What’s a Cosponsor Worth? A Counterpoint on Beer Tax Reform

United_States_Capitol_beer

On Sept. 26, the Brewers Association announced that one of their major governmental priorities, the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, had hit a milestone. More than half of the US Senate had signed on to cosponsor the bill, which aims to reduce federal taxes on beer production, among other provisions.

In recent days, the coverage of the now 51 out of 100 senators signing on has tried to signal that the new number of cosponsors meant good things for the bill.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a quick look at where things actually stand.

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The Full Story Behind Hops, Beer Production and Our Love of IPAs

united staes of hops

Note: This is the #longread version of posts from “Hop Week.

There are many repeated discussions in the beer industry these days.

Beer in cans. IPAs for days. Economic bubbles.

But one aspect that widely gets discussed by beer enthusiasts and the mainstream media with great regularity: hops. Where they’re growing, how they’re growing and what it means to beer – especially craft – going forward. It’s not hard to find reporting on one of the hottest stories in beer, whether we’re talking about hops growing in Colorado, Florida or anywhere else.

Even if it means we may be missing one of the most important angles of this often discussed topic.

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In the Search for What’s New, is a Hoppy Sub-Style Found?

hops

At our current state of human evolution, our attention span is reportedly eight seconds. That’s less than a goldfish.

By one estimate, the amount of time we can pay attention to a singular beer brand is three years. I’m sure there are many who would argue that number is actually less and, like our regular attention span for everything else in life, is shrinking rapidly.

It makes sense, given the rise in the number of brands carried by distributors and how many end up on the shelves of our local beer aisles, making us spend more and more time simply figuring out what it is we’re going to buy.

sku for distribs

Whether or not we’re staring down the threat of the death of flagship brands, we can’t deny the effort by brewers to create, adapt and – dare I say – “innovate” in order to stay relevant to today’s consumers who are constantly looking for something more. It’s a virtuous cycle: drinkers like something new, brewers like creating something new and the loop goes on.

So when it comes to addressing the availability of hops and what people want, one of the trendy techniques in craft beer is offering a smart approach.

“If you look at data for beer styles, the number one style is IPA and the number two is variety,” said Ray Goodrich, director of marketing for North Carolina’s Foothills Brewing. “People like trying new stuff so that’s what we’re going to give them.”

He should know. Foothills is now in year three of an ongoing experiment, releasing a new IPA brand every month featuring different hops and flavors. Every 30 days, a 90-barrel batch is put into 22-ounce bombers and distributed across Foothill’s distribution footprint. With the exception of one month, Goodrich said he’s always seen their IPA of the Month or Hop of the Month beers sell out.

Given the myriad of situations facing the cross section of hops and the beer industry, the move to stay fresh and relevant is simple: it’s the rotating IPA.

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It’s Not How Big Your Hop Addition Is, It’s How You Use It

hops-beer-glass

Beer, forever bound to agriculture, seems like it should be philosophically opposed to the use of the word “industrial.” In an era where “big” is bad to many beer lovers, the mere suggestion of the word can significantly alter perceptions.

Instead of some handcrafted, artisanal product, we suddenly have something wildly opposite. A beer that sounds so … macro.

But if hop yields are low, and creating new infrastructure is expensive, and drinkers really love a certain kind of hop that has to be grown, is it time to get inventive? Are there processes and products that may create flavorful shortcuts that can continue to produce the hop bombs we’ve all come to know?

With craft brewers using hops at a per-barrel rate many times greater than big breweries like Anheuser-Busch, it may be worth our time to better understand academic and even industrial advancements that can offer solutions to brewers and not take anything away from the beer we love.

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How Can Hop Variety Support Craft Beer Sales?

cascade hops

When it comes to hops, the well-known elephant in the room is the prominence now taken up by aroma varieties, which aren’t just driving high ratings on Beer Advocate or RateBeer, but also the presence on farms across the country. Over the last decade, the shift from alpha to aroma varieties has been stark.

aroma hop acreage

The change has been illustrated in several ways.

From its annual hop report, the Brewers Association collects the most heavily-used varieties by craft brewers. The lists from 2007 to 2015 are certainly different:

2007 2015
Cascade (Aroma) Cascade (Aroma)
Centennial (Dual) Centennial (Dual)
Willamette (Aroma) Chinook (Dual)
Chinook (Dual) Simcoe® (Dual)
Amarillo (Aroma) Citra® (Aroma)
East Kent Golding (Dual) Hallertau Mittelfruh (Aroma)
Saaz (Aroma) Amarillo (Aroma)
CTZ | Columbus, Tomahawk, and Zeus (Bittering) Crystal (Aroma)
U.S. Golding (Aroma) Magnum (Bittering)
Styrian Golding (Aroma) CTZ | Columbus, Tomahawk, and Zeus (Bittering)

There is actually one less specific aroma variety on that 2015 list than 2007, but the increase in dual purpose hops is stark, especially when you consider how most brewers are using something like Simcoe or Centennial and the flavors they’re extracting.

