For the Love of Cans

The Brewer’s Association just released a report outlining Craft Beer Packaging Trends in 2017 and what was found is that people are loving beer in cans! Cans saw a nice jump in growth the last year for two main reasons. Not only are breweries switching from bottles to cans but also, breweries that have a higher can share are growing at a faster rate than breweries that have a lower share of cans. This can be attributed to the size of companies where smaller breweries tend to be able to grow faster than larger breweries.

But why the shift? There are a few different reasons why many breweries choose cans over bottles.

Light

Light is one factor that can stand in the way of optimal beer flavor and is responsible for the dreaded, “skunked” beer. This off-putting flavoring is due to the light-sensitivity of the hops in the beer. In fact, the term “skunked” is scientific in its basis. Chemists from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill studied what makes a beer skunky and found that when they hit three isohumulones (the compounds responsible for the light sensitivity in hops) with enough light, it created a compound called “skunky thiol” which has the same chemical make-up as a skunk’s noxious spray. While brown bottles help the issue somewhat, cans and kegs are really the best way to make sure that light doesn’t change the flavor of a beer.

Oxygen

While oxygen is both a friend and an enemy to beer, the process of oxidation can be damaging when it’s introduced after early fermentation. Oxidation can cause that “stale beer” taste and is most often detrimental when it occurs during packaging. Before that, if oxidation occurs, it will be caught by the brewing team and not packaged at all. Air doesn’t act alone when it comes to oxidizing beers, however. Temperature also plays a major role in oxidation and the resulting stale beer. Cans are better than bottles at keeping oxygen out because of how they are filled in the canning line. Also, there are issues with oxygen exchange through bottle caps that can tamper with the flavors.

Environment

Using cans to package beer is better for the environment for a couple of different reasons. First, because cans are lighter in weight and often can fit more cans in a specific space (like the back of a delivery truck) vs. bottles, they leave less of a carbon footprint. More beer on a truck means fewer trips for that truck and a lighter weight mean less gas is used for those deliveries. Second, cans are made from a higher content of recycled material than bottles (cans are 70% recycled materials) and people recycle cans 20% more often than they do glass.

Cans are a win/win for the brewery and the consumer so the next time you are faced with the choice of what beer to buy at the store, make it beer in a can!

 


Clarity Ferm to the Rescue

2017 was a good year for gluten-sensitive beer drinkers. After growing 136% between 2013 and 2015, the gluten-free food and beverage category continued to see strong growth throughout this past year. While people who suffer from Celiac Disease have long omitted gluten from their daily lives, there are more and more people who have chosen to cut it out for diet or health reasons. Luckily, thanks to a little product called Clarity Ferm and the growing use of it by local breweries along with gluten testing, many are now able to add craft beer back into their diets.

Clarity Ferm Fun

Clarity Ferm is an enzyme that breaks down proteins and has historically most often been used in the brewing process to reduce chill haze. Chill haze is different than the haze we see in all of the New England style/hazy IPAs. It happens when proteins from the malt form a bond with the hop polyphenols, which are seen as suspended particles in the beer and create a yeasty, hazy color in cold beers. To get away from this, brewers have long used Clarity Ferm to reduce the chill haze as well as increase shelf stability of their beers. With the rise of the gluten-free movement, this enzyme is now also sold as a solution for lowering gluten levels in beers to incredibly small parts per million. In fact, using Clarity Ferm can reduce the beer’s gluten to well below the international standard of 20 ppm for calling the beer gluten-free. The U.S. has a higher standard for use of the term “gluten-free” so here in the states, these beers are considered gluten-reduced rather than gluten-free.

For many people who are gluten-intolerant and even some people with Celiac, this realization that many of their once beloved craft beers are actually ok for them to drink has been a huge boon. Furthermore, Clarity Ferm shouldn’t affect the taste of the beer so while a beer may be labeled “gluten-reduced,” it is not going to taste differently from that same beer were it not to use the Clarity Ferm and in some cases, blind tasters thought that the beer using Clarity Ferm tasted better than the original.

