beer in a glass using recycled water

Can Stone Help Solve Recycled Water’s PR Problem?

We’ve all seen the headlines meant to shock and awe…”Brewery Making Beer Out of Poop Water,” “Stone Brews Toilet Beer,” and my personal favorite, New Craft Beer Comes Straight from the Toilet Bowl to the Bar! While it’s understandable that news outlets would want to catch people’s attention, their click-bait titles are somewhat off-base when it comes to actual facts.

Upcycling Wastewater

Recently, the City of San Diego was looking for a way to get some positive press for their Pure Water San Diego program. This program is working to recycle (or upcycle if you want to use a buzzword of the day) wastewater into pure drinking water and aims to provide 1/3 of San Diego’s water need by 2035.  The technology is already there and is becoming less expensive each year, but right now, the whole process still faces somewhat of a PR problem. So many people who I discussed this topic with reacted with “Gross!” or “No way!” and “I wonder if it tastes different?”

So what is one way into San Diego’s heart? Craft beer of course! The city put together the Pure Brew San Diego Beer Competition. The 15 brewers were given 10 gallons of the purified water to use to make a pale ale or IPA. Most of the brewers were home brewers with Stone Brewing in there to not only give the competition legitimacy but also because they are pioneers in the craft brewing industry for their sustainable brewing methods. They already use treated water in their brewing process to clean equipment. The water is treated in their own wastewater treatment system which is about to undergo a $1 million upgrade as they aim to use only 3 gallons of water for every gallon of beer produced. According to the Brewers Association, the average is 7 barrels of water to make 1 barrel of beer.

But What Does Recycled Water Taste Like?

For the friendly competition, Stone created a pale ale called Full Circle Pale Ale that was described by tasters as being “outstanding,” “hoppy,” and “delicious.” But is anyone really surprised by this? Why on earth would the city put out water that was going to have any discernable taste? Stone makes great beer and the city was really smart to partner with them on this topic, because treated water is safe to drink, cleaner than your tap water and something we are going to have to get used to in the coming years.

Articles like this from the CW don’t help the PR issue that upcycled water faces. Here are the first few sentences…

“There’s nothing more crappy than bitter beer! But one new brew has made us go from ‘bitter beer face’ to stank face without even tasting it. That’s because Stone Brewing Company’s newest batch of craft beer is made from sewage water! “Toilet to tap” is what the people are calling it. But the makers of the San Diego product are swearing by the sewage that their Full Circle Pale Ale taste’s more like fruit instead of feces.”

As we have learned in the past, people barely read beyond headlines, and the headline for this story was “New Craft Beer Comes Straight From the Toilet Bowl to the Bar.” While the headline is stunningly inaccurate, they do get points for their pure hyperbole.

It’s not just ok, it’s better

Stone is excited about the prospect of using more of the treated water. Pat Teirnan, Stone’s COO, said the water only needed a little salt added to it to make it perfect for brewing. At a time when breweries struggle with changing sources of water and having to tweak recipes to account for that change, the ability to provide a source of a water this pure is a good thing.

So get on board, San Diego! While the water crisis we faced over the last two years seems to have taken a small break, Southern California is likely only going to get dryer over the next 20 years. Also, just a heads up, you already drink “toilet to tap” water. More than half of San Diego’s water supply comes from the Colorado River. Sounds good right? Well, about 400 wastewater plants already dump their treated water in the river and experts estimate that the water coming out of our tap has been recycled 6-8 times before we drink it here in San Diego.

top 50 craft brewery map by state

Top 50 Breweries List: Behind the Numbers

This week, the Brewers Association released their annual list of the top 50 breweries, as well as the top 50 craft breweries, based on brewer’s 2016 beer sales volume. While it’s always cool to see our local breweries on the list, what does it mean beyond the numbers? While making the list is most likely significant to all 50 breweries, for the purpose of our discussion, we will take a look at the top 10 craft breweries on their list.

