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You’re Actually as Old as Your Feel: Introducing ALF, the Brewery Assumed Lifetime Formula

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It started, as so many things do these days, with a tweet:

When analyzing the history of American craft beer, one of the fascinating qualifiers in recent years has been the description used for longstanding breweries that helped create the path so many have followed. “Heritage” and “legacy” are words thrown around often as adjectives for these businesses that launched so many beer enthusiasts: Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Stone, and others.

Yet, none of these breweries have actually been around for that long. Stone opened in 1996! But for many drinkers, they’re old news, only made relevant by the constant churn of new brands released that helps them stay relevant and ratchet up Untappd check-ins.

Modern American craft beer is weird. It’s really not that old, whereas what would qualify as “full flavored” or “non-macro” or whatever non-corporate title style beer elsewhere around the world goes back hundreds of years as the OG option.

The US industry sometimes feels different because in its short lifespan, the combination of American culture, palate and ingenuity has allowed its beer to evolve wildly and rapidly. An easy example might be the country’s defining craft style, IPA, which in just the last 10 years has seen its trendiness shift from malt balance to IBU arms race to moderated bitterness to sweetness and fruit to hazy and juicy. An India Pale Ale that gets a beer geek excited today wouldn’t be recognizable to someone from 2008, and likely vice versa.

And that was the basis for the above tweet. 2018 looks to be the year many of these “heritage” breweries continue their efforts to keep up with their smaller, nimbler craft counterparts. Research and development has always been a huge part of breweries like Sierra Nevada or Boston Beer, it’s just that sometimes it feels like they’re left behind because the younger members of the industry are capable of moving at such a fast pace. These older breweries are showing up to the party late, asking “How do you do, fellow kids?

This is the basis for the Brewery Assumed Lifetime Formula (ALF for short), a wildly unscientific, inaccurate (but sorta fun!) way to put into context the “age” of these longtime breweries.

Rather than create a formula that simply makes breweries seem old, I’ve focused on the context of US heritage breweries vs. their historic and beloved counter parts around the world. By doing this, the goal is to set a multiplier to apply to a brewery’s actual age vs. a perceived one artificially created by me. The cat (5:1) and dog (7:1) animal-to-human years ratio was a quirky place to start, so why not?

Creating ALF

I started with pulling a small collection of historic breweries that represent some of the oldest, if not the oldest, breweries in their respective countries. That list includes:

Brewery Founded Country Age
Pilsner Urquell 1842 Czech Republic 176
Smithwicks 1710 Ireland 308
Grolsch 1615 Netherlands 403
Brouwerij Roman 1545 Belgium 473
Stiegl 1492 Austria 526
Browar Namyslow 1321 Poland 697
Weihenstephan 1040 Germany 978

To create a baseline representative of US craft breweries, I chose Anchor, which was founded in its modern capacity (both the business and its place among modern craft beer) in 1965 and generally regarded as the first American craft brewer. There’s some consideration toward New Albion having that title, for what it’s worth.

Using the ages of the world’s oldest breweries and America’s counterpart, I wanted to put them on an even playing field regarding their age vs. their country’s beer scene. In the same way we have different aging for cats and dogs, I divided the actual age of a foreign brewery by the age of Anchor, which was “born” 53 years ago.

For example, Pilsner Urquell is 176 years old, so in “Czech Beer Years,” a comparison for American beer would be 3.3:1.

The way that then breaks down for the historic breweries in US brewery age vs. foreign brewery age is:

ALF Ratio
Pilsner Urquell 3.320754717
Smithwicks 4.886792453
Grolsch 5.811320755
Brouwerij Roman 7.603773585
Stiegl 8.924528302
Browar Namyslow 9.924528302
Weihenstephan 13.1509434

In the final step, I wanted to average all those different ratios to determine one common number to use as our multiplier. Across the above breweries, that left us with an average of 7.7, so that’s what we’ll use.

For those crazy enough to follow along, here’s the “formula”

How “Old” are US Breweries?

All this insanity leads to this. The “comparative” ages of US breweries, put in context of their global counterparts. If modern craft brewing has been around for 53 years, here’s a list of what that looks like in Brewery Assumed Lifetime Formula years:

Brewery Founded Actual Age
Brewery ALF
Anchor 1965 53 408.1
New Albion 1976 42 323.4
Sierra 1980 38 292.6
Boston Beer 1984 34 261.8
Bells 1985 33 254.1
New Belgium 1991 27 207.9
Dogfish 1995 23 177.1
Stone Brewing 1996 22 169.4

It’s kind of fun to consider the ages of US breweries and their equivalents, although the tricky part is the foreign breweries are more or less defined by their contributions to one or a few beer styles, whereas in America, all these businesses have had to diversify pretty regularly over their lifespans.

Cherry picking some odd connections, like Pilsner Urquell brought us … pilsner. And the closest in assumed age is Stone, which arguably helped to popularize the style of IPA for many Americans. So pretty much the same thing, right? (I kid)

Yes, This is Silly

This is all clearly for laughs and has no real merit other than an excuse to have killed some time thinking differently on what it means to be a “heritage” brewer in today’s US marketplace. The biggest thing I might consider is simply how different it is for American breweries who are always looking at how trends are shifting while trying to remain true to their own core ethos.

It feels rather strange to think about a brewery that’s 15, 20 or, heaven forbid, 25 years old as part of the “Old Guard,” but the speed of which we’ve added breweries in this country has been rather phenomenal. Since 2000, when the Brewers Association reports we had 1,566 breweries, we’ve since added about 4,500. By that measure, 75% of these businesses have opened in the last 17 years! About 1,500 since 2015 alone! There were 163 when Anchor opened in 1965, hitting a low point of 92 in 1980. It’s pretty much 6,000 new businesses that are currently in operation in just under 40 years.

