Tagged: beer

Are Craft Beer Sales Really “Tapping Out?”

Earlier this week, a Wall Street Journal article reported on a significant decline in the sale of craft beers—a $143 million drop, resulting in sales of $2.7 billion for the first half of 2017.

Implied in this story is that craft beer bubble, which I have discussed earlier on this site, may finally be bursting:

After years of strong gains, American craft brewers are now bracing for a shakeout. Shipments are falling for many independent brewers stuck in the middle between local niche brands and competitors that were bought by heavyweights such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors.

Earlier this winter, I wrote that we’re experiencing a golden age of craft beers in the United States and that some day, this golden age—as all others must—will end. But the decline reported in this article does not portend the end of the current craft beer golden age.

Craft beers are kind of like coffee in that there are three tiers, if not necessarily three waves as there is with coffee. The tiers of craft breweries are:

  1. The big, legacy players that emerged during the “micro brewing” era, such as Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada that have national distribution. They have been around long enough to have a place at just about every taproom in the US and are well-position to stave off acquisition.
  2. The newer breweries that have either been acquired by a big conglomerate, such as Ballast Point, Lagunitas, and Goose Island, or those that are still independent but around in many regions throughout the country. Some examples of the latter include Dogfish Head, Brooklyn, and New Belgium.
  3. The local nanobreweries that emerged since the end of the last decade—coincidentally around the same time as the last financial crisis—remain available only at the brewery’s taproom and at a few bars and grocery stores in their home region. These are also the breweries that release cans to much celebration. There are too many examples to name, but it seems that just about every town in America has an Irish pub, a Chinese takeout restaurant, and a brewery of this sort. The quality of their beer can vary greatly.

The article’s discussion about the decline in craft beer sales seem to be concentrated in the second tier I named above. Those big names in craft beer have fallen out of favor, either because they were acquired by a conglomerate and have lost their “street cred” or because their beers have lost their edge compared to what the newer, more experimental nanobreweries are producing today.

Personally, I am certainly more interested in trying out new offerings by breweries that might seem more experimental. To return to my comparison of the coffee market, I’m more attracted to what a local coffee shop or well-known roaster has to offer than what I can get at a Starbucks or Peet’s location.

The decline in the overall craft beer market is certainly significant, but it is entirely plausible to attribute that decline to people switching from Sierra Nevada and Goose Island to something that they got at their local brewery’s taproom. In short, it might still be a great time to be a locally oriented craft brewer, just make sure you don’t get too big or don’t stick with the same offerings forever.

It also might help if you consistently make good beer, too.

Mikkeller to Open Brewery and Restaurant Inside New York Mets’ Citi Field

When Citi Field and Yankee Stadium 2.0 opened in 2009, there were inevitable and exhaustive comparisons between the two. The consensus was, at least among my friends, that the Mets park was much better than what the Yankees had built in that it felt more like a baseball stadium. It seemed that the Yankees didn’t build a baseball stadium as much as they openend an airport shopping mall with a baseball field in the middle of it, peppering it with a few hot dog stands. Also, Citi Field had better food offerings: a pair of Danny Meyer food stands, a beer garden, and vegetarian options.

Many People In Line At The Citi Field Shake Shack - Black & White Version; Flushing, New York

Although both stadiums were built almost exactly where the old parks stood, the two parks were built as centerpieces of urban redevelopment in the South Bronx and at Willets Point in Queens.

The Yankees opened a Hard Rock Cafe that is open year-round, even when the Yankees aren’t playing. I don’t know a single person that would plan a trip to go there.

Hard Rock Cafe Yankee Stadium

At Citi Field, however, there will be a much more compelling reason to schlep to Willets Point during the baseball offseason. Danish brewery Mikkeller is coming to Citi Field:

Mikkeller announced that it’s expanding, and will open its first East Coast Brewery this fall at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens. The forthcoming brewery “Mikkeller Brewing NYC” will be in a non-ticketed part of the stadium, and remain open year-round.

