Tuesday night the Alabama Senate passed a bill legalizing homebrewing — making Alabama the 50th and final state in America to do so.
It’s incredible to think that in America, where many of the founding fathers were themselves home brewers, that it would take this long to recognize this fundamental right in all of the states. Indeed, James Madison thought beer was so important that he pushed for a national brewery, complete with a “Secretary of Beer”. Thomas Jefferson and his wife produced an estimated 15 gallons of beer every two weeks.
History in the making: This will be the first time since pre-Prohibition days that all 50 states will legally allow homebrewing.
Rapid-fire succession: Mississippi was the 49th state to legalize homebrewing, and the state did so in March, only two months prior to Alabama.
Alabama might not be last: Alabama has an opportunity to legalize homebrewing before Mississippi, since the Mississippi bill has a 90-day wait period to become effective, while the Alabama bill would go into effect immediately once Governor Robert Bentley signs it.
A beautiful day on the Lido deck cried out for a tasting, and I was in a mild mood, so I went with a Perdomo with a light wrapper and a seasonal from Samuel Adams.
Perdomo Patriarch Connecticut (6″ x 50)
Perdomo’s Patriarch cigar comes in three wrappers – Corojo, Maduro and Connecticut. According to the company’s website, it was created by Nick Perdomo, Jr. as a tribute to his late father, Nicholas Perdomo, Sr. That bodes well, because I would think if you are going to create that back story for a cigar, you’d want it to be good. These cigars are made with core tobaccos from Nicaragua’s fertile Esteli, Condega, and Jalapa valleys, rolled in an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper.
The construction and burn were flawless, and I was very impressed by this unassuming cigar. It had a nice flavor from the first puff, with a touch of sweetness. Although I had grabbed this thinking it would be a mild smoke, it turned out to be medium-bodied, with a nice palette of spice and coffee flavors. The street price appears to be around $9 for this stick, and that makes it a great bargain. A solid 91 on the Morris Scale.
Samuel Adams Alpine Spring
I’m not a Sam Adams hater, but of the million beers out there this is probably not one I would have ever purchased. However, I got a six-pack of these in my Easter basket (man, the Easter bunny has really changed with the times), so I thought it was time to give one a try.
Give Samuel Adams its due, for what many now view as a mass producer, it still experiments with some styles and ingredients certainly not seen from the big breweries. In the case of Alpine Spring, that’s not just a name chosen to make the beer sound German. Alpine Spring is an unfiltered lager brewed in the German Kellerbier style, yielding a 5.5 ABV with a rich mouthfeel, while keeping the crispness and citrusyness (yes, I made that up) of a lager.
This is a good beer, and was a great choice for tonight’s pairing. The Perdomo turned out to be a little stronger than I had anticipated, but this rich, malty lager stood up to it nicely, while still providing the drinkability I was looking for. On a hot day, this would be a great choice. I give it an 89. Here is how Samuel Adams describes the Alpine Spring:
This unfiltered lager is the perfect brew for spring – flavorful enough for cooler weather but with a balance of bright citrus & crisp maltiness that herald the warmer months to come. A single hop brew with Noble Tettnang hops from the foothills of the Alps, its smooth, refreshing & unique.
I’m always a little amused when people “reinvent” really old technology. Not that I have firsthand experience, but my recollection of history is that the invention of the can was a pretty big deal, and the options at the time for opening them was to punch holes in them or open the entire top with a can opener.
Then came the pop top, and that was a huge deal because people could open and drink from a can with no opener. For awhile, the pop top was a tab sort of thing that the user would pull off the can, but that was not a great solution because it created a lot of waste. Then came the cans that we mostly use today, where you push the tap down into the can, but everything stays connected.
Everything old is new again. With the April launch of Helles Golden Lager, its ninth canned beer, Sly Fox Brewing Company will become the first brewery in North America to utilize the innovative 360 Lid beverage can technology developed by Crown Holdings, Inc. The entire lid of the can is removable, enhancing the drinking experience while turning it into a drinking vessel and eliminating the need for separate glassware.
“This technology allows the full flavor and aroma of the beer to hit the drinker’s senses and makes the can an even more appealing package for outdoor activities and situations where you want to be able to move around and sip your beer easily,” said Sly Fox Brewing Company head brewer Brian O’Reilly.