That’s a lot! And it’s awesome!

So maybe when we talk about Sierra Nevada launching a New England IPA, it’s not that we should feel odd about it (I rather like it) but that the reason for that feeling is because they the brewery has been in our collective beer drinking consciousness for so long. Like, “293” years-worth long.

Now comes the fun part: let me know in the comments below or on Twitter how the formula should be tweaked or how we could otherwise consider the process.







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sfringer
30 days ago
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A mathematical start to the weekend from @BryanDRoth that leads to more fun and enjoyment for beer drinkers everywhere!
North Carolina USA
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The ‘Definitive’ Guide to the ‘Best’ Beer of 2017

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If there was ever going to be a year in beer to highlight the “haves” and “have nots,” might as well be 2017.

Since 2014, I’ve been pulling together a compilation of “best beer” lists from writers and publications across the U.S., taking subjective choices of what is “best” and trying to add some layers of objectivity on top. (see 2015 and 2016, too) The goal of compiling these lists into one conglomeration allows for some consensus – or at least clearer focus – of what pleased the palate of “taste makers” from around the country.

A theme that began in last year’s analysis became a full-blown trend this time around, with rarity proving to be a pivotal trait for the majority of beers included across 13 year-end “best” lists. Of 150 beers provided by brewers, writers and beer enthusiasts, there were 142 different brands included in my data set. Nearly three-quarters (74.3%) were limited one-offs or specialty releases, never to be duplicated in that same way again.

An easy argument for why this might happen is simply the number of breweries (6,000+) and beers (A LOT) available to consumers, and as more people preach “drink local,” surely those local breweries will step up to provide.

Except these lists come from people exposed to beer from all over, of all availability levels, from the rarest to core lineups, and “best of” lists are seemingly getting more exclusionary year-to-year. This is not a good or bad thing, as it shows there’s phenomenal beer being made all over, but it does seem to be A Thing.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Overall, the criteria for selection into this analysis was simple: beers were focused on 2017 releases (new beers or new, annual brews) with a preference toward lists that included a wide geographic representation. An important note on the overall UNscientific nature of this analysis is that the lists chosen differ year-to-year (it’s almost literally whatever I can find) and the total number of beers is different, too. That said, the process still holds, I believe, as an exercise in moving past easy impressions to better understand what the last year has provided us.

Breakdown of Styles

Thanks to the prevalence of higher ABV New England IPAs, the DIPA is 2017’s most-represented style. This is an interesting transition from “regular” IPA, as one correlation may be due to the change in flavor profile in spite of the increase in alcohol. By virtue of their ingredient use and brewing process, NE IPAs would be more likely to hide the ABV boost. In fact, 17 of the 31 DIPAs included in this list are NE IPAs. To put that in context, there were 27 DIPAs in 2015 and 21 in 2016.

All the same, here’s the breakdown. Note that 12 different styles are included in “other,” all of which had one beer each in this data set, from Blonde Ale to Vienna Lager.

Click to enlarge

Because these compiled lists change year-to-year, comparing the number of beers represented by style isn’t apples-to-apples, but one way to try and analyze growth (or lack thereof) is through a style’s representative percentage in the overall list. Essentially showcasing a few heavily-included styles as percentages of the overall number.

In that case, you can see some changes occurring over the past three years:

2015 % of Total Beers 2016 % of Total Beers 2017 % of Total Beers
IPA 18.1 20 11.3
Imperial Stout 10.9 14.8 15.3
DIPA 14 13.5 20.7
Sour/Wild 11.9 14.2 13.3
Saison 5.2 7.7 14

I think it’s worthwhile noting the outlier that DIPA became in 2017 since more than half (17) of the total number (31) of this style is NE IPA, the beer du jour among enthusiasts. It’s possible that figure is cannibalizing the “regular” IPA category, which dropped significantly in its percentage for 2017.

Your eye may also be drawn to the listing for saison, which is almost wholly occupied by hard to get beers. Fourteen of 21 unique saisons were one-offs, with Left Hand’s Saison Au Genievre the only widely-available seasonal saison out of all brands.

All the same, a quarter of the full list was saison or sour/wild, which I also think speaks to the increasing number of breweries utilizing barrel-aging more regularly, and especially for specialty beers. Putting it in context of the latter is particularly important, as “barrel-aged” anything is more common, so now may be a good time for breweries to find ways to make their barrel-aged [whatever] stand out in some way, either through availability or process.

Speaking of which…

Rarity and Liking

As a primer for discussions around rarity, authenticity and our perception of quality, I’d love to point you toward this post that goes deep on the subject. It’s particularly important in context in how this compilation of “best” beer lists has evolved since its start, as taste makers creating these lineups select from a network of thousands of breweries around the country, all trying to find ways to differentiate. Taste, flavor and other sensory aspects are obviously of utmost importance, but psychologically, ideas of rarity and “authenticity” can also be part of valuation.

And as you’ll see, they certainly are a part of this year’s list. Out of 150 beers – 142 of which were unique – rare or one-off beers were a *large* part of the crop:

Click to enlarge

The four year-round offerings that made the cut were:

  • Ommegang Pale Sour Ale
  • Ayinger Bavarian Pils
  • Green Flash Blonde Ale
  • Ecliptic Capella Porter

This is considerably different from previous years. While I didn’t track the limited vs. rotating vs. year-round aspect in the same manner previously as I am this time, some of the most-cited best beers (consensus best) included DuClaw’s Sweet Baby Jesus and Firestone Easy Jack (2014), Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter, Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin and Avery Liko’i Kepolo (2015), and Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion (2016). To be a new, year-round beer and thought of as a “best” seems near-impossible now.

Part of this, of course, is the sheer volume of options available. On top of that, the number of specialty releases sampled by list-makers is likely a result of a brewery showcasing it’s particular niche, which could result in a more special, rare and “authentic” creation.