I think the Mets outdid the Yankees here, again. Mikkeller has a sterling reputation among beer nerds with their breweries in Copenhagen, Denmark and in San Diego, California and with two bars—also in California—in San Francisco and Los Angeles. This will be their first foothold in the US East Coast. And although the food options are “safe,” trafficking in established household names of contemporary cuisine, namely David Chang’s fried chicken and Pat LaFrieda’s burgers, it sure beats eating whatever passes for food at a Hard Rock Cafe these days.

Mikkeller NYC is due to open this fall, presumably shortly after the Mets have been eliminated from qualifying for the postseason.

Craft Beer Cans are the New Sneakers, the New Baseball Cards, the New 180-Gram Records

Readers and personal acquaintances know that I’ve generally been supportive of the craft beer movement that has exploded over the years. After all, craft breweries provide an ideal destination after a long bike ride.

One of the more puzzling aspects of this movement is the obsession with cans. Many craft breweries have been canning beer for a while now, and while I certainly appreciate that this allows breweries to offer their beers beyond their own taprooms and a few nearby bars, there’s a bothersome subculture that has emerged to buy cases-upon-cases of these cans to trade them with other beer aficionados. This was on display yesterday at LIC Beer Project, in Long Island City.

Coronation Day!

A post shared by Jeremy Ball (@jeremyaball) on

The brewery released cans of their Pile of Crowns IPA on a rainy Saturday, beginning at noon, and by one account, they sold out within a half hour.

Although I wasn’t set on buying cans, I was disappointed to find out they were out of Pile of Crowns IPA. Except they weren’t out of this beer at all! They were serving it on tap, for on-premises consumption and for take-home growler fills. You bet that I got a pint.

The taproom at LIC Beer Project has draft beers, even after they sell out of cans.

Having savored the tasty, fruity, juicy beer, I wondered about the hype behind the craft beer cans. No doubt, the can artwork is one of my favorite aspects of these cans. Because they print on a wrap-around label, rather than on the can itself, the artwork adorning the can is more akin to a poster or an album cover than the bland labels or printed cans we’ve seen forever.

LIC Beer Project Coronation Day, May 13, 2016, Pile of Crowns IPA can release day

I really like the artwork on these cans, as you can see in this ad for the Pile of Crowns IPA can release at LIC Beer Project.

However, these can releases and the euphoria surrounding them seem to be a way of introducing scarcity to the craft beer movement. Buying a can of craft beer is getting a precious object that you can trade like a valuable commodity. It reminds of those subcultures that buy and trade sneakers, limited-edition 180-gram vinyl records, or, going back to my youth, baseball cards. While there’s nothing precious about having someone spill some beer into your glass or growler, there’s an authenticity to that exchange. In essence, you’re buying the beer for the beer, as if you’re buying a record for the music or the baseball card because you’re a fan of the player. Being a collector is not necessarily the same as being a fanatic.

I fear that these limited can releases will only hasten the decline of the movement into a consolidated industry with fewer choices than we have now. As I’ve said before, the wonderful thing about craft beer right now is that there’s so much of it. The scarcity of cans suggests that we’re interested in less great beer, not more of it.

Trademarks, or We Are Saturated with Craft Beer

Earlier this week, Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing celebrated their third anniversary, on the same week that they were named by Rate Beer as one of the ten best breweries in the world.

To commemorate their anniversary, they released cans of a special 3rd Anniversary IPA.

Other Half Brewing's 3rd Anniversary Ale

“You don’t save Other Half’s 3rd Anniversary IPA for a special occasion. The special occasion is when you drink it.”

I didn’t actually get to buy this beer, nor did I visit Other Half in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, on the occasion of their third anniversary. But I did see that this special brew is available at a local beer establishment down the street from me. And yes, I do plan on getting a can before they run out.

When I first saw the can, I didn’t correctly identify the producers. I didn’t think “Other Half Third Anniversary.” I thought “Threes,” as in Threes Brewing, another brewery located in nearby Gowanus, Brooklyn.

