Low Dissolved Oxygen Brewing – Retry

Triangle testing was used to see if I could consistently select the one beer out of three that was different.

A number of months ago I royally screwed up an experiment designed to test whether using low-dissolved oxygen brewing had any practical effect on the the outcome of a finished beer. I accidentally dosed the beer with 10x the amount of sodium metabisulfite intended and successfully produced two wholly undrinkable beers.

For those unfamiliar, the original reason I wanted to test this variable was a paper published on germanbrewing.net. The authors argued that the use of low-dissolved oxygen techniques on the hot side of the brewhouse is a primary driver of the fresh malt flavor present in German lagers and it is those techniques that are a key differentiator between said beers and those from other lager breweries that have less control over oxygen on the hot side of their brewhouse.

The paper provides an outline of techniques homebrewers can use to limit oxygen uptake on the hot side of the brewhouse. Based on those techniques, I derived an experiment where I would brew one lager using conventional techniques and then brew a second, identical batch that incorporated the following LODO techniques:

  1. Pre-Boiling Brewing Liquor: All of the hot water used in my mash was first boiled for 5 minutes before being quickly cooled via a plate chiller to mash temperature and then gently stirred into the mash.
  2. No Sparge: I eliminated the sparging step from my normal brewing process as it offers another opportunity for oxygen ingress into the mash.
  3. Chemical Oxygen Scavengers: Prior to mashing in, my strike water was dosed with sodium metabisulfite, which acts as an oxygen scavenger during the mash. I aimed to dose the water with 55 mg/L, the recommended dosing rate for beers employing a no-sparge method. This turned out to be 1.1 grams based on my 5.4 gallons of strike water.
  4. No Vourlauf: I skipped my normal vourlauf stage as, again, it could be another potential source of aeration in the mash.

For the recipe, I chose to make a simple pale lager that had a touch of simple sugar in it as well as a touch of late hop character. The idea was to create a fairly neutral palate where any differences could be easily perceived.

LODO Lager Brew Test

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 70%
Attenuation: 84%

Original Gravity: 1.052
Terminal Gravity: 1.008
Color: 4.25 SRM
Alcohol: 5.78% ABV
Bitterness: 18.8 IBU (does not account for whirlpool isomerization)

Malt Bill:
5.0 lbs (74.1%) – Weyermann Pilsner Malt
1.0 lbs (14.8%) – Weyermann Vienna Malt
0.75 lb (11.1%) – Corn Sugar

Mash Profile:
150°F – 60m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
3 g. – Calcium Chloride (to mash)
1.1 g. – Sodium Metabisulfite (to mash)

Hopping:
6 g. – Warrior (15.4% AA) – 90m
25 g. – Hallertauer Hersbrucker (2.5% AA) – whirlpool 15m
25 g. – Cascade (6.9% AA) – whirlpool 15m
25 g. – Czech Saaz (2.2% AA) – whirlpool 15m

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea. – Whirlfloc tablets (Irish moss) – 15m
0.5 tsp. – Wyeast Nutrient – 10m

Yeast:
2L Starter – White Labs WLP 860 Munich Helles 

Results:

To test the resulting beers, I completed a series of blind triangle tests. To setup the test, two of the same beers and one outlier were tasted blindly side-by-side. I then tried to select the sample of the three that was different. This test was completed five times with the outlier beer randomized over the tests. Pure chance would have had me select the correct sample 1/3 of the time or 1.65 times out of the 5 rounds of testing. With this particular round of testing, I was able to select the outlier successfully 3 of the 5 times.

Commentary:

First, I must say that it was extremely difficult to distinguish between the two beers in a blind triangle test. The differences between the beers were extremely nuanced. The biggest perceivable difference between the samples was that the LODO beer had a consistently higher level of sulfur in the aroma—making the beer stand out ever so slightly in a blind triangle test. I failed to notice any perceivable difference in either malt or hop character between the LODO and conventionally-brewed beers. If I were to judge the beers on a point system, I would say the LODO beer was subjectively slightly worse than the conventional beer due to the increased sulfur levels in the beer. This is likely directly attributable to the sodium metabisulfite used in the beer mash; something I wouldn’t expect to be employed by a commercial brewer attempting LODO hot side processes. This makes me think that perhaps the methods large German lager brewers use to prevent hot side aeration (that do not employ sodium metabisulfite) may very well be effective in maintaining a fresh malt character in their beers. As a homebrewer, I’d say the use of sodium metabisulfite as an oxygen scavenger should be cautioned against, at least at the 55 mG/L levels that seem to leave residual sulfur in the beer.