Top 10 Craft Brewing Companies

Rank Brewing Company City State
1 D. G. Yuengling & Son, Inc Pottsville PA
2 Boston Beer Co Boston MA
3 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co Chico CA
4 New Belgium Brewing Co Fort Collins CO
5 Gambrinus San Antonio TX
6 Duvel Moortgat Paso Robles/Kansas City/Cooperstown CA/MO/NY
7 Bell’s Brewery, Inc Comstock MI
8 Deschutes Brewery Bend OR
9 Stone Brewing Co Escondido CA
10 Oskar Blues Brewing Holding Co Longmont CO

 

First of all, seeing Stone Brewing at #9 warms our San Diego hearts. The history of Stone, as well as their rise to the top of the craft beer market, has had a hugely positive impact on what the San Diego craft beer community is today. They rose one spot from last year’s list, beating out Oskar Blues as well as last year’s #9, Minhas Craft Brewery which fell to #14.

Yuengling Tops the List

Yuengling is a surprise entry on this list of craft breweries because it’s relatively unknown outside of its east coast hub of PA, DE, NJ, and NY, though they do distribute up and down the East Coast in 5 other states. While, this Pennsylvania brewery has been family-owned since 1829, making it the oldest brewery in the United States, it only made the leap to “craft” status when the Brewers Association changed the definition in 2014 to include breweries that use “adjunct grains” in their beers. Adjunct grains are unmalted grains like as corn, rice, rye, oats, wheat and even barley that are used in support of the malted grains in a brew.  Before this, the BA stuck to the German Reinheitsgebot, or purity law, stipulating that only barley malt, water, hops and yeast can be used to brew beers. This term most often refers to the use of corn and rice used in some lagers for cost cutting purposes.

In the case of the BA’s list, in order for a brewery to be considered “craft,” their flagship beers had to contain only barley malt. For Yuengling, this booted them from the list because they use corn in their flagship lager. But rules change, and the loosening of this rule allowed Yuengling to catapult to the top of the craft beer list in 2014.

Craft vs. Macro in Sales by Volume

Top 10 Overall Brewing Companies

Rank Brewing Company City State
1 Anheuser-Busch, Inc (a) Saint Louis MO
2 MillerCoors (b) Chicago IL
3 Pabst Brewing Co (c) Los Angeles CA
4 D. G. Yuengling & Son, Inc Pottsville PA
5 North American Breweries (d) Rochester NY
6 Boston Beer Co (e) Boston MA
7 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co Chico CA
8 New Belgium Brewing Co Fort Collins CO
9 Lagunitas Brewing Co (f) Petaluma CA
10 Craft Brew Alliance (g) Portland OR

 

This is the list of top breweries in the U.S., including macro beer. While it is notable that 4 out of the top 10 are craft breweries, they aren’t playing with the big dogs just yet. That’s because AB and MillerCoors still produce most of the country’s beer. According to a 2015 report, AB produces 45% of the beer consumed in the U.S. and MillerCoors produces 26%. While this number has moved around a bit with the merging of AB and SABMiller, SABMiller was forced to divest in all of their U.S. holdings (beers) to pass the U.S. anti-trust regulator’s snuff, so they haven’t gained much more of the U.S. share over MillerCoors.

To give you an idea of just how far off craft beer is from macro in terms of sales, in 2015, the Brewer’s Association showed Yuengling selling 2.9 million bbls, Sierra Nevada selling 1.1 million bbls, and Stone selling 287,075 bbls. AB, meanwhile, sold 38 million bbls of Bud Light alone in that same time period. Zooming out a bit, according to this graphic, AB InBev sold 116,890 million hectoliters in North America in 2016. Converted to barrels, that comes out to about 99,609,906 million barrels. As you can see, there is an insanely big difference between the top two breweries on this list when compared to all of the other ones that made the list, even if you took out all the sales from Canada.