The case of mistaken identity is notable because, about a year ago, Threes Brewing was engaged in a dispute over their name with another brewery in southern New Jersey, named Three 3s. Brooklyn’s Threes even took their case to their Instagram followers, asking whether they should pursue legal action against Jersey’s Three 3s.

I chimed in and thought that the different names and wordmarks—as well as their very different sense of graphic design—were enough to distinguish one brewery from another. Also, the two don’t seem to compete in each other’s markets. Threes is primarily in Brooklyn, and Three 3s is in Hammonton, about halfway between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. But my initial confusion with Other Half’s Third Anniversary commemorative can suggests, at least to me, that there’s so much beer out there that it’s almost impossible to not inadvertently release that might run afoul of someone else’s creation or intellectual property.

As the late Umberto Eco wrote, “books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.”

The purpose of a trademark is to prevent a consumer from confusing one product with another and to protect the reputation of the company that holds the legal right to that trademark. Again, I don’t see anyone reasonably confusing one brewery with another, as with Threes and Three 3s. Furthermore, I certainly don’t think that the fine folks at Threes Brewing would ask Other Half to cease and desist: it’s not a neighborly thing to do, and no one owns a trademark on the number three.

In any case, potential trademark clashes such as these are a sign that the craft beer industry is in really good shape. There’s a lot of beer being brewed right now and some day we’ll look back at this period as a golden age of craft beer. We can drink a lot of different beers, and we have no hope of ever drinking the same beer twice. This is a good problem to have.

But alas, the history of every Golden Age ends in one of two ways: with a spectacular crash or slow withering decline. Either way, Golden Ages don’t last forever, and the craft beer industry will be no exception. I can’t tell exactly why the Golden Age of Craft Beer will end, but here are some theories:

  • People’s taste will change and they will stop drinking beer.
  • There will be too many breweries, and the beer-drinking public will settle in to their choices. The others will die.
  • Breweries begin to merge and consolidation will take hold of yet another industry.
  • There will be a hops crisis like the one in 2008. Never forget!
  • Teetotaling Trump will sign some executive order that will ban all beer that is not the same color of his skin. At least Schofferhofer will remain on the market.

All of this is to say that we should enjoy this period before all we have to drink is something from Goose Island and Ballast Point.

I’ll let you know what I think about that can of Other Half 3rd Anniversary IPA as soon as I get to enjoy one.

Fresh Beer, Fresh Service

A long time ago on restaurant row in Beverly Hills, there used to be a cheesy diner called Ed Debevic’s. It was the west coast branch of a “sassy” Chicago diner, but it closed many years ago. The menu was filled with cheesy jokes, and I’m not referring to forgettable food items listed therein. Aside from a general idea of its location and its name, the only thing I remember was its slogan: “Good Food, Fresh Service.”

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About a year ago, I had a run-in with a local brewery that would not fill another brewery’s growler. At the time, I wasn’t aware that California law is much stricter than that of New York or other states regarding growler fills. Briefly, California law requires specific labelling requirements, including that container not visibly bear the markings of a different brewery. It is, in some measure, a truth-in-labelling requirement.

This year, armed with better information, I bought a nice lightweight, stainless steel growler that bears no markings or references to any brewery.

A brewery can fill any container, provided that the brewery affixes its own approved label that lists their the name and location of the brewery, the name of the beer in the container, the alcohol content (if 5.7% abv or greater), and the net contents of the container.

Besides some abstract sense of principle, there are practical considerations. Beer and bicycling go really well together.

Where we're going, we don't need tools!

Where we’re going, we don’t need tools!

The new wave of “craft” breweries are obsessed with fresh beer1, but when I have brought my new stainless steel growler to some breweries, they have also provided fresh service.

It’s been hit-or-miss whether a California brewery will fill an unmarked growler. Breweries are, of course, free to decline to fill an unsuitable container, but I have been bringing one that conforms to the letter of the law. El Segundo Brewing located just south of LAX and Lucky Luke in Palmdale were good enough to fill it, but Bravery Brewing in Lancaster would not.

