Beers in Review: Dark and Light

For this first review, we go back to one of my hometown’s standard bearers, River Rat Brewery. My Morning Stout is their primary stout with an ABV of 6%. The beer pours a dark cola brown to near-black, and I found it to be fairly light-bodied. There is plenty of coffee present—a unique blend made by a Georgia-based independent coffee roaster. Burnt sugar, cocoa, and vanilla notes are all present, and I feel like the beer had a bit of a cold brew coffee-style thing going on: a little sweet and maybe a little milky, at least to me. Another solid effort by River Rat.

Next up, we go about as far in the opposite style direction as possible with this offering from Charleston’s Frothy Beard Brewing Company. They seem to like their fruity Blonde Ales (currently featuring a Blueberry Blonde), and got to enjoy their Strawberry Blonde Ale earlier this year. 5.2% ABV, the beer pours a fairly clear nice straw gold color. As expected, strawberries make up darn near everything in this beer. The sweetness level on this beer is pretty high, almost pushing to the point of being too much for me, but staying JUUUUUUST on the right side of my line. Overall, I found this to be a light and tasty Blonde Ale.

Beers in Review: A Pair from Cottontown

Cottontown Brew Lab has been a member of the Columbia beer scene for a couple of years now. Originally a production-only facility, they opened up an outdoor Beer Garden over the summer at their location in one of Columbia’s historic downtown neighborhoods, the eponymous Cottontown. Their goal is to embrace the “Famously Hot” nature of Columbia, South Carolina, and present a core line-up of beers that are enjoyable even on those unbearable high humidity, near-100 degree days that dominate the area for most of the summer. I’ve had the opportunity recently to try a couple of offerings from their core line-up.

Their Blue Zip Tie IPA comes in at 7.6% ABV and 80 IBU, and strikes a remarkable balance of flavors and aromas. I got plenty of maltiness (I believe caramel malts) and dark sweetness to go a mild hop bite and notes of pine and plenty of aromatics. Again, generally light in nature, and pouring a fairly clear golden color, I found this to be a nice IPA whose balance makes it different from many of the others.

Second up is the Carolina Crush Session IPA. It pours a hazy yellow-gold color, and clocks in at 4.5% ABV and 25 IBU. Also fairly light and fairly straight forward in flavor, with hoppy pine and dank notes. They also nailed the “trick”, as I felt like I was getting citrus zest notes throughout, but the brewers claim that no fruit is used in the production of this beer. A solid session beer.

Return to Asheville, Part 5

The biggest thing from the back end of the trip was the visit to Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s East Coast production facility, located just outside of Asheville in Mills River, NC. It’s right next to the Asheville airport, but given how much green land SN bought up (it’s about a quarter- to half-mile drive through forest to get from the front gate to the brewery.

 You’ll notice throughout the parking lot there are several “trees” made out of solar panels, which help provide power for the facility.

You’ll notice throughout the parking lot there are several “trees” made out of solar panels, which help provide power for the facility.

 One of several glorious exterior shots.

One of several glorious exterior shots.

The brewery nails a naturalist-meets-Willy-Wonka aesthetic, and as colleague described it to me, the place was designed for brewery tours. Indeed, they hold numerous tours of varying content and levels of detail each week. And if you want to go at your own pace, there is a several hundred foot-long corridor with expansive top-down views of various parts of the production process, an in-depth description of the production process, and many displays highlighting the history of beer in general and Sierra Nevada specifically.

IMG_1700.JPG
 Bottles from throughout Sierra Nevada’s history.

Bottles from throughout Sierra Nevada’s history.

There are spacious sit-down spaces both inside at their tasting bar/pub AND outside behind the brewery, as well as a high-gravity beer bar just upstairs from the main tasting bar.

 The Sierra Nevada brings together just about every SN beer you can think of.

The Sierra Nevada brings together just about every SN beer you can think of.

Without a doubt, the brewery is absolutely beautiful. I’ve seen more than a few self-guided brewery tours in my time (they are a requirement before drinking in a brewery in New Jersey). This one blows EVERY ONE away. It helps that Sierra Nevada’s a big boy in the craft world, but they nailed the brewery experience in every way at the Mills River brewery.