Orange Gose – Recipe & Review

Orange Gose

Orange Gose – Hazy gold topped with a pillowy white head

Several years ago the Homebrew Wife and I had a memorable beer from Danish brewer To Øl called “To Øl Gose to Hollywood”. The beer was very refreshing with a bright citrus character. The natural harmony between salt and citrus that is frequently exploited in the culinary world also makes for a fantastic flavor combination in beer.

Fast forward many months, and still inspired by the concept of citrus, salt, and lactic acid, I took a shot at producing a similar beer. I’ve brewed a number of beers in the past that featured orange peel on the hot side, but have always been somewhat underwhelmed by the amount of citrus character that carries over into the finished beer. For this iteration, I decided to try and boost the orange character with the addition of orange juice concentrate. The juice concentrate was added at the end of whirlpool to sanitize it and retain as many volatile aromatics as possible.

Orange Gose Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 72%
Attenuation: 70%

Original Gravity: 1.040 (includes increased gravity from juice addition)
Terminal Gravity: 1.012
Color: 3.15 SRM (does not account for juice addition)
Alcohol: 3.66% ABV
Bitterness: 0 IBU

Malt Bill:
3.0 lbs (60%) – Weyermann Pilsner Malt
2.0 lbs (40%) – Weyermann Pale Wheat Malt

Mash Profile:
146°F – 40m
162°F – 20m
170°F – 5m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
3 g. – Gypsum (to mash)

Hopping:
None

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea. – Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15m
0.5 tsp. – Wyeast Nutrient – 10m

Whirlpool Additions:
18 g. – Kosher Salt – 20m
10 g. – Indian Coriander – 20m
80 g. – Fresh Orange Peel – 20m
12 oz. – Tropicana Frozen Orange Juice Concentrate – (last 5 minutes)
4 ml. – Lactic Acid – 5m

Yeast:
400 ml – House Lacto Culture – added on brewday and left to ferment alone 72 hours
1 Pack – Wyeast 1056 American Ale – added after 72 hours

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 28C Wild Specialty Beer

Aroma (5/12):
The beer presents a moderately lactic, yogurty twang on the nose with only hints of soft sweet orange. The malt is lightly bready, but otherwise very benign. In general, the aromatic presentation is quite flat. Would like to see the citrus really popping out of the glass.

Appearance (3/3):
Deep gold with an obvious, although not murky, haze. The beer has a great big white persistent head. Very attractive.

Flavor (8/20):
This beer has a medium-plus orange character that is very juice like. It’s hard to explain, but the beer’s character is less like the ‘essence’ of orange (oil/zest) and more like watered down orange juice (which it kind of is). The orange character is not as bright as I would have hoped, although the high lactic acidity does help to brighten the overall beer. The salt is noticeable—just above the threshold of where I’d be able to pull it out as a salinic note. There is a slight bready character coming from the malt that is perhaps just a touch high.

Mouthfeel (2/5):
The beer is pillowy with a slightly full mouthfeel. The wheat character is very evident, giving a fullness that is perhaps accentuated by the salt. The beer could be a bit crisper, although a medium-plus acidity helps keep the body in check. The carbonation is still a bit low, in spite of priming to 3 volumes of CO2. I get the sense that the beer is struggling to fully carbonate given the acidic environment.

Overall Impression (5/10):
While this is a pleasant beer, it needs some work before it’s on the same plane as the To Øl beer. I’ve had difficulty getting lactic heavy beers to attenuate to the levels that I desire. For the next iteration of this beer, I will employ a step mash with the intent of driving attenuation. Additionally, I’d consider dropping the orange peel on the hot side as I don’t think it is contributing much to the beer. The orange juice addition was an interesting experiment, but I don’t think it will be able to imbue the bright citrus character I hope to bring to this beer. The acidity in the beer is right where I’d like it. The salinity is good as well, although I may pull back 10-15% in an attempt to get it a bit less perceptible.

Good (23/50)

Bonus: See how judges scored this beer at the 2017 Queens Beer Challenge.

Cryo Hop Pale Ale – Recipe & Review

Cryo Hopped Pale Ale

Don’t let the condensation fool you, our Cryo hopped pale ale turned out nice and bright.

One of the best things about the National Homebrewers Conference is getting to see new products. At this year’s trade show, I was excited to see Yakima Chief Hops (YCH) debuting a new product called Cryo Hops. Not only was YCH pouring several professionally-made beers using Cryo Hops, they were also giving away samples of the product.

