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by Nick Anderson — June 6, 2014 at 2:30 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Just a couple months ago, we looked at how breweries using different formats, packaging, etc. for their beer was re-shaping the beer aisles of grocery stores and retailers everywhere. One of the more notable aspects of this experimentation to me is the rise of the variety pack.

Variety packs used to be largely a method by which breweries would introduce themselves to new customers; a relatively straight-forward sampling of core beers from which people could pick out a favorite. Only over the past couple of years have craft brewers come around to the idea that variety packs could be used as a way to get limited-release beers to the public, while also tapping into potential sale increases not unlike those for seasonal releases.

Unsurprisingly, craft breweries are coming up with new themes and variety pack formats all the time. He’Brew has just recently released its Hops In He’Brew 12-pack featuring some of its best-known, hopped-up Ales along with an exclusive hoppy Lager, but I’m partial to the Holiday Packs – complete with eight beers and candles for you to make your own “beer Menorah” with during Chanukah.

Just this week, Stone Brewing Company sent its special Mixed four-packs to Virginia. The Stone Mixed Pack features four of its 22-ounce bomber bottles bundled together; out of the bunch only one (Imperial Russian Stout) is a special release, but the pricing of the Mixed Pack is very attractive.

When it comes to variety/sampler packs though, the 12-pack still reigns supreme. Devils Backbone released their Adventure Packs this year, which will rotate out some previous draft-only and one-off brews every few months or so along with two of their hit year-round offerings. Hitting stores in Virginia this week is Victory Brewing’s Summer Variety 12-pack, which will include their popular Summer Love and Whirlwind Wit seasonals along with two previously draft-only beers from their Hop Ticket Series.

Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp 12-pack debuted in 2008, with participants from the restaurant, retail, and distribution sides of the business going to Sierra’s Chico, Calif., brewery to develop recipes with them. The 2014 edition of the Beer Camp 12-pack take the concept to another level: Sierra is teaming with a dozen of the biggest and most influential craft breweries in the U.S. to create all-new recipes in celebration of its new brewery opening near Asheville, N.C. Look for Beer Camp 2014 to arrive later this summer.

As craft breweries proliferate and retail space gets more and more crowded, look for variety packs to be used more often. What are some of your favorites?

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — May 30, 2014 at 2:00 pm 503 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Looking for a quick read about craft beer this week (besides this column right here)? Check out this retrospective on Founder’s KBS; it’s almost a mini-history of how quickly “big beers” and bourbon barrel-aged everything became widely popular seemingly overnight.

The article caught my eye not only because seeing the letters “KBS” paralyzes me with fear (retail quirk), but because I’ve been thinking about the pros and cons of the proliferation of barrel-aged beers lately. I’m the first to admit that bourbon barrel-aged beers aren’t for everyone, and for those of us that enjoy them not every one that’s made is good.

There are a lot of imbalanced bourbon barrel beers out there, whether by virtue of being too “hot” (boozy, astringent to the point of unpleasantness), too sweet, or the result of beer styles being applied to barrels that perhaps shouldn’t have been. Personally, I still think after all these years that when bourbon barrel-aging works, it’s great. What I’ve been curious to see is a greater diversity of barrels being used for aging beer, and now we’re starting to see that happen.

Wine barrels seem like a logical next step to me, and more breweries are beginning to experiment with them. Victory has found success with Red Thunder (their Baltic Thunder Porter aged in red wine barrels) and White Monkey (Golden Monkey Tripel in white wine barrels), and Allagash has aged its Interlude in red wine barrels for years, making for an elegant Belgian-style Ale with the vinous notes you’d expect.

Not all experiments work out, of course; I think breweries looking to use wine barrels either should have a knowledgeable “wine guy” on staff or one who can consult them in barrel selection. It’s too easy to overlook elements like Brettanomyces that are widely used and accepted in beer but considered a flaw in wine.

