Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Oregon Beer Notes: Widmer O'Ryely IPA, Ninkasi Problems?, Winter Beers

Some beer notes from Oregon:

One: Widmer. Since I have talked about and polled about the others it behooves me to mention the latest Rotator IPA from Widmer (well, okay not exactly the latest, Spiced IPA is now out, but most store shelves are stocked with O'Ryely).  I did not expect to like O'Ryely as my palate and rye do not often get along.  I am an outlier - beer geeks rave about Oakshire's Line Dry Rye for example but I find it unpleasantly soapy on my tongue.  However the rye in this IPA is very subtle and I quite liked the hint of spice it gave the beer which was a very nice compliment to the Nelson Sauvin hops.  Nelson Sauvin divide people, at Thornbridge in England they brew a single hopped Nelson Sauvin beer, Kipling, that is now one of my all time favorites (if you ever have a chance to try it fresh on cask...do so), but the head brewer there dislikes the hops.  Interestingly, as used in O'Ryely, they strike me as more Citra like than NS.  In fact, if I hadn't known, that's what I would have guessed, it tases very citrusy.  I associate NS with more tropical flavor like passion fruit.  I would love to try this one along side the X-114 as they both give off that great citrus note and I can't really compare from memory (I am far too old).  But whatever the end result, this beer rocks! It seems a perfect IPA for the season, slightly darker and spicier than X-114 but with that characteristic NW juicy hop note that I adore.

As an aside, I bought some Nelson Sauvin hops from Steinbarts the other day and look forward to trying to brew a beer similar to Thornbridge's Kipling.  Belmont Station offers a number of Thornbridge beers but as of yet, not Kipling.  I hope that changes soon. 

Two: Ninkasi. I have had a few bottles lately of quite possibly my favorite beer of all, Ninkasi's Total Domination, that have been bad.  In fact I bought a sixer of TD and the first three bottles were fine, but after a couple of weeks in the fridge the last three were almost undrinkable.  Fearful that I was imagining it all I had two other people try and confirm the bracingly bitter astringent note.  Ah well, my bad for waiting to long to drink it I thought.  But then I bought a fresh bomber a couple of weeks later with precisely the same problem.  I suspect oxidization and maybe there is a problem with the new(-ish) bottling line but it wasn't an obvious oxidization flavor.  No one else I have talked to has experienced this but then I don't talk to people that often.  So I wonder if this was just a one-off if if there has been a systematic problem.  I can't tell you how excited I get by TD and how disappointing it is to get a bad bottle.  I don't care about the money, I just hope there isn't a problem at the mother ship. So, has anyone else had a bad bottle of TD lately or am I just unlucky?

Three: Winter Beers. I had an exchange with Bill from It's Pub Night and the Full Sail folks on Twitter about my struggle to find Wreck the Halls in the store.  I still claim it was hard to find, but they also reminded me that it came out in September.  I also has a sixer of Jubelale that was unpleasantly alcoholic and raw in the first bottle so I put the rest away in the cellar and pulled them out about six weeks later where they had substantially improved: softened and rounded out.  So there are two problems, winter beers should not come out in September and it is being put out too early.  I know it is expensive to store, but breweries should care about the product that is consumed and let it sit for a while if it need more conditioning.  Also, beers like Wreck the Halls, which are balanced and ready to go from the start should come out in November not September.  I have spoken. 

As an aside I had some Wreck the Halls on cask at the Pilsner Room which was great, but they also had ESB on tap.  Now, c'mon, if you are going to serve only one on cask, it really should be the ESB!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sierra Nevada: Economies of Scale vs. Transportation Costs

The announcement yesterday that Sierra Nevada has chosen a site outside Asheville, NC to build a new brewery came as no surprise - they have been looking for a long time for the right place to expand.  Other western breweries are also reportedly looking to follow suit, most notably New Belgium, and it has also long been rumored that Deschutes have their sights set on an east-coast brewery as well. 

Which of course all begs the question, will these breweries loose some of their sense of craftiness - Sierra Nevada that is not brewed in Chico?!?  I hope not, but in a country which has been defined beer-wise by Budweiser and their many regional breweries, I have some trepidation.  I hope the punters will still respect Sierra Nevada in the morning.  It will help to provide the east coast brewery with a lot of autonomy: letting their brewers do lots of specialties and one-offs that define the east coast brewery as distinct from the mother ship. 

