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Point of Brew -- Michael J.Lewis

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A Few New and Different Things

The appalling events in El Paso and Dayton make it difficult for me to focus on beer or brewing. However, I realize there are new things to say about beer but nothing new to say about guns

Sufferfest FKT PicmonkeyHere are a few of the new things about beer.

There are new low alcohol or alcohol-free beers, and beers brewed for athletes after vigorous exercise; I wrote recently about this suggesting (incorrectly, as it turns out) that these were developments of the old Shandy or Radler mixes of beer and lemonade/pop that we used to enjoy after rugby games. Sufferfest is one such beer “inspired by athletes” made by Sierra Nevada’s brewers who “will sweat for beer.” Sufferfest Pilsner “Flyby” is a substantial beer at 5.1% ABV, 170 calories and 14 grams of carbs. But it is vegan (most beers are) and “crafted to remove gluten ---- although the gluten content cannot be verified.” Celiacs recognize this as “contains gluten.” The “Repeat” version contains bee pollen and is a more conventional low calorie beer brewed in the kolsch style. The pale ale version called “FKT” will take away the agony of defeat with its 5.5% ABV. It’s also vegan and contains salt and blackcurrant.

ABInbev is enjoying success with a flavored product based on the low-cost beer Natural Light that already has a significant following.  The new version is called Naturday. It’s pink because it has “ripe strawberry and fresh lemonade flavors” for those who “enjoy strawberry lemonade and drinking beer.” I would have thought that was rather few people, but with the marketing and distribution and pricing power of the world’s biggest brewery, enough such folk can be found to make the product a runaway success. Just goes to show you never know. In fact, though the beer is described as a light lager session beer and sold under the Natural Light label (in pink cans with flamingos no less), the beer is no wimp. It checks in at 4.2% alcohol by volume, 12 grams of carbs and 132 calories. That is not really a low-calorie beer although the word “light” suggests it is.

Maybe a more conventional or more intellectual or perhaps more beer-geeky approach to product innovation comes from our own local Anchor Brewery. Brewmaster Scott Ungermann (formerly a graduate student of mine at U.C.Davis) has devised and is producing a series of beers that showcase specific hop varieties and called an Evolving Hop Series. This is in part a celebration of Anchor Steam’s Liberty Ale that reintroduced pale ale to the American brewing scene way back in 1975 and in part an homage to hops, which are the heart and soul of the IPA style. The idea of the series is to hold constant the brewing formula but to vary the hopping to showcase particular hop varieties. The first featured Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand, the second, featured Citra from Washington State and the third and latest iteration, features Galaxy hops from Australia. Any beer enthusiast or homebrew club would want to taste these three beers side-by-side.

The definition of alcohol-free in the USA is one-half percent alcohol (by volume) or less. Apparently there is a good deal of renewed interest in such beers, though I can’t for the life of me think why; they are generally very much an acquired taste --- that is unpalatable. However, Heineken has come out with a new non/low alcohol product boldly called Heineken 0.0, which the beer press is lauding as a watery version of a real beer. If it tastes something like a real beer, that is an extraordinary achievement, watery or not. I think ABInbev is likely trying out a similar beer in Asia also called 0.0.

A report by Bart Watson, an economist and statistician with the Brewers Association has much to say about the statistics of production of beer and the growth of the craft industry and opening and closing of breweries in this state and that. Although I found this number crunching and interpretation induced coma, there were a couple of comments that caught my eye.

First of all was Bart’s comment that brewers need to be expanding the beer market by, for example, product innovation. That is of benefit to all brewers whereas, if they are just slicing the existing market among an ever-growing number of producers, the end is already in sight. My reaction: welcome to the world of brewing where the market is more or less saturated --- that is a zero sum game. The market can only grow when the beer-drinking cohort of say 21 to 35 year-olds expands. The craft industry did not substantially expand the market they stole market share from the big brewers who, incidentally, want it back. 

Second was a comment that production numbers are now being somewhat confused by the amount of on-premise sales of beer. That is because many packaging craft brewers do not send all of their beer to wholesalers to feed the retail market, but sell it close to home in their own tap rooms. I wrote about this trend some time ago that is circumventing (legally) the three-tier system of beer marketing founded when prohibition ended.

In the long run, a tied house system of beer sales, such as tap rooms represent, ultimately favors brewers with big pockets. 


Michael J Lewis MUG Picmonkey

Michael J. Lewis, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of brewing science at the University of California, Davis, and the academic director and lead instructor of UC Davis Extension’s Professional Brewing Programs. Lewis has been honored with the Master Brewers Association of the Americas’ Award of Merit and the Brewers Association’s Recognition Award. He is an elected fellow of the Institute of Brewing & Distilling. He is also a recipient of the UC Davis Distinguished Teaching Award. 

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