Cryo Hops are created through a proprietary process that uses liquid nitrogen to break apart and separate the hop lupulin glands from the leafy bract material. This separation allows Cryo Hops to contain a much higher proportion of hop resin and essential oils, typically double what you would see in a pellet (by weight). This is a key point of interest for brewers as, in theory, it allows you to get the same hop effect in your final beer while putting less physical plant material into the beer. This should not only cut down on kettle losses, but also perhaps some of the more grassy harsh notes that hops can impart on a beer.

In addition to trying out the Cryo Hop product, I also wanted to test out fermentation hopping. There has been a lot of talk lately about the biotransformation of hop compounds that takes place in the presence of yeast. It seemed intriguing to try and add Cryo Hops to the fermenter early on in primary fermentation to see what the sensory impact would be. In some ways, Cryo Hops are perfect for this as they have less leafy plant material than normal hops. In theory, this means they can withstand the longer contact time needed to get through fermentation and cold crash without the beer becoming grassy—a problem typical of extended dry hop periods.

This recipe contains only a small bittering charge of traditional pellet hops. All hop flavor and aroma comes via fermentation hopping.

Cryo Hop Pale Ale Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 68%
Attenuation: 80.7%

Original Gravity: 1.052
Terminal Gravity: 1.010
Color: 12.37 SRM
Alcohol: 5.5% ABV
Bitterness: 38.7 IBU

Malt Bill:
6.25 lbs. (89.3%) Crisp Maris Otter
0.5 lb. (7.1%) Briess Special Roast
0.25 lb. (3.6%) Briess Carapils

Mash Profile:
150°F – 60m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
3 g. Gypsum (to mash)
2 g. Calcium Chloride (to mash)

Kettle Hopping:
14 g. Ekuanot (13.6% AA) – 60m

Fermentation Hopping:
Added during high krausen on day 2 of the primary fermentation. Left in fermenter for approximately 10 days until fermentation and cold crash was complete.

2 oz. Mosaic Cryo Hop (22.1% AA)
1 oz. Simcoe Cryo Hop (23.8% AA)

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea. Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15m
0.5 tsp. Wyeast Nutrient – 10m

Yeast:
Wyeast 1056 American Ale

Tasting Notes

Judged as a BJCP 18B American Pale Ale

Aroma (10/12):
Very high hop aroma with tropical notes of mango and pineapple. Very bright and juicy. There is just a touch of white pepper on the nose, similar to the spiciness I sometimes get from eating actual mangoes. There is just a slight toasty malt component. Very clean with no real fermentation character or alcohol. No grassiness. Traditional brewing knowledge would lead one to think that a large portion of hop aroma would have been scrubbed by CO2 during primary fermentation. This beer seems to be an outlier from this typical assumption—perhaps the hop compounds metabolized and transformed during fermentation are less volatile?

Appearance (3/3):
The beer pours a deep gold with some slight copper notes. There is just a bit of light haze, topped with a very persistent off-white head. I was expecting much more turbidity given the amount and timing of the hopping. The beer is pleasantly bright.

Flavor (10/20):
The high hop aroma doesn’t seem to carry over to the same degree on the palate. The hop flavor is there, but not nearly as high as I would have expected based on the nose. It is hard to tell whether this is attributable to the lack of any real kettle hopping or the use of Cryo Hops. In either case, there is a certain amount of hop flavor I’d typically expect in a highly hopped pale ale that seems to be missing. The hop flavor is fruity, but a bit one dimensional. There is a nice maltiness to the beer that is toasty and biscuity. A medium bitterness accentuates what is already a very dry beer.

Mouthfeel (4/5):
The beer has a medium-low body with crisp carbonation. Dry. Refreshing. No astringency or heat.

Overall Impression (6/10):
This beer really shines on the nose, giving the pure essence of highly aromatic fruity hops. The flavor,vhowever, is a bit of a letdown considering the boisterous aromas. I like the malty components that are quite apparent, but may perhaps be a bit too flavorful for what was intended to be a very hop-forward pale ale. I think this beer could be improved with a large charge of traditional pellet hops in the whirlpool and perhaps cutting the Maris Otter base malt with a bit of Pilsner or standard 2-Row base malt.

Very Good (33/50)

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Sour Blond with Apricots – Recipe & Review

Sour Blond with Apricots

Sour Blond with Apricots – Light and Refreshing

One of my all-time favorite flavor combinations in beer is that magical concoction of a lightly sour blond ale and ripe acidic apricot. For me, this is one of the preeminent examples of synergistic beer formulation.

