Thursday, February 26, 2009

Craft Brew Segment Continues To Grow Through Recession

This week, the Brewers Association released their 2008 American beer industry growth figures. There's lots of good news for American craft brewers to be found, as their segment grew 5.8% by volume (and 10.5% by dollars) during last year. Craft brewed beer now accounts for 4% by volume (and 6.3% by dollars) of the overall American beer market. While the craft segment didn't grow as rapidly as it did last year when it expanded by 12% by volume, there was still steady improvement.

As for the rest of the American beer market, things weren't quite so encouraging. The import segment shrunk 3.4% by volume, while the "non-craft domestic" segment grew at a rate of just 0.6% by volume. Obviously, the big loser here is the import segment. Perhaps with the economy in the state it's in people are feeling a bit more patriotic?

Here's Brewers Association Director, Paul Gatza's take on last year:
2008 was a historic year for beer with the large brewers consolidating and imports losing share, while the top ten selling beer brands dropped in sales. At the same time, small independent craft brewers continued to gain share and attention.
So is beer, specifically good beer, truly recession-proof? It's probably too early to tell just looking at the 2008 numbers. I think that when these numbers are released again next year, we'll have a much clearer answer. Here's hoping it is.

Check out the whole report to draw your own conclusions.

Friday, February 20, 2009

RIP Bill Brand

Renowned Bay Area beer witter Bill Brand died this morning of injuries sustained in an accident on February 9th, he was 70. My thoughts go out to his family and friends in this tragic time. Check out his blog What's On Tap to see some of his work.

Bill Brand
1938-2009

Old Speckled Hen Review (Nitro-Can)

Brewery: Greene King/Morland Brewery| Beer: Old Speckled Hen
Style: English Pale Ale
| ABV: 5.2%
Serving Method: 14.9 oz. nitro-can poured into pint glass

Old Speckled HenOld Speckled Hen was first brewed in 1979 to commemorate the anniversary of Greene King's fellow Abingdon townsmen, the MG company. As it was the 50th, the brewery designed the beer to have an original gravity of 1.050. Everything else about the beer was designed around that gravity figure.

While MG has since moved on from Abingdon, Greene King still brews Old Speckled Hen. The name refers to a beloved MG company runabout, know as "the old speckled one." Really, any beer brewed to honor a British sports car legend gets bonus points in my book.

In the American market, Old Speckled Hen is available in both clear twelve-ounce bottles and 14.9 ounce nitro-cans. Pitched as "a great choice for those who enjoy a rich, strong beer to drink," it's an English Pale Ale. Here's how the brewery describes the beer:

Old Speckled Hen has a superb rich malty and fruity aroma. When tasting it you will experience a wonderful warming flavor that is bursting with body. Malty (malt loaf) toffee flavors from the pale and crystal malts combine with bitterness on the back of the tongue to give balanced sweetness which is not cloying. This is followed by a dry finish, surprising for ale of this strength.
If it measures up to that lofty description, Old Speckled Hen would be one of the most complex English Pale Ales I've ever tried. Here's hoping.

Appearance: Rich orange-amber body with the tightly packed, creamy head one would expect from a beer equipped with a nitro-widget. The head is a finger high and features brilliant retention and lacing.

Aroma: Rather weak, with lots of banana and some caramel malt notes.

Taste: Nice earthy, mildly bitter tones from the hop department with a somewhat solid toasted brown sugar malt base. Still getting a lot of the banana here, but it's not totally unwelcome. It's just a little bit thin in the flavor department, and there are definite metallic tones every now and then. The moderate booze occasionally rises up to the surface.

Mouthfeel: Standard nitro-can creaminess and low carbonation levels, but with a somewhat watery body. The finish is slightly dry.

Drinkability: Goes down smooth and easy with just over five percent alcohol by volume, making it a good session beer.

Verdict: Old Speckled Hen is a solid, but generally unexciting beer. Nice enough flavor profile, very sessionable, and has the brilliant creaminess that you get with a nitro-can. If you're looking for something in a nitro-can besides Guinness and Boddingtons, you won't go wrong here.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Samuel Adams To Release New Imperial Series

While the Samuel Adams beer portfolio is one of the widest in the market today, they're showing no signs of slowing down. Fresh from the bottling line is the new Samuel Adams Imperial Series, a collection that, according to the company, "represent[s] some of the biggest and most intense beers we have ever brewed." That's saying something with such legendary extreme beers as Utopias and Millennium under their belt. The series is composed of three different beers; two brand new and one old.

First up is Double Bock, based on the beer of the same name, one of the company's first seasonal beers. According to the brewer, the recipie has been "amped up," so this isn't just a rebranding of the beer. Here's the company line:

Over the past 20 years, Samuel Adams Double Bock has become one of the Samuel Adams Brewery's most acclaimed beers. An enormous amount of two-row Harrington Metcalfe and Caramel 60 malts, half a pound per bottle, is used to brew this intense, rich lager. This beer is close to the idea of beer as "liquid bread." Its deep mahogany color, velvet smooth, rich yet slightly citrusy flavor and mouthfeel is a testament to the beer's balance. In the past, Samuel Adams Double Bock has been available for a short six-week period. The brewers have decided to make it available year-round with the other Big Beers in the Samuel Adams Imperial Series.
Next is Imperial White, which is probably just a more extreme version of one their current seasonals, White Ale. Here's the company line:
Samuel Adams Imperial White pushes out the boundaries of the witbier style. While showcasing the traditional witbier aromas and hazy appearance, it delivers a bigger mouthfeel and body. Brewed with ten spices, and a high quality blend of two-row Harrington, Munich and Metcalfe malts, malted wheat, and an abundance of Hallertau Mittelfrueh Noble hops, Samuel Adams Imperial White is an incredibly robust, refreshing beer with notes of orange and coriander.
Last, but certainly not least, is the second new beer, and the one I'm most excited about: Imperial Stout. Here's the company line:
Much bigger than your average stout, Samuel Adams Imperial Stout is a colossal beer inspired by centuries-old stouts. These traditional stouts were first brewed by 18th century English brewers for the Russian Imperial Court of Catherine the Great. Brewed with an abundance of East Kent Goldings hops and Caramel 60 and Munich malts, this beer is intense with full rich flavors like dark chocolate, coffee and anise.
I was surprised to not see their Hallertau Imperial Pilsner (see my review here) on the list. I'm not sure what that means for the fate of Hallertau, as you would think that if they planned on keeping the beer on the market it would be rolled in the new series, like Double Bock. Here's hoping it's not going anywhere, as it's one of my favorites from the boys in Boston.

