Beer Camaraderie Starts With Brew Clubs

Alcohol is meant to be shared.  That is a mantra that St. Germain Cellars adopted from the beginning of starting this company in 2014. I recall back in the 80s, meeting a man sitting on a stool, chatting with the proprietor of a hole in the wall brewing supply store. He was long haired and hippie looking, and he asked me if I wanted to taste an all-grain, home-brewed Porter. I had brewed my own Porter before but not an all-grain Porter. I remember him being so proud of his brew so I said yes, I would like try his beer. That turned out to be the best Porter I had ever tried to this day. He soon became the brewmaster of one of the first craft breweries in California's Santa Clara Valley. 

Why am I relating this story to you? It illustrates my first premise that alcohol, good alcohol, is meant to be shared, especially with people you like, that share the same passion for drinking something made by hand. A pro brewer or a homebrewer is so proud of his handcrafted brewing creation that he gives it away. A brewing club brings together the pro and the home brewer alike, allowing them to share their beer with one another and learn from each other.

Craft breweries also help other craft breweries. This statement is repeated time and time again by brewers and entrepreneurs that talk about how they got their brewery started. If a brewery is short on supplies another brewery is ready to step right in and help that brewery. If help is needed to fix a flavor problem with a batch of beer, just call another brewery and they will be right there to help out. If  there is an equipment problem-call another brewery and they will be glad to help out. They are in competition but not with each other as you would think, but instead with non craft breweries.

The practice of breweries helping out other breweries also starts down at a much lower level.

This happens with the homebrewer and his brewing buddies and with a brew club. The same circumstances of helping and sharing, start with a homebrewer and other home brewers just as craft breweries help other craft breweries. This is especially true with a brew club. This is works because many people can be helped at the same time during a presentation or club demonstration, or a club member steps up to become a mentor. Many brewers, club members or not enjoy and benefit from brewing with another brewer. Nearly every time brewing is shared-something new is learned about brewing beer no matter how many years of experience a brewer may have.

Brewing clubs generally have brewing competitions. Some competitions are one-on-one brewing of the same style while other competitions feature many beers of all styles among as many members that enter beer. Remember that beer brewers are very proud of their creation so getting entries is not usually a problem. If a batch of beer is not completely successful he generally will not share the beer. The biggest values to take away from beer competition is learning to take criticism about your beer, and learning to judge beers by specific BJCP guidelines. BJCP stands for Beer Judge Certification Program. BJCP defines and outlines the properties of the different beer brewing styles. A portion of beer judging requires tasting and identifying off flavors in beers. Participating in the judging portion of a beer competition can be quite daunting at first but the benefit and knowledge is value added to brewing experience. BJCP is quite complex so I won't get into the details but I would liken it to skills of a Wine Sommelier. Both certifications have many levels of certification and require extensive education.

Judging beer at a brew club merely gives an introduction into BJCP.  Each brew club may have members that have taken tests and are Beer Judge Certified. Certification consists of both a written and tasting test.

The club usually gets discounts on supplies and equipment, and sometimes discounts at breweries and brewpubs. Anything that is needed can be obtained in a pinch from another home brewer who is most likely a member of the club. Many clubs also pool equipment or have club equipment that has larger brew capacities than the average homebrewer. Some brew clubs have a shared common area for brewing and have taps available on a pay as you drink basis. Clubs have both public and private brew days. Brew clubs have members who work for or are associated with one of the local breweries. Knowing and meeting with all the pro brewers in town offer an access for incite and knowledge of different aspects of beer brewing.  In some cases a brewery may be the sponsor of the brew club. Brew clubs sometimes have libraries of books that can be checked out and recipes are shared, many recipes. Books on the art of brewing are also shared among other members.

A successful brew club breeds potential beer businesses. One logical outcome might be a brewing supply store, started by one or more club members or the club. Of course the most obvious of course would be to start a brewery. This could be a traditional brewing business or it could be a cooperative-initially started by the investment of some club members or or investment members who like to drink good beer and be a part of a brewery. An interesting variation on the brewing supply store is a brew on premises. A brew on premises consists of a brewing supply store combined an actual brewery portion.  This would allow a brewer that doesn't quite have the space or equipment -to brew their own beer, for a fee.