Dropped From the List

Another notable thing on the 2016 list, is that the craft breweries who were bought out by big beer were kicked off the list of top 50 craft breweries. Last year, they were still included on the list but had an asterisk next to their name to indicate that they were bought by larger, non-craft, beverage companies. 

This year, they were not on the list at all, which possibly shows a shifting perspective at the Brewers Association. Within the last year, there has been a lot of information that has come out about big beer moving into the craft beer world by not only buying up craft breweries but also distributors. When added to the pay-to-play practices their sales and distributors are known to employ, this has led to a lot of industry insiders and regular beer drinkers to consider who their beer dollars are supporting and many are making the choice to support independent breweries over breweries backed by big beer. By removing them from the list the Brewers Association seems to be making a definitive statement that supports independent brewers.

In May, the Brewers Association will release their full report on the beer industry which will give us more insight into the numbers that make up this list. Until then, this list definitely can spark some interesting conversations, from the classification of craft beer to the shifting perceptions of big beer vs. craft to the dominance of CA when it comes to regional craft breweries.

AB InBev Budweiser truck parked in front of a store

Oops, They Did It Again: AB Fined for Pay-to-Play

Another day, another dollar spent by Anheuser-Busch, LLC, to give themselves an unfair advantage in the beer marketplace. In unsurprising news, AB owned distributors were found to be stacking the deck through illegal pay-to-play practices throughout Southern California. ABC carried out a year-long investigation of 100 retail customers throughout Sylmar, Carson (Beach Cities), Pomona and Riverside who used AB LLC’s distributors. The ABC uncovered that AB distributors paid for or partially financed things like refrigeration units, draught systems, and even TVs for 34 retailers throughout the area.

The settlement between the ABC and AB included one of the largest fines ever levied by the ABC of $400,000 and mandates training to all current and new employees for how to properly administer rental or lease programs of AB’s equipment that falls within the confines of the law. What are the confines of the law? I did some digging in the Business and Professions Code put out by the ABC here in CA and found this on page 334:

“No manufacturer, bottler, importer, or wholesaler of products of the brewing industry shall: (a) Furnish, give, rent, lend, or sell, directly or indirectly, any equipment, fixtures, or supplies, other than alcoholic beverages, to any person engaged in operating, owning, or maintaining any on–sale premises where alcoholic beverages are sold for consumption on the premises. This subdivision shall not prohibit the furnishing of draft beer pumps and iceboxes to those persons who operate on a temporary basis.” 

While there must be a way to do “administer rental or lease programs” legally, per the ABC’s own words, I wasn’t able to find out clear language as to how it’s done.

The Fine

Let’s get back to the fine for a minute, though. The ABC fined $400,000 to AB and $10,000 to a smaller distributor, Straub Distributing Company. ABC states that,

“It is the policy of this Department to impose administrative, non-punitive penalties in a consistent and uniform manner with the goal of encouraging and reinforcing voluntary compliance with the law.”

That’s all well and good, but imposing a $400,000 fine on AB amounts to about 3% of the profits made by AB InBev in one day ($12,602,739). We took these numbers because recently, AB InBev reported that they were not giving their CEO his bonus this year because of how poorly the company did in 2016. According to CNN Money, AB InBev’s “net profits in 2016 declined by 43% to $4.6 billion. The fourth quarter was particularly weak, with profits down 64%.”

While that may be news all by itself, the losses are attributed to the steep economic downturn of Brazil this last year and since AB InBev has 35 breweries in Brazil, they felt the pinch. It wasn’t all bad news for BUD, though. They said that they had strong growth in Mexico, Europe, and China this year, helping to offset the “Brazil effect.”

Using their own numbers, it’s hard to even think that this fine levied by the ABC has any effect on AB at all. Furthermore, as part of the deal, they will get half of that fine suspended through their willingness to not only educate the sales people who worked in the area that got busted but also to extend the training to all of their California LLC wholesale employees.  So now the fine is only 1.5% of the parent company’s daily profit. That’s is a drop in the bucket. But the ABC can only do so much and their fines have to be in line with other fines they have imposed. Maybe by imposing one of the biggest fines so far, they are trying to send a message that this sort of pay-to-play activity is not okay.

