Kelsey McNair. Hop Fu, his award-winning IPA is almost always on tap in their gorgeous tasting room and you can see all the brewing equipment right there while you sip on your beer. Even better, North Park Beer Co. leases space to Mastiff Sausage Co. for a match made in beer and foodie heaven.
  • OB Brewery – from the good people over at Newport Pizza (an institution in Ocean Beach) this brew pub offers food and beers from local breweries as well as their own lineup of solid brews.
  • Oceanside Brewing – with 18 beers on tap at any one time, it’s a wonder how this small brewery can put out so many different styles of beer. So many to try, but make sure it’s on a Thurs-Sunday as they are closed the other three days (yes they are still brewing).
  • Prodigy – Grantville got another great brewery in 2016 with this addition. They put out hop-forward beers and although are new to the scene, brew master, Dean Rouleau is a seasoned vet who not only brewed for San Diego Brewing Co. but also has built numerous beer systems for other breweries.
  • Pure Project – These guys are brewing some truly great beers including hazy, low- visibility ales that are outstanding. A stand-out brewery in a crowded hood, make sure to take a trip up to the 92121 to check out these guys.
  • Resident Brewing – Another award-winning home brewer with a dream opened up this spot in 2016 with his brother-in-law, who also owned The Local. Located inside the craft beer bar, this brewery is already turning out some impressive beers.
  • Setting Sun Sake Brewery – Along with the swath of beer breweries that opened up last year was a craft sake brewery. While sake is often known as rice wine, it’s much closer to rice beer because of how it’s made/brewed. Want to learn more? Make sure to visit Setting Sun and they can tell you all about it while sipping on their hand-crafted sake.
  • SR76 – A brewery at a casino? Why not! This is San Diego’s first Native American-owned brewery and is located in Harrah’s Rincon. While they may be new to the craft brewing industry, they tapped Brian Scott, who has been brewing professionally in the industry for years, to helm the beer side of things.
  • Thunderhawk Alements – This newcomer brews on an electric one-barrel system. Opened by two life-long friends and avid homebrewers, their love of the craft has seeped into their solid lineup of beers.

 

 

 

THorn Street brewery staff at a beer fests

Beer Festivals: The More You Know

Beer festivals have been a hot topic in the San Diego craft beer community recently. Fun to attend and fun to work, these beer-centered events draw thousands of people most weekends throughout the warmer San Diego months. We recently wrote a blog about the different types of festivals out there, the issue we see with how some festivals are run and what we plan to do about it. This is a newer conversation for a lot of breweries because while beer fests have been running for some time, we are finally becoming savvy on the different types of festivals out there. Go and read the blog post now, and then come back here. If you didn’t do that, here’s a quick recap.

There are three types of festivals from a brewery’s perspective:

  1. 100% not-for-profit festivals like Brewbies, Food, Wine and Brew Fest at the Zoo, San Diego Brewers Guild events and most local festivals run by neighborhood associations, like Adams Avenue Street Fair and North Park Festival of the Arts.
  2. For-profit festivals like Tater Tot Fest and KAABOO.
  3. Blended events which are festivals that are put on by an event company with a charity attached and they give a portion of the proceeds to the charity. These are festivals like Mission Valley Food and Beer Fest, San Diego Brew Fest, Best Coast Beer Fest and Bacon Fest. Some of these festivals pay the brewery for beer and some ask for the beer to be donated.

Hearing From a Festival Promoter

This past week, we (Jay Jones and Tom Kiely from the Thorn Street Brewery Sales Team) sat down with Robert Esparza from Pushpin Media to discuss this topic. Robert runs festivals that fall into that third category, specifically Mission Valley Food and Beer Fest and Bacon Fest. While both events are well run and a lot of fun for people to attend, we take issue with the fact that Robert asks for the beer to be donated yet he is making a profit far above what is given to the charity. Knowing we felt this way going into the conversation, we really appreciate him agreeing to sit down with us.