What is brew on premises?  So far I have heard recently of a brew supply store in New York City called Bitters and Esters, providing this service. I do remember first hearing of this novel idea 20 years ago in San Jose, California but I don't know if it is still in business today. A simple Google search finds 2 in New Jersey and 1 in Baltimore, Maryland, and one in Portland, Oregon, but there are many more. The service provides 100% of all the supplies and equipment and includes advice and instructions if requested or needed. Costs are roughly $150-$250 for a 5 gallon batch. The brew-on-premises service provides the cleaning up. It is expensive but this is a good way to get into brewing if you don't have any space, like someone living in New York or San Francisco.

A brewing cooperative is an interesting concept. It starts out by selling shares to members. Each member has one share and one vote to elect a board of directors. Members get a credit based on what is spent in the co-op. The Board makes the decisions on how the brewery is run, what and how much to brew. Investing members must be a resident of that state that the co-op is located. Details of this San Jose Cooperative Brewery and Pub can be found on the Microbrwr Podcast. Black Star Co Operative in Austin, Texas may have been one of the first brewing co operatives in America.


Buy & Drink Local Beers

Drinking locally starts for me, with drinking home brew, both mine and my fellow homebrewers. I support my four local brewpubs. When I am out of town I visit breweries and brewpubs in those cities. I support taprooms that carry the better craft beers for the particular state's brewing industry, but I tend to prefer the smaller breweries over even the nationwide craft breweries.

When I first joined a brew club I encountered prolific brewers that seldom purchased commercial beer. I thought about this for a while- even though I was a home brewer, why did I buy beer? Well, I like beer a lot and I didn't have enough of my own beer on hand. And in the time just prior to joining a club, I’d only produced three batches of beer: two IPAs and an Irish Red Ale. The first was totally undrinkable due to an extremely unpleasant chemical taste and smell. I dumped it down the drain. In the brew log book I found a major mistake in the mashing process, and the "almost Iodine" smell and flavor was similar to that of my sanitizing solution (I do not use that sanitizer any more). The second IPA was just barely drinkable but it may have acquired some wild yeast. The third batch of Irish Red was actually good-not great but, myself, friends and family consumed all of it rather quickly. So, I bought beer both at the stores and at my local brew pubs.  

Next, for research purposes I brewed a successful batch of Very Dry Mead. Then I brewed a batch of Russian Imperial Stout of which I was very proud. It was so good that after about two weeks, 4 out of 5 gallons were gone. I had to stop drinking it because I committed to entering it into a head to head competition with another brew club member.

It also occurred to me that club members that did not buy very much beer, besides brewing often, also brewed larger batches than me. I increased the next batch to 10 gallons of IPA (it was also very good). I can brew as much as 13 gallons so I will do that and not buy as much beer. I will also brew more often and keep 6 kegs cold at one time after buying an 18 cu. ft. chest freezer.

As of this writing Heineken has bought a 50% share in Lagunitas, Belgian brewer Duvel bought a 50% share of Firestone Walker. Lagunitas has big breweries in Northern California and Chicago. Rumor is that the Lagunitas buyout will build another brewery in Azusa, California. Firestone Walker will now have distribution on the east coast and in Europe. Now today I learn that the corporation that owns Budweiser is in talks to acquire Miller-Coors. Yikes!

Supporting local beer is becoming even more important. Local brewing with local consumers will also become more important in the future, as the consumer will determine their favorite styles. Also the practice of mega breweries interfering or interrupting craft brewing supplies such as hops and grain will continue to be a factor. The Brewing Association forecasts that hops production will need to expand from 70 million pounds in 2014 to 504 million pounds by 2020 assuming a linear increase. Obtaining the correct hops will become a challenge. Breweries will need to encourage more local production of grains and hops to keep up with national demand for these raw ingredients. I hope there is a trend similar to members of my brew club to grow their own hops. A new local farm has also started to produce hops and created a trade with one our local breweries. The beer brewing industries will need many more new farms growing hops to meet the growing demand.

There are a lot of ways to drink locally. Support your local brewpubs and taprooms, and when you buy beer from the store, try to keep it local. Or, get involved in a local brew club, try what your fellow homebrewers are making, and make your own.


