Friday, May 30, 2014

Remembering Jack Joyce

When the news that Jack Joyce had passed away at 71 reached me, I was surprised and saddened.  Surprised, because the last time I saw him he was typically high-energy and appeared indestructible.  Saddened, because he was a true Oregon original and the craft beer world has lost a legend.  [See this very nice Allan Brettman piece in the O for an understanding and bio of Jack]

So, I'll take a minute here to tell a story of Jack.  When I first arrived at Oregon State, I was asked to be the faculty advisor to the economics club.  I thought it would be fun to take the club on a trip to Newport to check out Rogue.  Given my Beeronomics bent, this was a perfect example of my schtick: let's use economics to understand the business of craft beer. 

I e-mailed the business office at Rogue, hoping to get 30 minutes with someone.  Instead what I got was a personal invitation from Jack, who ended up hosting us and entertaining us for hours: he made sure we were fed and supplied beverages (both beer and non-alchoholic drinks), spent about 2 hours sitting down with the group of us (about 10 in all) answering any and all questions we had and then took us over to the distillery where we spent another hour or so.  He was typical Jack: gruff, entertaining, outspoken...and altogether likeable.  About a week later I got a hand written letter from him thanking me for the visit.  His act of extraordinary generosity sticks with me to this day.

What I came away with from that meeting was just how much Rogue Brewing Co. is a company in his own image.  A company that does things its own way for better or worse.  Unconventional in every way and yet surprisingly successful - they have been pioneers in the early craft beer scene and continue to be with their in-house hops and malting operations and the like.  Jack really was a Rogue and Rogue really is Jack.

So this weekend  I'll raise a glass of Rogue beer in honor of Jack Joyce: Rogue and Legend.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How IPA Conquered the World explained by The Economist:
The beer that craft brewers like making the most is IPA. Artisan beermakers in America adopted old recipes from Britain for their IPAs but gradually began to adapt the brews to their own tastes. The heavy use of hops allows them to show off their skills in blending different flavours. Some parts of America, like Britain, have an excellent climate for growing top-quality hops. The bold flavours and high alcohol content create a beer that has a distinct style and bold taste, yet can come in many shades. The passion for hops in American craft beers has taken on the characteristics of an arms race, as brewers try to outdo each other in hoppiness.
If no brewer in America can pass up the opportunity to make an IPA, the same is true elsewhere. As the craft beer revolution has spread beyond America, so has the taste for IPA. Britain is undergoing a brewing revival alongside a foodie revolution, based on local produce and artisanal methods. Much the same is happening in other rich countries around the world, where breweries are springing up to serve up craft beers. Indeed, IPA has come full circle. Many British craft brewers are using new IPA recipes imported from America for their brews but again adapting them for local palates. IPA may not yet have displaced lager as the global tipple, but it is at least battling for bar space with mainstream beers.
None of this is particularly new or enlightening, except for the fact that to Economist readers it might just be both.  For it is a truly global magazine and while the USA is awash in IPA, they style is still just catching on in other parts of the world.  It is almost completely nonexistent in Brazil for example and in the UK, the new upstart brewers who are going all-in on hops like Dark Star, Thornbridge and the global marketing phenomenon that is Brew Dog, face resistance from the traditional craft brewers that have been doing milds and bitters for centuries.  My favorite part o fthe UK craft beer scene is the slow coming together of these two forces in craft beer as breweries like Fuller experiment withe more hops while breweries like Dark Star try and perfect the perfect bitter. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

State of Beer in Oregon

This is just a plug for Damon Runberg's nice report on the brewing industry in Oregon.  Go have a look to get a very nice snapshot of the facts and figures surrounding the industry.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Pat's Day: Time to Remind You That Guinness is Not Really That Irish

This time The Economist Mag takes up the case:
Arthur Guinness, who founded the brewery in Dublin in 1759, might have been surprised that his drink would one day become such a potent national symbol. He was a committed unionist and opponent of Irish nationalism, who before the Irish Rebellion of 1798 was even accused of spying for the British authorities. His descendants continued passionately to support unionism—one giving the Ulster Volunteer Force £10,000 in 1913 (about £1m, or $1.7m, in today’s money) to fund a paramilitary campaign to resist Ireland being given legislative independence. The company was alleged to have lent men and equipment to the British army to help crush Irish rebels during the Easter Rising of 1916, afterwards firing members of staff whom it believed to have Irish-nationalist sympathies.

