Yes, I know I’m more than a week late with that particular season’s greeting, but the truth is I am only now fully appreciating the bounty that Christmas offered this year. For this was the year I turned my sweet, longtime-retired father into a degenerate, beer-hoarding craft mule, hauling a cooler full of some of Florida’s best beer to my home in North Carolina.
The corruption of my dad was remarkably easy – I simply needed to ask. In addition to several six-packs of Jai Alai IPA
and Maduro Brown Ale
from Tampa-based Cigar City Brewing
, I received a special allotment of a sentimental favorite – Category Five IPA
from Due South Brewing
in little ol’ Boynton Beach, Florida, which also happens to be my childhood home.
I stumbled on Due South just a few Christmases back, shocked to find it in an industrial area a little over a mile from my parent’s house. According to Jodi Halker, Vice President and Co-Founder of Due South Brewing Company, I was not alone.
“When people come to visit relatives in South Florida, they all come to the brewery for the afternoon and appreciate the casual atmosphere we offer,” Halker said. “Every day we have first time brewery visitors. We may have four generations visit at once.”
Returning to spend time with my parents took on a decidedly different tone with the opportunity to visit Due South and its signature Category 5 IPA – an 8.5% APV citrus-forward tropical IPA with just the right balance of malt and hops. Not surprisingly, Category 5 took home the gold medal in the 2014 Florida Beer Championships in the Imperial IPA division. It is one of six beers in the brewery’s Core Series, all well-made and worth the trip to the somewhat out-of-the-way taproom.
“Because of our location, we aren't really a place you can stumble upon,” Halker said. “People who come to the brewery are definitely looking for us.”
For those unfamiliar, Palm Beach County is a sometimes strange hodgepodge of retirees, sun-drenched natives and newly-relocated young families. It is an environment that is remarkably well-suited to craft beer, giving those who live in the well-manicured suburban planned housing developments a chance to imbibe something authentic and fiercely local.
In 2015, Due South will be joined by Coppertop Brewing
and Devour Brewing
in Boynton Beach, making for an enjoyable brewery hop all within a few miles of each other. And it is a tour I will not likely undertake as my parents plan to relocate to North Carolina later this year. All the more reason to put my pops to work in what could have been a great new holiday tradition – beer muling.Approved Gift Theme
If social media is to be trusted, 2014 was the year of craft beer and Christmas was no exception. Those known to be the craft beer fan in their households no doubt received a fair share of beer-related gifts this past year.
Type in any permutation of “craft” “beer” “gift” and “Christmas” in to Google, and you are apt to find yourself visiting the Craft Beer Lover’s Holiday Gift Guide
, an online shop managed by Brian Devine and Maria Scarpello. These traveling beer scribes are behind TheRoamingPint.com
, chronicling the state of craft beer from a 29’ RV named Stanley.
“We started doing the Craft Beer Lover’s Holiday Gift Guide in 2011 because we kept running across cool craft beer related products during our travels, many of which were made by passionate individuals who just love beer,” Devine said. “We change it up each year both with the product selection and the design of the page.”
So what were the biggest sellers?
“Consistently the Hydroflask stainless steel growlers and Spiegelau Craft Beer Glass Sets are the most popular,” Devine said. “This year the surprise hit was the Bear + Deer = Beer Holiday Sweater which I imagine is benefited by the popularity of ugly Christmas sweater parties.”
Having aged into a time of ho-hum when it comes to unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning, I experienced newfound excitement this year. “Beer stuff” has become the gift theme that has replaced “anything Beatles related” for my extended family, and I’m glad for it. There are only so many Yellow Submarine lunchboxes a guy needs.
“We’ve seen the traffic grow each year, but this year had a huge jump in traffic over past years to the point where we were getting 1,000+ hits a day,” Devine said. “I think the general public’s understanding of the craft beer movement has grown where it’s no longer weird to admit your brother-in-law is ‘really into beer.’”
Would You Wear These Socks?
Those are my brand new beer socks to the right, gifted to me by a relative who will remain nameless. While Sock Smith is a respected name in men’s fashion, I’m not sure which is worse – that I actually had a slight thrill of wearing these suckers to my next bottle share, or that I realized I would be embarrassed by the glassware depicted.
Whether you were traveling this holiday season or played host to relatives near and far, I hope you had a great one. Happy New Year.
has an intense love of craft beer, the people that make it, and the community that supports it. Though he works professionally as a strategist to nonprofit organizations, he has a profound desire to tell the compelling stories of the craft beer sector, and is a proud contributor to Craft Beer Gut.
Based in Charlotte, NC, Josh’s primary focus is on the burgeoning craft beer scenes of the Southeast, from Florida to Virginia, with particular passion for happenings in his own North Carolina. You can find him on Twitter at @JoshCFRE
Tomas Sluiter, Owner and Brewmaster
You'll be able to view the brewery from the taproom
One summer evening, deep in the heart of Southeast Portland, a small group of people gathered at a well-known beer blogger's house. Other beer writers, publicans of nationally-renowned taprooms, exceptionally-talented brewmasters, and a few prolific, award-winning homebrewers mingled in a garage around taps of liquid gold. Among the beers pouring that night was a plum sour; perfectly well-balanced and pleasantly tart with subtle plum flavors, it was one of the favorites among beers such as Block 15's Framboise White
and an aged Hellshire
. No one I spoke with that night knew who brewed the beer, and I left the party without asking. It was months later when I found out that the beer was brewed by the future owner of Culmination Brewing
, Tomas Sluiter, using plums he picked from his own back yard.
Sluiter flew under the radar for eleven years as brewmaster for the underwhelming suburban brewpub, Old Market Pub
. Quiet, a bit of an introvert, and uncomfortable with drawing too much attention, Sluiter has kept mostly to himself, staying out of the Portland beer scene and the public eye. Until now. Culmination Brewing has been his ongoing project for the better part of six years, and after looking at dozens of buildings, three name changes, potential partners having come and gone, and enduring an emotional roller coaster of excitement, apprehension, joy, fear, disappointment, and self-doubt, Culmination Brewing seems like a particularly appropriate name for the final result.
Slated to open nearly six months ago in a huge storefront warehouse in Goose Hollow, close to downtown’s Providence Park, Culmination Brewing would have been a multi-level masterpiece – brewery downstairs, a taproom with majestic ceilings and exposed brick on the main level, and a stunning rooftop beer garden. Written into the lease agreement was a guaranteed option to buy the building after the first five years which would have been a phenomenal achievement had it panned out. Construction had already begun on the Goose Hollow space when – after a series of very expensive surprises and critical structural faults with the building – the deal fell through (see Sluiter's article
in the Oregon Beer Growler).
Having been the brewmaster at Old Market Pub for so long is hardly an advantage for Sluiter, as the brewpub carries a reputation which he'll need to overcome in order to be successful. Tucked away in the suburbs, expansive and brightly-lit with a family diner feel, OMP seems more of a place to stop for something to eat between destinations – not a destination in itself. OMP actually had some pretty solid brews, but the owners' priority wasn't necessarily to showcase the beer. And the longer Sluiter worked there, the more his interests and the interests of the the pub owners diverged.