This particular beer starts with a lightly tart base beer provisioned with an ample, earthy Brett funk and naturally occurring stone fruit-like fermentation esters. The sour base reinforces the inherent acidity in the fruit while the slightly phenolic Brett funk finds harmony with the somewhat tannic and earthy qualities that the apricot skins bring to the table. Apricot sour beers can easily become overly acidic (to my palate)/ So with this beer I hoped to start with a mellower sour base beer in order to prevent too much sharp acidity after the fruit had been added and fermented out. If you’re looking for an insanely sour fruit bomb like Cantillon Fou’Foune, you probably don’t want to use this recipe (or, if you do, bump up the fruit addition). If you prefer a mellower, more nuanced beer, then this recipe is on point.

Sour Blond with Apricots Recipe

Specifications:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 62% (no sparge)
Attenuation: 83%

Original Gravity: 1.048 (does not consider apricot puree)
Terminal Gravity: 1.008
Color: 4.77 SRM
Alcohol: 5.23% ABV (calculated, does not consider apricot puree)
Bitterness: 0 IBU

Malt Bill:
5.0 lbs. (66.7%) Dingemans Pilsner Malt
1.0 lb. (13.3%) Briess Flaked Wheat
1.0 lb. (13.3%) Briess Flaked Oats
0.5 lb. (6.7%) Weyermann Carafoam

Mash Profile:
158°F – 60m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
4 g. Gypsum (to mash)
2 g. Calcium Chloride (to mash)

Hopping:
1 oz. Aged Hops (0.0% AA) – 90m

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea. Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15m
0.5 tsp. Wyeast Nutrient – 10m

Yeast:
1L – Bioreactor A House Mixed Culture

Secondary Fruit:
3 lbs. 1 oz. – Vintner’s Harvest Apricot Puree. Added after 10 months of primary fermentation. Beer was allowed to referment on the puree for an additional 4 months.

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 28C Wild Specialty Beer

Aroma (11/12):
The beer features a complex bouquet of mixed-culture funk. The Brett character is strong with plentiful aromas of wet hay, grass, as well as some fruitier stone fruit elements. There is some acid character on the nose that is tangy and bright. The apricot aroma is somewhat nuanced but well-integrated with the funk, featuring an overripe, fermented fruit character. There is just a touch of grainy malt that sits in the background. I wish the apricot would pop a bit more against the complex fermentation-derived aromatics.

Appearance (1/3):
The beer is a medium golden with a slightly milky haze. Abundant white bubbles form a soapy head when poured, but quickly dissipate.

Flavor (13/20):
Initially the beer showcases a bright, medium-plus lactic sourness. This acidity is complementary to a bright, juicy apricot note that is reminiscent of nicely ripened fresh fruit. The complex Brett funk that was apparent on the nose is pretty subdued on the palate and gives way to the beer’s other fruity elements. The finish is somewhat short, leaving a one note impression of acid and fruit. There is a slight, plastic phenol on the finish.

Mouthfeel (2/5):
The beer is medium-low in body with medium-low carbonation. The beer feels a bit flat and could benefit from a bit more carbonation.

Overall Impression (8/10):
This is a nice, enjoyable fruited sour beer. The fruit melds well with the funky base beer, but would could benefit from a bit more concentration. The sourness in the beer is pleasing and clean without being over-the-top and palate destroying. Nice beer, although it may not stand out in a beer competition due to its more nuanced character.

Very Good (35/50)

Bonus: See how judges scored this beer at the 2017 Homebrew Alley competition in NYC.

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Co-Opting Craft Beer

Lately, it’s been pretty hard to ignore the acquisitions of an increasing number of beloved craft breweries by Big Beer (i.e. AB InBev, Heineken, Kirin, Constellation Brands, and San Miguel Corporation) and Big Equity (e.g. Firemen Capital, LNK Partners, etc.). I’ve been following this topic pretty closely for the last few years, but have avoided writing about it mainly because:

  1. The purchases felt like minor losses, especially when there are still so many awesome independent craft breweries to choose from.
  2. Frankly, there are more important things to be angry about.
  3. Being a middle-of-the-road kind of guy, I try to see (and appreciate) all sides of the coin.