The Power of Rarity

This theme particularly comes into play in two ways.

First, we see it through the increased existence of New England IPA, which occupied 34 of the 150 spots. The breakdown of sub-style was two-thirds DIPA, one-third IPA, with a total average ABV of 7.6% across all 34 beers.

There were plenty of well-known NE IPA makers on this list, including Trillium, Hoof Hearted, Hudson Valley and Other Half, all mentioned twice. I’d like to point out two breweries in particular in Noble Ale Works and Sixpoint.

(WARNING: Inside baseball) Noble had plenty of attention already for their IPAs, and their two NE IPAs were listed, it appears, from batches made after head brewer Evan Price left in early 2017. Kudos to the talents of Brad Kominek and Matt Fantz for not missing a beat. Sixpoint is worth mentioning for their Smoothie NE IPA, created not long after Trilliums’ Eric Bachli joined their staff and the beer was sold via their new mobile app.

But I digress.

NE IPA’s forced rarity due to its small production size, preferred shelf life and specialness certainly help its case to grow on these lists moving forward, and they’re also just delicious beers. A style here to stay, I’d say.

But outside of this, What really caught my eye were 15 collaboration beers, representing 10% of the total sample size. Naturally, these are all limited, one-off deals and the breweries highlighted for 2017 are some of the most beloved among beer geeks, including Casey Brewing, Oxbow, Monkish, Trillium and plenty more.

Of the 15 collaboration beers, eight were IPA/DIPA (six of which NE IPA), four saisons, two imperial stouts and one sour/wild.

I mention this as a useful point of information mostly because collaboration brews are becoming so commonplace that even Boston Beer has done them, and Sierra Nevada has turned it into an annual festival and one of the costliest 12-packs I’ve ever seen (usually ~$30 where I live, before going on sale because they sit for so long). But in terms of deriving value from team-ups, it seems easier and more beneficial than ever.

With thousands of breweries across the US, finding a willing partner is easy enough, but the connectivity of sub-cultures within craft beer (NE IPA makers, barrel-aging specialists, etc.) cries out for working together. It offers brewers a friendly reason to compare notes, drinkers are excited, and the money is certainly right in retail.

ABV Insight

A quick detour.

In the last three years, tracking the overall ABV averaged across these sets of beers stayed surprisingly consistent: 7.6% (2014), 7.5% (2015) and 7.7% (2016). It took a bit of a bump this year, though, climbing to 8.1%.

Click to enlarge

That 8.1% is across all 150 beers, and here’s the breakdown by ABV segment, with somewhat arbitrarily chosen endpoints that fall where along the lines of low-ABV styles to “average” ABV strength to imperial styles:

Click to enlarge

For fun, I also placed 2016’s beer list by ABV segment with 2017’s list – but note these lists are not the same in source and a little off in total number, with 2016 having five more beers:

Click to enlarge

A key difference between that 5 to 6.9% area from 2016 to 2017 was last year’s list had a large selection of pale ales that masqueraded as IPAs (low ABV, insane hop bills) and a good number of wild/sour beers that sat lower on the alcohol content spectrum. If I were to take anything away from looking at the ABV content, it would be that the people creating these lists aren’t that worried about levels of alcohol, so much as the experience of what’s in front of them. This comes at an odd time, when industry professionals and beer geeks alike talk about how lagers are such a big deal (and they are growing) but when it comes to what’s “best,” opposing forces of maximum flavor and ABV may correlate with more liking.

Preferred Tastes of ‘Taste Makers’

What exactly is creating those maximum flavors?

Across the full list of beers, 53 had easily referenced ingredients that supplied the variety of hops used in recipes. Almost all of those were pale ale, IPA or DIPA. Seven non-IPA styles were included. Of the 53, the most-used hop was Citra, which was the same story last year.

Here are the top hops that were cited in at least four recipes:

Click to enlarge

Citra and Mosaic are no surprise – they’re beloved by brewers and drinkers alike and Mosaic played a big role in New Belgium’s successful rebrand of their Ranger IPA. Simcoe, only noted in four recipes in 2017, fell from 12 recipes last year, likely a cause of appearances of El Dorado and Azacca on this chart, neither of which showed up last year.

Of the 53 beers with identifiable hop bills, 31 were NE IPAs. Out of that subset of 31, 18 recipes included Citra and 17 included Mosaic. There were four NE IPAs solely made with Mosaic hops and just one with 100% Citra. Nine New England IPAs had both Citra and Mosaic.

Of note is Galaxy, which was included in five of 42 known recipes from 2016’s “best” beer list, now doubled to 10 overall. Anecdotally, I certainly heard more about this variety in 2017 and has become the most popular hop associated with varieties grown in Australia. In one case, it’s the variety Australian Brewery is banking on to win over US audiences.

In regard to flavor enhancements outside of just hops, here were the most cited additional ingredients and the number of recipes in which they were included:

Vanilla 17
Raspberry 9
Cherry 7
Salt 6
Coffee 6
Blackberry 4
Honey 4

Vanilla was most commonly used in imperial stouts (11 beers) but also showed up in five IPA/DIPA recipes, thanks to ongoing interest in NE IPA and “milkshake” IPAs. The use of sea salt appeared where you’d expect (gose) but also with a saison and a couple pastry stouts – imperial stouts meant to mimic ice cream, donuts, or something of the sort.

Lastly, a total of 65 beers mentioned barrel-aging, almost all limited release one-offs, and here’s how barrels were cited by style:

Click to enlarge

The ‘Best’ Beers of 2017

With all this background information, we’ve got some extra context in which we can better understand the “best” beers of last year. For the sake of understanding, please realize that the process I use for this analysis doesn’t mean these beers are a kind of religious experience, but are pulled from the subjective decisions of drinkers, experts and panels. Anyone can go out and make a list of WHALEZ, but in this case, I believe consensus is more powerful than originality.