Return to Asheville, Part 4

Now, finally, we get to the meat of the weekend, so to speak: Saturday on South Slope. This was my 2nd trip to the South Slope, the eclectic roughly 10-block area that sits just down the hill from the city center, and I made it a point to largely stay away from places I had visited on my last trip. I lead off with Hi-Wire Brewing. Having recently celebrated their 5th anniversary, I really enjoyed the vibe of their downtown tap room (they also have a larger, more open location near the Historic Biltmore Village south of the city)--it is a superindustrial location, looking like their old loading dock with a bar in the back and a handful of tables sprinkled across the workfloor. But manages to have a chill and unpretentious vibe, and goes old-school with an original Super Nintendo and what I'm pretty sure was a pinball machine from Elton John's performance of "Pinball Wizard" in the movie version of the The Who's Tommy.

 The vegan, gluten-free water to help the beer go down easier.

The vegan, gluten-free water to help the beer go down easier.

 From left to right/1-4: their Imperial Stout (this time infused with Horchata), their version of the New England/Hazy IPA, one of their flagship IPAs, and their seasonal Hefeweisen.

From left to right/1-4: their Imperial Stout (this time infused with Horchata), their version of the New England/Hazy IPA, one of their flagship IPAs, and their seasonal Hefeweisen.

I had the flight shown above, and enjoyed everything. The Horchata 10W-40 was just a hair sweet for me. In this group, the Uprisin' Hefeweisen stood out. Amongst their core beers, I had a Bed of Nails Brown Ale with dinner another night, and found it to be fantastic. The Gose is also very good, if you're into that sort of thing.

Next was a quick trip to Asheville Brewing Company. Again, I'd visited here before, so this served as a quick lunch stop. Though, for something completely different, I tried Roland's ESB, which hit the nail right on the head: malty, slightly sweet, and smooth.

 I even nailed the logo placement!

I even nailed the logo placement!

The third stop of the afternoon was Catawba Brewing Company.

 Courtesy the Catawba website.

Courtesy the Catawba website.

Boasting a sleek and spacious tasting room with a funky outdoor seating area (including room for a food truck or two), I tried a few different fruit-infused versions of Friki Tiki, their try at the New England/Juicy IPA style, before settling on the Lemon-Lime variant, which I really enjoyed.

Before we go on, I did not stop at either Wicked Weed location, feeling no strong desire to support A-B InBev’s well-documented assimilation of the brand. En route to Catawba, however, I did pass by the Funkatorium taproom. It seems they are using their Evil Empire money well, as what was once a fairly small, cramped outdoor space has added a huge second tier with a stone floor and full-service beer-bar-via-container. Obviously, they’re getting the traffic to justify such an expansion, so they must continue to do well.

My final stop was Burial Beer Company, a brewery and taproom that reaches far beyond eclectic. One of the exterior walls features a mural of Tom Selleck and Sloth from “The Goonies”. The outdoor space is humorously decorated, with rusted out car seats and other oddities replacing your standard-issue benches. Winding through their outdoor area leads to a fairly standard bar, but continue through the building, and it starts to resemble some lesser demon’s inner sanctum, complete with the brewery’s SECOND Tom Selleck adornment, a velvet portrait. I promise, I wrote that last sentence correctly. I recommend their West Coast-style IPA, Surf Wax. I also really enjoyed a dark sour called Anno Domini MMXVIII. Ceremonial, their Session IPA, is okay, but I think there are multiple better IPA choices out of Burial.

Coming up next time: a few places from Sunday, plus a visit to Willy Wonka’s brewery.

Website dark for vacation

Howdy, folks.

I'm still getting back into the swing of regular writing, obviously, and I still have plenty to say about an amazing trip to Asheville. But now, it's time for the big vacation with the family to the Jersey Shore. I'm fairly certain there will be a brewery hopping day somewhere in there, visiting some old faves (Cape May!), some new faves (7 Mile!) and some newcomers (Mudhen!).

As usual, Twitter will be the best way to keep up with whatever's going on, with Instagram being a reliable back-up, so long as Wi-Fi proves reliable.

See you all back here on Labor Day weekend!

Return to Asheville, Part 3

BTW, this Asheville recap is ALREADY 3 parts long! In case you missed them, check out Parts One and Two!

Friday night ended up at arguably my favorite brewery in Asheville, if not overall, Highland Brewing Company.

 Highland changed their logo from the cartoonish kilted Scotsman to the Highland compass last year.

Highland changed their logo from the cartoonish kilted Scotsman to the Highland compass last year.

IMG_1676.JPG

After checking out their short tour, I had a couple of beers, including the very good Alternate Cargo rotating IPA (shown above) and I Am Brut, which is an experimental American Pale that they were calling a champagne-style ale. It wasn't. I mean, it was fine, but not a great offering, to me. I also grabbed a delicious pizza from Tin Can, the food truck outside the brewery. I also checked out the Meadow for the first time. It's Highland's expansive outdoor music area just past the brewery.