That said, with the frequency and magnitude of acquisitions now occurring, I decided it was finally time to throw in my two cents. The writing has been on the wall ever since Goose Island sold to Anheuser-Busch in 2011, but the recent purchase of Wicked Weed seems to have stirred a bit more public awareness and perhaps even revolt, especially within the craft beer community. Unfortunately, the convoluted nature of brand ownership in the beer world makes it difficult for the average beer consumer to decipher exactly what they are purchasing and to whom their money is going. This confusion is precisely what Big Beer is looking to exploit—and why spreading the message of why craft beer consolidation matters is imperative.

AB InBev, with the acquisition of more than 10 craft breweries so far, has been the most active buyer. This is particularly troubling as AB InBev already controls nearly 45% of the beer market, owns much of the distribution infrastructure in the country, and recently purchased SAB Miller, further growing their dominance. The fact of the matter is that the broader beer category is hemorrhaging market share to wine and spirits, especially within the millenial demographic. This shift in taste has further exacerbated for Big Beer the fact that the minuscule market share that craft once represented has grown to over 12% by volume and now represents a tangible threat. They are desperate to turn things around and are spending substantial resources to reclaim the market share that has been lost to craft beer.

AB InBev is not just simply purchasing craft brewers. They are launching a strategic, multi-pronged assault that includes ZX Ventures, a “global disruptive growth firm”, and “The High End”, a division focused specifically on the craft segment. Beyond acquiring actual breweries, they have also created or purchased interest in media outlets, obscuring the lines between advertising and independent beer journalism. Websites such as The Beer Necessities, October, and Ratebeer, which are either owned (partially or completely) or funded by AB InBev, work to further AB InBev’s agenda by eroding the once obvious divide between craft and Big Beer. To quote the editor of The Beer Necessities, Ethan Fixell:

Throughout the years I’ve observed the massive shift in the marketplace: from a monochrome array of limited options, to an explosive availability of craft selections, eventually leading to a wide schism between “craft” and “macro.” Now, given the growth and merging of so many breweries big and small, and the naturally collaborative, collegial nature of all brewers, we seem to be living in a post-craft world: great beer is great beer. And I believe we should celebrate all of it.

AB InBev drove the creation of the “monochrome array of limited options” that Fixell laments. The wide schism between “craft” and “micro” that he cites hurts only Big Beer and is a reaction against the way they do business. AB InBev is trying to create the illusion of choice in the beer aisle, but when the wizard’s curtain is pulled back, all that is found is varying shades of AB InBev red and gold. To simply say that “great beer is great beer” is an overly simplistic approach to a highly nuanced subject. AB InBev is seeking a post-craft world. Let’s not let them have it.

It’s time to defend craft beer.

Why am I so angry?

Over the past few years, I’ve played around with the idea of opening a brewery. As this effort becomes more focused, I’ve been studying the strategy and mechanics of why and how craft beer has been able to go through such tremendous growth over the past decade. Specifically, I’ve been delving into branding strategy as it relates to starting and running a successful craft brewery.

What has become incredibly clear is that these recent acquisitions are a strategic assault on the craft beer identity. There is tremendous equity in the brand identity of being a craft brewer and the types of mental short cuts this identity provides the consumer. The biggest differentiators that craft breweries have over Big Beer are that they are typically small-scale business offering products with better ingredients and flavor, usually from a  local source. Big Beer is intent on taking on these same attributes, blurring the lines of what it means to be craft and eroding the very roots of the industry. If these boundaries are allowed to dissolve and lose meaning a key advantage that craft has over macro will be lost.

I’m also angry because Big Beer is trying to pull the wool over the consumer’s eyes. And they think we’re dumb enough to fall for it. They want us to believe that the source of the product has no meaning as long as the beer doesn’t change. They’re being deceptive in the sense that they are creating levels of separation from their core company via subsidiaries and utilizing unclear labeling that prevents consumers from being able to decipher the provenance of their beer. None of the websites of AB InBev’s acquisitions describe their true ownership on their ‘About’ or ‘History’ pages. Most people have no idea that when they buy a Goose Island, Elysian, Blue Point, or Golden Road beer, they’re actually buying an AB InBev product. Consumers deserve to have more transparency so they can make informed decisions.

At the same time, Big Beer is diluting the true value of craft. If you are AB InBev, it is a buyer’s market as they are the only company around that is big enough to make these types of purchases. Big Beer is auditing the heavily populated craft beer landscape and acquiring breweries to fill the gaps in their already expansive portfolios. At first glance, it seems breweries are selling out for huge amounts of money. In reality, however, these sums are minuscule compared to the true value an established brand provides to a company like AB InBev.