Gluten-reduced vs. Gluten-free

In the U.S., any beer that uses ingredients containing gluten, even if the gluten is reduced to the international standards of gluten-free, can’t be called gluten-free. The only beers that can be called gluten-free are beers brewed with alternative ingredients like sorghum and rice.

So how do you know which beers you may be able to try if you are on the wrong side of gluten? While a lot of your favorite breweries are using Clarity Ferm, if they aren’t testing the gluten levels then it’s probably not a good idea to wade into the gluten-waters unless you contact them directly or go to the tasting room and talk to the beer-tenders/brewers to find out for yourself if the beer you would like to drink is tested.

This was a recent topic of conversation on a craft beer industry Facebook group and there were some exciting additions to the list of breweries who use Clarity Ferm and also test for levels of gluten. Here is an unofficial (and incomplete) list of San Diego breweries that use Clarity Ferm in some or all of their beers:

  1. White Labs (all + tested)
  2. Bolt Brewery (all + tested)
  3. Stone Brewing (Delicious IPA)
  4. Alpine Beer Co. (all + tested)
  5. Second Chance Beer Co. 
  6. Duckfoot Brewing (all + tested)
  7. Mike Hess Brewing (all)
  8. Council Brewing (70% of beers)
  9. New English Brewing
  10. Booze Brothers
  11. Wavelength Brewery
  12. Culture Brewing 
  13. Abnormal Beer Co.
  14. Amplified Ale Works
  15. Burgeon Beer Co.

At Thorn, we often have a gluten-reduced option for people to enjoy. Most recently, we brewed an Aussie Pale Ale called Mick Dundee, a hoppy, bright and dry pale ale that tests below 10 ppm.

We would love to add more San Diego breweries to this list, so if you work in or know of a brewery that also uses Clarity Ferm in one or more of their beers and tests for gluten levels, please comment or email us at info@thorn.beer and we will update the list accordingly.

Also, please do your own research before trying these beers if you are gluten-sensitive. Most info can be found on the linked brewery websites, but if not, just give them a call and ask. Brewers are some of the most helpful and science-minded people around and many want their beer to be consumable by everyone, even those who have sworn off gluten.

 

relay ipa in the sun

Hello, I Love You, IPA

Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, IPAs are a formative beer in the craft beer universe. Still far and away the most popular craft beer style, IPAs are known and loved for their ability to wake up the taste buds with a kick to the face of hops and bitterness. Yes, it’s an incredibly delicious kick to the face, but it’s the reason why many people love, and other hate, the mighty IPA.

IPAs are King

First, let’s get into the fact that Americans love IPA. In fact, they love IPA so much that the dollar shares of IPAs are nearly double that of the next most popular beer style on the list, Seasonal Ale. What’s interesting about this graphic from the Brewers Association is that Pale Ale is so far behind IPA on this list. It’s been a conversation in our brewery as well as many others as to what defines a Pale Ale vs. a Session IPA with different opinions coming from different brewers. In the end, it seems to be a naming choice that the individual brewer makes. While Pale Ales generally have a slightly maltier backbone than many session IPAs, this difference tends to disappear more when you get into the category of West Coast Pale Ales, which to many can seem like lower-alcohol but just-as-hoppy IPAs. This graphic highlights the reason why so many brewers decide to call their lighter IPAs “Session IPAs” because when it comes down to it, IPAs just sell better than Pale Ales.

What’s With the Origin Story?