IMG_1678.JPG

Bands play at the covered stage in the background, and at various spots (such as at far right) are tractor trailers converted into bars, food service, bathrooms and the like. It's a terrific space, but I wasn't feeling the band, and it had been a bit of a long day, so I called it a night fairly quickly. Not a bad idea, giving the touring planned for Saturday on South Slope!

Return to Asheville, Part 2

After lunch at 12 Bones on Friday, I proceeded into town. My first stop was NOT my hotel, but a brewery, of course!

Recently, several of the major craft players in the western United States have seen the craft beer boom push their capacities to or beyond their limits. Expansion plans were enacted, and for some of these breweries, it made sense to build new facilities in different parts of the country (thus, saving on shipping costs) instead of expanding old facilities. As a result, the eastern United States has become home to East Coast operations for New Belgium Brewing Company and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in the Asheville area, along with Stone Brewing's facility in Richmond, Virginia. I set up the Asheville big boys as the bookends of my long weekend, starting with the 1 1/2 hour tour of New Belgium Brewing Company.

 The bicycle entrance arch leading to the New Belgium production facility and offices.

The bicycle entrance arch leading to the New Belgium production facility and offices.

Located in West Asheville on group of plots that once housed an auto parts facility and a cattle-holding facility, among other businesses, New Belgium worked very hard to clean up this EPA-designated brown site and worked to reuse or recycle a significant portion of the materials, whether reused in the building designs (like some 14 linear miles of lumber that was reused) or in decor throughout the site's facilities. The arch in the picture above leads to the business side of the campus, including the full production facility and business offices. The primary public area is called the Liquid Center (pic below), and features the usual merchandise area and bar/tasting room with plenty of indoor AND outdoor seating, including a beautiful deck overlooking the French Broad River and the greenway, which includes brewery land along the river that was donated back to the city of Asheville by New Belgium. Like so many breweries, a food truck or two can be found out front during most business hours.

 Main arrival/entrance area to New Belgium's Liquid Center, with the requisite taco truck out front.

Main arrival/entrance area to New Belgium's Liquid Center, with the requisite taco truck out front.

The New Belgium tour runs 1 1/2 hours. I can't for certain remember my tour guide's actual name (I want to say...Mike?), but he definitely goes by Party Grandpa. So, keep an eye out for him in the Liquid Center or on a tour if you make it there. The production facility is immaculate. The tour features 3 different tasting spots and tends to utilize those spots to tell the story of the founders, Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan, rather than spend tons of time recapping how the beer gets made. Which, to Party Grandpa's point, tends to be a fairly universal process. It's all just a matter of scale. At one tasting point, I finally got a chance to try out The Hemporer, an HPA (Hemp Pale Ale?) which has generated a ton of buzz since it's debut recently. It wasn't bad, but the hemp notes tend to not necessarily be my favorite when they pop up in pales, and this one has those notes turned up to 11. The 4 ounce pour I had was more than sufficient. They also offered us a pour of their flagship beer Fat Tire and a choice of a Belgian Dubbel or their long-time sour offering, La Folie.

Next time: Friday night at Highland and Saturday afternoon on South Slope!

Return to Asheville, Part 1

Recently, I made my second trip to the Beer Mecca of the East Coast, Asheville, North Carolina. Despite still seemingly just scratching the surface of the region's craft beer scene, it was a heck of a beercation.

About three hours' drive from Columbia, SC, Asheville is more or less tucked in a valley surrounded by federally-protected mountainous forest land. It also serves a major highway junction, linking Interstate 26 (which, despite being an East-West highway, tends to overall travel much more North-South from Tennessee all the way to Charleston, SC) to Interstate 40 (which runs through several major cities while traversing almost the entire width of the United States).

To say that Asheville has developed an eclectic community over the years would be a significant understatement, with a rich music scene developing that has seen more mainstream exposure over the last decade from groups ranging from the Beastie Boys to the Avett Brothers.

With this eclectic community came a love of craft beer, resulting in a craft beer boom that gave Asheville the distinction of having the most breweries per capita inside its borders, with nearly two dozen breweries calling the city of Asheville itself home, to say nothing of several more in nearby areas like West Asheville and DOZENS more inhabiting the region. As I said, I just scratched the surface of the Asheville beer scene. Even on a second visit.