Brett can make some beers more interesting, but if you’re building a wine barrel aged beer for cellaring the wild yeast can sap the beverage of sweet or fruity notes prematurely. Scaldis Prestige de Nuits is a great example; it’s a wonderful Belgian Quadrupel aged in barrels bought by the brewmaster at the Hospice de Nuits St. George. With the barrels emptied and bottled back at the brewery, the Prestige was added to the freshly emptied barrels. The combination is magic.

Belgian brewery Hof Ten Dormaal has been trying out alternative wine/spirits barrels with its Barrel Aged Series. Dormaal has spent the past couple of years taking its outstanding Blond and Dark Ales and putting them in everything from Armagnac barrels to Port, Madeira, Sherry, Brandy, and Grappa barrels. They’ve even sourced Scotch barrels from Ardbeg and Port Charlotte. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — May 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm 779 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

We’re diving back into how the alcohol business “works” again this week.

This past Tuesday saw news break that San Diego’s AleSmith Brewing Company would expand their distribution into North Carolina. I’ve been fielding questions about AleSmith beers for 10 years now, and with yet another state being opened up for their beers I anticipate the frequency of the questions to increase once again from Virginia craft beer fans.

With the AleSmith news this week, I wanted to see what I could find out about why North Carolina was chosen over Virginia, so I could more thoroughly explain to my customers as well as for my own education as a retailer. I wanted to take this opportunity to confront my suspicions and assumptions, and find out what truly affects a brewery’s decision-making process. Here is what I discovered:

AleSmith signed on with a company called Mims Distributing in North Carolina, which, according to its website, serves nine counties in and around the “Triangle” region of the state. Mims represents a diverse assortment of breweries both domestic and foreign: Yeungling, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Anchor, Foothills, Bear Republic, Innis & Gunn, Palm, Rodenbach, Boon and more.

Based off of July 2013 estimates, the population of the nine counties served by Mims is just under 1.6 million. By comparison, the population of the Northern Virginia counties that would account for most of AleSmith’s theoretical Virginia sales (Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon, and Prince William) is just over 2.1 million by January 2013 estimates. A half million people is a big number, but it’s not as big a difference as I thought I’d find. So if potential market size isn’t an issue, what gives?

I contacted Mims Distributing to ask about its territory and new deal with AleSmith. Roger MacKay, Vice President of Sales for Mims, told me that the demand for craft beer in their part of North Carolina reflects the rise of craft beer in the U.S. overall: “There are so many people following everything they can read about, blogs, sites, podcasts, the list goes on.”

MacKay also cited the state of North Carolina’s efforts at promoting its own craft beer industry as a factor in this rise. When asked about how many of Mims’ accounts they consider to be “craft” oriented, MacKay said they tend to “fall into three categories, all craft/import, all local craft, a mixture of craft, domestic and import,” noting that “(t)rue loyal craft accounts are definitely growing every day.”

Mims’ commitment to representing AleSmith in North Carolina makes sense of the “Why there?” part of my question, but what about the “Not here?” This is where some of my early suspicions bore out, as I reached out to a Manager for a beer distributor here in Virginia. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — May 16, 2014 at 2:30 pm 533 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

With SAVOR having come and gone, the beer industry moves straight into American Craft Beer Week, which wraps up this weekend. Speaking from my own personal and professional experience, I’ve seen first-hand the dramatic rise of American beers within every niche and category.

I’m nearly at the point where I’m starting to worry about American beer geeks becoming too myopic, but I also know these things work in cycles, and one of these years German and British beers will once again be in demand. That’s not what this week’s column is about, though — I come to sing the praises of American craft beer, and so I shall.

Over the past few years, what I’ve enjoyed from America’s craft brewers isn’t only the preponderance of great hoppy IPAs and Pale Ales — though new arrivals like Lake Erie Monster from Great Lakes and Against The Grain’s Citra Ass Down always make me happy — it’s the way our breweries are preserving and experimenting with obscure traditional beers styles, as well.