Robert is a nice guy and he was excited to share his perspective on festivals. He’s friends with a lot of people in the craft beer community and is well liked. In the live cast, he talked quite a bit about his beer connections, how he calls breweries “partners” rather than vendors and how he is a born and bred San Diegan who puts money back into the local economy. All good things.


The whole hour-plus-long live cast is really informative and you should definitely watch for yourself. You can start at 15:20 if you want to skip right to the good stuff. Ultimately, there were two main questions that we asked him.

Why don’t you pay breweries for beer?

It was only recently that we got to thinking, why are we donating beer to some of these festivals that are put on by an event promoter rather than the charity? It’s clear that event promoters make money or they wouldn’t make it their livelihood. We are not against promoters making money. They should be compensated for their work, their time and for the large upfront costs associated with running a festival. Robert told us the security gets paid, the bathrooms are paid for, the clean-up crew is paid, and the musical acts are getting paid. Our question was, why is everyone getting paid but breweries in this scenario? Why is it that breweries are supposed to take on that cost alone? Robert’s answer, and I’m paraphrasing here but you are free to watch his answer in the live cast, was that those other companies don’t do it for the exposure like breweries do and that he also doesn’t pay for the food at his events, so breweries aren’t the only ones not being compensated.

Let’s talk about exposure for a minute. Exposure might have been something breweries could benefit from if it were a few years ago when there were only 10 fests throughout the year.  Now that San Diego boasts more than 40 festivals every year, the value gained from exposure is questionable.

To his second point that he doesn’t pay for food either, we say, why not? In talking with other event promoters as well as restaurant industry people, there are festivals out there that provide stipends to restaurants. So we know it can be done, it just doesn’t fit into some organizer’s budget that they have made. In fact, in the live cast, Robert unequivocally said that the MVFBF and Bacon Fest will never pay breweries for beer. It’s tough to feel like a ‘partner’, as Robert describes our relationship, when he furthers the false narrative that craft brewers need to/should give away product for exposure. This narrative ultimately cheapens the value of our community’s brand.

Why don’t you want to pay breweries for the beer and then the brewery will donate that amount to the charity?

One thing that was brought up by both us and Robert is that many festivals are not transparent as to how much money is being donated to charity or even what charity is benefitting. For many breweries, this is a sticking point because if we are donating $300+ in product to an event, we want $300 to go to the charity. One way around this lack of information is to have the festival pay us for the beer and then we, in turn, donate that amount directly to the charity. Not only does this clear up any transparency issues, but it also allows us to write off the full wholesale cost of the keg vs. just the cost to make the keg. Robert was not down with this method either. He said, “From an accounting standpoint, the last thing I want to do is write 40 checks to breweries and then follow up with 40 breweries to make sure they donated.”

Looking at the Numbers

We spent some time researching beer festivals and the costs associated with them. We also spoke with event promoters who shared with us their numbers. We brought a festival cost spreadsheet to the show and Robert also brought his own and he mentioned on air how the numbers were very close. While he brought the spreadsheet to show how the am0unt he donates to the charity increases with ticket sales, we also saw some other numbers that made us think. Mostly, that the net income after they pay for expenses and give $12k-$23k the charities is more than enough to also pay $10k-$15k to the breweries for their product. If promoters are making $37-$71K per event, we feel they can afford to pay for the beer.

Furthermore, other festivals do operate this way so we know it can be done. They still make a profit, just not quite as much. Here’s a look at the numbers we came up with by talking to industry insiders and how it compares to Robert’s numbers:

beer fests numbers in a spread sheet

For comparison, here are the numbers from Pushpins Media that Robert gave us:

pushpin media numbers

 

The Next Step

Our hope in talking about this issue is that other breweries will start researching festivals just like we did. Of course, every brewery is free to participate in whatever festival they want to, but they should do it with all the information and a full understanding of how their donation is being used. Luckily, other craft beer communities have addressed this very issue to give us an idea of where to go next.  The New York State Brewers Association have a Bill of Rights that breaks down the different types of festivals as well as a declaration of rights that breweries should expect from festivals. Two rights that stick out to us are the second, stating that breweries should never provide free beer to a for-profit festival and the fifth which states that breweries have the right to proof of not-for-profit status and proportion of proceeds donated. Here’s the specific text for the second right:

“Breweries have a right to be fairly compensated for their beer. Beer festivals and events have become big business with high profit margins if run correctly. Festival and event promoters that ask a brewer or brewery to donate beer in exchange for the promoter, “exposing a brand to the public” or “getting a brewery name out there” are simply efforts designed to take advantage of the work, and energy a brewery has invested in creating its beer and brand.”