It was an emotional tie that kept Sluiter chained to the pub. After having built the OMP brewing system himself from used equipment in 2005 and increasing annual beer sales five-fold between 2002 and 2013, the brewery almost felt like his own. OMP's owners would only serve the most basic of styles, however, and insisted on limiting experimentation. Despite this, Sluiter's skill as a brewer and his passion for high-quality beer never waned. He continued to brew phenomenal barrel-aged and bottle-conditioned sour ales – never to see the light of day at the pub, save for the rare private tasting. So while cases of excellent barrel-aged beer and kegs of aged barley wine collected dust in the dank corridors of OMP - never to be tapped - Sluiter worked diligently to open Culmination.
I was planning to open a collaborative nanobrewery and taproom when I was introduced to Sluiter by my real estate agent about a year ago. Because I was a beer writer and an aspiring taproom owner and Sluiter worked as a professional brewer and a brewery consultant, we had a lot to gain from each other as colleagues. Our friendship grew as we were able to commiserate on the trials and tribulations of opening a business and provide each other with much-needed support on the days when we'd almost had enough. Then, early this year, while the weather was still icy, I was invited to a tasting in the Old Market Brewery and had a chance to try some of Sluiter's aged brews and sours. It was then that I knew his secret: what he was capable of as a brewer.
To give you an idea, here's a description I wrote of one beer Sluiter brewed - a Belgian-style Dubbel with Brettanomyces, aged in a local pinot barrel, then bottled and aged an additional four years:
It pours a dark amber-red with a three-finger head that dissipates to a well-retained creamy beige that coats the top of this gorgeous tawny port-colored beer. The aroma is chocolate and malt with lactic dark fruits and raisins. It's a beer which balances perfectly a rich, complex chocolaty raisin, dry malt flavor with a lactic acid sourness – which integrates perfectly and does not overwhelm – and a slightly funky oak and dark cherry. As it warms, the complexity comes out even more and the balance remains spot-on. The future Culmination taproom
It may be a while after opening Culmination Brewing before we'll be able to taste something like the Dubbel as these styles take a lot of time and patience on the part of both brewer and beer enthusiast. Until then, Sluiter plans to have twenty-five taps of the typical styles one might see in a brewpub – undoubtedly, of high quality.
In addition to a five-barrel system, there will also be a small sake-brewing system, making Culmination the first American-owned sake brewery in Portland. Sluiter has extensive knowledge of sake from working in a sake brewery and has a Sake Professional Certification from the Sake Education Council. (A note: sake is technically a beer because it's brewed from grain – not a wine, which is fermented from fruit).
In my time knowing Sluiter and watching him grow his idea into a business, I've seen him approach everything with caution, a lot of thought and attention to detail, and with impeccable aesthetic taste and focus on quality. Sluiter is a romantic at heart, with a sophisticated eye for design and a perpetual awareness of detail which becomes all the more apparent as you watch his brewery evolve. I have no doubt that, after production is moving, he'll finally gain the recognition he deserves.
“This is quintessential Portland. All under one roof,” says Sluiter. Culmination Brewing will be located in the Bindery Annex
at Northeast Oregon and Northeast 21st Avenue and will be sharing space with a boutique sock maker, a coffee roaster, a mead brewery, a custom studio microphone maker, a multimedia production company, a marketing company, a digital photography phone-app company and a food truck. The taproom is expected to open in five to six weeks and will serve guest taps until the the brewing systems are up and running – likely by the end of the year.
To keep track of the Culmination Brewing's progress, visit the Culmination Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.
Our grandparents' history can embed itself into our subconscious in ways we're not aware of, and into our bloodstream in ways that modern genetics still can't understand. I know this because it happened to me. I have somehow become my grandmother – for better or worse – despite the fact that I never met her. And I would venture to guess that this sort of anachronistic phenomena may, at least in part, have something to do with Mazama Brewing as we know it today. Mazama's head brewer, James Winther, absorbed the passion and dedication of his grandfather and took it a step further - uprooting himself from New York City and fleeing to a small town in Oregon to study fermentation science. Winther now stands on the cutting edge of a craft beer renaissance. James Winther of Mazama Brewing
“Rheingold Beer was once a top New York brew guzzled regularly by a loyal cadre of workingmen who would just as soon have eaten nails as drink another beer maker's suds," Wikipedia quotes the New York Times as saying. Winther's grandfather was one of these loyal workingmen – both loyal to the beer itself, but also dedicated to the brewery – working over twenty years at Rheingold as a cellar hand and in distribution.
The German-American Liebmann brothers opened Rheingold Brewing in Brooklyn, New York in 1883, during the early American beer industry boom, and managed to carve out a significant place in beer history. With the help of a young advertising executive named Robert Wechsler, the Miss Rheingold Contest was created, deemed “...one of the most popular promotional campaigns ever” by the New York Times. When the campaign was launched in 1941, the Chilean-born actress and tennis player, Jinx Falkenburg, was declared Miss Rheingold – the stunning face of Rheingold beer. The following year, the public was asked to vote for the next Miss Rheingold and by 1952, the contest drew approximately 25 million votes. Rheingold Brewing rose from sixth place to number one in the New York market in less than a decade.
Ahead of the times, Rheingold celebrated the diversity of their loyal consumers by featuring people of color in their ads, and as most other advertisers succumbed to apprehension when Nat King Cole became the first black TV show host, Rheingold was the first to sign up as a regional sponsor. Rheingold survived the anti-German sentiment and a boycott against German beers during World War II, the Great Depression, and Prohibition, but by 1976 had succumbed to the oppressive competition of Anheuser Busch, Miller, and Schlitz. It was around this time that Winther's grandfather lost his job of twenty years.
It was a different generation and a different industrial and social climate back then. Fast forward to today: craft beer still struggles against the same competition of Big Beer but is rapidly gaining ground while SAB-Miller and AB-Inbev falter, their flavor profiles and advertising gimmicks lost in the past. Now is a time when the grandsons (and granddaughters) of men who toiled in early American breweries gain significant recognition as head brewers in small craft breweries. Jinx Falkenburg, the first Miss Rheingold
Winther was only ninteen years old when his friend asked him to help brew a batch of beer in the dorm basement of Stoneybrook University, using grain processed through a Dunkin Donuts coffee grinder. That first batch was terrible, but the young men persevered and their brewing skills improved. Eventually, however – as a result of their basement shenanigans - the university tightened the rules, restricting the possession of beer (for those of legal drinking age) to one gallon or less and banning brewing altogether.
It's easier to imagine Winther – an intelligent, enthusiastic thirty-one year old with smiling eyes which peer out from a head full of fur – on a 1969 commune than in the military. But with a military family history, ROTC in the ninth grade transitioned (post-Stoneybrook) to the army with an assignment to the psychological warfare unit of Psychological Operations. After only three months into the assignment, however, Winther injured his back lifting a grenade launcher – which abruptly ended what he thought would be a military career.
There was one way in which Winther stood apart from other men in the army – a prognosticating whisper of his future destiny. All through basic training, he continued to brew fermented concoctions in his canteen using honey packets, grapes and bits of rye bread - not unlike the earliest known beers of ancient Sumeria and Egypt.
After being forced out of the army, Winther worked for two years at Shoreline Beverage, a huge Long Island bottle shop, which marked his transition to a new career in Beer. Then in 2007, at the age of 24, Winther left New York City for the first time ever – bound for Oregon State University, to attend one of the only two fermentation science programs in the country at that time. After this, he volunteered as an intern with McMinnamin's and was later hired at their Edgefield location. Winther had worked at Edgefield for about a year when Jeff and Kathy Tobin reached out to the OSU alumni list in search of a head brewer for their new brewery. Winther applied for the position and has been with Mazama Brewing, the Tobins' brainchild, since the first tanks were installed.