Just this week, we’re seeing the first wave of Anderson Valley’s The Kimmie, The Yink, And The Holy Gose hit Virginia. For those who aren’t yet familiar, Gose is a 1,000-year-old German style of Wheat Ale (traditionally with at least 50 percent of the malt being Wheat, with the balance made up of Barley malt) utilizes coriander and salt to make a beer that is light and refreshing — something of a precursor to the Belgian Witbiers that would come along in the 15th century.

Nearly lost to history, Gose has experienced a resurgence as beer geeks, fond of all things tart and/or sour, started to demand more of it in the market. Today, not only do I occasionally receive shipments of the Leipziger Gose from Germany, but I regularly stock Troublesome Gose by Off Color Brewing in Chicago. Troublesome is a more classic take on the style, while Anderson Valley tweaks the style by dialing back on the coriander and by adding lactic acid before the boil, rather than ferment with lactobacillus along with the brewer’s yeast (“The Brewer’s Yeast” is the name of my Arcade Fire-style hipster band, by the by).

The beauty of the current American beer scene is this combination of reverence for classic styles working alongside a willingness to tinker with them: for every Sly Fox Royal Weisse that brings the banana/clove notes of a textbook Hefeweizen, there’s a Schlafly Raspberry Hefeweizen or Boulevard 80 Acre willing to alter it with the addition of fruit or more hops. For every Maine Beer Company Peeper that carries the clean, fresh, grassy notes of the English Pale Ales of old, there are the Dale’s Pale Ale and DC Brau Publics of the world with massive hops additions that wouldn’t have been considered 30 years ago.

Great dark beers and barrel aging? Try Hardywood’s Sidamo Coffee Stout, Bourbon Sidamo, or Bourbon Cru; Barrel Aged Scotchtown by Center Of The Universe; Three Brothers Resolute or Rum Barrel Dubbel; Port City Revival Oyster Stout; or Lost Rhino 2200 pounds Of Sin Barleywine — and those are just beer from Virginia! Barrel aging, the comeback of cans, Imperial everything – the world has taken notice, but they all started here in the U.S., where any insane idea can be a successful one if enough people like it. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — May 9, 2014 at 2:30 pm 553 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

SAVOR, the Brewer’s Association’s annual showcase event focusing on craft beer and food pairing, is back in D.C. where it belongs for 2014. The event itself kicks off tonight, and by the time this column runs, many of the great local bar/restaurant events planned for “SAVOR Week” will have already taken place.

That doesn’t mean you’ve missed all the fun, though: SAVOR tickets may be difficult or impossible to come by, but there will be special beer events in our area through Sunday. The gang at DC Beer have done a great job compiling a list of SAVOR-related events, along with brewery profiles for nearly all of this years’ participants.

I was originally planning to attend SAVOR, but a scheduling conflict means I’ll be missing out this year. If you are attending, consult the DC Beer profiles to see which breweries pique your curiosity the most, and here is a list of the breweries whose tables I had put on my “must-see” list, in alphabetical order:

Allagash: If you’re attending SAVOR, you are probably as familiar with Allagash as I am. Their table made my list because Rob Tod is a really good guy who is always great to chat with, and because they’re bringing their Coolship Red to sample along with their new Saison. The Coolship beers have all been outstanding so far and the Red — aged in wine barrels with raspberries — sounds like another great Sour Ale.

Elysian: Elysian has been around for a while, and is available in Maryland and the District, so perhaps it’s old hat for some of you but outside of a couple collaboration beers I haven’t been able to try anything of theirs. Their Dragonstooth Stout sounds like a treat, but it was the Dayglow IPA with its Mosaic, El Dorado, and Centennial hops that I was looking forward to trying.