We’ve all heard the rumors: IPAs were invented by a brewer named George Hodgson, they were high in alcohol to survive the long journey across the seas and were made for British troops to enjoy while overseas. While none of this is far off, it isn’t exactly correct either. In the late 1700s, the East India Company was shipping supplies to British forces overseas, in India, on their way to fill their ships with spices, silks and other valuables from the Far East. Here is the first inaccuracy. Even though the beer was on a boat shipping supplies to British forces, the beer wasn’t really favored by the troops, who in fact still favored porters. The beer was consumed mostly by middle and upper-class British expats in India who had been consuming Pale Ales since the 17th century.  You also might have read that IPAs came about because stouts and porters of the time were sub par beers to ship across the violent seas and they often ended up stale, spoiled or infected. But all beers ran this risk at the time, including pale ales. While hops do act as a preservative, they were no match for the more primitive means of storage and shipping that beers faced during this time and arrived spoiled just as often as darker beers. In order to expand the market, George Hodgson’s Bow Brewery decided that instead of sending a porter, they would try to send what was called an “October Beer.” This strong, pale beer was brewed at harvest time and loaded with just-picked hops to keep a fresh taste even when it was aged, sometimes for years. Apparently, the rough, ocean journey matured this beer much like it would taste after 2 years aged, so when it arrived, it was at peak flavor. The resulting brew was a hoppy success and popularized the taste for Pale Ale in India as well as back in Britain, though this style of beer wasn’t called IPA until 1835.

Double IPA = Imperial IPA

Being that Americans do everything bigger, it was only a matter of time before we started producing a super-sized IPA. While Imperial Ales, in general, have been around since the 1700s, the term “Double IPA” is quite new. It was first coined in 1994 by Blind Pig brewer, Vinnie Cilurzo, who was playing around with his IPA recipe and the amount of hops that were usually used in such recipes. What came out of this was a hop-bomb that excited the palates of Southern Cali craft brewers at the time and then exploded nationally.

So what’s the difference between Imperial IPAs and Double IPAs? The answer is nothing, really. Imperial, double and even triple IPAs are labels to connote more hops, more malts, and more alcohol but there is really no standard for when a brewer has to use the term or which term to use. The terms are pretty interchangeable, though double/triple is most often used in terms of IPAs here in the states. Another thing to think about is that the U.S. craft beer movement is heavily influenced by Belgian beer where there are dubbels, trippels, and quads. They also refer to the beer being a bigger version itself, with more hops, malts, and increased ABV. Their origins, like most beer history, are also somewhat murky but one theory is that it has to do with Trappist Monks marking two, three and four X’s on a bottle of beer to denote how strong it was and what number it was in a series.

The Constant Evolution

One of the coolest things about the craft beer industry is that it seems to be in a constant state of creative development and experimentation. This idea is front and center with IPAs and the ever-evolving use of hops. While most people know the big proprietary hops including Amarillo, Citra, Mosiac, Simcoe, and Warrior, there are tons of other varieties of hops out there that brewers are brewing with which create exciting new flavor profiles in IPAs. All About Beer published a piece on “Hops to Watch in 2017” that included Idaho 7, Azacca, Cashmere, Jester, and Comet (described as Citra’s little sister) varieties. To push the creativity even further, many brewers have started using Lupulin power and hop oil in their brews which only adds to the complex flavoring that a beer can provide.

In the end, while IPAs aren’t for everyone, they certainly are loved by many, if not most, craft beer consumers. So raise a pint of your favorite IPA in honor of National IPA Day (Thurs, August 2nd) and savor the flavors that evolved over the last few hundred years to get us to the delicious state of beer we are in today.

man in store looking at beer package

It’s All About the Package

While it’s no surprise that consumers, in general, are influenced by product packaging, it was certainly surprising to learn just how much craft beer packaging influences what people choose to buy. Recently, Nielsen released data on craft beer packaging and the role it plays in who ultimately purchases the beer.

It’s All About the Packaging

First of all, we found out that 70% of craft beer buyers make their decision when they get to the store vs. ahead of time. With more than 3,905 new beers on the shelf in the last year alone, it makes sense that most people wait to decide what they are getting until they get to the store and see the selection.  So what steers people to buy a specific beer the most? A nice package.