Opening in 2013, Mazama hasn't been around long. The craft beer community has begun to take notice recently, however, as they begin to hone in on their process, producing increasingly better beer. The first Mazama beer that gained a lot of attention among beer geeks was their Peach Sour Sunrise. Released late in 2013, the brew is a sour version of their Belgian Blonde, aged on peach puree. The result is a subtle but distinctly present peach flavor and a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness.
Mazama's primary goal according to Winther is to “...strive to make authentic beers in the Belgian and American spirit of brewing, such that our Belgian beers could be mistaken for something fresh from a Belgian brewery”. For serious beer drinkers, freshness matters – particularly with lighter beers which are prone to developing off-flavors as they age - or as they make a journey across the world to get to the West coast of the U.S.. But while Mazama's focus is on brewing traditional styles, they are also not opposed to experimentation and adding local touches where they can.
Mazama's commitment to quality shows in their almost O.C.D. approach, each potential beer going through an extensive vetting process before it even hits the brewery. The process is as follows: a group of people (including Winther, the Head of QC, and the brewery owners) will get together to write down their recipe ideas, then they're each expected to argue their case, which includes justifying the use of each ingredient in the recipe. If any of these recipes pass the first phase, testing will then begin on a ten-gallon system – the Tobins' old homebrew system – where the beer will be brewed three or four different times to perfect the recipe before it continues on to the final phase - to the full, twenty-barrel brewing system.
Like many craft breweries right now, Mazama has already started to expand their brewing capacity and will soon distribute to Washington and Southern Oregon. They have about a dozen or more barrel-aging projects going on right now, including a Belgian-style Quad and a Belgian-style Blonde aged in ginger mead barrels. They also have plans to do some 100% Brettanomyces-fermented beers as well as a lot more blending - which is likely to turn out some really nice wild ales and sours.
Mazama Brewing and Running Man Distributing will be hosting a beer-paired dinner on Monday, November 17th at the Bad Habit Room in Portland, Oregon. Jerrod Knight of Little Bird and, formerly, Wildwood will be the chef that evening.
If you're interested in trying one of Mazama's beers and you're in the Portland area, both the Mazama Grande Cru, Belgian-style Blonde aged in port barrels and refermented with peaches, and the Mosaic Eruption IPA are on tap at Scout Beer Garden (Good Food Here food cart pod at SE Belmont Street and SE 43rd Avenue).
The new documentary Blood, Sweat and Beer explores the massive impact that craft breweries have on community and economics and puts a face to the emotional roller coaster of breaking into and succeeding in the craft beer industry. The directors/producers of this film need to raise $12,000 by November 2, 2014 on Kickstarter.com to fund the finishing costs of the film. If they succeed in meeting their goal, they will able to screen the film across the U.S. in early 2015.
Watch the trailer and see more info below...
The film follows a trio of 23-year-olds as they struggle to start The Brew Gentlemen Beer Company
in Braddock, PA.
Matt, Asa, and Brandon hope their brewery will help this once-prosperous steel town bounce back from decades of neglect, violence, and population loss.
The film also tells the emotional story of Danny Robinson
(Shorebilly Brewing Co./Backshore Brewing Co.), an Ocean City, MD boardwalk brewery owner and restaurateur whose empire is threatened by an aggressive trademark lawsuit that could leave him penniless.
Alexis Irvin and Chip Hiden, the co-directors/producers - both 27-year-old Maryland natives - filmed for 15 months in 14 states across the U.S.. The pair interviewed over 100 breweries and beer experts including: Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Charlie Papazian, founder of the Brewer’s Association, Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., and many more. Click here for more information on the film or to contribute to their Kickstarter campaign.
It is the drink of men who think
Who feel no fear nor fetter
Who do not drink to endless sink
But drink to think the better
Chad Henderson is the brewer at NODA Brewing Company
, and he is living his dream. He’s not an astronaut, not a sports star, and yet Henderson understands what it’s like to have a dream, strive for it, and achieve it.
founder Sam Calagione talks about how his brewery looks back into history for creative inspiration as they try to reinvent what beer as we know it. Calagione researches far beyond the beginnings of the likes of Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada, and digs deep into some historically rooted beers from our ancestors .
Ethan Cox is the co-founder of Buffalo’s Community Beer Works
and a certified Cicerone
. Here he talks about the role that local beer plays in creating socially significant “third rooms" - also called the Third Place, a concept which I have studied extensively and meshes so well with all that craft beer is about.
Image thanks to wallstats.com
The Brewer's Association
has a very clear definition of craft beer
, based primarily – though not entirely - upon annual volume produced by a given brewery. This definition illuminates the business component of craft beer, reminding us that craft beer is, first and foremost, a for-profit industry. So...does this mean that the role of a craft beer enthusiast is solely that of a consumer - or does the industry of craft beer and those who support it have a more important role? And if your role as a craft beer enthusiast is limited strictly to that of a consumer, are you really okay
with that? Craft Beer as Activism: Founded on and Fueled by Passion, Creativity and Deviance
Throughout its history, craft beer has - by necessity and by default - defined itself as an underdog industry, fighting the big beer companies (see Craft Beer in Mexico
, as an example) for table scraps and, while the industry has grown globally, it's managed to corner only 7.8% of the total beer market in the U.S. - which still a strikingly high percentage compared to other countries.
Underlying this discussion of Craft Beer as industry, niche markets, capitalism, profit and market share, there lies an important story – a history
) which, if left unacknowledged, does a great dishonor to the pioneers of the craft beer industry. Let us not forget the passion
that the industry was founded on and which continues to fuel the creativity and innovation of Craft Beer today. Those who ignited the Craft Beer movement went against the grain to fill a niche which consumers didn't even know they needed at the time. And consumers voted with their dollars and continue to do so decades later.
Craft beer is a prime example of how capitalism can work in its most ideal sense and, to me, the industry represents a rags-to-riches story of the elusive American Dream. With its integral underdog narrative, it exemplifies that visceral archetype which we can all relate to on some level – the myth and legend of David and Goliath (however you may interpret it
). These characteristics – passion, creativity, innovation, and also struggle
against more (seemingly) powerful forces – are so deeply engrained in American identity that it makes sense that the United States has led the craft beer movement globally.
To me, Craft Beer is so much more than just an industry or a product. Inherent in its essential character is the deviance and rebellion against Big Beer that it was founded upon, an activist
role by necessity. Craft Beer: A Symbiotic Relationship with Community
If you ask a craft brewer what they believe their obligation to Craft Beer is, their answer is simple: to produce the highest-quality product possible. And god bless them! Unlike us over-analytical writers, most brewers don't waste too much time trying to dissect what Craft Beer represents or what the parameters of its definition should be. Their obligation to Craft Beer is simply to extract and ferment that passion, creativity, and innovation which results in a high-quality product – and if it's done well, we can taste that passion: pure Love in a glass! Craft brewers are craftsman and craftswomen, and this is a primary, undeniable character that sets craft beer apart from Big Beer.
In addition to the above characteristics which many people would agree define Craft Beer, there are other characteristics associated which are, perhaps, more debatable.
At a craft beer writing symposium in Lexington a few months ago, speaker, writer and co-owner of The New Albanian Brewing Company
, Roger Baylor
argued that craft beer, among other things, should maintain the ideals of sustainability, community and local production. Meanwhile, the key note speaker, beer writer and brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery
, Garrett Oliver
elaborated, arguing that while small, local production and consumption of craft beer is certainly one important ideal to strive for, one cannot deny the importance of global influence on craft beer. It may very well be acceptable, he argued, for a craft brewer to celebrate the influence of beer-producing regions such as Belgium, Germany or the UK while at the same time adapting these influences into a local style made with local ingredients and sold to local consumers.