It is also important to recognize that macro brewers do not play on the same field as craft brewers. A massive percentage of beer distributors in this country are affiliated or owned by Big Beer. This puts real craft breweries represented by the same distributors at a massive disadvantage, forcing them to compete directly with craft-like brands that are now owned by both the distributor and brewery. With the addition of heavily publicized incentive programs, it becomes very difficult for real craft brands to gain any sort of distribution, especially in the high volume grocery and restaurant chains served by these distributors. Ultimately, this will limit the consumers shopping at mainstream outlets to macro beers or craft brands owned by Big Beer. This threat will be particularly tough on established regional craft breweries that in recent years saw significant growth in chain restaurants and grocery stores. According to the Brewers Association, this is already being seen, with 15 of the largest 25 craft breweries dropping production volumes in 2016 versus 2015.

Lastly, it is important to consider the dynamics associated with the pricing of beer. Craft-like brands owned by Big Beer will always be the cheapest option on the shelf. There is simply no way a craft brewery producing low volumes could ever compete on price with a brewery producing millions of barrels annually. Economies of scale in terms of ingredients play a big role, but more important are the costs of labor associated with production. The labor required to produce a set volume of beer within a small craft brewery is exponentially more than what is required in a large-scale macrobrewery. This unfortunately leads to a higher cost for the beer consumer if they what to purchase from an independent small craft brewery. This disparity in labor is the key driver of growth in brewery jobs, often extolled as one of the great positives of craft beer. Bargain priced craft-like options will be attractive to many consumers, especially those that don’t know what they’re buying. This will result in the failure of many craft breweries attempting to compete within these same outlets.

But what about the reasons given by the acquired craft breweries?

When a former craft brewery sells out, there is a predictable blitz of spinning that occurs as the newly acquired brand scrambles to explain their reasoning and assure their loyal customer base that the brand they support isn’t going to change. The campaign is almost formulaic, hitting on all of the concerns that Big Beer perceives will be on the mind of their new customers.

First, they will always reassure their customer base that the beer is not changing. As a matter of fact, if anything, the beer will get better because of the tremendous technical resources now available to the brewery via the acquisition. This preys on the belief of many consumers that the only thing that matters is the beer in the glass. Yes, qualitatively, I’d wager to say that the beer does stay the same. But I also argue that the source of the beer is much more important than what happens to be in your glass at any given moment. The choices we make buying a given beer today will ultimately drive and determine the beer options we will have in the future.

Another common reassurance is that being owned by Big Beer will make them better stewards of their community. The resources inherent to Big Beer will make them better local citizens. I’ve yet to see proof of this type of Big Beer altruism, but would love to be proven wrong. The fact is that buying from small local businesses keeps the money, jobs, and altruistic endeavors that many of these breweries participate in local.

The most common justification for selling out is the perceived need for a huge capital infusion to fuel a brewery expansion. Yes, funding a massive brewery expansion in an efficient manner is extremely expensive and out of the means of all but the largest craft brewers. I’d, however, ask whether or not expansion needs to always be so swift and in such fell swoops. I’d wager that incremental growth is a perfectly healthy way to operate a craft brewery and that the need for quick expansion and massive growth has more to do with ownership’s personal ego than viability as a company.

Do I begrudge those that sell out?

On the surface, it seems difficult to begrudge a brewery that works hard, sells out, and is able to collect a windfall of capital. The fault seemingly lies solely with the purchaser who has made an offer that simply cannot be refused. The seller is simply grabbing the brass ring. This was an opinion I held until very recently when it occurred to me that selling out is not just about the business transaction. Selling out to Big Beer is a conscious decision that simultaneously devalues craft and violates the moral character upon which the community is built.

Every craft brewery that starts up builds their identity around that of being a ‘craft brewer’. This identity conjures up a very specific meaning in the mind of the consumer. It offers a mental shortcut to a plethora of valuable associations that directly affect a consumer’s purchase decisions. Craft means high quality, flavorful beer, independent, artfully crafted, local, small, anti-corporate,… There is tremendous value in the ability to use this imagery to build and grow a business. I would argue that taking on the identity of ‘craft brewer’ morally obligates you to act as a steward of the craft identity and the community from which it was born. Selling out to Big Beer is a fundamental betrayal to the craft community that directly contributes to the devaluation and confusion of the craft identity, threatening its very existence.

On the other side of the coin, it’s hard to fault the Big Beer companies. They are simply doing what they’ve always done. They are large, faceless corporations and are behaving as such. They are facing declining market share in a segment that is already contracting and reacting in an appropriate manner. They are not morally obligated to the protection of the craft identity the same way craft brewers are.