The beer the company has become most famous for—porter stout—was based on a London ale, a favourite of the street porters of Covent Garden and Billingsgate markets. Since 1886 the firm has floated on the London Stock Exchange, and the company moved its headquarters to London in 1932, where it has been based ever since (it merged with Grand Metropolitan and renamed itself Diageo in 1997). Even in terms of branding, the company was considering disassociating itself from its Irish reputation as recently as the 1980s. Worried about the impact on sales of the IRA’s terrorist campaign during the Troubles, Guinness came close in 1982 to re-launching the brand as an English beer brewed in west London. But as Northern Ireland’s situation improved in the 1990s, the company’s marketing strategy changed again towards marketing the beer as Irish, aiming its product at tourists in Ireland and the estimated 70m people of Irish descent living around the world. Now the Guinness Storehouse, part of the original Dublin factory which was reopened as a tourist attraction in 2000, promotes Guinness to tourists as an Irish beer once again.
But for economists, the real story of Guinness is the Student's T-Distribution, from the authoritative Wikipedia:
In the English-language literature it takes its name from William Sealy Gosset's 1908 paper in Biometrika under the pseudonym "Student". Gosset worked at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin, Ireland, and was interested in the problems of small samples, for example of the chemical properties of barley where sample sizes might be as low as 3. One version of the origin of the pseudonym is that Gosset's employer preferred staff to use pen names when publishing scientific papers instead of their real name, therefore he used the name "Student". so he had to hide his identity. Another version is that Guinness did not want their competitors to know that they were using the t-test to test the quality of raw material.

Gosset's paper refers to the distribution as the "frequency distribution of standard deviations of samples drawn from a normal population". It became well-known through the work of Ronald A. Fisher, who called the distribution "Student's distribution" and referred to the value as t.
So raise a Guinness today not for Ireland, but for Econometrics!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Dis-Honest Large Beers in Idaho

From the annals of truth in advertizing comes a story from Boise, Idaho where the local minor league hockey team, the Idaho Steelheads, sell "small" and "large" beers that are actually the same size but with differently shaped cups that make the large look bigger by being in a taller cup. 


Boo!  But at least they didn't call it a 'Pint'!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Britain's Own Craft Beer Boom

The craft beer boom appears to be alive and well across the pond in Britain as it is in the US. As told in the pages of the Guardian:
British drinkers' thirst for such artisan and craft beers appears to be unquenchable. Sales of the brews rose by 8% last year to an estimated 1.55m barrels, according to a new report from the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA). It said that chancellor George Osborne's decision to scrap the controversial beer duty escalator last year had helped to boost the sector.

Separate figures confirm that British beer tastes are changing. In a huge shift, demand for lager, which has dominated the UK beer market for nearly 50 years, is falling, while sales of stronger-tasting ale and stout continue to grow as they win over an increasing number of converts.

The latest figures from the retail analysts Kantar show that, year on year, sales of ales in off-licences and supermarkets grew by 4% and demand for stout was up by nearly 4%, while sales of lager fell by nearly 4%.
This is good news especially since macro brewers lock on the major retail outlets appears to be on the wane:
Tesco's ale buyer, Chiara Nesbitt, said: "The UK beer market is undergoing its biggest change since canned lager was first introduced here in the 1960s and these days there are more choices available for drinkers than ever before.

"For the beer novice, a trip down a beer aisle these days can be as daunting as seeking out a good wine, which is why we have worked with Marston's to launch a range of easily identifiable brews."
If craft beer becomes a staple in supermarkets like Tesco, the tide has really turned.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Denver Post on Craft Beer Growth Ambitions

A nice article on the abitious BA goal of achieving 20% market share by 2020  in the Denver Post.  The article is especially nice because it quotes my favorite Beeronomist and does so very well: he got my point spot-on:

The number was put on the table. It sounded good. It was big, ambitious and bold. Or crazy and unrealistic.