Destination: 27th Annual Great Arizona Beer Festival

In April of 2015 we traveled to Mesa, AZ for the Great Arizona Beer Festival. To ensure we didn’t drink on an empty stomach, we had lunch at Rehab Burger Therapy in Old Town Scottsdale. I paired my burger with Four Peaks Hop Knot, even though I would soon be attending a four hour beer festival.

The festival started at 5pm which is much later than most beer festivals I’ve been to-usually they start at around midday. Food opportunities were advertised to be "A Taste of Chicago," appropriate, since the event was at the Chicago Cubs Spring Training Stadium. The Chicago Cubs concession stand was the only food available, so I am glad I had a good burger a few hours earlier.

Ticket prices were a little steep, at $44, but we had a groupon discount for $39. This was still more than I have ever paid for a beer festival. There were a couple of hundred people ahead of us when we got into line at about a quarter after 5, and 200-300 people already on the field as we entered the stadium.

From the top of the stadium approximately 30 pop up canopies representing both breweries and distributors sat in two rows. We were given a 3 oz plastic beer mug and 24 tickets, 1 ticket per 3 oz of beer. This seemed kind of weird, having such a small glass and so many tickets. I think there was a concern that with a larger glass that people would feel the effects of the beer much faster. But with 24 3 oz tickets that's 72 oz of beer! You can still get pretty impaired on much less than 72 oz. I probably had almost 10 tickets leftover at the end, and I used the dump bucket often.

Besides beers and ales, there were hard ciders and "shandys.” I highly recommend that even if you are not usually a fan of any particular style to at least try anything you've never tried before because you never know when you'll be surprised. Don't be afraid to use the dump bucket. Using the dump bucket when tasting wine or beer, unknown to most beer festival tastings or winery tastings is an expected procedure, not a rude activity. You go to a beer fest or winery to taste and sometimes even 3 oz is too big a taste. A tip we learned the hard way is to save the high ABV and "overly hopped" brews for last. After tasting too many strong IPAs or imperials, even 3 oz samples, turned your tongue numb.

I was disappointed to find that 95% of the booths were manned by volunteers supplied by the distributors, sponsors, and the charity or charities receiving the proceeds. I am more used to the reverse where only 5% were either volunteers or hired by the distributor because that particular brewery was just too far away. It is important to meet and speak to the brewers and employees that make that particular beer. With volunteers if you ask a question-they don't, for the most part, know the answer.

I was very satisfied with the number of breweries that were represented at the brew festival. I tried many beers that I have never tried before. We earned A LOT of badges and points on Untapped that night, and we can all go back to recall every beer we consumed and remember if we liked it or not.

Stay tuned for Destination Pacific Northwest blog coming up soon.

Beer Brewing in Arizona

Ever since I wrote the first blog for St. Germain Cellars about Thumb Butte Distillery, I became curious about the history of beer brewing, distilleries, and wineries in Arizona. This will be the first of three blogs in the series, where I’ll cover beer brewing. I will cover the history of Arizona Distilleries and wine production in separate posts.

In the 1860s local beer became a more important staple for miners and settlers. Beer did not travel well due to carbonation and was very easily prone to spoilage. Refrigerated transportation was either not invented yet or not practical yet, and thus beer did not travel distances well. Technology of metal pressure kegs were not yet in use, only wooden barrels. In comparison, wine and distilled spirits were not carbonated and contained higher alcohol by volume (ABV), so there was less possibility of spoilage during transportation. In terms of beer quality, Prescott, Arizona was considered to make the best beer, most likely due to a climate of lower temperatures and less chalky water.

As it turns out, the early history of beer production and selection of the Arizona territorial capital paralleled each other. Prescott and Tucson both vied for the designation of the new capital of the Arizona Territory. Abraham Lincoln and the government of the United States eventually chose Prescott (named after historian William Prescott) because Tucson had sympathies for the Confederacy and Prescott was sympathetic with the Union. The original temporary capital was selected as Fort Whipple, about 5 miles away from what is now Prescott, Arizona.

Eventually Phoenix, the vast area between Prescott and Tucson, would develop in importance of beer production, population growth, and become the State Capital of Arizona.