In fact, 66% of people surveyed said that they were “very likely” to buy a beer based on its packaging and label. Furthermore, 71% say they more likely to try a brand that has bold and interesting packaging. But what do people like when it comes to a beer’s label? Different features such as brand name, logo, color scheme, bottle shape and color, and the box or carrier that hold the bottles were all evaluated. Interestingly enough, the box/carrier came out on top as having the most influence, at 48%. Where the beer is produced came in second at 43%. They also found that more consumers were drawn to illustrations and logos vs. what was actually written on the labels.

Brands On Top

For the study, Nielsen tested 17 different brands that are top sellers with a nearly equal split between East Coast and West Coast beers. The brand that fared the best was Kona Brewing, which came out in the top two designs in both East and West coast demographics. Deschutes and Saint Archer rounded out the top 4 spots, after Kona’s Big Wave Golden Ale and Castaway IPA. What’s interesting is that While Kona and Deschutes are similar in their graphic, illustrative style, Saint Archer is quite different from both of these other brands. Maybe its clean cut, more modern design might help it stand out from those more illustrated styles or maybe it even speaks to a different consumer.

package of craft beer

Coming Soon…

With all of this info in mind, Thorn Brewing Co. is entering the craft-beer-can-fray. We are really excited to announce that in mid-July you will be able to get 6-packs of Thorn Brewing cans in stores and bottle shops throughout San Diego. We are starting with four of our core beers; Relay IPA, Rock the Pale Ale, Foreplay Belgian Blonde, and Barrio Baja-style Lager. Here’s a sneak peek at what they will look like…

Now, it will be even easier to take our beer on-the-go whether you are heading to the park, the beach, a friend’s BBQ or just home to enjoy a cold one. Soon the canning line will be up and running down at our Barrio Logan location and we will be able to can even more of your favorite Thorn beers.

To wrap it up, yes, labels are important when buying a beer, but don’t let that outshine what is actually in the can or bottle. We’ve said it before and we will say it again, the thing you should be the most concerned about on a bottle or can is the freshness date or bottled-on date. The beer’s freshness is likely going to be the biggest influence on how your beer tastes no matter what the style is, but this is especially true for IPAs. That’s why we will be putting freshness dates on all of our cans so that you can make sure you are getting a fresh Thorn beer no matter if it’s here at the brewery or out in stores. And for those people who don’t know just how delicious our beer is yet, hopefully, our packaging will entice them give us a try.

 

four beers in a flight enemies

The Biggest Enemies of Craft Beer

With all the recent talk of big beer attacking craft beer from the inside out, you might think that the four biggest enemies of craft beer would be the big four in macro beer. Nope, the biggest enemies of craft beer are much more subversive, extend throughout the whole industry and in some ways are easier to fight. It turns out, time, light, oxygen and temperature are the four biggest issues facing craft beer and any one of the four can undo all of the hard work the brewers put into making that beer taste delicious.

Time

The fresh-factor is one of the biggest issues facing craft beer when it comes to taste. While there are certainly some beers that are meant to be aged, like barley wines, imperial stouts, Belgian strong ales, and lambics, most other styles of beers are really best fresh. IPAs, pale ales, and ambers are just a few of the beers that fit into the “consume fresh” category. Specifically talking about IPAs, the fresh, bright, hoppy characteristics that we love so much don’t often age well. In fact, hoppy beers will start to lose their aromas and hop presence when sitting in a bottle or a can for too long and the malty sweetness often becomes cloying in an older IPA. Thorn Street Brewery brew master, Eric O’Connor explains it like this, “Hoppy beers need to be consumed the fastest, as the hops drop out and the lack of specialty dark malts which can lend additional balance lead to a sweet and overly malty out of balance beer.”

So how long is too long? For IPAs, it’s best to drink them in the first 60 days. They aren’t going to spoil or become undrinkable on that 61st day, but they also probably won’t be as delicious. During the first 60 days, beer recipes are designed to be in harmony regarding malt sweetness, bitterness, hop aroma, and flavor. After that two-month period, this harmony can fall out of balance. Sometimes the imbalance isn’t horrible or that off-putting, but it’s also not the intended experience from the brewer.