But that's not what interests me most as an economist, what interests me most is the economies of scale vs. the transportation costs. As breweries expand there is always a tension between growing big an one site and capturing the considerable economies of scale and getting close to customers thereby reducing transportation costs.  In international economics this is known as the proximity-concentration trade off and some interesting empirical work has been done to understand where the tipping points are.  It is interesting, then, to see where that tension resolves itself in craft beer.  Sierra Nevada is up to an annual production of around 800,000 barrels, New Belgium is up to about 600,000 barrels annually, but Deschutes is still less than 250,000.

Anecdotally it would appear to make sense for breweries to grow pretty darn big on one site before opening a second.  Of course, a big factor is how much you currently sell and expect to sell in the future to east coast customers. Also factoring into the equation is the desire to reduce the carbon footprint of the business.  Beer is heavy and bulky and it take a lot of energy to get it from Chico California to New York.  But this gives us some idea of where the tipping point is 600,000 to 800,000 barrels a year.  [As a side note, the Tremblay's in my department have estimates that the economies of scale in brewing accumulate until about 2.5 million barrels a year]

Congratulations to Sierra Nevada!  One of my first entries into craft brewing was Sierra Nevada Pale (as it was for so many others) and it remains perhaps the ur-classic American craft beer.  Founder Ken Grossman is also known as one of the truly good guys in a business with a lot of them and has opened a lot of doors for future craft brewers.  Cheers.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Your Chance to Kickstart More Beer in Portland!

The Oregonian has the story of a new brewpub, "Stickmen Brewery & Skewery" hoping to open in Lake Oswego in the former Oswego Lake House: a great building and location right on the lake.  This is cool: I am always excited to see a new brewery open in Oregon, especially one in prime spots to relax and enjoy the Oregon summers.  And Portland's west side is a wasteland for breweries so creating some balance is good for Beervana's feng shui.

But as an economist I am especially intrigued by the fact that they are raising capital through crowd-source funding.  They have a Kickstarter page where they are hoping to raise $30,000.  This begs an immediate question: why?  Fort the owners, $30,000 is small potatoes for a brewpub whose price tags usually run about $500,000 with a brewhouse and all.  For the donors, all you get for your contribution is some schwag. So, is this just a gimmick?  Can a Kickstarter campaign mostly be about publicity?  Perhaps.  But what is most plausible in my opinion is that Kickstarter is in some ways free money.  People contribute but do not invest.  You get nothing but a sticker or t-shirt and the warm glow of feeling like you helped make the project happen.  They say the money will go toward the purchase of brite tanks and fermenters.  Whatever floats you boat, I say. 

I, for one, am happy to support the endeavor with my custom if the beer and food are good, but if it is a good business plan, I'll let the banking system handle the financing.  Still, I wish them luck and hope they get their $30,000 because there are probably plenty of people who, for $5 or $10 would feel good about helping buy a brite tank... I suppose.

Given the location in Lake Oswego, I predict a lack of the hipster in-crowd that populates many of Portland's brew pubs but it could become a gathering place for Lake O folks, which is always a nice aspect of pubs in general.  If only the LO streetcar hadn't been shelved they might have even drawn a hipster or three.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bad News For New York Area Imported Beer Consumers

Photo Credit: Michael Nagle for The New York Times
From The New York Times:
Customs officials intend to shut down their inspection station at the Red Hook terminal; the closing would force companies to unload thousands of containers a year and deliver the cargo by truck to another terminal equipped with a customs inspection station, either in New Jersey or on Staten Island.

...the Red Hook Container Terminal also accepts 15 percent of all beer heading into the region, which means prices could rise about 75 cents on every 12-pack.

“Basically you’re just taking beer on a ride to Staten Island, and right back from where it came from,” said Greg Brayman, vice president of Phoenix Beverages, which receives 90 40-foot containers of beer like Heineken and Red Stripe each week at Red Hook. “It’s a huge deal.”

Bah, what do you want with Heineken and Red Stripe? There are plenty of quality domestics that don't have to go through customs!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Brazil, Beer and Futbol

Three of my big passions: Brazil, Beer and Soccer, all come together in one new story:

Beer must be sold at all venues hosting matches in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, football's world governing body, Fifa, has insisted.

Fifa General Secretary Jerome Valcke said the right to sell beer must be enshrined in a World Cup law the Brazilian Congress is considering.

Alcoholic drinks are currently banned at Brazilian stadiums and the country's health minister has urged Congress to maintain the ban in the new law.