But before we get to the beer in the next installment, I hope you'll allow me a brief foodie moment. On the way into town, I stopped at the 12 Bones Smokehouse location south of Asheville in Arden, NC. Both of their locations (both Arden AND the one in town) are lunch-only, so I made a point to hit this before my New Belgium tour. Frankly, I could have gotten damn near anything on the menu, but settled on the special of a rib meat and Brie sandwich (ribs are a particular favorite of mine) with sides of green beans and macaroni and cheese. Again, wanting to try EVERYTHING, I also got a side of pulled pork.

12 Bones.jpg

Now, the rib meat came with their signature Blueberry Chipotle sauce. Admittedly, despite this order, I was a tad leery of the sauce, fearing it could be too sweet. I could not have been more wrong--I LOVED this sauce. It had a very subtle sweetness while also bringing a nice-but-not-overpowering heat. The pulled pork (with tomato-based BBQ sauce in the little cup) was also terrific, and the mac and cheese was just about the creamiest I've ever had, and perfectly flavored and seasoned. A very solid opening to my beercation!

Coming up: New Belgium's beer tour, a return to Highland, and Saturday afternoon's South Slope adventures!

Relaunch!

Hello, everyone.

I'm sad to say that I have been woefully negligent of this site over the 10 months. Nothing to do but get back on the horse, so to speak.

And no better way to get my mojo back than a beercation to the East Coast's Beer Mecca, Asheville, North Carolina! I will be headed there TOMORROW, with stops at countless breweries and top bars planned!

The blog posts will come with the PRB Relaunch starting next week, but you can check out day-plans and the on-going journey LIVE via Twitter and Instagram! Interwebs-permitting, you MIGHT even find a livestream or two via Twitch!

I will be hitting up tours and drinking beers at New Belgium and Highland tomorrow (Friday, 12:30pm and 6:30pm, respectively), with the rest of the weekend's schedule to come, again, via Twitter!

Beers in Review: Going Back to Christmas!

Let's see how my writing is after all this time...

Nothing like doing a Christmas beer in May, right? In December, I got to check out the 2017 version of Mad Elf from Troegs Independent Brewing, but my parents were also kind enough to grab me a bottle of their barrel-fermented, bottle-conditioned variant, Wild Elf. Pouring a highly carbonated reddish-amber, cherries are the big player in the Elf beers, as I got both the cherries as well as some cranberries. There is also a significant funky note in the beer. The beer is 11% ABV, but the booziness is hidden by the fruit tartness. Honestly, I feel like I probably liked the straight-up Mad Elf better, but I highly appreciated having an opportunity to check out the variant. Thanks for both, Mom and Dad!

Finally moving on from Christmas, I jump to a similarly-styled beer called Pleroma from Sweden's Omnipollo Beer. Officially an American Wild Ale, Omnipollo calls Pleroma a "raspberry creme brulee sour ale with lactose sugar, raspberries, and vanilla". A hazy, ruddy pink-red color that checks in at 6% ABV, I got lots of tart raspberries and some red wine notes. The beer is zesty and effervescent, but it goes away quickly.

Finally, let me write about the beer I just had. Edmund's Oast Brewing Company looks to be fairly new to Charleston, SC, and very recently made their way to Columbia. Hush That Fuss is their American Pale Ale. I found it to be surprisingly pale in color and while playing like a session pale (5.5% ABV), I found this beer very different from just about any pale ale of any style. It has a wheat component to it (I'm not entirely sure it works) along with some citrus notes, most notably orange. Mildly hoppy overall, I feel like I need to track down another one of these to really get a good feel for it.

Six-Pack of News, Volume 30: It's About Time Some Breweries Get Back to Basics

Over the last five years or so, I've noticed that a few prominent breweries who had one iconic beer were choosing to set aside that icon and try to diversify their portfolios. I mostly point to brewers like Guinness, Newcastle, and Sierra Nevada. Well, after a couple of years of declining sales figures, Sierra Nevada has announced a re-dedication to their famous Pale Ale. Brewbound has lots more, including quotes from a Sierra Nevada executive.

This article from the Beer Street Journal is a couple of weeks old now, but it's one of my favorite breweries, so screw it. Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC has refreshed their branding to eliminate the cartoonish Scotsman in favor of more natural symbols.

In additional Asheville-area beer news, Full Pint reports that Catawba Brewing Company has hit milestones in their ongoing brewery expansion. The expanded facility will focus on canning of Catawba's beers along with those from the recently-acquired Palmetto Brewing Company. The facilities of the Charleston, SC-based brewery will be utilized for much of both breweries' draft beer production, with the former Palmetto facility undergoing an expansion of its own later this year.