Given this, 2017 was the first year there was no actual clarity of a single or group of beers. Not a single brand was listed more than twice across beers pulled from 13 year-end lists. With that in mind, here are the eight beers mentioned twice in these collections:

Beer Brewery Style
Medianoche Reserve WeldWorks Imperial Stout
Incipient Speciation Artisan Ales Sour/Wild
Cream Get the Honey Other Half IPA
Brett IPA Allagash IPA
Bavarian Pils Ayinger Pilsner
Amorphia Hudson Valley IPA
Backroads Suarez Saison
Oak-Aged Vanilla World Wide Stout Dogfish Head Imperial Stout

In terms of lineup, this might be the most diverse collection of “best beer” finalists I’ve seen across four years of doing this analysis, but it’s also worth noting that this is also the first time so few lists have featured duplicated brands. Ayinger Pils, just launched in the U.S. in 2017, was included in DRAFT’s breakdown of beers, which was also partially sorted by style, as well as Ken Weaver, taster extraordinaire.

The rest of it all seems pretty consistent with what’s been shown in previous iterations, though. Rare beers with a nod toward NE IPA, imperial stout and barrel-aging. I’m thrilled to see Allagash Brett IPA on this list, as I personally loved that beer, but it also represents the lone widely-released brand of all these beers.

One side note to these, as Hoof Hearted’s Who’d Like To Hold My Clipboard NE IPA was also mentioned twice, although through two of that beer’s rotating variants of peach and pineapple. That beer arguably had the most exotic hop bill of (Azacca, Motueka, Falconer’s Flight) along with Brett IPA (Amarillo, Bravo, Cascade, Centennial, Citra and Galaxy).

‘Best’ Breweries of 2017

There are two qualifications to make this list: a brewery has to be cited multiple times, with preference for a range in the beers included across this year’s 150. Two breweries definitely made the cut, with one showing prowess in a single category. All three were cited individually multiple times by the lists:

Holy Mountain Hand of Glory Barleywine
Three Fates Pilsner
Wraith Sour/Wild
Modern Times Dragon Mask Imperial Stout
Triton Project DIPA
Critical Band IPA
Suarez Family 100 Ft North Vintage Saison
Backroads Saison
Call to Mind Saison

Personally, I like the geographic variety of Washington (Holy Mountain), California (Modern Times) and New York (Suarez Family). An important note from these three breweries: this is Suarez Family’s second consecutive year included in this lineup after being cited for Crispy Little (wheat), Believe You Me (pale ale) and Palatine Pils (pilsner) in 2016. I know that Suarez has gained plenty of attention among beer geek circles (read the brewery’s story here) and after garnering significant attention from taste makers in 2016 and 2017, is very much on the map.

Since 2017 seems to have been the year collaboration brews truly broke through on these lists, it’d be impossible to mention the other breweries mentioned multiple times:

Brewery Beer Style
Trillium Dialed In DIPA
Trillium and Omnipollo Covered in Puppies DIPA
Trillium and J Wakefield Affogato Imperial Stout
J Wakefield and Abnormal All of the Lights Imperial Stout
J Wakefield That’s The Ticket Imperial Stout
Burial Innertube Light Lager
Burial and Interboro Stay G-O-L-D IPA
Burial and Threes Both Ways IPL
Aslin Beaumont Imperial Stout
Aslin and Graft Cider 50/50 Bar IPA
Aslin and SØLE Artisan Ales Mocking Birds Mocking IPA

For posterity, these breweries represent Massachusetts (Trillium), Florida (J Wakefield), North Carolina (Burial) and Virginia (Aslin). All earned a combined three mentions across lists, whether on the brewery’s own beer or something made in collaboration with another. Given the number of combined efforts shown on 2017’s list, it made sense to mention these, especially for a brewery like J Wakefield that seems rather prolific in its efforts with others.

Takeaways

So what the hell does this all mean? It’s a lot of disparate information pulled together with hope of finding connected aspects, of which I believe do exist.

While it was nice to see a broad range of styles, nothing changes in terms of the specialty beers that consistently catch drinker’s attention, typically IPA, DIPA and imperial stout. Increasingly, however, there seems to be room to play with saison and sour/wild beers, which again reflects a growing number of breweries taking the time to play in this area, as well as the psychological pull of drinkers who enjoy rare beers never to be made again. In one case, there’s clear room for saison to grow as a category, and sour/wild beers provide an exotic excitement that definitely apply to beer enthusiasts, as it’s been called a “new” trend for literally a decade.

The question is how do all these things apply to the totally average beer drinker, for which pretty much none of these beers apply and are/were almost entirely unavailable to anyone not waiting in line, working beer trade boards or an industry insider?

A couple years ago I wrote about not looking at beer trends in terms of styles but through the idea of taste, as brewers started to shift flavor experiences into more palatable recipes on a biological level. We see this as part of the success with New England IPA, documented here, and anecdotally we have the rise of pastry stouts and the collection of adjuncts that appeared across this years collected “best” beer list, highlighting a variety of fruit and vanilla, which was listed on 17 ingredient lists posted online. We even see this in the slight change of most-cited hop varieties, with Galaxy’s heavy lean toward citrus and tropical fruit gaining more attention.

Taking away the overarching issue related to availability, which can be a road map to raising interest on its own, I wonder how breweries can continue to take the sensory aspects that drive beer geeks crazy and translate them with some amount of financial efficiency into beers for a wide audience. The continued release of fruited beers is one sign of this, but I also think of a business like New Belgium, which has also revamped its barrel-aging lineup through packaging and brands to maximize appearance and perceptions of quality and authenticity.