The recent purchase of Wicked Weed brought to the forefront these types of ethical and value questions facing the craft community. Public statements from Jester King and The Rare Barrel helped renew some of my personal faith that craft holds itself to a higher standard than Big Beer.

With that said, we have some core principles that define who we are as a brewery, and those principles must not be compromised. One of our core principles is that we do not sell beer from AB In-Bev or its affiliates. We’ve chosen this stance, not because of the quality of the beer, but because a portion of the money made off of selling it is used to oppose the interests of craft brewers. In Texas, large brewers (and their distributors) routinely oppose law changes that would help small, independent brewers. We choose not to support these large brewers because of their political stances, and in some cases, their economic practices as well.
– Jester King’s (Blog)

It’s about values.

Yesterday, Wicked Weed announced that they are selling their brewery to the megabrewery AB InBev (Budweiser, Shock Top). Here at The Rare Barrel, we’ve made a decision not to serve, collaborate with, or affiliate with AB InBev because our values do not align with theirs.
– The Rare Barrel (Via Instagram)

What does the future hold?

A key brand identity attribute that makes craft beer attractive to many consumers is the fact that it is produced locally. This is an important factor for many consumers and an attribute I foresee the new craft-like Big Beer brands having a tough time owning. In order to develop this dimension, Big Beer will use their immense financial resources to open up local outposts of the craft brands they own, often in the form of local taprooms or brewpubs. These new establishments can be loss leaders for Big Beer as they provide broader value by reinforcing the local dimension of their brand’s identity. At the same time, they will poach business from local craft breweries that often rely on high-margin taprooms for their viability.

As Big Beer fills out their portfolio of brands to include every fathomable beer style, we’ll likely see less and less non-Big Beer craft brands being sold in large volume stores, restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues. For these establishments, beer buying is a chore now simplified as they can go to a single distributor to purchase the roster of beer styles they’ll be needing.

What Can We do About it?

The pessimist in me, says there is very little we can do to prevent Big Beer from stunting the growth of independent craft beer. The resources Big Beer has at their disposal are simply too great to overcome. It’s not that people don’t care, it’s that the majority of consumers simply aren’t able to tell the difference between a craft-like brand owned by Big Beer and a truly independent craft beer. If you’re reading this blog, you’re like me, a niche within a niche that unfortunately has a pretty small collective voice. What we do have is a lot of friends outside of our niche to whom we can share the story of the David and Goliath struggle that is craft beer and why it should matter to them. We must effectively and politely communicate not only the truth about where the money from craft-like purchases are going, but also the effect it has on the broader craft market and our local communities. The more people we can educate, the bigger the impact we’ll have on purchase decisions and Big Beer’s bottom line. The only way to turn the tide is to make Big Beer’s current efforts an overwhelmingly failed experiment.

Craft-Like Brands Owned in Part or Full by Big Beer

Below we’ve outlined the breweries that we know of who have sold their companies in full or partially to other larger brewing companies. Please note that I’ve made this list as comprehensive as possible. Please let me know of any errors or omissions and I will update.