Because they apparently haven't learned from the cliff-dive in popularity that such beverages have taken over the last couple of years, MillerCoors and Arizona Beverages are collaborating to bring a spiked Arnold Palmer (half-icea tea, half lemonade) beverage to markets. (Beerpulse)

Craftbeer.com recently released their 2018 list of each state's top craft beer bar, according to their readers.

Let me tell you. I need to check out The Drinks Business website more often for beer news. I was going to post this article on how an Australian brewery trademarked the phrase "The Colour of Beer", but there are also articles on smuggled beer in Singapore, a 20,000-mile pub crawl, and something called Goat Tosser! Read about the Aussies, then just check out the site as a whole, or at least the beer side!

BREAKING NEWS: Trump to Implement Tariffs Critical to Beer Industry? (UPDATE)

Just like the tax bill that preceded it, the Trump Administration's latest economic policy could have a significant impact on the beer industry. President Trump announced tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on imported aluminum, potentially starting next week. The idea is, the tariffs will reduce cheap steel imports from countries like China and encourage more domestic metal production, which will create more jobs. Trump prefaced today's announcement with a morning tweet:

Of course, aluminum cans have always been a key beer storage device, but the cans have become more attractive to the craft beer industry in recent years due to the can's elimination of light pollution, which can be highly detrimental to craft beer. According to craft beer trade group The Brewers Association, the aluminum tariff could increase the cost of a case of cans by nearly a quarter. Trump is attempting to unilaterally impose these tariffs under "national security concerns" despite opposition from trade groups from various industries (including the BA), numerous U.S. businesses, and members of Congress, including members of his own party. Opponents say these tariffs will have unintended consequences, including price increases in products across many industries, as well as layoffs. 

MillerCoors summed up the beer industry's issues well with the following statement on Twitter:

 

 

Now, there is likely a fair chance these tariffs will not go through in their current form, or at least not survive long-term. Many in Trump's own administration have advocated for more targeted tariffs, the Brewers Association and others have questioned Trump's "national security" angle (especially in regards to aluminum imports), and the staunch Congressional and business opposition likely means Trump will be in for a fight on this issue in the coming days and weeks.

UPDATE, 3/2/18, 8:09am: So, according to news reports, President Trump's tariff announcements came as a bit of a surprise to the White House staff, who spent the rest of the day walking Trump's comments back, forward, and possibly even sideways. The policy does want to seem to be enacted by this administration, but it seems like the timing and exact numbers could still be in the air a bit. Again, it might be up to the groups listed above to work to get the policy modified. An additional item that may influence this policy are the threats of trade wars from other countries, where they tax U.S. exports into their countries in retaliation of the steel and aluminum taxes.

BrewVue: Wyndridge Farm

It's been a while now, but I had the opportunity to check out a few breweries while up north for Christmas. First off, I made my second trip ever to Wyndridge Farm, located on a repurposed farm just about a mile from where I went to high school in Dallastown, Pennsylvania.

IMG_1631.JPG

Wyndridge is more than just a brewery. In fact, they utilize York County, PA's excellent apple orchards to produce a number of different hard ciders alongside their beers, and they also produce a number of unique craft sodas. But for all their quality drink production, their greatest asset may be the grounds and premises.

IMG_1633.JPG

This is in the dead of winter. Imagine when the grass is green and there are leaves on the trees. I can be absolutely amazing. You can see the little arch/gazebo thing in the distance--Wyndridge is big on weddings, as they also have an attractive barn converted into a rustic indoor reception space. There is also a similarly-themed standard restaurant and bar space for public use.

IMG_1632.JPG

Getting back to the relevant topic of this blog, the beer selection can be a tad limited--just 4 core beers with a few seasonal and limited run options that might bump that up to 6-7 options at any one time. But if you pair it with the hard ciders, which includes a nice cranberry-apple ciders and a hoppy cider, you have a decent overall drink selection. Beer-wise, everything tends to be solid, though nothing that will blow you away. Do what I did this last time: try a sampler. Just be sure to throw a cider in there, too!

 

 

Beers in Review: With a Special Brown Ale

Before we get to the brown ale mentioned above, we turn to Baltimore's Duclaw Brewing Company and Fast, Faster and Disaster. A limited release IPA at 6.5% ABV and 62 IBU, I found this yellow-gold beer to be fairly light in both flavor and body. Almost playing like a sessionable IPA, though the alcohol level doesn't support that. Flavors found include assorted citrus notes (mostly orange and a bit of lemon), as well as passion fruit and maybe a bit of pine. Disaster has a moderate hop bite and a fairly clean finish. I found this to be a fairly straight-forward IPA.

