Friday, February 17, 2012

Hopworks Going in the Can

Photo credit: John Foyston
From John Foyston, news that Hopworks is investing in their own canning line, joining Cladera, Fearless and Fort George as Oregon craft breweries that can their beer.

I still think this is a bit of a risky strategy, but as more cans appear the more acceptable they will become to consumers in all likelihood.  I am also a little worried about the BPA liners in cans and wonder how that is going to correspond to the wholesome organic image of HUB.  Hopefully BPA free cans will become available in the near future making that issue a moot point. 

One thing I do like is the label 'pounder' on the bottom.  Ah yes, craft it up all you want, it's still beer inside.  Pound away.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Brutal Bitter, RIP - Long live Brutal IPA
I have long thought that Rogue's very best beer was the exceptional, but unfortunately named, Brutal Bitter. Brutal was anything but: a subtle and brilliant Northwest take on an English Best or Extra Special Bitter.  It is easily every bit as approachable as their flagship Dead Guy and very much a superior beer in my estimation.  Despite this, it was devilishly difficult to find and I had often wondered as I perused the Rogue selection in my local markets why such lesser beers as Yellow Snow, Chocolate Stout and Stig's Northwest Ale are in abundance but no Brutal Bitter.  I can only conclude that it is the name. 'Brutal' suggests in your face bitter while the beer was elegantly hopped and not a bit brutal at all.  So it gave the wrong impression, those who bought it for the 179 IBUs were left unimpressed and those who didn't want 179 IBUs just didn't buy it at all.

I was heartened then, to hear that they were changing the name and I expected to be enjoying Rogue Best Bitter soon after buying it from the aforementioned local market.  Alas the replacement name was not the brutal bit but the 'bitter' - replaced by 'IPA.'  But it is not really that either, at 59 IBUs and 6% ABV it just barely hits the mark of an IPA and most northwest IPAs are closer to 7% ABV.  And it is still not at all 'brutal.' 

New name and quite a new recipe: from 6 to 8 ingredients and a much more citrus hop flavor. IBUs and ABV remain the same but the clolor is quite a bit lighter.

I finally got around to trying the new Brutal IPA and was taken aback by the taste, which is when I discovered it got more than a name change.  It is an entirely new beer.  The new recipe is excellent, it is now more Northwesty with citrusy hops and slightly lighter in color, but otherwise it feels reasonably familiar - the heritage is evident.  But excellent as it is, I lament the passing of my favorite Rogue beer.  Brutal Bitter was a touchstone for me and was a beer I tired to emulate at home - unsuccessfully it has to be said - as I worked on what I called a NW Best Bitter. 

But there is one possible silver lining: I expect the new recipe to be a real crowd-pleaser and if it is and I can find it in someplace other than super-specialty beer shops I'll consider it a good bargain.  But I fear that the 'Brutal' moniker may work against it again.  This is not California, we aren't impressed by smack-you-across the face bitterness and names like Bastard and Brutal don't appeal to us.  But then again my finger might not be on the pulse of Oregon punters, after all Oregonians are gaga for Total Domination.  Still Brutal Bitter did not seem to sell well, and it certainly was not the beer - so what then? 

But let me put my plug in here for Brutal IPA.  It is quite a nice entry into the NW IPA fantasia we have here in Oregon.  A respectable companion to such faves as Total Dom, Watershed, Pelican, Blue Dot, Vortex, X-114 and so on.  It maintains its English-inspired restraint and in that reminds me most of X-114.  I hope it finds its market and I hope that market is near me.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Irish Cap Technology: Better than a Twist-Off

Which I can say with authority as I am the hand model in this video posted at Beervana.  We had only one so I had no practice, but I can say it was remarkably easy and required only a light touch.  Plus the seal lasted just fine on the long trim from Ireland.

Irish Bottlecap from Jeff Alworth on Vimeo.

This is fitting as we learned last week that Irish brewers gave us modern statistics, we now learn that this bottle cap technology is continuing the tradition of Irish brewers making the world a better place through science and technology. I guess beer makes you smart.

I call it Irish, but does anyone know the true provenance of said technology (the pull-tab cap)?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Washington Beating Oregon on Cask

I don't usually concede anything to Washington craft-beer-wise, but this beats anything in Oregon, hands down: the Washington Cask Beer Festival (facebook page here).  Over 90 cask conditioned beers.  90!  C'mon Oregon, we can do better.  The best thing we have going is the Firkin Fest at the Green Dragon, which is good, but could be a lot better.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Good News for a Friday Afternoon: Beer is Healthy

Well, sort of.  There are certain healthy components of beer, but I am not about to introduce the beer equivalent of the Atkins diet.  Actually, maybe I should: the Emerson diet - beer and lots of it!  I can hear the cash register now....

Anyway another summary of the health benefits of beer, courtesy of Fox News so you know it is fair and balanced (just like the Emerson diet):

Dark beers tend to have the most antioxidants, which help reverse cellular damage that occurs naturally in the body. A recent study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture has also found that dark beer has higher iron content compared to lighter beers. Remember, iron is an essential mineral that our bodies need. Iron is a part of all cells and does many jobs including carrying oxygen from our lungs throughout the rest of our bodies.