So to our fellow brewers, next time you are asked to do a festival and you aren’t sure who is profiting, just ask. Ask what the charity is and how much is being donated. If they are a for-profit fest and they aren’t willing to pay for beer, then really think about what you are getting out of the partnership. If you still want to do the fest then offer to pay the charity directly and ask to be paid, because then at least you will know how much of your donation is reaching the charity.

In the end, our stance hasn’t changed on the issue. We still are only going to participate in festivals put on by the Guild, charitable organizations and for-profit festivals that buy the beer. Considering we did 22 festivals last year, we will still have at least 18-20 festivals to participate in, which is more than enough festival exposure. If Robert ever starts paying breweries for their product then we will happily do his festivals.

We are going to be working on the next step which is to create our own San Diego Brewer’s Bill of Rights so that San Diego breweries have all the information needed to make informed decisions about festival participation.

 

 

I pic of a can of heady topper a cloudy style IPA

Cloudy with a Chance of Beer

The hazy IPA craze has taken hold of the craft beer industry and San Diego is jumping on board. A few years ago, New England brewers began offering their answer to the dry, hop-monsters of the West Coast. By tweaking brewing recipes they were able to create IPAs that people described as tropical, fruity and juicy. Why juicy? Probably because these beers are known for their bright, tropical notes and soft finish. While they are incredibly refreshing and dangerously easy to drink, these beers also have a distinctive, unfiltered look that is decidedly cloudy.

The One Who (allegedly) Started It All

While some say that the trend started in Maine and some say Vermont, Heady Topper from The Alchemist is one of the (if not the) founding beers in this style. Brewed in Waterbury, Vermont, this IPA is only distributed to stores and restaurants in a 25-mile radius to the brewery. Even years after its initial release in 2003, it still has people lining up for a chance to grab two, 4-packs which is the limit per person. If you aren’t lucky enough to get to one of the stores in time before they sell out, daily (yes, daily), then hop on their website and find out which lucky restaurant they delivered to that day. Don’t expect a Heady Topper on draft, though, they only offer it in 16 oz can.

I was in Vermont last year and was able to find this elusive beer at Church Street Tavern after stalking it online.  When I asked for a glass, the bartender told me it’s preferred that I drink it out of the can, which of course made me pour it into a glass to see what they were hiding. The color was a hazy, golden, creamy hue and one that isn’t usually seen in an IPA. There were a few particles floating around the beer, but again, nothing that one would think would have to be hidden in such a tasty beer. Clarity is an important metric in many beers, so to have a brewery turn that idea on its head while creating an incredibly delicious beer was an exciting surprise.

How do you get the Haze?

This hop haze, as it’s known, is created through a few different brewing steps. First, the beer is aggressively dry-hopped. Dry-hopping is when hops are added to the tank after fermentation but before packaging. Adding hops at this stage doesn’t add bitterness, but it does add delicate hop aromas and tastes that can be lost in the boil. While the addition of tons of hops at the end helps with the haziness, this isn’t the only factor. It also can depend on the use of high protein grains like flaked oats and wheat as well as the type of yeast used. Additionally, even the make-up of water has an impact on this type of beer. So when you aggressively dry-hop a beer made with high-protein grains and use a softer, English yeast, then leave it unfiltered, you get a hazy colored IPA.

San Diego’s Haze Craze

The cloudy IPA is a little newer over here on the West Coast but it seems to be on it’s way to being fully embraced by the craft beer community with hazy IPAs popping up on beer menus across San Diego. Abnormal Beer CoHalf Door Brewing, Modern Times and Pure Project are just a few of the SD breweries getting in on the action.