This is why it’s so important for breweries to put “Enjoy By” or “Bottled On” dates on their packaging. Next time you are at your local shop looking for a beer to take home, start checking dates. If it’s a “bottled on” date then try and get ones that were bottled within 60 days of the day you want to drink it. Many bottles and cans still don’t have freshness dates on them so in this case you need to think about where you buy your packaged beer from. If you buy your beer from a liquor store or beer store that is popular and goes through a lot of inventory, you are probably good to go. If you are buying it from a random store in an area where craft beer isn’t that popular, that beer may have been sitting on their shelves for quite a bit of time and it’s best to be wary.

Light

Light is another thing that can stand in the way of optimal beer flavor and is responsible for the dreaded, “skunked” beer. This off-putting flavoring is due to the light-sensitivity of the hops in the beer. In fact, the term “skunked” is scientific in its basis. Chemists from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill studied what makes a beer skunky and found that when they hit three isohumulones (the compounds responsible for the light sensitivity in hops) with enough light, it created a compound called “skunky thiol” which has the same chemical make-up as a skunk’s noxious spray. While brown bottles help the issue somewhat, cans and kegs are really the best way to make sure that light doesn’t change the flavor of a beer.

Oxygen

While oxygen is both a friend and an enemy to beer, the process of oxidation can be damaging when it’s introduced after early fermentation. Oxidation can cause that dreaded “stale beer” taste and is most often detrimental when it occurs during packaging. Before that, if oxidation occurs, it will be caught by the brewing team and not packaged at all. Air doesn’t act alone when it comes to oxidizing beers, however. Temperature also plays a major role in oxidation and the resulting stale beer.

Temperature

Last but not least, temperature can be a killer of good tasting beer. The 3-30-300 rule has been conventional wisdom in the craft beer world for some time. While who commissioned the research is somewhat hazy (Ninkasi just says “a brewery,” while Mad Tree Brewery says the info comes from macro beer), the science is real and what was uncovered was that when it comes to storing beers, in 3 days at 90°F  you would get the same age-related flavor development as you would in 30 days at 71°F and 300 days at 33°F.

The best thing to do is keep your beer cold. While you can’t control how the beer is stored before it gets to you, and in fact, it’s likely it has already been up to room temperature a few times, you can only do so much when it comes to being vigilant. Some aging of the beer is expected and adjusted for in brewing recipes. Higher temperatures will just speed up that process past the, “oh this taste different but still good” to “WTF happened to this beer?” Just please don’t leave your beer in your car as this is a surefire way to skunk it. Furthermore, be wary of stores that have their beer on shelves where sunlight hits and warms them higher than 70 degrees on a daily basis. Based on the 3-30-300 rule, beer should probably not be kept at room temperature for more than 30 days if freshness is a factor in its flavor.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask

If you want the freshest beer available, drink at the source! Luckily, for most of us here in San Diego, we live within a few miles of a brewery. There is nothing better than freshly kegged beer, so don’t be afraid to ask the beer-tender which beer on tap was recently kegged.

Likewise, a good rule of thumb when you go to a bar or a restaurant is to ask the bartender which kegs were tapped recently. Although this doesn’t always mean its the freshest keg, it gives you the best chance of not getting an old beer.

To recap, drink your beer as fresh as possibly, keep cold, buy cans when possible, and if you want the best beer experience, walk down to your local brewery for a fresh pint.

craft beer sign for trends

Year in Review: 2016 San Diego Beer Trends

Recently, the Brewer’s Association put out their Year in Review infographic for 2016 showing national beer trends. Here’s the breakdown of the info that they provided: There are now 5005 active breweries in the U.S. and craft beer has grown 8% year-over-year. IPAs account for 1/4 of sales in Craft Beer making it the most dominant style, though 65% of craft beer lovers say that they drink craft because it offers a wider variety of styles than traditional beer. We are shipping more craft beer abroad than ever before, and Portland was named #1 on the Beer Tourism Index (we already have talked about our disdain of the Beer Tourism Index).