Another good choice is microbrews, which are healthier than mass-produced cans, because they have more hops. Hops contain polyphenols, which help lower cholesterol, fight cancer and kill viruses.
Happy Friday night!

Beerometrics: Econometrics and the Science of Beer

UPDATE: I got my Ziliak's confused.  Corrected below.  My Apologies to the right one. 

We all know beer saved the world, but now we know that it also contributed significantly to modern econometrics (HT: Freakonomics).

Stephen Ziliak from Roosevelt University [not James Ziliak (onetime professor of economics at the University of Oregon)] has a great paper out about the contributions of William Sealy Gosset, a brewer at Guiness, who write under the pseudonym of Student and made major contributions to statistics. 

Here is an extended and fascinating quote (footnotes omitted):

A general solution to the problem of random error in small sample analysis was given in 1908, by Student. “Student” is the pen name of William Sealy Gosset (1876–1937), an Oxford-trained chemist and experimental scientist who worked his entire adult life as a brewer and business man for the Guinness Brewery, Dublin (1899 to 1937) and Park Royal (1935 to 1937). Student was experimenting on three of the chief inputs to Guinness stout – barley, malt, and hops – when he made the discovery leading to what scientists now call Student’s t-distribution, table, and test of significance.

But Student’s contribution to experimental science and the theory of errors extends far beyond Student’s t – however permanent and fundamental t is. Between 1904 and 1937, Student innovated – more than two decades before R.A. Fisher – a useful collection of experimental concepts, methods, and attitudes, which were used for doing routine work at cooperating farms and at the Guinness brewery.

As Head Experimental Brewer, a position he held from 1907 to 1935, Student’s main charge was to experimentally brew, and to gradually improve, a consistent barrel of Guinness stout, input by input, from barley breeding to malt extract, at efficient economies of scale. Pounding out more than 100 million gallons of stout in annual sales, the problem Student faced at Guinness was economically motivated and non-trivially large. While endeavoring to control product and reduce costs at the large brewery Student was consistently faced with a small number of observations on new barley to try, at n = 2, 4, or – if he was lucky – 7. In the process, he – though self-trained in statistics – managed to solve a general problem in the classical theory of errors which had eluded statisticians from Laplace to Pearson.

Less well-known is Student’s contribution to experimental design, systematically ignored by Fisher. Student found a method for maximizing the power to detect big economic differences (low Type II error) when the quantitative difference is really there to be detected. Student opposed Fisher’s randomized field experiments on grounds that, as Student proved as early as 1911, decisively so in 1923, and again in 1938, balanced designs are more precise, powerful, and efficient compared to random.

Brewers and economists alike have not noticed as much as they might that Student’s exacting theory of errors, both random and real, marked a significant advance over ambiguous reports of plant life and fermentation asserted by Priestley and Lavoisier down to Pasteur, Fisher, and Johannsen, working at the Carlsberg Laboratory in Denmark.

The experimental concepts which Student used at the brewery to revolutionize science and brewing are outlined here, basically in order of their development by Student in his job as apprentice brewer (1899–1906), Head Experimental Brewer (1907–1935), and finally Head Brewer of Guinness (1935–1937): (1) net pecuniary advantage and the purpose of the experiment; (2) profitable odds versus a fixed rule for the level of statistical significance; (3) small samples of repeated and independent experiments; (4) random error versus “real” error; and (5) the power and efficiency of “balanced” over “randomized” field experiments in economics. The balance of this article illustrates these concepts with experiments designed and/ or evaluated by Student at Guinness’s brewery.

Here is another blog post on the same paper from Wonkblog.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

World Beer Market Expands 2.7%

Reuters is reporting that world beer volume grew by 2.7 percent in 2011.  Top four global brewers remain (in order) AB InBev, SABMiller, Heineken and Carlsberg and together they make up one half of the global market.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sex and Beer

The text reads: "Stunningly seductive! A voluptuous variety of hops with a fruity, fresh finish."

Sex has been used to sell beer probably since beer was first brewed by the ancient Sumerians.  But I tend to associate this practice with the big macro-brewers and their relentlessly suggestive ads for light beer (it is either humor or sex).  So it is interesting to see the little kerfuffle about sex and beer from Britain centers around British craft beer.

The issue there is not about using sex to sell beer in general, but whether it is appropriate to display and serve such a beer at a workplace watering hole.  In this case it is in a pub in the British Parliament’s Strangers’ Bar - some female MPs objected to its objectionable pump handle which objectifies women.  Most craft beer in the US plays it pretty PC, but there are exceptions: Upright's Four Play ignited a little bit of controversy last year for example.

My econo/libertarian bent makes me pretty unmoved by it all.  Yes, I think a workplace pub has a right to select products that are unobjectionable to the people that it serves and there is nothing wrong with asking that Top Totty be removed if it offends.  But, in general, I say brewers should do what they want and the market will decide.  I, for one, am turned off by such appeals to my base nature and am much less likely to buy a beer that uses sex to sell.  But not only because I am and enlightened, sensitive, 21st century man: as an economist I take such advertising as a signal that the beer is not good enough to sell without resorting to such base instincts.