While both global influence and local production may be a tenuous balance to maintain, many craft breweries embrace not only these qualities but that of increased sustainability – which makes sense environmentally and often has a long-term economic payoff. Sustainability can also be viewed as a responsibility to one's community – another important character that, to me, is essential to the identity of Craft Beer.
If you're involved in the craft beer industry or are a serious home brewer or craft beer enthusiast, you know that the craft beer community is a vibrant social network consisting of a diverse group of people united by passion and willingness to share knowledge and resources. I would even argue that there is a global
craft beer community, influencing and being influenced by others to create a better product.
The individuals within the global craft beer community are one important component of why craft beer is so important to me. In each of the towns I've spent time in recently – Portland, Seattle, Austin, Lexington, Syracuse and Cleveland – there was a craft beer community willing to embrace me, a total stranger – to show me their brewery or to share a beer from their cellar with me. Good people; passionate people; proud people, willing to share the best their communities had to offer – which was most often, despite the small size or small number of breweries in any given town, of exceptional quality.
Could you imagine Craft Beer existing without
community, collaboration, or shared knowledge, passion, or resources? I can't. And I'll go out on a limb and argue that without community, Craft Beer would not exist. Craft Beer relies on relationships and community as much as the community relies on it. It is this symbiotic relationship which Craft Beer has with its community that makes me believe that not only is Craft Beer obligated to the consumer, but that the consumer is obligated to advocate for Craft Beer. The Craft Beer Enthusiast as Conscious Consumer
Ultimately, how Craft Beer is defined and how that definition inevitably changes over time as the industry evolves, is up to us – the craft beer community: the brewers, the beer writers, the servers, and the reverent enthusiasts. The craft brewer's job is to make the best beer possible. The beer writer's job is to lead a discussion. The beer server's job is to store, pour and present the beer the way it was intended. But what is the job of the craft beer enthusiast? Are we – the enthusiasts – solely consumers, voting with our dollars to support the industry? Is this enough
for ourselves and our communities, or do we want more of a role in shaping the future of Craft Beer? And do we have a responsibility to do so?
Those consumers who often choose Craft Beer over Big Beer are consciously choosing to spend more money for a quality product (a privileged position to be in, no doubt), even if they are not specifically, morally or politically, dedicated to Craft Beer per se. These consumers may not have a problem supporting Big Beer if they can get their hands on the latest Bourbon County (Goose Island/AB-Inbev), but they are still a conscious consumer and a big part of why Craft Beer continues to have so much success as an industry today.
While I don't judge these consumers harshly for their choices, I believe that my
role – not just as a writer and journalist, but as a craft beer enthusiast – aligns more with the advocate and activist role that Craft Beer was founded on. Maybe it's simply that I've always been an activist, but I believe that my choices as a consumer and the dollars that cast my vote, should reflect the fact that I care about the future of craft beer. I like Bourbon County as much as the next guy, but I also don't feel that AB-Inbev should be encouraged to buy more craft breweries, because ultimately, this will affect the choices we have as consumers in the future, and the ability for other, smaller craft breweries to compete. So – for me – a Deschutes Abyss
or Black Butte XXIV
will do just fine.
I don't expect everyone to agree with me. On the contrary, I know that most people don't when it comes to the obligations of a craft beer consumer (particularly the sticky “Goose Island issue” which, admittedly, always gets me a little heated).
What I challenge you to do, though – today, if you haven't already – is to ask yourself what Craft Beer means to you. How do you define it? What are the characteristics of Craft Beer that you can personally relate to, that emulate your own moral and political beliefs, your sense of community, your dedication to the environment and to small business, to the American Dream and to opportunity, to your own identity? Do you see yourself as an advocate for craft beer? An activist? Or, simply, a consumer? There is no right answer. It is purely subjective. But let it be conscious, whatever your answer is.
An important part of conscious consumerism is empowering oneself to hold the craft beer community and craft breweries accountable to your high standards of quality, to what you believe Craft Beer should stand for, what you want it to stand for, what's important to you. Ultimately, it all comes down to a better product, more consumer choice, and Love in your glass.
Due to the amount of time that's lapsed between attending grade school and today, and to my many failings of both knowledge and memory, before last week I could not tell you where Kentucky was on the map. Sad but true. Yet it was simply the title
of an all-day symposium that was held there this past Saturday that made me board a claustrophobia-inducing aircraft to cold and snowy Lexington, Kentucky with a reservation at the Quality Inn and no idea where I was going - and no idea that, despite its close proximity to downtown, there was no way to walk there from the Quality Inn. With the amount of money I spent on cabs while I was in Lexington, I could have easily rented a much nicer hotel downtown. Live and learn.
“Craft Writing: Beer, the Digital and Craft Culture
” was an academic and highly-introspective analysis of craft beer, craft beer writing, and how the medium has evolved in the digital age. The symposium was brilliantly put together by Dr. Jeff Rice
, craft beer enthusiast and Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies
professor at the University of Kentucky
, where the symposium was held.
Among the questions that were addressed: What is craft beer – what values does it represent, and what ideals should be maintained over time? What makes good craft beer writing – what are our obligations as beer writers, what values should we represent, and how have we contributed to the cultural influence of craft beer? How has digital media changed over time since the onset of beer writing, and how have changes in digital technology contributed to the growth of the craft beer industry? And consistent with academic study, there are no definitive answers, only temporal conclusions.
Initiating the discussion – which ultimately should be an ongoing one – was a team of industry pioneers who gave us their take – veteran beer writers, Stan Hieronymus
and Julie Johnson
; veteran brewmaster, author of numerous articles, and founder of the Pink Boots Society
, Teri Fahrendorf
; writer and co-owner of The New Albanian Brewing Company
, Roger Baylor
; author of Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah
and owner of Shmaltz Brewing
, Jeremy Cowan
; and keynote speaker: the charismatic and ultra-classy veteran beer writer and brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery
, Garrett Oliver
You can find multiple synopses of what each of these speakers said online (here's one
), so I won't bother to be redundant. What I really want to do here is to think out loud. To ask the questions: is craft beer writing subjective and based solely upon the whims and the objectives of the writer, or is there some objective, universal values that we should adhere to as craft beer writers? Do we have obligations to the craft beer industry or the craft beer community, and if so, what are those obligations?
Lexington was a whirlwind. My flight arrived over three hours late on Thursday night and rather than go to the hotel to check in, I had the cab driver take me - big backpack and all - straight to the West Sixth Brewery
for a beer. The cab driver was in his sixties with a heavy Kentucky accent and he told me one story after another, all of which had no punch line. After handing me my bag, he told me I was beautiful, put his arm around me and kissed me on the cheek. Welcome to Lexington.
It wasn't until Saturday, the day of the symposium, that I realized I hadn't seen Lexington during the day yet (Friday, I'd spent all day working in my hotel until after dark). But there it was, by the light of day, in all its icy glory...Truth be told, the area around the university didn't do much for me. It was the majestic colonial houses which I frequently passed, sitting in the back of a cab, which made me want to return to Lexington.