Will This Make A Difference?

The fines imposed are nothing to AB, but the education will help, right? Maybe. The idea that all they need to do is educate their wholesaler employees is slightly humorous. That would mean that AB didn’t know that what they were doing was illegal. In 2015, AB InBev was being probed by U.S. Anti-Trust regulators for unfair practices involving their incentive program that was rolled out by their wholesalers as well as independent distributors who carried their products. In 2016, they agreed to pay $6 million to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for their use of “third-party sales promoters to make improper payments to government officials in India to increase the sales and production of Anheuser-Busch products in that country.” At this point, AB InBev’s only excuse for how many times they have been fined is maybe the sheer size of their company and the overall opportunity for shadiness in the alcohol industry. Their previous infractions make it difficult to believe, however, that they had no idea their distributors were participating in illegal activities.

The funny thing about a company this large is that they can eat these fines and keep on running with little to no slow-down. So while this fine may not deter AB, it does remind the craft beer industry that AB is only getting bigger, buying up more distributors and craft beer breweries, and will try and gain market share any way they can.

When people don’t understand why others refuse to drink craft beers from breweries owned by AB InBev or why people are prickly about 10 Barrel Brewing (owned by AB) gaining a foothold in the San Diego downtown community; this is why. We refuse to give money or support AB when they consistently take part in (and are fined for) unfair and illegal business practices that hurt the craft beer community as a whole.

 

 


What’s the Deal with “Best Of” Beer Lists?

Recently, UPROXX ran an article where “Beer Drinkers Ranked These Craft Beers As The Best Of The Class.” I’m always up for a “best of” list and this one boasted more than 18,000 votes from Ranker.com, a website that offers users the opportunity to rank lists in a variety of subjects. While ranking things is nothing new, it does certainly seem like the idea has really taken off as social media has become the behemoth we know it as today. These lists are always interesting to see, but just how useful are they to craft beer drinker? Let’s take a look…

Ranker.com

On Ranker.com, people vote on anything from the “Best Chips in the World,” to the “Greatest Scientific Breakthrough in 2017,” to “Who Should Replace Beyonce at Coachella.” So right away, this should tell us something about the people voting on their favorite craft beer. They are probably not the craftiest of craft beer nerds and while some might think this will create a lack of legitimacy with this list, maybe it’s value is that it offers a different perspective. Here are top 10 beers on Ranker’s Best Of Craft Beer list:

  1. Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA 9% ABV
  2. Sierra Nevada Stout 5.8% ABV
  3. Stone IPA 6.9% ABV
  4. Lagunitas IPA 6.2% ABV
  5. Goose Island IPA 5.9%
  6. Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ 7.5% ABV
  7. Harpoon IPA 5.9% ABV
  8. Stone Arrogant Bastard 7.2% ABV
  9. Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA 7% ABV
  10. Stone Ruination Imperial IPA 8.5% ABV

First of all, props to Stone brewing for making this list three times. Interestingly, five out the top ten are craft breweries that are no longer technically “craft,” because of their ownership. This list reads like an average beer drinker voted on it. Maybe not the average San Diego craft beer drinker, but we should remember to peek outside our craft beer bubble on occasion.