Brewer Budweiser is a big Fifa sponsor.

Mr Valcke is visiting Brazil to press for progress on the much-delayed World Cup law.

'Won't negotiate'
Fifa has become frustrated because voting on the legislation has been held up in Congress by the dispute over alcohol sales.

The Brazilian government has also failed to resolve differences with Fifa over cut-price tickets for students and senior citizens, and demands for sponsors of the World Cup to have their trademarks protected.

In remarks to journalists in Rio de Janeiro, Mr Valcke sounded frustrated with Brazilian officials.

"Alcoholic drinks are part of the Fifa World Cup, so we're going to have them. Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant but that's something we won't negotiate," he said.

"The fact that we have the right to sell beer has to be a part of the law."

Alcohol was banned at Brazilian football matches in 2003 as part of attempts to tackle violence between rival football fans.

Greene King and A Brief History of British Beer: Part 7

In the far distance is Greene King's new bottling plant - and yes, that massive pipe bridge carries beer all the way from the brewery to the bottling plant making a stop along the way at the kegging plant.
Which leads us, finally, back to Bury St Edmonds and Greene King. One thing that becomes evident when you are on the roof of the tower brewery is just how vast the Greene King estate really is. Tunnels under roads carry pipes that connect the brewery to the kegging and bottling lines. A new modern building, built on piles to withstand the annual floods that occur in the river on which it sits, houses an ultra modern bottling operation. Greene King trucks Belhaven beer down from Scotland (the rumor that Greene King brews Belhaven in Bury is false: Belhaven is all Scottish born and bred) to be bottled in Bury and then those bottles are trucked far and wide. But though it is vast and impressive, they still brew less beer than Sierra Nevada.

5X in the oak Vat #1.  Greene King has some room for another on but they haven't decided if they are going to add another.
And though they still get criticized for being commercial, big and lacking in character, not many breweries have the gumption to brew a special beer, 5X, that sits in giant oak vats for two whole years taking up space and burning profit margins. But Greene King does and is considering doing even more.

To stand on the roof and look out over the impressive Green King empire (from the roof you can even see a Greene King pub close by) one can’t help but feel gratified that the future of real British cask ale is bright. As a style that Americans have not adopted with any gusto, this part of world brewing heritage lives on in Bury, Chiswick, Southwold, Burton, Tadcaster and other British heritage brewing sites.
Greene King Head Brewer John Bexon in front of one of the old coppers.
Descending through the tower brewery (and notice how far the malt is carried by a pipe from the storage building in the distance and up four stories to the milling room) and see equipment starting with old de-stoners and mills and down to the new boiling kettles one has the sense that you are seeing both the past and future of British brewing.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Greene King and A Brief History of British Beer: Part 6

Thornbridge in the Peaks District
But there is another parallel trend in British craft brewing - one that takes it cues from the American craft beer renaissance. The existence of both makes the ‘craft’ beer scene in Britain a tale of two distinct types: the traditional cask ale producers that are enjoying a resurgence in popularity and the new, typically young iconoclasts that are brewing much stronger, much more hop infused beer that are also starting to gain popularity in Britain.

Dark Star Brewery in Sussex - They are all Dead Hop Heads
The perseverance of the traditional ale brewers probably has a lot to do with the tied pub tradition in Britain. It was only this year that UK customers began to consume more beer at home than in a pub. So the pub network is vital for the sales of beer and maintaining that network has been crucial to the heritage brewers or else they might have gone the way of their American counterparts and died off completely. But until the Beer Orders, access to pub outlets was severely restricted by the preponderance of tied houses. So while good for helping heritage brewers survive, this made it very hard for small, American style, upstart craft brewers to find a market.

As close to an American-style brewpub as I saw - Burton Bridge in Burton upon Trent is exceptional
But that is slowly changing. The renewed interest in cask ale has created openings for smaller, innovative breweries to get into pubs that want to supply the new demand. Brewers like Thornbridge are shattering the mold of low alcohol session beers and surprising punters with robust flavors all the while sticking to cask ales to gain a foothold in British Pubs. [This is not true of all new craft brewers, Dark Star in Sussex, for example, kegs almost all of their beer]. The off trade, beer sold in shops and supermarkets, is still difficult for craft brewers and heritage brewers alike. Green King alone has the scale to be able to turn a profit out of supermarket sales, where beer is often discounted heavily and treated as a loss-leader. Specialty shops are still rare in Britain where craft beer is still seen as simply beer: a working-class drink without the sophistication of wine.