Funkwerks: If you’re into Belgian-style Ales and you aren’t familiar with Funkwerks yet, get familiar — this Fort Collins, Colo., brewery is on the rise. I got to try their Tropic King Saison a couple months ago with some friends and fell hard for it; the beer had a beautiful, complex yeast character that never felt too rich or overpowered the rest of the beer. If you find your way toward them at SAVOR, you’ll get to try their Saison and a Cognac barrel-aged version of Deceit, a strong Belgian-style Ale featuring a great deal of Pilsner malt.

Great Raft: Prior to opening Great Raft Brewing last year in Shreveport, Louisiana, Andrew and Lindsay Nations lived here in the area, where Andrew was an editor for DC Beer. Great Raft’s SAVOR offerings are a pair of Lagers, the hoppy Southern Drawl Pale Lager and Reasonably Corrupt Schwarzbier. Andrew and Lindsay are good people making, by all accounts, some great beer. Seeing them with a table at SAVOR is pretty damn cool.

Kuhnhenn: I’ve only known Michigan’s Kuhnhenn Brewing by its reputation as a brewery unafraid to try anything, and usually make something great out of whatever it tries. From Raspberry Eisbock to Imperial Crème Brulee Java Stout, Kuhnhenn takes chances for the fun of it, and many consider them to be the best brewery in Michigan — high praise. SAVOR attendees will be able to sample their Fourth Dementia Olde Ale and DRIPA–Double Rice IPA, paired naturally with rice pudding. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — May 2, 2014 at 3:15 pm 335 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

The weather this week in our area was… well, apparently it was par for the course in 2014; we just traded one form of precipitation for another. Regardless of whether you enjoy a rainy day or not, they often present a good opportunity to catch up with your interests, like books, movies, television, music — or beer. If you’re looking for something new to try the next time some showers cancel your plans, think about one of these:

Port City Ways & Means: I just got to try this new beer from Alexandria’s Port City this week, and it’s a winner. At 4.5 percent ABV and plenty of earthy, fruity hop character, what sets Ways & Means apart from other Session IPAs is the generous use of rye malt in it. I’m a sucker for rye malt beers, and this one comes through with the right amount of bready, spicy notes giving the hops something different to play off of. Currently available as a draft beer only, try to find yourself with a growler of Ways & Means next time the clouds open up.

Mother Earth Dark Cloud Dunkel: Not only is the name perfect for a rainy day beer, but the style is dead-on as well. Few American craft brewers are making a Dunkel Lager in the German tradition, and this one from Mother Earth in North Carolina is outstanding. Dark Cloud is smooth and even in feel on the palate, with just the right amounts of nutty and caramel flavors from its malts. At just over 5 percent ABV, Dark Cloud may not be a Session beer, but a couple won’t put the beating on you that some others will.

Hardywood Capital Trail Pale Ale: This new six-pack from Hardywood in Richmond is an early contender for my Beers of the Year list. At 5.6 percent ABV and 50 IBU, Capital Trail hits my Pale Ale happy place mostly by not feeling like a beer that might as well have been made into an IPA. Malt flavors are present without pushing the boundaries of sweetness; the hops are upfront but the focus isn’t on the super-bitter or fruity big hop notes. This is a Pale Ale with lots of “foresty” earthy aromas and flavors, and is just about perfect with the smell of wet grass and recent rainfall in the air. It comes in cans too, so there’s a plus.

Blue Mountain Kolsch 151: If you’re out on a boat fishing this summer, and the skies happen to open up a bit, this is the first thing I’d want to be able to pull out of my cooler. The Kolsch style, combining the bright, fruit-driven notes of Ales with the ease-of-drinking and smooth body of Lagers, is a natural fit when a storm charges through a hot day, bringing a momentary cold snap that can make many beers feel suddenly heavy. Also available in cans, Kolsch 151 is a great all-purpose spring/summer beer.