The easy part for the majority of American breweries is that finding ways to incorporate qualities of “best” beers may be costly, but many businesses are small and nimble enough to utilize the increased expectation for limited and one-off beers (among beer geeks) to drive interest and word of mouth. It’s a lot harder for the big players like Sierra Nevada or Boston Beer to pivot in the same way.

What are your thoughts and takeaways? Tell me on Twitter.

Until next year.

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

For reference, the lists from which I compiled data. In some cases I only pulled the top 10 of new beers because lists were otherwise incredibly long. Other lists had a mix of old beers and new releases, in which case only new releases were included in this data set.




















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sfringer
42 days ago
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Another great compilation from @BryanDRoth to start the year in an informed manner.
North Carolina USA
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Web Player 2.0 Beta

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Here at Pocket Casts we’re a tiny team that’s passionate about all things podcasting. We want to be able to listen everywhere we go no matter what we’re doing. That’s why our app is available in your pocket on iOS and Android. It’s also available in your car through CarPlay and Android Auto (as well as standard Bluetooth integration). It’s on your TV through AirPlay and Google Cast. It’s even available on your Sonos speakers. You get the idea, we want to enable a seamless playback experience of podcasts everywhere.

Today we’d like to talk about the Web version of our app. Originally we built it as a small satellite service to see if our customers wanted podcasts on their computers as well. It turns out they did, and in far bigger ways than we ever anticipated. This forced us to rethink the original approach we had a for a really simple web version that took a back seat to the mobile apps. It was clear that for a lot of people, this was their primary listening platform for their podcasts. Long story short we took that to heart, and we’ve been hard at work for a while now on a massive update to web version. Today we’re excited to share some details about that with you, and also invite you to help us beta test it.

pocketcasts-webplayer-darktheme@2x

This new version is a ground up re-write of the old one, to enable us to do some really ambitious things going forward. This was a huge undertaking, but even in this initial beta version we have some exciting new features for you to try out:

  • You can now build Up Next lists in the web version, and play through as many podcasts as you want continuously, without needing to come back to the web app.
  • There’s a great looking dark theme for those of you that like listening at night.
  • A lot of people wanted a more fully featured experience than having the web app running in a tab, so we now have a companion Mac app.
  • You can now search for episodes in a podcast by their titles, and even their show notes.
  • While it’s always been possible to change the sort order of episodes, it’s now easier than ever and you can also sort by time remaining, a feature a lot of you have asked for.
  • The web app now supports listening stats, which will sync seamlessly with the mobile versions. Never wonder how many hours of your life you’ve spent immersed in podcasts again.
  • You can now play episodes of podcasts without needing to be subscribed to them.
  • New and improved Discovery section, including curated lists.

pocketcasts-webplayer-upnext@2x

There’s a lot more in this version of the web app, and it has support for some features we’re not ready to announce yet as well. We’ll have more to say on those later this year, but in the meantime if you want to help us test it, here’s the details:

In terms of a release date, we’re very much taking the approach of “we’ll ship it when it’s done”. We’re not trying to rush out something that’s not finished yet and this release is still very much a work in progress. We value and want your feedback though, so if you’re keen to join us, please do!  If you want to be notified about when that is and keep up with other Pocket Casts news, you can sign up to our mailing list.










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sfringer
146 days ago
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This is mighty awesome. Thanks @PocketCasts for the hard work!
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DMack
147 days ago
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woo!
Victoria, BC

‘Nobody’ Cares About Independence in Beer

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OK clickbait LOL headline is a J/K

Sort of.

Over on Good Beer Hunting today I’ve got a think piece that works to deconstruct the word choice beer enthusiasts have been obsessing over in recent months. “Craft” … “independent” … “good” … what does it mean? Who (actually) cares?

According to the Brewers Association, craft drinkers do. But even then, that may be a bit of a misleading assumption. For all the surveys and polls that now focus on word choice and feeling toward use of “independence,” we’re still missing evidence of how that matters to *all* drinkers, not just beer lovers who walk right by BMC beers in the grocery store.

Consider it from the perspective of volume, because while the ratio of drinkers who care about what independence means does matter, it is still mutually exclusive from the outlook of how the Brewers Association defines their success of *volume* of total market share. After all, they aren’t noting the total number of “craft” beer drinkers with their annual reports (aside from the fact that would be impossible) … they present success in terms of overall year-to-year growth, partially determined by the total amount of BA-defined “craft” beer sold.

In that case, 12.3% of volume is BA-defined “craft.” Of that number, it would be a mathematical impossibility to declare that all of that amount is sold because shoppers choose a product due to who or what is “independent,” especially when the BA points at quality (and taste, presumably) as cornerstones.

A recent survey reported in Business Insider makes things a bit murkier: 45% of respondents said independence didn’t matter at all. But for sake of conservative argument, let’s extrapolate these results and say that 55% of craft volume is decided by whether a business is BA-defined “independent” or not. In this instance, that means that 6.7% of beer volume – at the presumed absolute maximum – would be purchased because it comes from a business defined as “independent” by a trade organization that sets its own standards for what that word means.

In which case 93.3% of beer sold in the U.S. does not.

And that’s why we need to be more reflective when making blanket statements about America’s beer drinking public, not even considering the lack of statistical significance that comes from biased audience response, laid out in this op-ed. Lots of people are passionate about beer, but we shouldn’t assume beer is a passion of all those who consume it.

Even across New England’s five states, a recent survey showed best selling beers are dominated by macro brands, with the exception of Vermont’s fierce passion for all things local.

There is a real difference between supporting the thematic idea of “independence” and its specific relation to a particular product. In general, American consumers like independence because it imbues trust. “In advanced consumer economies, consumers are buying on the basis of their interpretation of the product and its story,” Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Glenn Carroll said of 2014 findings related to authenticity, adding an example that when craft breweries began to proliferate, they were viewed as being more authentic by consumers who felt they were reestablishing tradition and creating community.