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My guess is that that many brewery employees simply don’t understand the rules governing growler fills and reflexively reject any container that is not their own. They will quote state law as the reason, but it’s more likely that ignorance and laziness to learn the rules is why they won’t make perfectly legal exemptions to their onerous growler policies.

It’s silly when someone won’t sell a thirsty client some beer when we’re both following the rules. It’s not like I’m going to drink it on-premises or something clearly illegal like that.

For all the talk of the painstaking craft of brewing beer, let’s not forget that beer is business. Fill my blank, generic growler, and I’ll hand you some cash.


  1. I really hate the name “craft” referring to corn-free beer, by the way. 

Four LIC Breweries to Host Ten-Day Beer Crawl

Remember when the three local breweries in Long Island City staged a beer-crawl back in February?

In recent months, a fourth brewery, the LIC Beer Project, has opened north of Queens Plaza in recent months. Now that there’s a fourth, the beer-making outfits are collectively launching a late-summer beer crawl starting today, August 14, and running through next Sunday, August 23.

The four participating brewing outfits are:

  • Big Alice Brewing, 8-08 43rd Rd.
  • LIC Beer Project, 39-28 23rd St.
  • Rockaway Brewing Company, 46-01 5th St.
  • Transmitter Brewing, 53-02 11th St.

I still want to take credit for the idea, but, you know, I haven’t even been to Transmitter or Big Alice, much less the newly opened LIC Beer Project, despite my love of passports.

It might time to walk the walk, or to, ahem, crawl the crawl.

The LIC Beer Crawl

Hyperlocal news website The LIC Post reports that the three nanobreweries in Long Island City are hosting a brewery crawl, complete with passports that visitors get stamped and submit for a raffle.

Rockaway Brewing Company (46-01 5th Street), Big Alice Brewing (8-08 43rd Road) and Transmitter Brewing (53-02 11th Street) are coming together to offer a brewery crawl during beer week, which runs from Feb. 20 to March 1.

It’s great to see these breweries, the “LIC Three” as I once called them, band together to make the neighborhood a more lively destination. Also, can I take credit for this idea?

The Beer-SIG

A few days ago, the New York Cycle Club opened registration for its spring programs, including the SIG and the STS. The programs are the crown jewels of the club. The volunteer leaders run an instructional series, known as a SIG, for novice cyclists on how to improve their riding skills and a separate training series, known as an STS, to help more experienced types get in shape for the season. As a “B” rider, I did the B-SIG back in 2008, and have done the B-STS over the last two years…and again this year. If you find this interesting and want to signup, you’re probably too late. They fill up fast.

In addition to each SIG and STS at A, B, and C levels, the club president has added a new-for-2015 R-STS series for randonneurs. If you know me, you know I like to ride my bike for long distances and extended periods of time, but randonneurs are a whole different breed. It’s one thing to ride for twelve hours, from dawn to dusk, but it’s another to ride a 300K for twenty hours, mostly in the dark. That’s not for me, even if the final ride in May is only 200 km, because I know I’ll be beating myself for not having done a 600K in August.

But do you know what would be more to my liking? A Beer-SIG!

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Although one club member led an “Autumn Leaves and Seasonal Hops” series, a Beer-SIG would probaby never happen as an official club series, but let’s make believe. It’s Friday the 13th; it’s a February day with a temperature of about 8° F outside; and tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I say “bleh” to all these things. Instead, let’s imagine some places we would ride our bikes, in warm or even hot weather, with the intent to visit brewery tap rooms within our region.