None of this is particularly surprising so we thought we would do our own Year in Review and look at some of the beer trends we saw coming out of 2016 that interest us and how they impact the San Diego craft beer community.

Hazy IPAs

2016 was the year that hazy, New England-style IPAs jumped onto the national beer scene making its way to the West Coast. For years, Vermont breweries like The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead have been brewing these juicy, hazy, hoppy IPAs, with the whisperings of this unfiltered brew making their way to the West Coast. Lucky for IPA lovers like us, the style is now appearing all over San Diego beer menus. From Modern Times’ Blam Blam, to beers from Abnormal, Knotty Brewing and even Stone, New England is making itself known as a distinct style here in SD. Pure Project has some of the best SD examples of this style with their Murklands IPA, a hazy pale ale with Citra hops and Murk of the Beast brewed with Nelson, Citra and Mosiac hops. Both are delicious, juicy (as they say) and a delicious turn in the world of IPAs. Even more exciting, keep an eye out for our recent collab brew with Pizza Port of, you guessed it, a hazy IPA!

SD Loves It In The Can

Cans have made a big impact on the SD beer scene this in 2016. Many breweries are choosing to add cans to their offerings or (like we will be doing) going to canning altogether. Coronado Brewing, 32 North, Novo Brazil and Stone are just a few of the breweries who have gotten in the can-game this year. Why cans over bottles? First, they are better for the environment. They are lighter and more compact to ship than bottles, allowing for more to go in each shipment and requiring less fuel to move them. This lowers transportation costs as well as their impact on the environment. Also, cans are recycled at a much higher rate than bottles with cans containing on average 40% recycled material compared to the 27% average in bottles.

Another reason why many breweries have moved to canning is that cans are a superior package to bottles when it comes to preserving the quality of beer. Head Brewer here at Thorn Street Brewery, Scott Smith, explained it simply, “No air, no light…cans are just better for the beer.” Light and oxygen are two factors that play a crucial role in the flavor of the beer, so if they are better controlled with canning, then that means less waste and less of a chance that someone’s going to get a skunked beer.

Slow Growth for Big Craft Beer

San Diego was not immune to the reported slowdown in craft beer sales that we saw this year. While 8% growth is considered quite good in most industries, it’s down from the double-digit growth the industry has enjoyed for the last number of years. Nationwide, Sam Adams (Boston Beer Co.) is struggling, with sales falling from 5% in the first two quarters of 2016 to 8% in the third quarter. Sierra Nevada and New Belgium have also experienced their sales dropping this year and Stone Brewery had to lay off 5% of their workforce recently because of less-than-projected-growth.

This is a case of bigger is not always better. In fact, if you removed the biggest craft beer breweries, Boston Beer, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada from the data set, craft sales would actually be up 16% mid-year according to Brewbound. People are turning to more local, more independent beers. Even in the case of Stone, which is local to San Diego, they are getting hurt by people turning to hyper-local breweries to get their craft beer fix. People want the beer that was brewed in their hood, which brings us to our next point…

More Neighborhood Breweries

We love a good neighborhood brewery. Neighborhood breweries are walkable, bikable and surrounded by great restaurants, shops and other things that you can’t get in a business park. 2016 saw more and more breweries in San Diego opening their doors closest to your front door! Barn Brewing in North Park and the long awaited North Park Beer Co. both opened in 2016 along with Burning Beard and Finest Made in El Cajon and Santee respectively. While it’s completely understandable why business parks are the homes of big breweries pushing out thousands of kegs a year, we love the trend of neighborhood breweries opening too. A closer UBER ride is always a good thing!

What beer trends did we miss? Let us know on FB or in the comments here!

embroidered sign that says Be Hoppy to make you happy

Happy Thoughts About Craft Beer

The presidential election is finally over and boy was it was a doozy. No matter how you voted, many people are left today with what we like to call an “election hangover.” Well, we have the perfect panacea. While there might be a lot of fear and negativity in your Facebook newsfeed, here are four big reasons why you should feel good about craft beer.