Next up, I checked out this beer on Beer Advocate, and saw this beer rated just average (less than 3.5 out of 5). Now, of course a review website is FAR from scientific, and perhaps BA needs to revise their ratings descriptors, as a mere 0.51 score difference could mean the difference between an "okay" and an "exceptional" beer. There may also be some bias in that score, as many craft beer nerds tend to not think highly of brown ales, red ales, and similar styles. I mention all this because I think this may have been the best brown ale I've ever had. I can't speak much to the beer's color beyond "dark brown"--the local watering hole where I had this beer was pretty dimly lit. It checks in at 5.7% ABV, 32 IBU, and I found it to be REALLY tasty! There are plenty of caramel malt and burnt or toasted malt notes along with dark sugars and toffee, some grassy hemp notes and maybe some nuttiness, as well. I found it to be smooth and sweet, but not so high a sweetness that I couldn't enjoy 2 or 3 of these in a sitting.

Beers in Review: A Pair of New England IPAs

The first BiR of 2018 brings a brand new brewery to the site. Green Bench Brewing Company prides themselves on being the first microbrewery in St. Petersburg, Florida. Turbid is their New England IPA series in which they rotate hop and yeast varieties with each batch. This one in particular was Turbid 6, which checked in at 6.5% ABV and used Galaxy, Simcoe, and Azacca hops. It pours a solid gold color, and mine wasn't hazy, which is unusual for the NE IPA style. Flavor-wise, I found it to be very balanced, with a fair amount of malt combined with a juicy mouthfeel and flavor notes, notes which also included a hint of pine and a very mild bitterness. This beer also brings a medium-full body. While I've certainly developed an appreciation for the typical IPA over the years, I'm not really a hop bomb lover. I tend to prefer some of the IPA variants (American IPAs, English IPAs, New England) to the straight up IPA style. As a result, I found this beer to be quite enjoyable.

Next up is Lancaster, SC's Benford Brewing Company and Mama's Mango Milkshake. Also a New England IPA, this one brewed with mango. Coming in at 8% ABV, it plays pretty much as you would expect for style, including the hazy copper/burnt orange color with plenty of particulate in the glass. I don't have a great sense of smell, but the namesake mango was prevalent in the aroma, which also included a bit of orange, as well. Flavor notes included the expected mango, along with overall tropical greens, and maybe a bit of pine (though, that may have just been some of my interpretation of the greens). I was expecting a bit of a sweeter beer, but the low sweetness didn't bother me, personally. It's quite hoppy and brings a lot of hop bite that hangs around the back of the throat. The flavors and clean and intense, which tends to make it a little more of a sipper than a full-throated drinker.

Big Game! Big Time Beer Commercials!

Unless you traditionally live under a rock, you know that a significant American football game was held on Sunday evening. This game draws over 100 million American viewers each year, and so each commercial slot fetches a pretty penny, and advertisers try to make the biggest splash possible with their tv spots. This year, Budweiser brought ads for their namesake brands, plus a third for Stella Artois, while Michelob Ultra brought a pair of entries to the game. Let's check out their ads!

We lead off with Michelob Ultra, who tries to swing for the fences by bringing the oh-so-dreamy Chris Pratt into its commercials. "The Perfect Fit" shows Chris trying his darnedest to nail his new Ultra role, but it ends up not being what it seems. Chris Pratt brings every ounce of his charming self to the commercial, but I really felt like the ending didn't have enough "oomph" to it.

 

Let's face it: you already either love or hate the Medieval-style "Dilly Dilly" commercials that Bud Light has been doing all football season. In "The Battle of Beer Run", the concept gets even more ridiculous with the arrival of the Bud Knight...see, 'cause it rhymes with Bud Light! Get it? Anyway, the whole attempt to cash in on the Game of Thrones-driven popularity of the Medieval Era made this an obvious theme that Budweiser attempted to humorize with the "Dilly Dilly" line. I generally enjoyed the first couple of the series, but now I'm pretty well over the whole thing. I didn't care for the craft beer dig in the original commercial, where a commoner was sent to the Pit of Despair for gifting a homebrew to the King instead of Bud Light. This isn't Bud's first Big Game dig at craft, as I remember an ad a few years back where Budweiser decided to crap on the craft beer industry, specifically mocking "pumpkin peach ale(s)" while their newest High End acquisition at the time, Elysian, HAD JUST RELEASED A PUMPKIN PEACH BEER! Here's this year's first Bud ad. Let's move on.