In no particular order, let’s consider…

  • Peekskill Brewing. As I’ve said before, it’s the new Nyack.
  • North River Hops and Brewery. I learned of these guys when they liked one of my photos on Instagram. Located in Wappinger Falls in Dutchess County, their brewery is a short ride to the New Hamburg Metro North Station, where I can greet three mysterious ladies.
  • Vault Brewing. This brewery is in the quaint town of Yardley, Pennsylvania in an old bank vault. It’s made for an excellent finishing point on the ride when I had a bad allergic reaction in October. It could also be a great lunch stop on the Cheesesteak Century because not only do they serve food, they serve a four-ounce pour for $2 to power you through the remaining thirty-five miles to Philadelphia.
  • Second Story Brewing. There’s a ton of places to choose in Philadelphia, but this one was great because it was big, they let us bring our bikes inside, and it was a short ride to SEPTA at Market East Jefferson Station.
  • Two Roads Brewing. We stopped here in November on club’s ride to New Haven, but it’s easy enough to make a ride that ends at this Statford, Connecticut–brewery. For one thing, the Metro North station is only about a mile away.
  • Crooked Ladder Brewery. Located in Riverhead, this was supposed to be the finishing point for the North Shore ride that I led in November. It’s easy enough to get home, if one doesn’t mind taking the 6:45 PM train home and getting back to NYC around 9:00 PM.
  • Greenport Harbor. One of my dream rides is a midseason Greenpoint-to-Greenport ride. It would be about 110 miles, and it would rule!
  • Blind Bat Brewery. This brewery is moving to Smithtown, Long Island from Centerport, and could be part of a short ride from Jamaica or a longer loop from Port Jefferson or something.
  • Captain Lawrence Brewing. Located in Elmsford, New York, it is sadly not near any train station, but it is about a mile or so away from junction of the North and South County Trails in Westchester County. From there, one can do a hilly five-mile ride to either Tarrytown or White Plains. Or one could head south on the trail and finish at the Bronx Brewery and take the 6 train home.

And these are just the ones that immediately come to mind.

In the meantime, I’ll have to content myself with an old fashioned and the fond expectancy of spring.

Brewers, Growlers and Scofflaws

I’ve been in California a whole week now, and in addition to spreading holiday cheer with my family, I’ve continued my tour of local breweries where I order a flight.

Earlier this week, my mom and I headed to Little Tokyo near downtown Los Angeles. Over the years, I really got to know that neighborhood over the years, and Little Tokyo became my favorite neighborhood in LA. It’s centrally located with a good deal of public transit, including nearby Union Station. There’s some really good food in the area, and there’s a burgeoning nightlife scene, albeit an increasingly trendy one. And, of course, there’s also a brewery tap room at Angel City.

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I tried to visit Angel City Brewing some years ago with a New York transplant friend, but it was closed at the time. Sarah and I went last year, and I finally managed to get a couple of pints last New Year’s Day, including an unusually light-colored stout.

Angel City Stout

After running a few errands with my mom near Little Tokyo, we headed to the brewery where I bought a flight to sample their offerings and to fill a half-gallon growler I bought at the brewery.

Angel City Brewing

She also kicked my butt at Jenga. Twice.

Angel City Brewing

After Christmas, it was time to venture on the town, lest I go completely stir crazy. Fortunately, the Antelope Valley actually has more than one local brewery. In addition to Bravery Brewing off Avenue L in Lancaster, there’s also Kinetic Brewing, full-fledged brew-pub on Lancaster Boulevard. As is my style, I ordered a flight of seven of their beers. At $10, it was an absolute steal.

Kinetic Brewing

When it came to time to leave, I took out my Angel City half-gallon growler and asked that they fill it. They refused because the growler came from another brewery. The only way they would let me buy beer to-go was if I bought a new glass growler from them. Perhaps emboldened by a few of their beers, I took to Twitter.

Nothing significant came of it, but I wondered why they refused to fill a growler from another brewery.

Was it a business decision? If so, it’s really short-sighted. Sure, they’re giving up a dollar or two on selling a new growler, but I’m offering them money to spill some beer into a glass receptacle. What difference does it make who put their trademark on it? Or…

Was it a regulatory issue? Is it not legal in California to fill a growler from another brewery?

It turns out, that it is the latter.