“Craft brew enthusiasts want to enjoy their beer as it was meant to be experienced whether at home or at an event and the 360 Lid makes the beverage can the perfect vessel to do just that,” added O’Reilly.
I really like the idea of a full opening to better enjoy your beer, but now, instead of that annoying little tab, you’ll have a really big shard of metal to discard into the environment. Ah, progress.
Bless the fine people at Cigars Direct for sending an especially tasty Cigar of the Month Club selection. Here’s what it includes:
Rocky Patel Vintage 1992 – Can’t go wrong with a RP Vintage.
La Gloria Cubana Serie R — I gave the Serie N an impressive 94 last year. I can’t wait to try it.
Partigas 1845 — Love Partagas! Don’t know too much about this one, but I’m seeing a lot of scores in the 90s on line.
CLE 2012 — Heard a little buzz last year about this cigar out of Honduras, but know nothing about it. Nice Connecticut wrapper. I’ll let you know.
E.P. Carrillo INCH — This is the one that really caught my eye. A big 64 ring gauge (so it’s an inch, get it?) Maduro beauty. A monster. I’ll have to set this one aside until I have some time (and don’t need to sleep anytime soon).
Check out the Cigars Direct Cigar of the Month Club here:
I’ve said it here before. You send me free cigars, I’ll say nice things about you too. But I will say, I really look forward to my box of “surprise” cigars every month. I don’t always love every one, but I have been introduced to a lot of great cigars I probably never would have tried over the years.
I received another press release from the Brewers Association today, announcing its “Legislator of the Year” awards. Reps. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) were recognized for their stewardship of the Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act (Small BREW Act – clever, eh?).
Yeah, yeah, thumbs up, congratulations and all that, but I did find the release interesting as regards the current and proposed tax rates, and the explosion of small brewers. In a prior article I talked about the excise tax on beer and why six million barrels has become the magic number as to what constitutes a small brewer, but here are the actual dollar amounts.
The Small BREW Act (which has failed to pass thus far but is being taken up again this month) aims to recalibrate the federal excise tax rate structure to further foster the growth of the craft brewing community. Currently, brewers producing less than 2 million barrels of beer per year pay $7 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels they brew, and $18 per barrel on every barrel thereafter. If the Small BREW Act is adopted, the rate for the smallest brewers and brewpubs would be $3.50 on the first 60,000 barrels. For production between 60,001 and 2 million barrels the rate would be $16.00 per barrel. Any brewer that exceeds 2 million barrels (about 1 percent of the U.S. beer market) would begin paying the full $18 rate. Breweries with an annual production of 6 million barrels or less would qualify for these tax rates.
Nationally, small and independent brewers are a big boon to the economy. These small businesses employ over 100,000 full- and part-time employees and generate more than $3 billion in wages and benefits. They also pay more than $2.3 billion in business, personal and consumption taxes. In 1976, there were approximately 30 small brewers in the United States. Today, there are more than 2,000.
Given my prior post, this very entertaining commercial from Shock Top caught my eye. Shock Top beers are made by Shock Top Brewing Company in St. Louis, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Bush InBev. The fact that many might think they are drinking a “craft beer” when they are drinking a Shock Top has the Brewers Association’s panties in a bunch, and the association singled out Shock Top in its “Craft versus Crafty” campaign.
It is therefore amusing that Shock Top responds with this commercial that ends with the line:
“When there is only time for one more beer, make it an award-winning handcrafted Shock Top.”
I received a press release today from the Brewers Association, “a trade organization dedicated to small and independent American craft brewers.” The Association has started a “Craft vs. Crafty” campaign, trying to get the word out that you might not be drinking a “craft beer”, as the Association defines that term, even though it appears to be one. Here is how the Brewers Association explains it:
“Witnessing both the tremendous success and growth of craft brewers and the fact that many beer lovers are turning away from mass-produced light lagers, the large brewers have been seeking entry into the craft beer marketplace. Many started producing their own craft-imitating beers, while some purchased (or are attempting to purchase) large or full stakes in small and independent breweries.
While this is certainly a nod to the innovation and ingenuity of today’s small and independent brewers, it’s important to remember that if a large brewer has a controlling share of a smaller producing brewery, the brewer is, by definition, not craft.