Breweries Listed by Chronology, Location, and Importance

Tucson

  • Pioneer Brewery (1864-1872)   

Pioneer Brewery may have possibly been the first brewery in Arizona Territory and was set up to supply miners and mining camps.  

  • Tucson Brewery (1870-1870)
  • Park Brewery (!870-1886)
  • French Brewery
  • Southwestern Brewing
  • Gentle Ben's/Firehouse (1992-1995)
  • Gentle Ben's/Barrio (1995-present)

The brewery portion of Gentle Ben's was removed from the University Ave. location and reinstalled in Barrio Brewery in 2007 while the pub portion remains open today near the University of Arizona.

  • Nimbus (1997-present)
  • Borderlands (2015-present)

Prescott 

  • Arizona Brewery (1867-1886)
  • Pacific Brewery (1867-1897)
  • Prescott Brewing Company (1898-1899)
  • City Brewery (1876-1899)
  • Arizona Brewing Company (1903-1915)
  • Prescott Brewing Co. Brewpub (1994-present)
  • Prescott Brewing Co. Microbrewery (2012-present)
  • Granite Mountain Brewing Co. Nanobrewery (2012-present)
  • Black Hole Brewing Co. (2014-present)
  • Oak Creek Brewing (1995-present)
  • Superstition Meadery (2014-present)

Prescott was considered to have the best beer, in the late 1880s, over breweries in Phoenix and Tucson, possibly due to cooler weather and better water than the the heat and chalky water of the deserts of Phoenix or Tucson. The Prescott area also had better access to ice-a necessity to produce lagers and pilsners. This was before electric refrigeration.  

I found it interesting and although I did not chronicle all the times that breweries were sold or changed management, but quite frequently ownership or management changed every 6 months to 2 years. Also what jumped out at me was the large number of these men that had German names who frequently went from one brewery to another. I have said before that German immigrants were extremely influential to the beer brewing production in America.

Phoenix Metro Area and Maricopa County

  • Arizona Brewery (1933-1964)

Arizona Brewery became Carling in 1964 and also National Brewing 1966-1975 and G.Heilman/Carling National  (1975-1985).

This version of Arizona Brewery even though now closed-produced more beer than any brewery ever has even to this day. It was famous for A-1 Pilsner. Antique signage and memorabilia for A-1 can still be seen today outside Arizona bars and saloons across the state of Arizona. Arizona Brewing also produced Carling Black Label and Colt 45 Malt Liquor, to name a few.

  • Phoenix Brewing Company (1900-1901)
  • Sonoran Brewing Co. (1996-2004)
  • Four Peaks  (2004-present)
  • BJ's (2001-present)
  • Phoenix Ale Brewery (2011-present)
  • OHSO (2012-present)
  • Santan  (2007-present)
  • Papago (2001-present)

There are many more breweries in the Phoenix Metro that are too numerous to mention, therefore only the historic or most notable have been listed here.

Flagstaff

  • Flagstaff Brewery (1882-1892)
  • Beaver Street Brewery Whistle Stop Cafe (1994-present)
  • Flagstaff Brewing Company (1994-present)
  • Mother Road Brewing Company (2013-present)
  • Sterling Springs Brewing Company (2011-2012)
  • Wanderlust Brewing Company (2012-present)

Williams

  • Williams Brewing (1895-1911)
  • Grand Canyon Brewing (2007-present)

Stay tuned for more about the wineries and distilleries in Arizona.

1.png

Beer in Cans: How Canning Beer Affects Quality, Cost & Environment

Beer in Cans: How Canning Beer Affects Quality, Cost & Environment

Currently breweries are faced with the decision of how to package beer for retail distribution, other than filling kegs. Breweries usually start out filling kegs for their own taproom consumption and continue for distribution to bars an restaurants.  Once there is a need or desire to sell retail beer beyond filling growlers, then comes the decision whether to fill bottles or cans.

Should I start a brewery? A homebrewer's question

Should I start a brewery? A homebrewer's question

Anyone can start a brewery, but if you know how to brew beer that is a plus. If you don't know how to brew beer then you need to find and hire someone who does. A business person who doesn't know about brewing approaches this question from a totally different perspective and I will not be covering that in this article. Having been a beer brewer on and off for the last 30 years I can only speak to being a homebrewer and thinking about starting a brewery.