Word choice matters, whether it’s from a business or our own mouths.

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac






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sfringer
153 days ago
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Independently speaking, sometimes @BryanDRoth's words do matter. Even when they don't.
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What Does It Mean When Big Breweries Go ‘Small’?

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For years, craft breweries have played off the myth and ethos of being small, whether a single person creating one-barrel batches at a time or a national powerhouse like Sam Adams. This has become more evident in recent weeks with the creation of the Brewers Association “independent” seal, meant to convey the ideals of the trade group in a literal way.

Non-AB InBev of Molson Coors breweries are now “small and independent,” two words tied together, not necessarily “craft.” But what some of these businesses are finding is that “small” in theme doesn’t mean the same in practice.

On Aug. 10, New Belgium bought California’s Magnolia Brewing along with minority investments from Belgium’s Oud Beersel and former Elysian co-owner Dick Cantwell. The move saved the business from closure after a series of financial issues.

This was replicated in a similar fashion just a week later when San Diego’s Green Flash, which already owns Alpine Beer Co. in addition to a production facility in Virginia Beach, announced it was opening another space – in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“Up to now, we sold about 40 percent of our beer in our home state, about a third of our beer on the East Coast — and that’s actually increasing faster and might be approaching 40 percent,” Green Flash co-founder Mike Hinkley told Brewbound. “But in all of the big, wide-open spaces of the Midwest, we’ve sold very little beer at all. This will help us to compete in those areas.”

The kicker here is how they’re doing it. Like New Belgium, Green Flash is entering the market through another distressed business in Ploughshare Brewing.

Founder Matt Stinchfield, who also acts as the Brewers Association’s safety ambassador, announced in July that Ploughshare wouldn’t continue after three years in business. In describing to the Lincoln Journal-Star the challenges he faced, he noted the brewery’s construction was over budget, pushing debt deeper than anticipated from the get-go. When sales didn’t line up with expectations, it became clear the business wouldn’t be sustainable.

“We’ve known for a long time that a small percentage of our customer base is responsible for the majority of our retail sales,” Stinchfield told the paper. “In other words, we have a real following and then we have everybody else who comes in once in awhile or has just come on a visit through town or something like that.”

With Green Flash’s latest example, along with other announced entries into new markets over the past year or so, it seems that the “small” craft breweries are starting to realize the financial impact of branching out. Even as they stay within a thematic ethos of who they’re supposed to be as a small/independent/craft producer, the growing reality for the business sector of the beer industry is it makes sense to be anything but.

For years, the trend in size and production has been skewing small on a literal basis. By virtue of the number of startup breweries, there has to be a majority who are producing smaller quantities for (in theory) smaller and/or more niche groups of customers. It’s the whole “local” aspect of food and drink. According to figures tracked by the TTB, almost three-quarters of U.S. brewers produced under 1,000 barrels in 2016. If every single one of those businesses maxed out to a level of 1,000 barrels, they’d still only combine to make roughly the same amount of beer as Yuengling.

Both culturally and financially, it simply makes good sense to focus on ways to engage segmented markets, even if you’re creating one out of nothing. There is a quantifiable affinity for your city/town/neighborhood brewery.

For these reasons alone, Green Flash’s decision makes sense, alongside typical answers that include things like access to market and pricing, since beer is made closer and isn’t shipped as far. “We sell about a third of our beer from Miami to Boston on the East Coast right now,” Hinkley told Good Beer Hunting. “This is the beginning for us to setting up a hub [in the Midwest].”

There is, of course, much more to it than that.

As noted by the West Coaster, Green Flash will begin its brewing in Nebraska as the largest production company in the state, starting out with a capacity for 10,000 barrels. Up until this point, Zipline Brewing was the largest brewer in Lincoln, making about 8,000 barrels a year. In addition to a competitive size of production, Green Flash is also taking over a 2,000-square foot restaurant, providing a reason for people to come for more than beer.

This works in a “two birds, one stone” kind of way. In a 2016 joint survey between the Brewers Association and Nielsen, 60% of craft drinkers said they “purchased a lot/little more” of a brewer’s products after visiting a brewery. So not only is Green Flash establishing a physical presence, but it’s high level of production also provides an ability to enter the off-premise market strong, ensuring that customers will be able to find Green Flash beers wherever they might shop. This falls perfectly in line with another recent move by the company, which is entering 1,000 convenience stores across California, Texas and Virginia as a way to find new locations for its products and specifically the brewery’s GFB golden ale, an ideal brand and style to attract new drinkers.

“When we’re putting our cans in these stores, we’re not replacing another Green Flash brand to make it work,” Hinkley told me for a story that ran on the news site SevenFifty Daily. “We’re taking on brand-new shelf space.”

This kind of tactic has been picking up steam quickly, although perhaps most notably by Craft Brew Alliance, which has long relied on geographical segmentation of its partner breweries for years. While the company uses a strategy that places Kona Brewing’s beer as its “national” brand, it has shifted focus of Widmer Brothers and Redhook to their home states of Oregon and Washington, respectively, as well as found ways to quickly grow Cisco Brewers (Massachusetts) and Appalachian Mountain Brewery (North Carolina). “We really are picking our battles,” CEO Andy Thomas told Brewbound.

It’s a lesson not lost on Constellation Brands in their recent purchase of Florida’s Funky Buddha. After their historic $1 billion buy of Ballast Point in 2015, the company that had until that point primarily focused on wine realized issues related to the scalability of a national brand.

“At the time we acquired Ballast Point, we thought there would be more national brands that broke out,” Constellation executive vice president Paul Hetterich told Brewbound. “Things went more local, and it doesn’t appear that you’re going to be able to build new national brands in the space really quickly. That made us recognize – we need a lot more brands in the portfolio to build up a reasonable presence in the craft space overall.”