In California, a glass growler is subject to the same labelling requirements governing other containers, such as cans, bottles and kegs. The list of requirements is quite long, but the most relevant requirements for each label are…

  • the name and location of the manufacturer (city and state) and bottler (if different).
  • the name of the beer in the container.
  • the alcohol content, if 5.7% abv or greater. It is optional if below.
  • the net contents of the container.

As a workaround, any brewery is free to place their own sticker on a bottle, but the letter of the law is quite strict about doing so:

Any and all information pertaining to another beer manufacturer other than the licensee filling/selling the container must be obscured. All text and logos from a previous brewery must be obscured.

The California Craft Brewers Association, which published a Growler Clarification document for its members, also offers them a list of best practices in marketing growlers to their thirsty customers. As far as meeting the labelling requirements, they recommend brewers use a label that hangs from the neck of the bottle, instead of printing onto the glass bottles.

The California Craft Brewers Association recommends these hanging neck labels for growlers

As a loyal craft beer drinker, I hope that, in time, brewers throughout the state adopt this particular labelling technique. It is presumably cheaper than printing your own bottle, and it will make it easier for everyone to enjoy their products without resorting to acting like scofflaws.

Frequent “Flyer” Photos

A few years ago, when Instagram was becoming a thing and people started taking photos of the elegantly plated meals they had at restaurants, I remember reading a screed somewhere that criticized the practice. The author took issue with people using their smartphone cameras to snap blurry, heavily filtered, square photos of “blobs of food.” His rationale was that the image of the food alone didn’t communicate the excitement of the experience.

That spoke to me.

During a visit to Cooperstown in 2012, we stumbled into the dining room of the Council Rock Brewing. It was early October, and the brewery was commemorating Oktoberfest like any good beer supplier would do. Overwhelmed by the choices of beers available, I resorted to ordering a flight. At first, I was tempted to snap a photo of my flight which looked like an artist’s easel covered with several tawny pigments. But I resisted because that photo would not have captured the excited anticipation of sampling each brew. Instead, I posed for a snapshot.

Excited to Taste at Council Rock Brewery

Since then, it’s become somewhat of a theme for each time I get a flight at a brewery tap room. (What can I say? I like structure.)

Last year, I ordered a flight after a very hot, sixty-mile ride on Bastille Day from Poughkeepsie to Beacon via New Paltz. Although I look a little bit exhausted in the blurry photo, I was really excited to cap off a great ride with some delicious beer and kick off a great day in Beacon.

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This year, I started to make a conscious effort to make these kinds of photos, as part of a series, especially when I buy a flight at the end of a bike ride.

For example, in October, I posed for a photo with a flight I got at The Vault Brewing in Yardley, Pennsylvania. If I don’t look like my usual content and composed self, it’s because I was suffering from an allergic reaction and was drowsy from a double-dose of Benadryl.

Pre-Flight

I was in slightly higher spirits carrying these beers in Patchogue at the Blue Point Brewery after riding there from Jamaica over Labor Day weekend.

Careful

And the following week, I posed with one glass from my flight at Greenport Harbor Brewing after riding to Orient on one of the greatest days of the year.

We Biked 90 Miles… Beer Me

Last month, I had a fellow rider shoot a photo of me posing with a flight at Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, Connecticut, as part of our ride to New Haven.

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Another fellow rider more or less recreated the October 2012 photo with this shot of me at the Green Growler in Croton-on-Hudson.

Green Growler

Even on occasions where I didn’t ride a bike to a brewery, I still posed with the flight. I did so at last week’s holiday party at Rockaway Brewing.

Rockaway Brewing Pint Party

Speaking of the holidays, I am now in California for almost three weeks and this first week, I am spending it with my parents. We ventured to do some grocery shopping, and almost immediately, as if I were a computer programmed to do so, I found the tap room for Bravery Brewing, in Lancaster, California.

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Twenty years ago, it seemed unthinkable to have a pretty solid brewery in the Antelope Valley. But I think, like an Irish pub and Chinese restaurant, any town worth a damn will also have a local brewery tap room.

And, of course, I’ll be there to order flight and get a photo of me excitedly waiting to try it.