Victory Storm King: You didn’t think I’d miss a pun opportunity like that, did you? Perhaps a better fit for colder seasons, Storm King is one of the finest Imperial Stouts made in the U.S., and as a cold rainy day beverage not only provides the right level of warmth, but some of the most balanced chocolate and roasty malt flavors you can buy.

Until next time!

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

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by Nick Anderson — April 25, 2014 at 2:30 pm 696 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

So far, 2014 has been a year of great tumult: breweries are opening and closing at record numbers; craft beer is continuing to increase its share of the total market even as the ever-present debate over what “craft” is — or if such a term should even exist — goes on. The rapid growth of craft beer has brought once inconsequential regulatory/trademark issues into the spotlight — 2014 could very well go down in the books as the year of the “cease and desist” letter.

Amid all of this madness, something has been happening that I’ve noticed, but haven’t delved into here yet; a “changing of the guard” at some of the most beloved craft breweries out there, as recipes are retired to make way for new ones in the increasingly competitive beer market.

A couple of beer business stories brought this to my mind this week: the first being the news that Fort Collins Brewery was retiring their 1900 Amber Lager. This isn’t a beer that’s been any mainstay for me (I’ve never carried Fort Collins beers), but it had only been in production since 2009. Fort Collins General Manager Tina Peters said in the brewery’s press release that “as a craft brewery that strives to always better ourselves, we felt as a company it was more important to shift focus away from 1900 and to the present and the future direction of FCB.”

Smuttynose also announced this week that it will be putting its Star Island Single Belgian-style Pale Ale out to pasture; the decision was made as the New Hampshire brewery readies two new six-packs beers for release; Vunderbar Pilsner, set to go on sale in June, and Bouncy House, a 4.3 percent Session IPA that will debut here in D.C. at next month’s SAVOR event.

Adding yet another “Session IPA” to the market might smack some of trend-chasing, but in today’s climate every way a brewery can find to wedge their product onto a retailer’s shelf or a bar’s tap list is worth exploring. Also, with many of the “big name” craft breweries celebrating their 20th, 25th, or 30th anniversaries, there’s something to be said for familiarity breeding contempt.

This leads to happenings like Bell’s Brewing  changing the name, label, and recipe of their well-regarded Pale Ale. The “new” Midwestern Pale Ale has only the minor change of some barley malt coming from the Bell’s Farm in Michigan, but result feels like a dramatic shift: the old Bell’s Pale Ale wasn’t a bitterly hoppy beer by any stretch, but had a focus to its hop that reminded me of the minerality present in the great white wines of France’s Loire Valley. Midwestern Pale Ale feels dialed back by comparison, with a smoother mouthfeel and greater barley presence throughout. In any event, Midwestern Pale Ale is very good and proved a success — I sold more of it in the first couple of months after its release than I had the old Pale Ale over the last few months of its availability.

“New” is often the order of the day now in beer. Once upon a time Victory made one Imperial IPA — Hop Wallop, an 8.5 percent ABV hop monster. Now Hop Wallop is “relegated” to draft-only production, while the new (and delicious) Dirt Wolf Imperial IPA takes a year-round place in Victory’s lineup, with another Imperial IPA (Hop Ranch) as a winter seasonal. It’s a difficult line to walk; making new fans in new markets with the beers that made you famous while simultaneously offering new things to your longtime fanbase to keep them from regarding you as “been there, done that.” I don’t envy breweries who are dancing this dance; I just look forward to trying new things and hope some of my old favorites don’t get left by the wayside. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — April 18, 2014 at 2:30 pm 520 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

The best teacher I ever had growing up was my high school art teacher, Jeff Meizlik. As a young man with an interest in art, music, Jeff’s skill as a sculptor and painter along with his interest in nearly every subject made him feel like a kindred spirit; someone I could look up to and relate to at the same time.

My school had an annual Art Day, where the students from the various art classes (visual arts, ceramics, photography, etc.) would display their work, making a sort of pop-up art gallery for the day. For my freshman year Art Day display, I’d asked Jeff if I could hang something I’d been working on at home. It was a simple pencil drawing, but something I’d put a decent amount of working into and that I thought I’d done a good job with.

