Learn about newest trend in craft beer brewing
Happy news on the beer front - Dogfish Head was just chosen the No. 1 U.S. craft brewer by The Daily Meal. Its Best Craft Brewery in America survey was sent to beer experts, who winnowed a list of 2,528 breweries to 72 choices. The list had 11,500 readers participate. I would say that is a fair sample. The editor of DM ( who mentions Budweiser Black Crown) wrote, “There was one clear theme - there’s a difference between what’s called ‘the best’ and those that are ‘beloved.’” He went on to elaborate. It read as though his favorites didn’t do so well.
Total production from craft breweries is about 13.2 million barrels in 2012, up from 11.4 in 2011. Initially I thought this a huge number. However, total 2012 U.S. beer production was 141.4 million barrels. Total beer sold, including imports, was 200+ million.
Craft brewer Boston Beer Co., which produces Sam Adams, is the fifth-largest producer in the U.S. No. 1 is “the King of Beers,” No. 2 Miller/Coors, No. 3 Pabst (can you believe that?) and No. 4 Yuengling. Dogfish is 20th on the overall volume list and 13th on craft volume. You can learn more by visiting www.brewersassociation.org.
So what’s new? The latest hot-ticket beer item is not microbrews but nanobrews, from breweries that by law can produce no more than four barrels of beer per cycle. Sam Adams, by comparison, hits the max allowable for craft at 16,000 barrels/day. I think Sam Calagione may have started at about this nanobrew level initially at Dogfish Head in downtown Rehoboth. I’m unsure how far the nanobrew mystique will go. So far, one large hurdle is availability. Unlike wine, beer does not age well. One barrel is roughly 27 cases of 24/12-oz. bottles.
My niece sent me some Bridge and Tunnel Tiger Eyes Hazelnut Brown Ale. It was brown colored with a small head, pronounced hazelnut nose and slightly sweet, malty flavor. Another in this category you might enjoy is Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale from Tampa.
You can sample some at Moriarty’s Pub in Philly. There are also some liquor stores in Florida that ship. Maduro goes great with a cigar. I was told Cinnamon’s in Bridgeville offers the Maduro, but I am unsure. MadTree Brewing in Cincinnati also makes a highly touted Gnarly Brown. I have not sampled it.
Another challenge for small-batch brewing is consistency of product over time. This is only a problem for folks who have great olfactory recognition and recall. You may intuit that this characteristic, as well as curiosity, is right in the wheelhouse of those who buy in the nano market.
Brewing resembles cooking food; the ingredients are always changing. It is the brewer’s palate that makes the corrections necessary to gain consistency. I can assure readers that old grain, malt and yeast have many anomalies compared to fresh. The smaller the batch, the less room there is for manipulation. Several acquaintances find the variations from batch to batch to be appealing. I do also.
Most of these nanobrews are relatively expensive. It is my experience that many drinkers have been trained to consistency. Those who have watched the homogenization of Cali varietal wine and the subsequent move back to much more terroir-driven, very expensive wines will be able to relate to the situation. I have no opinion on this other than to say I prefer the road less traveled, in most cases.
When I buy for large groups, or for classes I teach, I look for the consistent and the typical to provide basis. Then I am inclined to chemically modify the wine to highlight the terminology in vogue. It is amazing the lessons to be learned by employing a glass each of wine, tea, sugar water and tartaric acid (or lemon juice) solution plus a scent kit.
Before you put too much credence into The Daily Meal, I wish to inform all that their poll on light beers, published on Yahoo’s front page Sunday, claimed the No. 2 light beer was Heineken, and No. 1 was Trader José’s from Trader Joe. Sales numbers say that’s a bunch of hooey. Bud Lite is the top-selling beer in the country, followed by Budweiser, Miller Lite, Coors Light, Natural Light, Corona Extra, Busch Light, Busch, Heineken, and Miller High Life. In the final analysis, buying and consuming large quantities is the best poll of all.