Well, that...and a man I met at the post-symposium pub crawl – a fellow writer and craft beer industry professional. Educated, articulate, creative, mature, deceptively baby-faced, and stunning in his black square frames and tie. We spent that evening together, chatting over beers when we should have perhaps been networking, and I fear I made myself out to be a fool (my method of ensuring that no other human becomes too attached to me, god forbid), but I didn't expect then that I would still be thinking of him a week later and wishing I could see him again. Alas, I may never speak to him again - when one loves to travel, there are certain things one must give up.
Travel is something that forces me to live in the moment and to lose myself. Not so when I'm sitting alone in my apartment with my cats and my cyclical, unproductive thoughts. My cats, I love. The thoughts...not so much. A day-long craft beer writing symposium was not only extraordinarily enticing in itself, but provided the impetus I needed to leave my thoughts at home and spend some time above the clouds.
Both travel and writing can be a means to the same end – one through escapism, and one through head-on confrontation. If travel is a way to escape thoughts by losing oneself in the moment, writing provides a way to focus those thoughts, work through them, and to liberate oneself from their – at times – cyclical, redundant and constrictive nature. Writing is also a powerful tool that, if done well, can sway opinion and transform a society - and craft beer writing is an excellent example of just that.
The importance of beer writing to the craft beer industry is undeniable, both from an advocacy and a marketing perspective and there is no telling where the craft beer industry would be today if it weren't for beer writers telling a compelling story of the quality and craftsmanship of craft beer. Personally, I believe my role as a writer and a journalist is, necessarily, that of an activist. I don't believe that any journalism is objective. One chooses to write about some things but not others, and activism is inherent in those decisions.
I think all writers who choose to write about beer will agree that the story is a compelling one - historically, culturally, politically and scientifically. The craft brewer is both an artist and a scientist, a craftsman, pioneer, magician, and underdog – and this is no doubt why craft brewers have earned the rock start status which they hold today. I think the underdog narrative, though, is an important one in craft beer, partly because it's so important to human mythology and identity and is something we can all relate to. This may also be the root of the debate over “craft vs. crafty” - or what defines how big a craft brewery can become before it's no longer considered “craft”. Because the underdog narrative is so important to the integrity and identity of craft beer, it seems natural that there should be a visceral, emotional response when it comes to defining exactly who the underdog is.
Beer writers are passionate about craft beer and the values it represents (debatable though some may be) so we naturally act as advocates for the industry and, thus, have had an enormous influence on growing the industry through consumer education. Digital media, meanwhile, has created rapid – instantaneous – communication of information and has drastically increased the speed of media influence on society. It is this combination of beer writers acting as advocates and the ubiquitous use of digital media which has contributed greatly to the rapid growth of the craft beer industry in recent years.
Ironic as it may be, if beer writers continue to embrace an objective role as advocates for the industry, we may very well threaten to undo the underdog narrative which we've helped to create. Craft beer – which currently claims only 7% of the beer market
in the U.S. (though is steadily rising) may not always be an underdog, and the craft beer industry may need to adjust its identity to focus on other defining characteristics such as craftsmanship, quality, and conscious, sustainable production and consumption. And with no end to the dialogue, the craft beer industry may evolve to embrace new defining characteristics.
Additionally, if beer writers embrace the role of advocates for craft beer, it seems important that we not fall into the trap of defining this role solely as a cheerleader for the industry, but that we constantly question assumptions and accepted values and practices – our own, and those of the industry and community. This may very well be a beer writer's obligation: to lead the discussion based on what we, as individuals and consumers, believe to be true, thus informing and influencing public opinion and the direction of the industry as a whole. This may require tough love sometimes, going against the grain of what is commonly accepted - but it's important to remember that we are, after all, writers and not advertisers.
There is no way to be certain, but the late Alan D. Eames – beer historian, beer anthropologist, author and founding director of the American Museum of Brewing Arts and History – hypothesized that the first brewers were women nearly ten thousand years ago, around the time that humans began cultivating grain. Historians used to believe that beer originated in Babylon and Sumeria though more recent evidence suggests that it actually originated in the Amazon basin, where even today, women are responsible for brewing a grain-based fermented beverage called chicha – traditionally made from lightly-chewed corn, the starch broken down to fermentable sugars by ptyalin, an enzyme found in saliva.
"Gilgamesh, whither are you wandering? Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands. Gilgamesh, fill your belly. Day and night make merry. Let days be full of joy, dance and make music day and night. And wear fresh clothes. And wash your head and bathe. Look at the child that is holding your hand, and let your wife delight in your embrace. These things alone are the concern of men." This was Siduri's advice to Gilgamesh as he was lost in mourning and desperately, greedily, in search of immortality.
Siduri was an alewife – a beer brewster – and a wise mythological figure whose advice to Gilgamesh was recorded in the Old Babylonian version of 5000-year-old Sumerian texts. Various slabs of ancient stone show different versions of what happened to Gilgamesh after the pivotal point when he left Siduri to continue his quest, and some versions of The Epic of Gilgamesh are now illegible and can never be certain. Regardless, Gilgamesh did not heed Siduri's advice and, according to most legible versions of the story, his quest for immortality was both perilous and fruitless. Indeed, he should have filled his belly, danced, made merry and enjoyed the meager gifts that mortal man was given.
What is most fascinating to me about this story, however, is not what happens to Gilgamesh but that the moral of the story provides insight into how the ancient Sumerians viewed both women and beer. It was during this time in Babylon and Sumeria that women enjoyed great prestige for the beer they brewed. Could it have been that the advice of women was highly regarded in Sumeria – as the Epic of Gilgamesh indicates – because they brewed beer?
It may be impossible to know the relationship between beer brewing and women's status in Sumeria, but the importance of beer in ancient Sumerian culture is indisputable. By 3000 BCE, Sumerians had a full vocabulary to describe the many seemingly-modern intricacies of beer – words for different beer vessels, different grain roasts, beer strengths and styles, and for aging beer. Kas, the Sumerian word for beer, translates to “what the mouth desires.”
Ninkasi, a Sumerian goddess of beer, was the daughter of Ninhursag, the Mother Goddess. The Hymn to Ninkasi, inscribed on a Sumerian tablet in 1800 BCE, is an ode to the goddess, steeped in love and reverence, and it takes the form of a sensual description of beer brewing in the breadbasket of the world – in what is now Iran – only a few thousand years after humans began cultivating grain for both bread and beer. Bappir was a twice-backed barley bread essential to the process of beer-brewing in Sumeria.
Hymn to Ninkasi
(an excerpt, translated by Miguel Civil)
You are the one who handles the dough,
[and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,
Ninkasi, You are the one who handles
the dough, [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with [date]-honey.
You are the one who bakes the bappir
in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,
Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir
in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,
You are the one who waters the malt
set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,
Ninkasi, you are the one who waters the malt
set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates.
You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar
The waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks the malt in a jar
The waves rise, the waves fall.
You are the one who spreads the cooked
mash on large reed mats,
Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads
the cooked mash on large reed mats,
You are the one who holds with both hands
the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey and wine
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
The filtering vat, which makes
a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on [top of]
a large collector vat.
Ninkasi, the filtering vat,
which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on [top of]
a large collector vat.
When you pour out the filtered beer
of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of
Tigris and Euphrates.
Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the
filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of
Tigris and Euphrates.
Despite this reverence for brewing and amorous hymns to beer deities, women who sold beer in Sumeria were only allowed to accept grain as payment and were obligated to provide a worthy amount of beer for a given amount of grain – or face harsh penalties. According to The Code of Hammurabi (1500 - 2000 BCE): “If a beer seller do not receive barley as the price of beer, but if she receive money...or make the beer measure smaller than the barley measure received, they (the judges) shall throw her (the brewster) into the water.”