However, many non-standard, non-light “crafty” beers found in the marketplace today are not labeled as products of large breweries. So when someone is drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, they often believe that it’s from a craft brewer, since there is no clear indication that it’s made by SABMiller. The same goes for Shock Top, a brand that is 100 percent owned by Anheuser-Bush InBev, and several others that are owned by a multinational brewing and beverage company.
The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers. We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking.”
I don’t like the sound of that. Is the Association calling for some sort of labeling requirement? “Warning: This beer is manufactured by a big, faceless conglomerate. You should not think this is a craft beer.”
That’s just silly, and I think the Association is confusing definitions and missing a point here. The term “craft brewer”, as the Brewers Association is trying to define it, has its roots in the tax code, by which breweries making less than two million barrels of beer per year are given a break on the excise tax. But it does not follow that because a brewery doesn’t qualify for a tax break, it can’t produce a craft beer. I don’t qualify for the Homeowners Property Tax Credit, so does that mean I’m not a homeowner? In my world, the IRS doesn’t get to define what constitutes a quality, craft beer. This is America, damn it.
I’m glad that the big boys are recognizing that beer drinkers are becoming a more discriminating lot, and I welcome them to the craft beer market. The reality is that if one of the big boys wants to sell a high quality “craft beer”, it will likely be produced in large quantities — that is their business model and they have the distribution channels to move more beer. We tend to think of a craft beer as coming from a small brewery utilizing quality ingredients, but the recipe and ingredients can be scaled, and the beer doesn’t cease to be a craft beer at some arbitrary production number.
Equally foolish, how does ownership percentage dictate what is a craft beer? For example, if struggling Brea Brewing Company persuades Anheiser-Bush InBev to buy a 51% interest in the brewery so that Brea Brewing can continue to make its truly awesome beers, then beers like its famous Hoppy Easter are suddenly no longer craft beers?
The problem is that the Brewers Association wants to use the definition that a “craft brewer” is one with an “annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less and no more than 25 percent ownership by an alcoholic beverage industry member”, and doesn’t want anyone to use the term in a way that doesn’t match that definition. No, Brewers Association, that is the definition of a small brewery, or call it a small craft brewer if you prefer, but size of the brewery does not dictate the “craft” going into the beer. “Craft” is defined by Webster’s simply as “skill in doing or making something .”
Coincidentally, here is a Groupon from my favorite cigar lounge, touting Blue Moon as a craft beer.
Incidentally, the number had previously been set at 2 million barrels per year, following the tax code, but last year the Brewers Association slapped its forehead and said, “What were we thinking? What we meant to say was 6 million barrels. Yeah, that’s the ticket. You’re still a craft brewer if you’re making less than 6 million barrels per year.” Many suspect this was done to keep Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) in the fold, but whether that is true or not, it shows the arbitrariness of defining “craft beer” by the amount of beer put out by the brewery.
So, the Brewers Association’s definitions of “craft brewer” and “craft beer” are officially rejected. Here is my definition of a craft beer, and I hereby proclaim that any brewer that creates a beer that matches this definition may call itself a craft brewer, at least as to that beer:
“‘Craft beer’ refers to any well-made, interesting beer sporting ample flavor and quality ingredients without overuse of adjuncts such as rice and corn.”
Yes, I cringe when I hear someone say, “I’m a big craft beer fan, I drink Blue Moon all the time.” I would much prefer to see craft beer fans supporting their local breweries. But thank God that when I go to a bar with just a few taps, I have the option of getting a Blue Moon or Shock Top, and not just Bud or Miller.
By all means, Brewers Association, encourage your members to prominently exclaim on their bottles that they are true craft beers as you define that term. And by all means, promote “drink local beer” campaigns to get beer lovers to support their local breweries. But don’t call for the major brewers to adopt your definition of what constitutes a “craft beer” and proclaim that what they brew is not worthy of that designation. That’s just not true beer lover behavior.
Be sure to also visit the discussion of what constitutes a craft beer at OnBeer.org, where it is agreed that the size of the brewery does not define whether it produces a craft beer.
Also, here is a great video that captures the attitude of people who want to make beer something elitist. Here the self-proclaimed beer expert opines that “craft beer sucks” and only beer from “nano-breweries” is acceptable. Kind of like what the Brewers Association is trying to do. Listen for the names of the beers near the end. Very funny.