We are always up for trying something new here at Thorn Street and we recently collaborated on a New England style IPA with Pizza Port OB. Low Visibility IPA being released on Friday, 1/6/17 at their OB location.  We will be brewing the same beer here at TSB so we can also release it to our patrons, but head over to Pizza Port OB this weekend and you will be able to get a pint of this “wicked, juicy” IPA.

What do you think? Is the haze craze here to stay or another beer fad that will fade away?

 

pic of a beer cooler in a store with the new laws

New State Beer Laws for 2017

2017 is here and that means a bunch of new laws coming into effect for not only Californians but people across the country. Alcohol is always a hot topic for new legislation whether it be the banning of certain forms, in the case of Palcoholor the loosening of regulations and restrictions as to where alcohol can be purchased or served. Here in California, the only law that passed concerning beer was Bill No. 1322, which allows beer and wine to be served in barber shops and salons as long as it’s offered free of charge. While this has little impact on the beer community as a whole, we are all for small businesses being allowed to make their customer experience even better.

Higher ABVs

Most of the laws have positive effects on craft breweries. Tennesee took a step in the right direction by finally allowing breweries to make beer that is above 6.25%. Until this past week, forget about getting a Tennessee double IPA. Furthermore, many of your favorite, local IPAs (Relay included) are 7% and above and that says nothing about Imperial Russian Stouts, Imperial Red ales, and most Strong ales we’ve come to expect from craft breweries. Previously, a brewery would need a high-gravity license to make these beers, which is essentially a distiller’s license. These licenses are more expensive and harder to get, so breweries simply weren’t brewing high ABV beers. With the new law, expect to see lots of new styles of beers being brewed in this southern state, much to the delight of Tennessee craft beer drinkers.

Normal Beer in Grocery Stores

Oklahoma is finally joining most of the rest of the country that allows beers above 3.2% ABV to be sold in grocery stores. Until this last week, people could only get beers that were above 3.2% AVB in liquor stores and even then it was only allowed to be sold at room temperature. Okies are leaving behind Minnesota, Kansas, Utah, most of Maryland, New Jersey, and Arkansas. These last three have laws that restrict grocery store chains to two liquor licenses per company. Why do these states still have such restrictive laws on their books? The opposition is usually the mom and pop liquor stores that would be negatively impacted by beer being sold at other, and let’s face it, more convenient, outlets.

Tax Benefit for Small Breweries

New York City is taking care of their small brewers with a new law that just passed giving them a 1 cent kickback on every bottle they sell. As our grandmas told us, pennies do at some point add up and this tax benefit could mean big savings for small brewers in the Big Apple. In fact, Stephan Hindy, from Brooklyn Brewery said the new law will save them $250,000 this year. Yeah, pennies!

Big Beer in Missouri

Finally, there is one beer law that went into effect in Missouri that isn’t positive for craft brewers. Big beer will always find a way to smother the competition and they got a win with the Missouri cooler law that went into effect a couple of days ago. This law allows breweries to own and lease cooler space to stores…in the stores. We will give you one guess as to which breweries are able to afford to build coolers in stores and then lease them to the store. AB InBev and MillerCoors were the big proponents of this bill, which is a surprise to no one.

The new legislation states that the brewery which owns the cooler in the store cannot prohibit the store from carrying other beers in that cooler but craft breweries are just not buying it. Big Beer has too much of a history of playing unfair and trying to stack the deck in their favor to trust that they won’t try and “influence” the store in other ways to carry only their beer in those coolers. This influence can come in the form of kickbacks, cheaper prices on beer, marketing benefits and lots of other under-the-table methods.

While some people have said that this law benefits stores which might now be able to afford to expand their beer sections, it’s clear to us that Big Beer is benefitting the most from this new law. A law like this passes under the guise of people getting more beer choices in their local store which could theoretically carry more beers in their new cooler. Unfortunately, it will likely play out that this bill reduces the variety of beers sold at these stores.

So let’s celebrate better beer and more choice that most states voted in and keep a watchful eye on the laws that benefit Big Beer.