 

After the "Dilly Dilly" inanity, Budweiser hits a home run, in my view, by tugging at the heartstrings. The US has had its fair share of natural disasters in the last year, ranging from devastating hurricanes and flooding to wildfires. In "United We Stand", Budweiser shows us how their breweries do their part to help out in times of crisis by converting their canning lines from beer to water for distribution in disaster-struck areas. This is easily my favorite ad of the group.

 

ABI continues to pull at the heartstrings with their Stella Artois ad "Taps", which features Matt Damon and highlights and encourages the partnership between Stella and Damon's Water.org charity, which is providing more easily accessible water to developing parts of the world.

 

Chris Pratt and Michelob Ultra provide the latter bookend in the game's series of beer commercials with "I Like Beer", which teams up Pratt with a number of professional athletes and places in him in multiple athletic situations like lifting weights and running a race. It serves to let Pratt play up his more awkwardly humorous side that I and many others came to enjoy on his time on the tv comedy Parks and Rec, on which he starred before he became a movie megastar and joined the Pantheon of Awesome Chrises (Pratt, Pine, Hemsworth, Evans). For me, this is a far better effort than Michelob's first offering.

 

What about you, dear audience? Which of these ads did you enjoy? Feel free to leave a comment!

 

Six-Pack of News, Volume 29: A Frisky Start to 2018

2018 is only a month old, but there's been plenty going on in the beer world. I also want to give shout-outs to some expanding breweries related to my own local interests. But that will be later; let's get the bad news out of the way first.

A few notable breweries have fallen on hard times since the calendar flipped to 2018. Pabst Blue Ribbon may be the cheap beer of choice for many bars and restaurants across America, but the brewery seems to be undergoing a constant shedding of personnel since 2016, when they were temporarily buoyed by 2015's then-skyrocketing hard soda (Not Your Father's Root Beer, etc.) market. That niche offering came crashing down fast and hard, and Pabst just announced their latest round (and 2nd round in 2 years) of major layoffs. Under this layoff, Pabst will fire 50 employees and reduce their overall headcount by 70. Brewbound has all the details on the latest round of firings, as well as Pabst's overall roller-coaster ride of the last few years.

Obviously, one of the biggest news stories in the beer world was ABI's acquisition of Asheville, North Carolina's independent craft beer beacon, Wicked Weed Brewing. In response, the numerous breweries in the Charlotte area have created the Charlotte Independent Brewers Alliance (CIBA). The over 20 breweries across a 6-county area have been meeting informally for some time, but now have united into an official organization. Again, Brewbound has lots of details, including the official CIBA press release.

Related: Read all about the ABI/Wicked Weed transaction from last year!

The folks at Vinepair sure like their lists, and 2018 has been no exception. So let's talk beer tourism! First up is The World’s Top 10 Beer Destinations for 2018, which includes 3 international cities. Seoul, South Korea is #6, and I'm sure it's a lovely city. I just don't know if it's a great idea to advocate visiting there, given the current political fragility of the Korean Peninsula. Anyway, if you are looking for something more specific than just a great beer city, check out Vinepair's 5 Hotels for Beer Lovers, which will point you to several boutique hotels across the United States that might be run by breweries or even found on the premises of breweries!

The Disney Parks in Orlando, FL and Anaheim, CA are ever-evolving family destinations, but there is an ever-growing group of more...grown-up (read: "alcohol-based") opportunities at both resorts. WDW News Today is reporting on the latest round of changes to Anaheim's Downtown Disney dining and shopping district at the Disneyland Resort. Notable among the changes is a Ballast Point Brewing Company brewpub/restaurant space, which will include the first-ever brewery on a Disney property.

Finally, some congrats are due to breweries in my old and new hometowns. First checked out Crystal Ball Brewing Company in West York, PA in 2016. While they made some quality beers, the tasting room set-up and accessibility was lacking. CBBC was always aware of this, and have now rectified the situation with the opening of #CBBCity (as they want to call it). Their new space is located in the heart of York City, which is far more accessible, and offers local spirits (thanks to Pennsylvania's revamped liquor laws) and food from their next door neighbor, Issac's Deli. The York Daily Record has more on CBBC's journey. Next, congratulations to Columbia, SC's original craft brewery, the Hunter-Gatherer Brewery, on finally opening their new production space at Owens Field, Columbia's small-plane airstrip. Hunter-Gatherer restored an historic airplane hanger into an expanded production space and tasting room that opened it's doors in the middle of January. (Courtesy: Columbia's Free Times weekly)

Commentary: Beer Fests Showing Signs of the Bursting Bubble?