Even in the capital - Meatime in Greenwich
So craft brewers that have had some success are quickly turning too pub ownership. Thornbridge has four, Meantime in Greenwich has two and Marble in Manchester has three. In some respects, then, this a bit akin to US brewpubs - though the idea of a brewpub in Britain is still carries with it the old rural agricultural smell – so most pubs do not have breweries on-site.

Marble in Manchester seemed to have the most buzz among beer geeks in Britain
The heritage brewers have, in general, recognized that they and the new craft brewers are all puling in the same direction. What is good for craft brewers is good for heritage brewers as both are generally focusing on ales and on cask, but even in keg form, craft beer is helping change the perception of beer in Britain. This understanding is turning into outright cooperation. John Keeling, Head Brewer of Fullers in London, for example, has teamed up with Marble in Manchester to brew a collaborative beer. And more tied pubs are bringing in guest beers from the craft sector.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Greene King and A Brief History of British Beer: Part 5

During the era of precipitous decline in pubs and cask ale consumption in Britain, heritage brewers were struggling to survive. Many breweries had brewhouses that had not been updated for a half-century or more and dwindling markets made it harder and harder to capitalize on economies of scale further cutting into the bottom line. Quite a few breweries were sold off to the more healthy breweries like Greene King. In some instances it made sense to reinvest in the brewery but in most cases the smaller market and the need to maintain scale meant that the brewery was closed and the brand and beer preserved by the acquiring brewery.

In Greene King's tasting cellar - load and loads of real ale...

Greene King was the most aggressive of the acquisitors and bought up a number of breweries on the brink of collapse. But they weren’t the only ones, for example Wells bought Youngs. Greene King has preserved a number of the traditional brands that they acquired like Moreland and Belhaven. In the case of Moreland, the brewery was shuttered but many of the beers continue to be brewed in Bury. In the case of Belhaven, a new brewhouse was built and the brewery continues to make Belhaven been in Scotland. The Green King empire is now expanding and thriving – they have an extensive pub network and are selling more and more real cask ale throughout Britain.

Belhaven Brewery and Head Brewer George Howell

And herein lies the irony. This mix of growth and acquisition that has given rise to criticism of the brewery from the same real ale enthusiasts that started the very wave Green King has ridden to newfound success. To the real ale enthusiasts, it all appears a little too familiar to a time when British beer almost died out entirely thanks to the industrialization of the beer industry. Particularly galling to the CAMRA types is the shuttering of ancient regional breweries. To a businessperson keeping them going didn’t make economic sense and they revitalization of the real ale market has a lot to do with the modernization and quality control that the consolidation has brought. To a CAMRA type, this seems like the very practice they were fighting against in the past and see no reason why beer can’t be made locally.

Greene King is also criticized for the quality of their beer – perhaps unfairly: Green King IPA, their flagship and the best selling real ale in Britain is a subtle yet wonderful beer when fresh. I had a sample right at the brewery and it was fantastic. But I have heard from quite a few Brits that they are not great at quality control once it leaves the brewery. Many complain that Greene King pubs do not treat it well and you are likely to get a pint that is less than ideal. The Moreland branded beers have a bit more character and appear to be an area of concentration for Greene King going forward.

Fuller's Griffin Brewery in Chiswick (London)

And it is not just Greene King that is thriving but other heritage brewers like Fullers in London, Wells and Young, Adnams, Marstons, Samuel Smith and so on are enjoying a resurgence. Fullers, for example brewed about 70,000 barrels of beer annually thirty years ago, but do more than 220,000 today. Their pubs are scattered throughout London and vicinity and their beer is exceptional and attracting a new young and urban sophisticate audience judging from my experience in Fullers’ pubs.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Greene King and A Brief History of British Beer: Part 4

The Campaign for Real Ale was started in Britain in 1971 in response to the growing dominance of industrial lager and ale. It championed real ale and traditional British beer and for many years was not much more than an afterthought. But through perseverance and by tapping into a strong sense of national identity and pride in British brewing tradition has slowly help revive the market for, and interest in, real British ale. CAMRA also promotes British pubs and their role in the center of British society.