Spoiler alert: it’s heavy on the late addition side to emphasize their unique fruity/juicy characteristics:

all about beer-hop chart

Chart featured in All About Beer magazine.

So what does this mean in terms of what – and how – varieties are being grown? More important, how can these changes be done efficiently when space is at a premium?

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What Will it Cost to Meet Our Growing Demand for Hops?

hop bines

According to the last figures made available by the USDA, the number of American hop farmers jumped considerably from 68 in 2007, just as craft beer was starting to become more mainstream, to 166 in 2012. Today’s number isn’t readily available, but based on how often local and state media covers some aspect of farmers growing hops, it’s safe to assume it’s grown just as fast.

Which is good, because craft beer is going to need those hops. But in order to fulfill the requirement of producing enough beer to meet 20 percent market share by 2020, there’s still work to be done.

From building the infrastructure to choosing hop varieties, the country needs more farmers, more hops and more investment to make it happen.

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We’re Growing More Hops Than Ever, But There’s More to the Story

hop bine

There are many repeated discussions in the beer industry these days.

Beer in cans. IPAs for days. Economic bubbles.

But one aspect that widely gets discussed by beer enthusiasts and the mainstream media with great regularity: hops. Where they’re growing, how they’re growing and what it means to beer – especially craft – going forward. It’s not hard to find reporting on one of the hottest stories in beer, whether we’re talking about hops growing in Colorado, Florida or anywhere else.

Even if it means we may be missing one of the most important angles of this often discussed topic.

Continue reading

Some Details Forgotten in Latest AB InBev Buy

bosteels-ab-inbev-logos

Whenever one beer company takes over another, there is always reflection. Especially if it’s by someone like AB InBev.

What will happen to Brewery X? How will this impact their beer? Should I care about them any more?

From my American point of view, it’s been an interesting case trying to track the recent purchase of Belgium’s Bosteels by AB InBev, which was announced earlier this month. Bosteels, maker of Kwak, Karmeliet and Deus, is a 225-year old brewery.

Immediately after the announcement, people seemed to ask: but how much of the “family” aspect will be left?

During this week’s discussion on The Beer Temple, I got to chat with host Chris Quinn and others about the purchase. As is often the case, there’s plenty beyond the top-level assumptions or quick reactions.

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The Six-Pack Project Returns, Sort Of

six-pack project logo 6

The Internet is forever!

Nothing ever really dies on the World Wide Web, I suppose, so even a couple years after the last entry in The Six-Pack Project, its memory lives on. The archive for the effort, which highlights a six-pack of a city, state or region’s native brews that best represent what that beer culture offers, has remained live on this site and recently attracted a little attention from fellow writers.

Long live The Six-Pack Project!

I’m thrilled that others wanted to pick up the torch and invite all you fellow readers to join, if you so like. Given the constant change in the beer industry – new breweries and new brands all the time – one of the exciting things about The Six-Pack Project was its natural aspect of evolution. Check out the page, read the “rules” and see how you can get involved.

In the meantime, we’ve got a few recent entries to highlight for some who wanted to get The Six-Pack Project fermenting again.

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How Big Craft Breweries Are Keeping Share of Mind – and Pint Glass

Back in December 2015, I wrote about an important pivot “legacy” breweries were being forced to make as the beer market continued to diversify, led by many of the smaller and more agile breweries.

Examples like Dogfish Head, Founders and Highland – an NC brewery with Mid-Atlantic footprint – were all businesses that had been around for a while. Looking at their 2016 production schedules, something seemed clear: they were trying to find more ways to keep attention on their brands. That meant new products, new packaging and a new pattern of beer releases to keep things fresh and interesting for drinkers.

“In any industry, businesses run the risk of falling behind if they don’t innovate and experiment,” I wrote. “Considering the incredible growth in beer over the last few years, this feels doubly so.”

If anything, what we’ve seen since that initial post has only reinforced this necessary action for long-tenured breweries. No surprise, they’re the ones big enough to heavily influence the supermarket numbers mentioned above in Kate’s tweet.

In some ways, 2016 has been very kind to breweries like New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams, but there’s always another side to the story.

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