Ratebeer.com

Ratebeer.com has been around since 2000, and boasts that their website is “widely recognized as the most in-depth, accurate, and *most-visited source for beer information.” Let’s take a look at their top 10 beers list:

  1. Toppling Goliath Kentucky Brunch Brand Imperial Stout – 12% ABV
  2. Westvleteren 12 Quad – 10.2% ABV
  3. Toppling Goliath Morning Delight Imperial Stout – 12% ABV
  4. Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Double Barrel aged – 11% ABV
  5. Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout – 15% ABV
  6. Russian River Pliny the Younger Imperial IPA – 11% ABV
  7. Alesmith Speedway Stout – Bourbon Barrel Aged – 12% ABV
  8. Three Floyds Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout (Bourbon Vanilla Bean) – 14% ABV
  9. Bell’s Black Note Imperial Stout 15.5%
  10. Alesmith Speedway Stout – Bourbon Barrel Aged: Vietnamese Coffee – 12% ABV

While Pliny the Younger being on this list is expected, what’s interesting about this list is that it’s heavily dominated by Imperial Stouts. Those are strong, heavy beers, not for the faint of palate. In fact, there isn’t one beer on this list that isn’t in the double digits for ABV. Furthermore, unless you are heavily into the craft beer scene, you probably haven’t heard of most of these beers and wouldn’t know where to get them. Consequently, this list is nearly useless to the average beer drinker.

Beer Advocate

This website is branded as the “go-to website for beer (since 1996), publishers of BeerAdvocate magazine (since 2006) and hosts of world-class beer events (since 2003). Respect Beer.” Let’s take a look at their top 10 beers listed on their “best of” list:

  1. Toppling Goliath Kentucky Brunch Brand Stout – 12% ABV
  2. Tree House Brewing Good Morning Imperial Stout 8.4% ABV
  3. Tree House Brewing King Julius Imperial IPA 8.3% ABV
  4. Tree House Brewing Very Hazy Imperial IPA 8.6% ABV
  5. Russian River Pliny the Younger Imperial IPA – 11% ABV
  6. Toppling Goliath Brewing Mornin’ Delight Imperial Stout – 12% ABV
  7. Cigar City Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout – Double Barrel aged – 11% ABV
  8. The Alchemist Heady Topper Imperial IPA 8% ABV
  9. Three Floyds Marshmallow Handjee Dark Lord (Bourbon Barrel) Imperial Stout – 15% ABV
  10. Tree House Brewing King JJJuliusss Imperial IPA – 8.4%

This list shares 5 of the top 10 beers with the Ratebeer.com list which makes sense being that the people voting on these two websites are probably from the same demographic of beer drinkers. Tree House Brewing from Massachusetts makes a strong showing on this list by filling 4 spots and again, this list is Imperial heavy, whether it’s Imperial IPA or Imperial Stouts being represented.

Are Best Of Beer Lists Useful?

Just how useful are these lists? Well, that depends on who you are. One of the main factors in which beers make these lists is the population voting in them. For something like RateBeer or Beer Advocate, you are probably getting serious craft beer drinkers that take the time to rate beers on these websites. Right there, that breaks down the demographic to a specific type of craft beer consumer. It’s someone who is social media savvy and cares deeply enough about their opinion of a beer to share it with others. There are plenty of craft beer lovers who are very educated and well-versed about beer, but just don’t care to take part in the whole online review scene.

On the other side, Ranker.com states their list is also voted on by beer drinkers. They seem to be the type of beer consumers who like to rank anything. Likely, not only have they ranked the beer on this website, but they probably ranked a few other things too.  It’s fun to share opinions and people feel like they are part of something.

This change in voter population shows in what they have picked as their favorite beers which on the Ranker list is heavily dominated by IPAs. This makes sense because IPAs are still by far the best-selling craft beer and even at beer competitions, the IPA category is always the one with the most entries. The list from Ranker.com is going to play to a much larger population of beer drinkers and the beers are way more accessible in terms of wide distribution, but when five out of their top ten aren’t even technically craft beer, it loses legitimacy with the hardcore craft beer club.

So while beer lists are fun, they are not one-size-fits-all. You need to think about the people who are voting on the beers and weigh that to what sort of craft beer consumer you are. With such a large pool of craft beer for these lists to pull from, you aren’t likely to find many of the beers on the “best of” lists available at your local beer store. Unless you are looking at Ranker’s list. You can find all of those at most stores and so in an odd way, maybe it makes their “best of” list the most relevant to the largest population of craft beer consumers.