According to Egyptian mythology, the origin of beer came as a result of the sun god, Ra, becoming angry with the human race and sending Hathor – both daughter and wife of Ra and goddess of a swath of diverse realms including love, motherhood, beauty, joy, femininity, music, dance, foreign lands and mining – to punish the mortals. In her fury, she was transformed into Sekhmet, a goddess of war, who filled the streets with blood to such an extent that the human race was in danger of extinction. Ra took pity on the mortals, preparing a blood-colored concoction of barley and fruit (some versions indicate that the drink also contained mandrake, a powerful sedative) to trick Sekhmet, who drank copious amounts and fell into a deep sleep. And thus, beer saved the human race.
In much of the world, from ancient times through to the new world American colonies, beer was brewed by women because it was considered a domestic chore essential to the health and sustenance of the family. When it comes to ancient Egypt, however, there are discrepancies, uncertainties and contradictions about who brewed beer. What we do know is that beer played an essential role in ancient Egyptian society. It was customary for royalty to be buried with jars of beer to sustain them in the afterlife. Beer was used as a dietary staple and in medicine, in ritual, as payment and in trade, and it was exported around the world and used to fuel large construction projects such as the building of the pyramids.
It was the Sumerians who are said to have taught the Egyptians to brew, and it makes sense to me that this knowledge be passed on among women. However, Randy Mosher in his book Tasting Beer claimed that it was the men who generally did the brewing in ancient Egypt due to the massive, industrial scale with which it was done. In contrast, multiple online sources claim that women did all of the brewing in Egypt, and Garrett Oliver concurs with this in his book, The Brewmaster's Table. It should be noted, however, that none of these sources are Egyptologists and that Egyptian artistic renderings clearly indicate that brewing was done by both men and women – at least among the elite.
What we know about ancient Egypt is limited only to that which was recorded on the tomb walls of royalty and there is no way to know how these records may deviate from the role of brewers, or even of beer itself, in the daily life of non-royals. The underwhelming conclusion of Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology (edited by Paul T. Nicholson and Ian Shaw) is that there is no way to be certain of how the role of beer and brewing in ancient Egypt differed among the elite versus the non-elite and that further investigation may be necessary.
According to Eames – who I would argue may be one of the most reputable sources on the subject – women did the majority of the brewing in ancient Egypt under the supervision of the “lady of the house,” in a certain area of the kitchen called “the pure”, and it was only occasionally the royal brewers who were men. This conclusion makes the most sense, as it would have been massive, industrial-scale brewing that royalty required. Pharaoh Ramses II, for instance, is said to have had a 30,000-barrel brewery – or a nearly one million gallon capacity.
The English word ale is derived from the Viking term aul – and the Vikings were known for loving their beer. Once again, women were the brewers and Viking law even dictated that all brewery equipment remain the sole property of women. According to Eames, “...Viking women drank ale, flagon for flagon, along with the men. In a trance-like state, 'Bragg' women foretold the future under the influence of the ale they brewed. This 'bragging' played a vital role in religious life...” Once again, this indicates a certain status that women were awarded among the Vikings, and quite possibly as a result of the beer they brewed.
Women were primarily the beer brewers throughout medieval Europe and they were known to brew in England as late as the 13th century. Brewing was confined to the home at this point, still considered a domestic chore, but women would place a broom with a garland of hops in front of the door when there was extra beer to sell. People would happily show up to drink – the freshness of the hops an indication of the freshness of the beer, no doubt – and this would eventually lead to the development of the tavern in the late middle ages.
As taverns developed and brewing became a more profitable endeavor, a transition began for female brewsters as regulations became more limiting and penalties for dishonesty became more harsh. During this time, European law dictated that, unless a woman was widowed, she could only hold a license to sell beer under her husband's name. Any brewster who was caught selling bad or adulterated beer would be flogged and, if she were married, her husband would be obligated to take the lashing for her. Eventually, European women would be pushed out of the beer trade entirely.
Women brewed a substantial amount of beer in the early U.S. colonies, with a huge variety of ingredients, fueled by the scarcity of potable water and the need to provide an adequate balance to a diet of smoked, dried and salted meats. The term “bridal” is derived from a colonial tradition of brewing a bride-ale, a beer which was sold to provide a nest egg to a new bride. There was also something called groaning beer – aptly named, as it was intended to be served to an expectant mother during and after labor. These traditions – along with brewsters, the unusual regional styles they brewed, and any resulting status afforded to these women – eventually gave way to the industrial revolution.
By the end of the 18th century, across much of the beer-brewing world, a male-dominated beer-producing industry had begun. Money would be made. Large European-based companies would dominate the industry in much of the colonized world, and women would be shut out entirely. Then, approximately seventy later, women would begin to fight an uphill battle to re-claim that ancient status which was bestowed upon them in a different time and place, and to redefine beer-brewing for themselves in a contemporary and professional context. In 1987, Carol Stoudt would become the first female brewmaster in the United States since prohibition.
Despite beer brewing still being a male-dominated industry today, the craft beer community has generally embraced and celebrated the strength and success of the women within it – both on an individual level and through groups and organizations specifically intended to bolster the success of women in the industry through education and support. Today, the Pink Boots Society – a non-profit group intended to support and provide educational opportunities to women in the brewing industry – has nearly 1000 members. And the craft beer industry, which has evolved alongside the re-introduction of women to brewing, has produced a number of award-winning female brewmasters.
The stereotype of women not liking beer, or only enjoying certain styles, is still prevalent – and specific stereotypes can be laughably contradictory at times. Still, statistics show that only 27% of female drinkers consider beer their drink of choice, compared with 54% of men. This may be the result of a solid history of marketing beer specifically to men since there is nothing about beer – with a nearly endless range of flavor and aroma profiles – which is necessarily inherent to either gender. Recent data reflects this reality, as beer has actually replaced wine as the drink of choice among the youngest generation of female drinkers.
Seeing the growing market of beer-drinking women, the big beer industry giants have attempted to market to women by bastardizing beer, creating an even less desirable product than their standard fare, and making assumptions about which flavor profiles women prefer. These attempts – low calorie beers, pink beers, and sweeter, fruitier beers – have generally been perceived as condescending and out-of-touch with market reality, falling flat as a result.
In contrast, the craft beer industry has had ample success marketing to women by not specifically targeting them. Likely, sales of craft beer to women have been so successful because the craft beer industry neither sees women purely as exploitable statistics whose tastes can be narrowed down to a single style, nor as scantily-clad symbols used to sell beer to men. While the beer giants continue to use out-of-date marketing tactics, today's marketing-savvy women continue to drink more craft beer and the number of women involved in the craft beer industry continues to climb every year, with projections to significantly increase in the coming years.
Only a few of the women leading the beer industry today:
A few women's beer enthusiast and beer industry links:
not intended to be comprehensive by any means...
I recently submitted an article about women and beer to an agent for our collaborative project, BeerbyTanisha (now defunct, read article here)
. Admittedly, however, I wasn't able to say anything that hadn't already been said by other authors. And like most academic research, for every answer I found, I unearthed two more questions. In-depth research on the subject could be endless and would best be saved for a book, not a four-page article.
I would like to briefly describe, though, two questions which still tug at my sleeve - questions that I cannot answer nor say that any definitive answer exists. Though it could be that I just haven't found the answers yet.