Tap Rooms Everywhere

With more than 4,269 craft breweries in the U.S., chances are there is a brewery not that far from where you are right now. In fact, 78% of adults live within 10 miles of a craft brewery! That means more than 2/3 of the American people (of drinking age) live withing a short drive or UBER ride away from craft beer bliss. That’s certainly something to celebrate.

More Choices Than Ever

There are more than 155 beer styles documented by the Brewers Association. Before the craft beer movement, the number of available styles was much more limited. American beers were typically lagers and light ales with a stout thrown in for good measure. But with the incredible number of breweries listed above, the competition for market share is fierce and competition drives creativity. Small, independent breweries have not only brought back older European styles that haven’t seen the light of day for years, but they have created their own (hello, modern IPA!) styles that show the true innovative spirit of craft beer.

Craft Beer Supports Local Communities

Craft breweries are often deeply embedded within their local communities. This is evident in the 2014 stat showing that craft breweries donated $71 million to charities, most within their own communities. This adds up to $3.35 per barrel produced going to charities. That is no small number, especially when compared with the reported 35 cents per barrel that AB InBev donates to charity.

Craft Beer Boosts the Economy

While it may seem obvious that craft beer has helped to boost our country’s economy, the numbers are really staggering. Craft beer has contributed more than $55 billion to the U.S. economy and put 424,000 people to work. Not only that, but craft beer is an integral part of many community’s tourism. San Diego Beer Week is a perfect example of this as we see our city flooded with craft beer lovers from other cities, states, and even countries. This brings in much-needed money to our local economy when they stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants and drink at our bars and breweries.

So turn that frown upside down…or keep on celebrating. Either way, craft beer will be there for you.

Cheers!

Picture of a goblet of Fornication Golden Strong Ale sitting on a wood table in a brewery

Craft Beer’s Fresh Factor

Craft Beer’s Fresh Factor

We’ve all been there. You get home after a hard day at work, looking forward to cracking open a cold beer and settling into the night. Reaching into the fridge, you grab your favorite beer and take the first swig, realizing something’s just not right. The flavor is off and maybe a dull sweetness is coming through. Unfortunately, your beer has got that ‘not-so-fresh feeling.’

In previous blogs, we have talked about how age, heat, light, and oxygen are killers of taste when it comes to beer. Today, we are going to look at freshness and why it’s important in craft beer. First of all, there are many beers that are meant to be aged including barley wines, imperial stouts, Belgian strong ales, lambics and more. Though aging conditions are pretty strict in order to get the proper taste, these aren’t the beers we are talking about today.

IPAs, pale ales, ambers and lagers are just a few of the beers that are best consumed fresh. As a general rule, beers around 5% or under don’t age well unless a secondary fermentation is going on. Specifically talking about IPAs, the fresh, bright, hoppy characteristics that we love them for just don’t age well. In fact, hoppy beers will start to lose their aromas and hop presence when sitting in a bottle or a can for too long. A malty sweetness of IPAs often becomes cloying in an older IPA.

What’s too long?

Here’s a good rule of thumb: IPAs are best in the first 60 days. They aren’t going to spoil or become undrinkable on that 61st day, but they also probably won’t be as delicious. During the first 60 days, beer recipes are designed to be in harmony regarding malt sweetness, bitterness, hop aroma and flavor. Simply put, after that it falls out of balance. Sometimes that imbalance isn’t horrible or that off putting, but it’s not the intended experience. When people pay top dollar for craft beer, they should be getting a delicious beer.