Inside the Coopers Tavern in Burton upon Trent

For many years the identity of CAMRA could probably be described as a bunch of white haired pensioners with little better to do than grumble about the beer in the pub. But over time the identity of real ale has gone from being a pensioners drink to find a new audience among hip young beer drinkers looking for something new, local and authentic. Ale suffered long years of precipitous decline: in the 70s and 80s cask beer was about 40% of the British beer market, ale makes up about 14% of the British beer market and cask ale only about 7 to 8%. But ale is now making a comeback, the market is now growing again and is the only segment of the British beer market for which this is true. Which is why there was a big shake up among the heritage British breweries and helps explain both the growth of and the acrimony to, Greene King.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Greene King and A Brief History of British Beer: Part 3

By the end of the 19th century the British beer industry was scaling up rapidly – the industrial revolution had made it easier to brew at scale and to transport and distribute beer over ever-larger territories. A strong temperance movement had taken root as well which served to prompt breweries to begin investing heavily in their own pub networks to ensure outlets for their products. Eventually consolidation began as well further up-scaling breweries and pub distribution networks. For example Worthington and Bass of Burton-upon-Trent merged in 1926 and Alsopp’s with Ind Coope in 1933. Overall the number of breweries in Britain shrank from over 3500 in 1915 to just 885 in 1939 and then to 524 in 1952.

The Burton Union System -This one still operates at Marstons in Burton Upon Trent

While big, these were still traditional British brewers: they were mostly brewing and distributing real ale. And, despite the consolidation that was happening, Britain we still a land of a vast array of local and regional breweries – 524 breweries on the small island of Britain is a pretty extensive brewery network.

One Brother went big and industrial...

The first big national beer companies came around the time the Canadian EP Taylor arrived in Britain in the early 50s looking for new markets for his Carling lager. Lager was, up till then, a small part of the market but its popularity soared as punters came to like the lighter, easy drinking lager style. It also became associated with the modern post-war lifestyle. Taylor quickly began a series of acquisitions that led to the first truly national brewery. Eventually, by the end of the 1980s there were six major British brewery companies: Allied, Bass, Courage, Grand Metropolitan, Scottish & Newcastle, and Whitbread. These companies had vast brewing empires along with an equally vast network of pubs.

...the other stayed small and traditional

In 1989 the Monopolies and Mergers commission began to investigate anti-competitive practices in the beer industry and the resulting Beer Orders began a radical restructuring of the British beer market. The Orders limited the number of pubs breweries could own and mandated guest beers. Many companies spun off their pub businesses into separate holding companies in response. Eventually many of the national breweries decided that it was the retail pub business that was the profit center and sold off the brewing side, Bass, for example, sold to Coors in 2001.

In the 21st century the worldwide wave in globalization in beer swept over Britain as well, starting with the purchase of Bass by Coors. Now AB InBev, MolsonCoors, Guiness, Carlsberg and Heineken make up the lions share of the British market. But the market inhabited by these companies is shrinking in Britain as are overall beer sales. Pubs are also closing at a rapid clip – so much so that you might be tempted to think that British beer is in trouble. But after decades of hardship traditional British beer is making a comeback and for that you can probably thank CAMRA.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Greene King and A Brief History of British Beer: Part 2

The view from the roof at Greene King

The top of the Greene King brewery tower provides a vantage point from which one can survey all of the town and a great deal of West Suffolk itself. Rolling farmland surrounds the town and on the near horizon the towering structure of the local maltery dominates the landscape. It also serves to remind that this is prime beer making territory for both barley and hops are grown locally (the legendary hop fields of Kent are a short drive south).

The brewery has become a symbol of modern British brewing. Greene King has grown to become the largest of the British heritage brewers and inhabits a market that commands a very small but growing share of the overall beer market in Britain. Its sales are growing which is quite an achievement as the overall beer market is Britain is shrinking fairly rapidly.

Greene King brews ‘real’ ale – beer that has been brewed with top fermenting yeast and served via a cask that contains active yeast, which adds a subtle amount of carbonation without the addition of injected CO2. Real ale has been the subject of a concerted effort to bring back this traditional style of beer – a style that was almost completely lost as the large international lager brewers came to dominate the British beer market. How this happened is a story in itself.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Greene King and A Brief History of British Beer: Part 1

Note: I recently had a chance to tag along to some British breweries with Jeff Alworth of Beervana who was researching for a book he is writing about beer: The Beer Bible.  What follows is an essay on my impression of the recent history of British beer and the current state of craft beer in Britain.  Unlike Jeff's book this is not meticulously researched but based on impressions, conversations and a few facts gleaned along the way.  I think I have got it mostly right, but I am happy to hear comments, corrections and criticisms.  Those looking for meticulous detail can go to the Brewery History Society and/or seek out the excellent writings of Cornell and Pattinson. It is a log essay and I have broken it up into seven parts which I will post over the next week.