When the guiding lights of American craft brewing met last weekend at the St. Julien Hotel in Boulder to sharpen their vision and undoubtedly drink a lot of good beer, the suggestion was raised that craft brewers should try to claim 20 percent of the U.S. beer market by 2020.


Patrick Emerson, an associate professor of economics at Oregon State University who studies the economics of beer, said those larger craft brewers are the key to the 20/20 goal.

“It is not fantasy to imagine that kind of overall growth but the big factor is always going to be scale and competing on price,” he said. “Why I think it is possible is not so much the proliferation of new tiny breweries but the maturation of the big craft brewers ala New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and the like that are starting to achieve very significant scale economies and can keep prices competitive.”
This point will not be foreign to any reader of this blog (if there are any). One of the things that fascinates me about the craft beer industry, however, is this constant tension between being cutting edge and innovative and scaling up. How cutting edge and innovative can you seem when your brand becomes part of the establishment. Will New Belgium and Sierra Nevada be able to grow like nuts when faced with local competition in many markets that is seen as newer, fresher, cooler?

Who knows!  That's what is so fun about it. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Mid-Major IPA Showdown!

The NCAA men's basketball tourney is around the corner and in honor of this event I have decided to coin the big craft brewers in Oregon the Mid-Majors: Bridgeport, Full Sail, Deschutes, Portland, Widmer and Ninkasi. 

These are craft brewers that are packaging breweries of considerable scale, not nearly the scale of the big boys like Miller, Coors and Bud but quite distinct from a Gigantic or Ecliptic, say. 

They are kinda underdogs, but kinda not: they can play with the big boys, they box out the shelf space and defend the tap handles....oh, I give up on this silly basketball theme.

Anyway, both Bridgeport and Widmer have revamped their IPAs and are out with new recipes and new marketing.  Bridgeport is talking a page from the Widmer playbook and starting a rotating IPA series using the (admittedly wonderful) Hop Czar monkier and Widmer is going the opposite direciton in creating a permanent IPA in its Upheaval IPA. 

It appears that the Hop Czar rotating IPA now replaces the regular Hop Czar so there could be some confusion about this for a while because their ├╝ber-classic, the eponymous IPA, is still going (and a huzzah for that!). 

What the rotating IPA strategy does, is appears, is allow breweries to make and market new beers from the latest hops which seem to be multiplying like rabbits.  It means minor changes to labels which probably speeds approval and registers better with consumers. 

Bridgeport's first entry is dry-hopped with Citra, one of the new 'it' hops that breweries are using in vast quantities.  It is a fine beer and the citrus aroma and flavor of the Citra hop is well captured.  My only quibble is it feels slightly thin.  They have not achieved the total saturation that is characteristic of my favorite IPAs these days like Gigantic's or Breakside's.  This is probably down to the reliance on dry-hopping instead of using a massive infusion in the hopback.  On the other hand, that makes the Hop Czar a bit more sessionable - it is a wee 6.5% ABV (que the guffaws from across the pond...)

Widmer's Upheaval is a bit bigger, 7% ABV and a little less aromatic but with a bit more heft (as the ABV suggests).  But the use of wheat gives it a softer touch and the myriad of hops, highlighted by the Widmer's own Alchemy hop makes it both more nuanced and less distinct.  

I can quite honesty say that I like them both and I don't have a clear favorite.  I have both in my fridge in six-pack form and they are both disappearing at the same rate which, by revealed preference, shows that I am relatively indifferent.  I suppose I'd say the Bridgeport is a more summer/session IPA while Upheaval is probably the one in the Oregon gloom.  Both are definitely worth a try.

One note however: as breweries of considerable scale, I expect a prime selling point for both to be their price-point.  However, I remember paying almost $9 for a sixer of both.  That's simply too much.   