The first question is: what is the relationship between women brewing beer and women's status in society - over various geographical regions and throughout history? Is there a pattern, as it appears? Or is it only coincidental (or simply false) that women's high status in society ran parallel to the times and places in which they brewed beer? And if so, which came first - the status? Or the beer?
My second question is: Is there a connection between the re-introduction of women to brewing in the United States and the nearly-simultaneous emergence of the craft beer movement? And if they are related, how so? I would imagine that people generally assume that it was the rise in women's status in our society that led to women's increasing involvement in the brewing industry - but, from a philosophical standpoint, is there any reason to assume that it was the egg which came before the chicken?
Women's Beer Brewing and Women's Status: a Parallel Lapse in Time
"Gilgamesh, whither are you wandering? Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands. Gilgamesh, fill your belly. Day and night make merry. Let days be full of joy, dance and make music day and night. And wear fresh clothes. And wash your head and bathe. Look at the child that is holding your hand, and let your wife delight in your embrace. These things alone are the concern of men." This was Siduri's advice to Gilgamesh as he was lost in mourning, about to embark on a perilous and futile journey in a desperate, greedy search for immortality.
Siduri was a wise mythological figure and an alewife - a female brewer and beer monger. While there are several versions of The Epic of Gilgamesh - some illegible and lost forever - all versions agree that in the end, Gilgamesh chooses not to heed Siduri's advice and suffers great misfortune as a consequence. What's most interesting to me about this story, however, is not what happens to Gilgamesh but that the moral of the story provides insight into how the ancient Sumerians viewed both women and beer 5000 years ago.
It's well known that women were the first beer-brewers, from ancient times into the middle ages and as late as the end of the 19th century in the U.S. And - at least in ancient Sumeria, Babylon, Egypt, and among the Vikings - women enjoyed great status as a result. Does it only appear
, from our perspective - looking out across the passing of so many years - that women had higher status in the early brewing days? Could it be possible that modern societies should devolve, becoming less
egalitarian over time?
It was around the end of the middle ages when women in Europe were slowly pushed out of brewing - once their taverns could turn a profit.
And it was the end of the colonial era when, in the United States, the industrial revolution had taken hold of the economy, putting beer brewing into the hands of men with large-scale breweries. The simplified version of a complex story is that women were forced out when men saw they could make money. Beer brewing became a full-fledged industry and a lot of the regional nuances of the beer itself were lost as a result.
Craft Beer: a Coincidentally Parallel Evolution to the Re-introduction of Women in Brewing
Everything changed in
1987, when Carol Stoudt became the first female brewmaster in the United States since prohibition. She was shortly followed, in 1989, by Teri Fahrendorf
, who went on to found The Pink Boots Society
. Is it coincidental that the craft beer movement has moved in parallel with the rise of women in the industry? And if it's not just coincidence, what is the connection? As I said, I don't have the answer.
However, I would guess that because brewing was, up until only recently, performed manually and on a large-scale, women were shut out because they were thought too weak for the job.
The fortunate introduction of craft beer drastically reduced the scale, making it easier and more acceptable for women to re-enter the brewing scene. Although the beer industry is still dominated by men, there are an increasing number of women in the industry - including some truly exceptional award-winning brewers. These women act as role models for younger women (who don't put up with the shit my mother's generation did)
and I don't believe it'll be long before women's contributions to the craft beer industry will ignite.
I also believe that the social, community-based and small-scale nature of the craft beer industry is particularly conducive to supporting its community members - men and women alike. Because we know one another personally, we know what our colleagues are capable of - and with demonstrated passion and dedication, respect is easily earned. Between the respect and support of male colleagues within the craft beer industry and groups dedicated to the education and support of women in the industry, craft beer is breaking down barriers.
And this is why the question "How do we market craft beer to women?" seems almost rhetorical to me. The fact is, we're already doing it. Not through sexy advertisements or gimmicky beers, but through action. And actions speak louder than words.
Craft Beer generally celebrates its female leaders, who are both paving the way for a craft beer revolution and also, unintentionally at times, serving as role models for an increased number of women in the industry. Here is only one small example, which inspired me to write this article:
Mario Garcia of Cucapá Brewing
Think back 1000 years ago to central Mexico, to the cold dry climates of the highlands where the agave plants grow. People made something called pulque
out of agave sap – fermented, white, viscous, yeasty, sour, and considered the precursor of today's distilled tequila. Consumption was primarily limited to sacred ritual, until the Spanish arrived – bringing with them colonial domination and the dogma of Catholic faith. Consumption of pulque rose significantly, no longer limited to religious ritual, and as it became associated with the lower classes and a rise in crime was subsequently regulated by the ruling Spanish. Consumption of pulque exploded after Mexican independence in 1821, fueled both by deregulation and a sense of national pride, but by the 20th century had again declined due to a wave of European immigrants and that thing they brought with them: beer.
The Maya and Aztecs of the region were brewing corn-based fermented drinks before the Europeans arrived, but it was the German immigrants in Mexico who popularized the use of barley in brewing, creating a template for what we think of as Mexican beer today.
I have come across several websites (of questionable repute) which claim that beer brewing was first introduced to Mexico by the Spanish – by soldiers of Hernán Cortés - and that the first known right to brew European-style beer on a commercial scale was given to Spaniard Alfonso de Herrero around 1543. I have my doubts about this, though. In the regions of the world where grapes grow well (Spain, Italy, France, Portugal...), wine is usually the drink of choice (it is, after all, more difficult to make beer), and to the best of my knowledge, Spain doesn't have much beer brewing in their history. In addition, ingredients to make beer were scarce in Mexico at that time. Although I was unable to find a reputable source which described introduction of beer by the Spaniards, this is not to say that one doesn't exist.
Regardless, what is
certain is the lasting European influence on the beers of Mexico today, particularly of the Germans and Austrians – although it was actually a couple of Swiss gentlemen who started the first lager breweries in Mexico: Bernhard Bolgard in 1845 followed by Agustin Marendaz in 1865. Particularly influential was Habsburg's control of Mexico in the middle of the 19th century with the reign of Austrian Ferdinand Maximilian – who, it is said, never traveled without his brewmasters (it's good to be king!). Perhaps Maximilian should have traveled with his body guards instead because his three-year reign did not end well for him. Brief as Maximilian's tenure was, it had a lasting influence on Mexican beer and from it, for example, we get today's Negra Modelo and Dos Equis Ambar, both Vienna-style dark lagers.
By the late 19th century, the beer industry was exploding in Mexico and prohibition in the United States further bolstered the industry, with new breweries popping up everywhere in Mexico as Americans came in droves across the border to drink the forbidden beverage. It was also around this time that the European brewers of Mexico started a smear campaign against native Mexican drinks such as pulque, claiming them to be “unhygienic”. Their foolish claims – for instance, that pulque was brewed with feces – seemed to have the intended effect and pulque consumption dropped to nearly zero while the popularity of beer continued to increase. This would only be the beginning of shady European tactics to control the Mexican beer industry.
Fast-forward to contemporary Mexico and you will see that European control over the Mexican beer market has only gotten worse, thanks in no small part to the corrupt Mexican government whose hands lie in the pockets of two huge foreign beer-producing giants which have engulfed and devoured all other, smaller breweries and used Mafia-like tactics to maintain the status quo - producing approximately 98% of all beer sold in Mexico. While Mexico represents a huge beer market, it should also be noted that these two giants – Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma (FEMSA) and Grupo Modelo – send 80% of their exports to the United States.