To understand the history of the British beer industry, including the new resurgence of traditional ‘craft’ ale, a good place to start is the Greene King Brewery.

Greene King towers above the tidy little town of Bury St Edmonds in west Suffolk, England, about 60 miles to the northeast of London. When you arrive in the Brewery, one of the first things you notice - inlaid into the old stone fa├žade of the old brewery building - is the company crest and the date 1799: the date the brewery began brewing on the site. The old brewery building is quite small but has been added on and enlarged through the centuries and today the whole green King complex is quite extensive, though you don’t realize it immediately.

The brewery itself towers above Bury quite literally: it is a traditional tower design which uses gravity and greatly reduces the amount of pumping of liquid that must be accomplished – a tremendous advantage in the early days of mechanization and steam power.  Greene King also towers over the town figuratively: it is the town’s largest employer and occupies an extensive network of properties near the center of town.  

How Greene King got to be such a large brewery is a story of perseverance, acquisition and the renaissance in traditional ‘real ale’ in Britain.  But is it also a story of resentment and fear that Greene King, the largest keeper of the ‘real ale’ flame, is unworthy to carry the flame forward.  And interspersed with the story of Greene King is the story of the influence of the American craft beer renaissance - which has established a foothold in Britain and has created another outlet for craft beer enthusiasts. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pigovian Taxes and Beer

Pigovian taxes - those taxes that adjust the private costs of consuming a good with the true social costs - are popular in the alcoholic beverage market.  Brewers often complain of excessive taxation: that the current level of taxation adds up to more than the social cost and is, in fact, punitive.

To know if this claim is correct we need to understand the link between alcohol consumption and the deleterious health effects, the additional crime and the traffic accidents that come as a consequence.  Well, a new paper uses the sudden increase in the federal excise taxon beer and wine to measure precisely this effect.

Here is the abstract (emphasis mine):
On January 1, 1991, the federal excise tax on beer doubled, and the tax rates on wine and liquor increased as well. These changes are larger than the typical state-level changes that have been used to study the effect of price on alcohol abuse and its consequences. In this paper, we develop a method to estimate some important effects of those large 1991 changes, exploiting the interstate differences in alcohol consumption. We demonstrate that the relative importance of drinking in traffic fatalities is closely tied to per capita alcohol consumption across states. As a result, we expect that the proportional effects of the federal tax increase on traffic fatalities would be positively correlated with per capita consumption. We demonstrate that this is indeed the case, and infer estimates of the price elasticity and lives saved in each state. We repeat this exercise for other injury-fatality rates, and for nine categories of crime. For each outcome, the estimated effect of the tax increase is negatively related to average consumption, and that relationship is highly significant for the overall injury death rate, the violent crime rate, and the property crime rate. A conservative estimate is that the federal tax reduced injury deaths by 4.7%, or almost 7,000, in 1991.

[HT: Greg Mankiw]

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Full Sail ESB

I'm back...finally.  Apologies for my long absence which was caused by my losing, in its entirety, a magnum opus on the modern history of the British beer business.  Lost due to carelessness on my part, I have had a very hard time getting back on my horse after that blunder.  But ride again I shall and eventually get around to re-writing that piece. 

In the meantime, you should seek out this little gem of a beer.  This is the latest Brewer's Share beer from John Harris's Full Sail satellite brewery, the 'Extra Special Barney.'  It is a pretty traditional ESB gone New World, by which I mean big.  6.5% big.  Which is my only gripe.  At 5.5% this beer would have been a tremendous traditional ESB, but at 6.5% I find it a bit heavy and malty.  The same hops with the OG turned down ten notches and it is a world beater.

Don't get me wrong, the beer is still wonderful and probably more of a crowd pleaser in the NW than mine would be.  The color is gorgeous and the nose is spot-on perfect.  You get the Challenger hop (super prevalent in British beer nowadays - apparently Fuggles is so old that it has become too susceptible to disease and pests so Challenger is taking its place) aroma immediately and the hop flavor is saturated but restrained.  Excellent.  Oh, and the label is pretty cool too.