In Chicago alone, Jolly Pumpkin is opening an outpost. Ballast Point, too. Lagunitas has been there for four years.

If there is fear of a bubble or “shakeout,” (there shouldn’t be) instances like New Belgium, Green Flash and others like Oskar Blues/Fireman Capital show that there is some kind of safety net for those that might be impacted … and it’s the larger small/independent/craft companies that are happy to help, especially as they become more susceptible to a slowdown in sales.

The idea of growing big enough to hold a region – let alone space nationally – truly feels like a decades-old proposition. Small in scope and business is where today’s success lies, which is why we’re seeing these bigger businesses feeling more comfortable altering their course to follow the newer direction in which the industry is heading.

“I do not believe that you can be anywhere in the middle in terms of size,” Ken Lewis, owner of New Riff Distilling and Ei8ht Ball Brewing, told Draft Magazine. “You have to be small, local, owner-operator with minimal distribution, or you need to be really big and able to afford the dramatic marketing efforts that are going to be necessary in the upcoming battle for shelf space.”

For all the shifting business models that must now be considered, what does “small” mean moving forward?

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

Graphs provided from presentation by Michael Uhrich, economist at the Beer Institute










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sfringer
182 days ago
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Glad I don't have to make this scale of business decision. But if you do, count on @BryanDRoth to give you supporting data.
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Homebrewers Vote, We Listen: Zymurgy’s “Best Beer” and National Trends

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Pliny the Elder’s reign is over. Since 2009, the beloved double IPA has sat atop the annual “best beer” poll held by Zymurgy magazine, but no longer.

Over that same period of time, Bell’s Two Hearted has been Pliny’s #2. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride? No more.

The magazine of the American Homebrewers Association released this week its new rankings as voted on by AHA members, who were able to choose up to 20 of their favorite commercial beers available for purchase in the United States through an online voting system. The flip-flop of Pliny the Elder and Two Hearted isn’t the only thing worth paying attention to, however.

Per annual tradition, let’s take a walk through the results.

Styles

The collection of styles represented for 2017’s list shows we’ve hit something of a plateau in terms of diversity. The usual suspects top the list (thanks, INSATIABLE ANIMALS) and, as I have in the past, I’ve lumped in an American Pale Ale like Zombie Dust into the IPA category because this is my blog and I’ll cry tears of lupulin if I want to.

Ho-hum. IPA rules the land. When you think about it, 11 different styles across 51 beers (thanks, ties!) is pretty incredible given drinker proclivity toward IPA everything, so I wonder if things will ever change that much from here. For example, here are 2016 and 2017 style breakdowns for comparison:

Almost identical, but REALLY different from what 2017’s styles look like compared to 2011, the first year the AHA shifted polling to only include American brands:

That’s *18* styles from 2011, and I even looped a couple of lagers rooted in Germany into one generic category just to keep things from getting out of hand.

This change interests me not just for consolidation around a specific set of styles – apparently we really know what we want – but doing so while also having the widest array of choices we have ever had. An amber or brown ale no longer show up on Zymurgy’s list, but there are also a really high number of ambers and browns being made right now with all sorts of flavor options. If voters wanted to, I imagine there may be a brand made to those styles that could get attention, but they now seem more antiquated than anything. We still turn to IPA and imperial stout. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it’s still a thing all the same.

Best of all, I’d take these responses with a much higher probability of representing the public at large over a Beer Advocate or RateBeer “best of” list, as these AHA members vote highly for a wide array of beers that are commonly found and also really, really good. If this is to be believed, the narrowing of preference toward a smaller set of styles could be telling for breweries. You don’t have to go all over the map with what you make (we know how authenticity can play for one-offs) because about a dozen styles of beer are really interesting to drinkers.

Speaking of which, just because I love you INSATIABLE ANIMALS so much, it’s been clear for years what butters your bread or double-dry hops your beer or whatever:

To emphasize this point even more, half the dozen new beers included in 2017 that weren’t on 2016’s list, we have Wicked Weed’s Pernicious IPA, Alchemist’s Focal Banger IPA and DIPA’s like Fat Head’s Hop Juju and Melvin 2×4. Hope you’ve got some enamel left on your teeth.

Even if you do, you’re liver is still pissed.

Alcohol Content

Yes, we can point at the average ABV dropping by a quarter of a percent in the last three years, but the average alcohol content across 51 beers (thanks, ties!) is still a whopping 8%. People can talk about trends of lower alcohol beer all they want, but the stuff that gets people excited is still pretty high octane. A reminder that the most recent analysis to determine the average strength of Brewers Association-defined “craft” is 5.9% ABV, and 44 of 51 beers listed in 2017 were above that threshold. Only two – Founders All Day IPA (4.7%)  and New Glarus Belgian Red (4%) – were under 5%.

To poke at this a little more, let’s separate the top and bottom-“25” of these lists, because as we see with so many “best beer” compilations, the top half rarely changes much year-to-year thanks to baked in perceptions and expectations. Most fluctuation will take place at the bottom of these lists, with some beers moving in and out. I like to pay extra attention to that half, because finding new beers is always fun, especially for quantitative purposes:

Top-25 Avg ABV Bottom-25 Avg ABV
2010 7.12 6.69
2011 7.7 8.26
2012 7.5 8.18
2013 7.89 8.28
2014 8.06 8.1
2015 8.18 8.36
2016 7.83 8.56
2017 7.5 8.55

That top-25 ABV takes a bigger fall, but mostly because a few “big” beers like Arrogant Bastard and Backwoods Bastard and others not named bastard dropped a few spots. Even still, the consistency of the bottom-25 is what gets my attention, because that’s where the most change is happening year-to-hear, and yet ABV still stays the same while 55-60% of styles stay IPA or DIPA.