Gerald Jowers of my local Columbia, SC alt-weekly paper, the Free Times, wrote earlier this week about the problems being encountered by beer festivals in various cities in the Carolinas, specifically pointing to Charlotte’s declining Oktoberfest and recently-cancelled festivals in Charleston and Columbia. Jowers is wondering whether “beer festivals [have] run their course”. And, of course, the answer, on the whole, is no. But we will likely see a culling of some of these festivals, and I believe we are seeing the first sign of the impending craft beer bubble burst.

The craft beer industry, and its many fans, have been celebrating the opening of the 6,000th brewery in the United States, an impressive milestone. Thing is, many craft beer commentators have been awaiting the bursting of the craft beer bubble since we reached the FIVE THOUSANDTH brewery opened in 2015. The fact that such a niche industry is opening an average of more than one brewery per day should raise some alarms, as could the declining year-to-year growth in the craft beer market. I say “could” because it can also be argued that such double-digit percentage gains from the early 2010s were unsustainable in any economy, to say nothing of craft beer still FAR outpacing it’s bigger macro brothers (who have seen declining SALES, not GROWTH, for years). I tend to lean towards the latter sentiment.

A real indication of the bursting bubble may now be coming from the festival and event market, which looks to be becoming over saturated. In his article, Jowers points to the decline of Charlotte’s Oktoberfest. Now, it's entirely possible this festival just fell on some bad luck and/or hard times: increased government scrutiny, bad weather, inconvenient construction. But a quick glance at the Charlotte, NC tourist website reveals that Oktoberfest is one of TWENTY festivals that prominently feature craft beer held in Charlotte alone! That doesn’t even take into account events held within driving distance, such as a number of South Carolina festivals or events held in the Raleigh or Asheville (arguably the East Coast craft beer Mecca) areas. To me, Charlotte and much of North Carolina seems ripe for over saturation of the event market. Here in Columbia, Jowers mentions the cancelled Cream of the Crop festival, which is typically held in March in conjunction with Soda City Suds Week (one of TWO craft beer celebration weeks held in Columbia, in back-to-back months, no less). Yet that same organization, F2T Productions, is running a beer-and-BBQ event next month AND the same venue, City Roots, will be hosting another beer festival JUST TWO WEEKS before Cream’s formerly scheduled event! These are just two out of at least five events happening in the first quarter of 2018, and that doesn’t even mention the numerous events set to be held in conjunction with the aforementioned craft beer celebration weeks being held in February AND March! The Columbia area has a good number of people, but has always been a bit behind the times on the craft beer scene. This scene has exploded in the last 5 years, perhaps exploded too far.

No, beer festivals have not “run their course”. The market exploded, and has likely passed its point of sustainability. I would not be surprised to see, over the next 5-10 years, a fair reduction in craft breweries—I feel like a number in the 4000-5000 range would be good—and a significant culling in the number of beer-featured events, which in some cities can be occurring every other weekend. I don’t expect a catastrophic collapse of the craft beer industry, unless driven by outside economic factors. But I do see an industry that will soon be ripe for a…correction.

Beers in Review: A Collaboration and a Blend

Without a doubt, regardless of the style, if I see a brand-new/never-before-seen brewery cross my local beer aisles, I am undoubtedly going to pounce on that beer. Collaborations are likely the easiest way to find such breweries, and Collaboration 7: Oak-Aged Lager is no exception. While Boulevard Brewing Company frequently shows up in my area, my only exposure to Creature Comforts Brewing Company was, I believe, from one of Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp series beers. Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company? Never seen 'em. This collaboration checks in at 6% ABV and 16 IBU with a fairly light body, and is a hazy orange lager that tends to come out pretty fruity. In addition to many wine notes, especially the white wine side of the spectrum via Riesling grape juice, the flavor profile includes some citrus notes that bring a little bit of tartness to the lager. I also found some grain and corn notes in there, as well. The three breweries put a good amount of complexity into what is typically a fairly simple style. A very dynamic lager.

Next is a blending of words and beers from Rogue Ales. Hazelutely Choctabulous combines Rogue's Hazelnut Brown Nectar and Chocolate Stout. The result is very dark brown to near-black stout that is 5.7% ABV and 51 IBU. Both beers play well with each other but also shine through in the flavor profile, which primarily features the two key players: nuttiness and chocolate. It's plenty tasty, though nowhere near as sweet as I expected, given the brewery's comparing of the beer to a "chocolate candy bar". Still, a really neat and excellent offering.