So what can you do to make sure your beer tastes the best it can? Here’s three things to keep in mind when selecting your beer of choice…

Check Dates

For those beers that are bottled and canned, many breweries are now putting on “Enjoy By” or “Bottled On” dates. Check before you buy. If it’s a “bottled on” date then try and get ones that were bottled within 60 days of the day you want to drink it. Many bottles and cans still don’t have  freshness dates on them so in this case you need to think about where you buy your bottled beer from. If you buy your beer from a liquor store or beer store that is popular and goes through a lot of inventory, you are good to go. If you are buying it from a random 7/11 in an area where craft beer isn’t that popular, that beer may have been sitting on their shelves for quite a bit of time.

Drink at the Source

Luckily for most of us here in San Diego, we live within a few miles of a brewery. If you want the freshest beer available, drink at the source! There is nothing better than a freshly kegged beer, so don’t be afraid to ask the beer-tender which beer on tap was just kegged. They will always be the most delicious and you will be able to taste the intricacies and notes that the brewers worked so hard to put in the brew.

A good rule of thumb when you go to a bar is to ask the bartender which kegs were just put on recently. Although this doesn’t always mean its the freshest keg, it gives you the best chance of not getting an old beer. Luckily, most bars go through beer fast enough to where a keg is pretty much always going to taste good, as long as their lines are clean.

Keep it Cold

Have you ever heard of the 3-30-300 rule? Don’t worry, most people haven’t. Basically, it’s been found that in 3 days at 90°F  you could get the same age related flavor development as you would in 30 days at 71°F and 300 days at 33°F.

Simply put, keep your beer cold!! Sure, by the time you get the six pack of beer home from the store, it’s probably already been up to room temp a few times and it’s going to taste just fine. Just don’t leave your beer in your car as this is a sure way to skunk it. Furthermore, be VERY wary of stores that have their beer on shelves where sunlight hits them and warms them higher than 70ish degrees. Now, we aren’t suggesting that as long as you keep your beer refrigerated it can keep for almost a year. However, based on the 3-30-300 rule, beer should probably not be kept at room temperature for more than 30 days if freshness is a factor in its flavor.

Happy hunting for the freshest beer around!


Say Yes to Craft Beer in the Can

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Photo from Comacgroup.com

Whether or not beer is better in the bottle or the can is a hotly debated issue among craft beer enthusiasts. There is no denying craft beer in cans have been sweeping the industry since they broke out of their mass-produced, beer rut after being seen as lower-brow than bottles for years. More and more breweries are offering their beer in cans along with bottles, and many breweries are choosing to only can their beer. With so many “can” puns available to us, let’s take a look at some of the real reasons why getting it in the can is better…

First let’s break down the love affair that many breweries have with cans. There are two main reasons why canning might be chosen over bottling for a beer. Cans are better for the environment for a few different reasons. They are lighter and more compact to ship than bottles, allowing for more to go in each shipment and requiring less fuel to move them. This lowers transportation costs as well as their impact on the environment. Also, cans are recycled at a much higher rate than bottles. Cans contain on average 40% recycled material compared to the 27% average in bottles.

Another reason why many breweries have moved to canning is that cans are a superior package to bottles when it comes to the beer. Head Brewer here at Thorn Street Brewery, Scott Smith, explained it simply, “No air, no light, cans just better for the beer.” Light and oxygen are two factors that play a crucial role in the flavor of the beer, so if they are better controlled with canning, then that means less waste and less of a chance that someone’s going to get a skunked beer.

Consumers have been embracing the craft beer in a can trend because they are lighter, stronger, and can be taken places like beaches, pools, golf courses, and parks with less of an issue than bottles. But does the beer taste the same? Smith says, “Yes. It tastes exactly the same.” Blind taste tests that were done pretty much agreed, but when the tests were not blind, some drinkers tended to perceive a bottled beer tasting better than cans.

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Here at Thorn Street Brewery we will be canning our beer within the next year because it’s better for the beer, better for the brewery and in the end, better for you guys, the beer drinkers.

Tell us what you think about beer in cans vs. bottles? Do you have a preference? Do you taste a difference and are you ready to take it in the can?

Anna Brigham

5/25/16


All About the Hops: Hop Shortage on the Horizon

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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.