If those numbers weren’t enough to get you excited, now comes the fun(?) part.

Trend Lines

In year’s past, some basic idea of trends and interests came forth from analyzing Zymurgy’s list. In 2014, it was trying to see if there was anything beyond the commitment toward “heritage” styles. In 2015, voters doubled-down on love for IPA. Last year, there seemed to be some small rebellion against classic brands that dominated a few years prior.

For 2017, there’s a clearer indication of what “new” means to people.

Dogfish Head has been a good example of this in recent years, as their “Minute” lineup of IPAs has tumbled downward:

60 Minute 90 Minute 120 Minute
2010 T17 4 N/A
2011 T16 T3 T38
2012 15 3 25
2013 30 3 N/A
2014 T34 7 27
2015 N/A 9 T28
2016 T50 15 T34
2017 N/A T19 T43

Similarly, it’s been an odd combination of rankings for Sierra Nevada’s beers, which have a strong hold on AHA members for both quality and nostalgic reasons, I’m sure. I’m including Celebration because hot damn, it’s strong. No other beer has seen the same kind of fall and rise:

Pale Ale Torpedo Celebration
2010 5 T12 T7
2011 10 T8 7
2012 4 9 7
2013 15 T12 T9
2014 12 20 T15
2015 T12 T12 T28
2016 13 32 T16
2017 T11 T27 T8

Stone IPA and Ruination have had a tough go over the years, and Dale’s Pale Ale, while still on the list, went from a high ranking of 14 in 2012 to 43 the past two years. North Coast Old Rasputin, one of the best imperial stouts in the world – and you can get it for $10! – has gone from a high of #10 in 2012 to 38 two years in a row.

So an odd collection of beers got my attention this time around, not because they were new in the sense they didn’t exist before, but they’re new in that they’re continually new to people. A first batch for example:

Boulevard Tank 7 Founders KBS Cigar City Jai Alai Founders All Day IPA
2010 N/A T25  N/A N/A
2011 N/A T3  N/A N/A
2012 N/A 37  N/A N/A
2013 T32 T17  N/A N/A
2014 25 11 42 T34
2015 T33 T17 40 27
2016 19 12 18 T16
2017 T11 T6 15 T13

KBS has its rarity and reputation to rely on, and anecdotally seems to have higher production levels the last couple years. Which, along with these other three, caught my eye. Aside from being good beers, what do they have in common? Why would they be making a jump in recent years? Is it expansion?

Boulevard, Cigar City and Founders have all been increasing their distribution footprint, which means that in addition to providing these quality beers, more people are becoming exposed to them. Outside of its hometown of Kansas City, Tank 7 is Boulevard’s best-selling beer, according to Jeremy Danner, Ambassador Brewer for Boulevard. In new markets (which continue to grow), it’s now a top beer for the company. Even in today’s diverse drinker world, an 8.5% ABV, Belgian-style farmhouse ale doesn’t scream “top seller” among new drinkers.

Except it does! And it’s doing so in places where people use it as their first exposure to Boulevard!

This is complementary of an assumption I’ve continually made about why Pliny the Elder conquered Zymurgy’s list:

Due to Pliny the Elder’s very limited distribution (CA, CO, OR and Philadelphia) the number of people who have access to this beer is very limited. It may be a popular choice on beer trading forums, but I can’t help but wonder how much its reputation, historical place with beer drinkers and overall hype keeps it at No. 1, especially when hundreds of thousands of words have been written about how it’s really not as good as you think.

Could other beers be moving up the list because more people are actually getting to try them? Or try them consistently? Rather than relying on hype, these beers could be getting their due through experience, too. While not outlandish in their move up the lists, I also thought about these four beers, which have appeared since 2015:

Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA Fat Head’s Head Hunter New Belgium La Folie Tree House Julius
2015 11 T45 T41 N/A
2016 10 T34 T50 33
2017 T8 T27 T27 T22

New Belgium has been around for a long time on a national basis, but they’re finally fully national and also getting their flagship sour beer in front of people for the first time. Deschutes has carefully expanded and has already stretched into Virginia and North Carolina. Head Hunter gets a boost because of Fat Head’s growing brewpub footprint – now with four locations – and Hop Juju made its first appearance on the list in 2017. Tree House is, well, hyped. A New England IPA on a Zymurgy list says a lot about the transition of “old” to “new” guard.

Which brings us back to the flip-flop of Pliny the Elder giving up this year’s top spot to Bell’s Two Hearted. It’s not a big deal for news as much as a symbolic one. Bell’s has itself been expanding rapidly, led by its flagship IPA, which accounts for a little over 50% of sales, per latest data made available last year. Maybe this is a sign of people finally getting tired of voting for a rare double IPA to the top spot. Maybe it’s an indication that more people have tasted Two Hearted and, like others, determined it to be a worthy rival to Pliny.

But most important, these changes suggest that on a national level, getting good beer in front of more people can change minds. Seems pretty straight forward, right?

While it may not to be a hit with AHA/Brewers Association crowds who prefer not to buy AB InBev, this all makes me wonder about reception for something like Elysian’s Space Dust IPA, which AB InBev is using as Elysian’s lead brand to enter markets. Objectively (on a crowdsourced level) it’s a great beer. Goose Island IPA does well, too. Also, Golden Road’s Wolf Pup.

Discussing the merits of these beers and their place as “craft” is a whole other conversation, but reach matters, and separately of these Zymurgy results, all this does make me wonder a little more about how those kind of beers will be able to attract audiences as they move across the country.

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac
















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sfringer
243 days ago
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Insights, beer talk, more insights, witty comments - it's all @BryanDRoth. Read, enjoy, be enlightened.
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