According to the company, you should start seeing these beers showing up towards the end of February, at a price of $9.99 per four-pack.

Imperial Series info on SamuelAdams.com

Monday, February 9, 2009

Brooklyn East India Pale Ale Review

Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery | Beer: East India Pale Ale
Style: English India Pale Ale | ABV: 6.9%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into pint glass

Brooklyn East India Pale AleWhen I first started getting into the world of beer, Stout was my favorite style. While looking up new Stouts to try, I kept running into massive praise for Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout, but it simply wasn't available in the Houston area. Much to my surprise, Brooklyn beers started showing up here a few months ago. Unfortunately, Black Chocolate Stout was not amongst the few varieties that made it down here in the first wave.

What did make it's way down was their India Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Lager, and Local 1 (a Belgian Strong Pale Ale). As IPAs are one of my favorite styles, I decided to start with their attempt. After so much waiting, this is the first Brooklyn beer I've had the pleasure to try, and I'm very much looking forward to diving in.

But first, perhaps we should pay attention to the beer at hand. Brooklyn devised this beer in the more traditional English style of IPA, rather than the American style that dominates here today. Considerably more mellow than the hop-bombs we've started to crank out here in America during recent years, the English style is closer to what actually made it to India all those years ago, a hoppier and maltier version of the normal Pale Ale, designed to make the arduous journey without spoiling like a weaker beer.

Brooklyn describe the beer as a "deep golden beer brewed from British malt and a blend of hops featuring the choice East Kent Golding variety. It is traditionally dry-hopped for a bright aroma of hops, lemongrass, pine and citrus fruit, and has a robust bitterness, a warming malt palate and a clean hoppy finish."

Appearance: Crystal clear and bubbly pale golden-amber body. Pours a rather large and bubbly white head that quickly melts into a solid finger, leaving good lacing all the way down.

Aroma: Sweet caramel malt with some clean, floral, and perfumey hops and some sweet fruit. A few notes of apple cider. It's all pleasant enough, but as this is an IPA, I was expecting a lot more from the hops.

Taste: Grassy and bitter (not a normal hop bitterness) with a weird metallic taste. There's a solid lightly roasted malt backbone that tends to overshadow the hops, which is odd for an IPA. The alcohol is always present, I'd like to see it hidden a little better. To be frank, this is a confusing beer.

Mouthfeel: A solid medium body with moderately-high carbonation.

Drinkability: This would be quite sessionable, if it weren't for the alcohol being so prominent.

Verdict: Seems much more like an English Pale Ale, than an English IPA, to me. Even then, there are a lot of problems with this beer. I'm not deterred in my quest to sample the rest of the Brooklyn line, but perhaps becoming a little anxious.

Grade: C

Samuel Adams Winter Lager (AKA Winter Brew) Review

Brewery: Boston Brewing Co. | Beer: Samuel Adams Winter Lager (AKA Winter Brew)
Style: Bock | ABV: 5.8%
Serving Method: 12 oz. bottle poured into Pilsner glass

Samuel Adams Winter LagerFirst brewed in 1989 as one of their first seasonal offerings, Winter Lager (occasionally labeled as Winter Brew due to state liquor laws) is Sam Adam's main Winter seasonal. Since '89 Sam Adams have added more beers to their Winter seasonal collection: Winter Porter, Old Fezziwig Ale, and Cranberry Lambic. All of these and a few mainstays can be found in a handy Winter variety 12-pack.

Sam Adams list the beer as a dark Bock, brewed with "generous quantities of malted wheat." To be more specific, the malt backbone is composed of Two Row Pale, Caramel 60, Wheat Malt and Munich varieties. Hops are provided by East Kent Golding, Tettnang-Hallertauer and Tettnanger Noble varieties. As with most Winter beers, emphasis has been put on brewing something full-bodied and warming. Sam Adam's brew the beer using a decoction mash and is Krausen it to "add body and sweetness."

Appearance: Clear copper/burnt orange body with a finger and a mass of sticky, off-white head. It easily topped my Pilsner glass and left good lacing.

Aroma: Brown sugar and caramel malt with a decent dash of spices. A little bit of citrusy hops on the edges.

Taste: Bold, toasty malt with the spices providing decent balance. There's also a bit of honey that lingers into the aftertaste. Citrusy hops show up in the finish, but are still firmly behind the malt backbone. Occasional tinges of booze in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Creamy and medium-light bodied with moderate carbonation. Compared to the sweet body, the finish drys a bit.

Drinkability: Another relativity quick Winter seasonal from Sam Adams. While very full-flavored, Winter Lager goes down easily.

Verdict: A solid Winter seasonal and, at least in my opinion, one of Sam Adam's best offerings. A safe bet for a mellow, but still full-flavored Winter seasonal, Winter Lager is worth a try for sure.

Grade: B+