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Oregon's Vast Brewery Empire

From Ron Wyden (don't ask me why):

The interactive version is here.

Update: Ah, Wyden has been named the Co-Chair of the Senate's Small Brewer's Caucus!  Sweet.  I mean Finance Committee Chair is all well and good, but we know the real seat of power is Craft Beer!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bridgeport's Trilogy #1

The good folks at BridgePort were kind enough to send over some of their new Trilogy series that celebrates their 30th anniversary (and makes me feel very, very old).  It is a pale ale that clocks in at a sessionable (for NW standards at least) 5.2% ABV and 40 IBUs.  It is dry-hopped with Crystal but no info on what other hops made it into the recipe.  Jeff at Beervana informs me that there is some rye (and Munich) in the malt bill, but I would not have guessed, there is very little hint of the spice (and certainly none of the soap) of rye on the tongue. 

I love to brew with Crystal because I think it is a very clean and relatively neutral aroma hop.  I clued into it originally from Rogues' now long-gone Brutal Bitter (still the best beer they have ever made IMHO).  But I have never thought of it as a finishing hop and certainly not one to dry-hop with so I approached this beer with a lot of curiosity.  And anticipation: I have been driving the small beer bandwagon for years now and am always on the lookout for the perfect NW beer - one with low alcohol but lovely floral/citrus hop notes.  Still, again, I would have thought a Widmer-like Citra hop infusion was the only way to go.

But this beer is a real eye-opener.  The Crystal hops sing and dance on the nose and tongue aided by a neutral but balanced malt base.  There is more character to the Crystals than I thought there would be- they have a soft but clear citrus note and they give the sense that they will continue to impart their flavor through a long session of drinking - they will not destroy your palate. 

This is a delightful beer and a real winner for BridgePort who seem to be struggling with their identity a bit and are, as far as I can tell, down to just three regular beers.  This one should be a strong contender for the regular line up which is especially heavy with Kingpin and Hop Czar balanced only by the uber-classic IPA.

Life is tough for the 'legacy craft brewers' in Oregon where there are so many upstarts that grab the attention.  But there is a lot of craft in the legacy brewers and they know well how to brew exceptional beers - this is one. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Price Fixing and Beer

Finally a sexy Beeronomics headline to spice up an otherwise dull week [and to rouse me from my blog stupor - I have been just crazy, crazy busy….sorry]

Anyway, Bloomberg has the gen:
Five German breweries, including the country’s largest family-owned beer maker, and seven people were fined 106.5 million euros ($145.5 million) for illegally colluding to raise the price of beer.

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI) escaped a fine for being first to report the cartel, which triggered the investigation, Germany’s antitrust watchdog said in a statement today. A probe into two other companies continues, the office said.

“Our investigations have allowed us to prove there were agreements between the breweries based mainly on purely personal and telephone contacts,” Andreas Mundt, president of the German cartel office, said in the statement.

The breweries fined include family-owned Krombacher Brauerei GmbH, Bitburger Braugruppe GmbH, C. & A. Veltins GmbH & Co. KG, Warsteiner Brauerei Haus Cramer KG and Privatbrauerei Ernst Barre GmbH. The companies had their penalties reduced for cooperating with the probe.
This is reminiscent of the old airline price-fixing scandal which was all done by CEOs on the telephone as I remember.

There is not a lot a economics professor can add to this, the motivation and benefit of price fixing is pretty clear - if we all agree to keep price high we can get monopoly-like rents.  Yeay.  But economists also know that price fixing is very hard to sustain because there is always the individual incentive to cheat.  If all others companies keep their prices high, the best individual strategy is to undercut their price slightly.  So these types of arrangements actually are a lot harder than they sound.

But the fact that they engaged in this illegal activity tells us a lot about the competitive nature of the German beer market.  There is so much competition that rents are hard to acquire.  And, once again, the specter of economies of scale mean that it is hard to sustain a number of smaller breweries in this environment.  Just like what happened in the US, the beer industry's natural tendency is consolidation and scale.  So this is evidence that all breweries are feeling the pressure.