While I'm not trying to belittle the impact of the notoriously violent drug rings of Mexico by making a direct comparison between their tactics and the shady business tactics of the beer-producing duopoly in Mexico, one cannot deny certain parallels between the two institutions. For instance, both are driven by economics and have maintained their dominance through morally repugnant means. And both institutions happen to be – and in no small part – driven by the insatiable desires of Americans, who have created a strong market demand for which the Mexican people – or the Mexican craft brewers, in this case – pay the price. While we Americans naively vote with our dollars, turning a blind eye toward the corruption and devastation resulting from our direct financial support, there is something else we're not seeing. A storm that's simmering: a Mexican craft beer revolution. And stifled and stunted though it may be right now, it's important that we recognize it because with a little support from outside, David may be able to defeat Goliath.
But just what is David up against?
FEMSA started out in 1890 as the first large Mexican brewery, Cervecería Cuauhtémoc, and produces well-known Mexican beers such as Indio, Dos Equis, Tecate and Sol. In 2010, they were bought by Dutch producer Heineken, who now controls approximately 41% of the beer market in Mexico. The remaining 57% of the market is controlled by Grupo Modelo. Founded in 1925 and bought earlier in 2013 by Belgian firm AB-InBev, Grupo Modelo produces – among others – Corona, Modelo, Pacifico and Victoria.
While AB-InBev and Heineken (the first and third-largest beer producers in the world, respectively) may have enough money to pay the government up to $100,000 for a single license to sell beer, most of the restaurants, cantinas, brewpubs and small craft breweries – all trying to share a piece of the remaining 2% of the market – most often, do not. Why does the government charge so much money for a license to sell beer? Because AB-Inbev and Heineken want it that way.
These exorbitant price ensures not only that AB-Inbev and Heineken are just about the only ones who can afford to buy a license, but it also ensures ALL of the licenses will be available to them – so that when a new restaurant or cantina requests a license, the government simply sends them to Goliath, who then doles out the licenses under the strict conditions that these smaller companies not sell any of the competition's beer, nor produce their own.
The two European beer giants also offer financial investment and valuable equipment to new businesses in exchange for total exclusivity – meaning, these small businesses sign a contract that says they're not even allowed to speak
to a competitor. And just to cover all their bases, AB-Inbev and Heineken also control the entire supply of Mexico's malted grain. In addition to all of this, tax laws are written to benefit large producers of cheap beer. While AB-Inbev and Heineken continue to get massive tax breaks, the government forces smaller producers to pay over 40% in taxes, a margin that leaves very little room for profit.
Despite these giant's attempts to excise all potential competition like weeds at the root, there is a growing craft beer scene in Mexico. The demand is there. And in certain locations near the border – like Baja, Ensenada, Tijuana, and Mexicali – where small breweries are able to more easily obtain supplies and to export across the border to San Diego, David is finding a way around Goliath. And now some of these small businesses are fighting back. People are starting to take risks by providing needed supplies from the U.S. and cantinas are increasingly breaching exclusivity contracts to provide craft beer to their customers. On top of that, the high taxes force many of these craft breweries to go underground, skirting government regulation entirely.
The operation of underground craft beer producers is unfair to a craft brewery such as Cucapá, who has been around for over a decade playing by the rules, paying legitimately for its own licensing, and paying taxes that cut deeply into profit. While Mario Garcia from Cucapá does not approve of the underground scene, even he is forced to admit that it may be better in the long run for the progress of Mexican craft beer by making it more accessible to consumers and thereby bolstering demand. Penetrating the market, exposing the public to craft beer, and changing the definition of beer according to a culture steeped in a history of big beer business and outside influences is not an easy thing.
But things seem to be headed in the right direction.
While all combined, craft beer only accounts for 0.64% of the Mexican beer market – but only a decade ago, microbreweries didn't even exist in Mexico. According to McClatchy DC reporting, fifty-six different craft beer brewers showed up to a gourmet trade show in Mexico City in September – most of which had been around for less than two years. The Association of Baja California Craft Brewers (ACABC) was formed in 2010 and has doubled in size every year since. The Baja Beer Fest, which was launched by the ACABC in 2011 has seen a huge rise in attendance and had three different cities listed for its 2013 festival. Despite all of this, the question remains whether the Mexican government will eventually embrace Craft Beer – or will remain spooning Big Beer under the sheets. Garcia believes that tax reform would be instrumental in advancing the craft beer movement in Mexico and has so far presented four different initiatives to congress to change the tax code. While congress has essentially tossed these aside, unable to see an advantage to supporting craft beer, Garcia doesn't think tax reform is too far off. And there may be future opportunities to pursue change through a government agency set up to protect tax payers.
There also remains the opportunity to reach out to local government. Garcia, among others, has been working for the past decade to influence city mayors and push for the development of craft beer-specific licensing. But this is still a hard sell since even local government officials receive campaign contributions from big business, and lobbying is more prevalent than ever in Mexico due to recent political changes yet still remains unregulated. Regardless, there seems to be some positive movement on a local level: Mexicali is incorporating craft beer into their downtown redevelopment plans and there are reportedly similar plans for Ensenada and Tijuana.
And then, there's SABMiller.
Not too long ago, many people in the Mexican beer industry thought that London-based SABMiller – the second largest brewery in the world – was poised to buy FEMSA, until Heineken took over the reigns. I'm not certain how that all went down, but what I do know is that SABMiller wants in
to the booming Mexican beer industry. This puts them in a curiously – if tenuously – allied position with the budding Mexican craft beer industry – the difference being, of course, that SABMiller has the resources and the might behind them to do something about it.
In July, 2013 – teaming up with Primus and Minerva, two of the oldest microbreweries in Mexico – SABMiller filed a complaint with the Federal Competition Commission, which resulted in no minor victory: a ruling, to take effect within ninety days, would force FEMSA (Heineken) and Grupo Modelo (AB-Inbev) to limit their exclusivity contracts to 25% of what they currently are, thus allowing the majority of Mexican restaurants and cantinas – in theory – to finally sell craft beer. (Unless, of course, SABMiller buys up the other 75%).
Disappointing, though sadly not surprising, are the results of the ruling in reality
. While small business owners can sell craft beer to their customers now, they first need to ask permission from FEMSA or Heineken, who may or may not respond to their request. Those who do get a response are told that they'll need to give up any equipment that was provided to them through the exclusivity contract, which they may be unwilling to do. So, according to Garcia, not much has changed, and Cucapá still holds the exact same number of contracts that it held ten years ago.
Even if this recent ruling proves insufficient to oust the empire of engulf-and-devour beer producing giants, Craft Beer will find other ways around the tyranny. Craft beer is, after all, by its very nature, revolutionary. Garcia, too, feels confident that there will be a point when demand for craft beer will grow – where it will be more valuable to a small restaurant or cantina to serve craft beer to their consumers than to take hand-outs from Big Beer.
“...my biggest question is, when is this going to happen?” asks Garcia. “I don't think it will happen fast enough. And I don't think it'll happen to a great extent, where we see more than nanobreweries – where we see important regional sales. I don't see that happening anytime soon in Mexico. It will happen. I don't know if I'll be alive to see it, but it will happen.” To read more about the general history of beer in Mexico: To Read more about the politics of beer in contemporary Mexico:
And for his experience and first-hand knowledge on the subject, much thanks to Mario Garcia of Cucapá Brewing
and best of luck to him in all his future endeavors.