When he said no, I argued my case for the piece that I liked so much before he dropped the best piece of advice I could have gotten on me, not to mention “words for life” that I refer to even now: “Just because you like it doesn’t mean it’s good.”

I thought about Jeff’s words when I read about Brewer’s Association Director Paul Gatza’s address at last week’s Craft Brewer’s Conference in Denver. You can read a more in-depth account of Gatza’s speech and some of the associated conversation here, but the big point of his address was that with craft beer growing at such an amazing rate, there are more and more homebrewers “going pro.” He talked about a beer festival he’d attended and the beers he’d tried from new breweries, many of which had only been founded over the past couple of years. Where these brewers (and their fans) thought their beers were great, Gatza found them lacking in quality.

“(W)e need to improve it,” Gatza said of the overall level of beer being produced by these new breweries. He noted that with the growth of the industry over the past few years, opportunities abound for those who want to get into the craft beer business, offering a simple plea to those who are planning to do so: “Don’t f–k it up.”

Gatza explained the dangers of new breweries putting out sub-par beer: “With so many brewery openings, the potential is there for things to start to degrade on the quality side, and we wouldn’t want that to color the willingness of the beer drinker to try new brands. If a beer drinker has a bad experience, they are just going to go back to companies they know and trust.”

Solutions include regular lab testing to catch potential chemical flaws that can make even the best recipes feel “off,” and willingness on the part of brewers to receive and process constructive criticism. The good news is that I’ve never met a brewer who isn’t open to getting “notes.” Also the craft brewing community is a tightly knit one; John Harris of the recently opened Ecliptic Brewing in Portland said it best to the Denver Post: “If you are having problems with beer, ask others for help…(d)on’t be too proud. We can help each other make our beer better.” (more…)

by Nick Anderson — April 11, 2014 at 3:30 pm 362 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

If you’re a wine lover in our area, then you’re probably familiar with the work of Kysela Pere & Fils and its founder, Fran Kysela. Recently named Wine Importer of the Year (2013) by Wine Enthusiast, Kysela showcases an impressive portfolio of quality wines from the world over, distributing all across the United States and Canada — all from an unassuming warehouse in Winchester, Va.

The company’s name and reputation have grown since its founding 20 years ago, with The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker declaring that Fran Kysela “has emerged as one of the finest palates and selectors of top wine, whether it be an inexpensive Muscadet or a top of the line Burgundy.”

What you may not know is that Kysela’s palate isn’t exclusively reserved for wine. In Virginia, Kysela Pere & Fils handles distribution for Troegs Brewing Company and Perennial Artisan Ales among others, and is increasingly on the hunt for breweries to bring into our state.

I was recently summoned to Winchester for an afternoon sampling of Kysela’s beer portfolio with Fran Kysela, his Beer Director Ben Page, and Sales Representative Michael Kotrady. In my 10 years working in the wine/beer retail business, I’d met Kysela a handful of times but never had much opportunity to speak with him: the son of one of America’s premier wine collectors, he presents a kind of casual encyclopedic knowledge not uncommon to people “born to” a vocation or hobby. It’s not only easy to learn a great deal in conversation with Kysela; it’s easy to not notice you are doing so.

Over a great lunch — the highlight of which being a salad with some drop-dead gorgeous local produce — our group of four tasted, took notes, and discussed what we liked/didn’t like and why, the state of the industry, and the challenges of our various roles in the business. It was a pleasure to be invited for such an occasion, and encouraging to see a distributor willing to reach out to an independent shop guy like myself. Tasting note fans, get ready: here are some of the highlights of my afternoon at Kysela Pere & Fils, in no particular order.