BreweryOwnerAcquiredNotes
10 Barrel BrewingAB InBev2014New brewpub locations since acquisition: Boise, Denver, Portland, San Diego
Bass AB InBev
Blue Point Brewing AB InBev2014
Breckenridge Brewery AB InBev2015
Devils Backbone Brewing AB InBev2016
Elysian BrewingAB InBev2015
Four Peaks BrewingAB InBev2015
FranziskanerAB InBev
Golden Road Brewing AB InBev2016Opening additional outposts in Sacramento and Oakland.
Goose Island Beer CompanyAB InBev2011
HoegaardenAB InBev
LeffeAB InBev
Shock Top Brewing AB InBevCraft-like Brand Developed In House
SpatenAB InBev
Wicked Weed BrewingAB InBev2017
21st Amendment BreweryBrooklyn Brewery / Kirin Holdings2017Brooklyn Brewery has a minority investment in 21st Amendment.
FunkwerksBrooklyn Brewery / Kirin Holdings2017Brooklyn Brewery has a minority investment in Funkwerks.
Dundee BrewingCervecerίa Costa RicaIn 2012 North American Breweries sold to CCR by private equity firm KPS Capital Partners.
Genesee Brewing CompanyCervecerίa Costa RicaIn 2012 North American Breweries sold to CCR by private equity firm KPS Capital Partners.
Magic HatCervecerίa Costa RicaIn 2012 North American Breweries sold to CCR by private equity firm KPS Capital Partners.
PyramidCervecerίa Costa RicaIn 2012 North American Breweries sold to CCR by private equity firm KPS Capital Partners.
Ballast PointConstellation Brands2015Rumored to have sold for more that 1 billion dollars.
Kona Brewing CompanyCraft Brew Alliance 32% owned by AB InBev.
Omission BeerCraft Brew Alliance32% owned by AB InBev.
Redhook BreweryCraft Brew Alliance32% owned by AB InBev.
Widmer BreweryCraft Brew Alliance32% owned by AB InBev.
Wynwood BrewingCraft Brew Alliance201632% owned by AB InBev. CBA has a 24.5% ownership stake.
Boulevard Brewing CompanyDuvel Moortgat Brewery2014
Brewery OmmegangDuvel Moortgat Brewery2013
Firestone Walker Brewing CompanyDuvel Moortgat Brewery2015
Lagunitas BrewingHeineken International2015-201750% stake in 2015, 100% in 2017. Have begun opening a number of satellite breweries.
Brooklyn BreweryKirin Holdings2016Kirin has a 24.5% ownership stake. Kirin also has a sales partnership with AB InBev in the U.S. related to the distribution of Kirin Ichiban.
Independence Brewing CompanyLagunitas U.S. Holdings2016Undisclosed ownership stake.
Moonlight Brewing Co.Lagunitas U.S. Holdings2016Undisclosed ownership stake.
Southend Brewery and SmokehouseLagunitas U.S. Holdings2016Undisclosed ownership stake.
Founders BrewingMahou-San Miguel201430% ownership stake.
Avery Brewing CompanyMahou-San Miguel201730% ownership stake.
Blue Moon BrewingMillerCoors-Craft-like Brand Developed In House
Hop Valley Brewing MillerCoors2016
Leinenkugel's BreweryMillerCoors1988
Revolver Brewing MillerCoors2016
Saint Archer BrewingMillerCoors2015
Terrapin Beer CompanyMillerCoors2016
Anchor Brewing CompanySapporro2017

Craft Brands Owned in Part or Full by Private Equity

Below we’ve outlined the breweries that we know of who have sold their companies in full or partially to private equity firms. Please note that I’ve made this list as comprehensive as possible. Please let me know of any errors or omissions and I will update.

BreweryOwnerAcquiredNotes
Southern TierArtisanal Brewing Ventures2016Victory and Southern Tier joined to form Artisanal Brewing Ventures (ABV), a private-equity backed holding company.
Victory BrewingArtisanal Brewing Ventures2016Victory and Southern Tier joined to form Artisanal Brewing Ventures (ABV), a private-equity backed holding company.
Full Sail Brewing CompanyEncore Consumer Capital2015
Abita Brewing CompanyEnjoy Beer LLC2015
Cigar CityFireman Capital Partners2016Undisclosed majority share.
Oskar BluesFireman Capital Partners2015Undisclosed majority share.
Squatters / WasatchFireman Capital Partners2012Undisclosed majority share.
Dogfish HeadLNK Partners201515% Ownership Stake
Uinta Brewing CompanyRiverside Company2014
BrewDogTSG Consumer Partners201722% Ownership Stake

Other Entities with ties to Big Beer

Northern Brewer / Midwest Supplies
In 2016, AB InBev via their ‘Disruptive Growth’ investment group ZX Ventures purchased one of the largest homebrew suppliers in the country. It is perplexing what interest AB InBev has in the homebrew market. My suspicion is that they are mining data. Homebrewers tend to be on the leading edge of trends in beer and Northern Brewer is able to provide deep pools of this data type.

Rate Beer
In 2017, it came out that AB InBev’s ZX Ventures had purchased a minority share in Rate Beer. Since this news has come out, several breweries including Dogfish Head and Black Project have requested removal from the ratings site.

The Beer Necessities
TBN is produced by ‘The High End’ division of AB InBev and produces craft beer centric articles and other content.

October
October is an online magazine ‘supported’ by AB InBev’s ZX Ventures and led by Conde Nest, Good Beer Hunting, and BeerGraphs.

Vice: Beerland
A TV show featuring homebrewers across the country seems pretty cool, right? It gets a little fishy when you consider it is hosted by Meg Gill, formerly of Golden Road, now AB InBev. The show has been promoted by The Beer Necessities, which discloses the fact that the show was produced as a partnership between AB InBev’s The High End and Vice Media.