Troegs Sunshine Pils: A confession: Sunshine Pils has never been my favorite seasonal beer, nor my favorite Troegs beer. That being said, I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed Sunshine Pils as much as I did when I tried it at Kysela’s warehouse; not coincidentally, I also can’t say I’d ever tasted a fresher example of Sunshine Pils. Clean and bright, with just enough hop to stand out in a crowd, this year’s Sunshine Pils is a great ‘get-together with friends’ beer.

Troegs Troegenator Double Bock: No surprises here, as Troegenator has been a favorite beer of mine for years — I just felt it warranted mentioning here. I think what I enjoy about this beer so much is that like so many American versions of Old World styles, it pushes the envelope in terms of ABV (8.2 percent) and boldness of flavor yet it doesn’t seem cartoonish, or overdone. Troegenator is just right, and in the new tallboy 16-ounce cans it comes in, it’s even righter.

Troegs JavaHead Stout: It had been a while since I’d tried JavaHead, but I’m glad I got to again. A coffee-infused Oatmeal Stout, JavaHead carries a surprising amount of hoppiness (60 IBU — more that many Pale Ales/IPAs), giving the lush-feeling beer a backbone that keeps it from feeling cloying or overly ‘flavored’.

RJ Rockers Good Boy Stout: Another confession: I’ve never been much of an RJ Rockers fan, either. That doesn’t mean they don’t make good beers, though — Good Boy Stout was a new one on me, and a pleasant surprise. There’s nothing revolutionary going on here, just a solid 7 percent ABV American Stout that pours dark and tastes rich with chocolate and coffee notes, this time from its malt alone. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — April 4, 2014 at 2:30 pm 720 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Something caught my eye on Craft Brewing Business this week; ALeco’s new ‘Evolution’ aluminum bottles, designed for craft beverage producers. Evolution bottles will initially be offered in 12oz short- and long-neck sizes, along with a 16-ounce “pint” bottle, with the potential for more versions down the line (750 mL, 330 mL, 22 oz, and 40 oz).

What interests me, and probably craft brewers who to this point have avoided canning, is that the Evolution bottles can be filled and capped by existing glass bottling lines — an attractive prospect for those curious about canning but unable to afford installing a dedicated canning line or without access to one of the mobile canning services that cater to craft brewers.

With the benefits of aluminum cans (light resistance, quicker cooling, lighter weight, greater percentage of recycled materials used) possible without the additional costs of an extra production line, the Evolution bottle could become a commonplace sight in retail stores and bars very soon. But the Evolution bottle didn’t get me thinking about the benefits of one type of package over another — it just got me thinking about packages in general.

I’ll give you a moment to start developing your jokes.

I hear and read a lot of talk about breweries rolling out new types of packages out on the market–whether one type is better than another, or if a brewery is chasing the “trend” of canning, or if a beer presents itself better in a larger format versus a smaller one. What I want to talk about this week is what your favorite beer formats are, and if there is any reason you prefer one over another.

The 12-ounce bottle is the standard; what you see in your head when you think of grabbing a beer. The 12-ounce bottle is classic, and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Cans have obviously become extremely popular over the last 10-15 years; CraftCans.com (yes this exists and it’s wonderful shut up) has a database of nearly 1,900 canned beers, over 1,400 of which are currently in production.

As canned craft beers grow in number and popularity, I’ve found that many of my favorite “go-to” beers are canned, and the convenient size of the 12-oounce can is a plus for me both at home and in Arrowine’s beer department. Personally, I’m a fan of 16oz “tallboy” can. The pint glass is ubiquitous for a reason — it’s a perfect amount of beer; enough to satisfy, not too much that you get bored or have your beer warm up more than you might like. Also, “tallboy” is fun to say. Cans in general have a sense of whimsy about them; they somehow just seem to dispel some of the over-seriousness that creeps into every nook and cranny of craft beer. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — March 28, 2014 at 2:30 pm 613 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

It hasn’t been a slow news week in the beer world. In fact, I’m starting to believe that we’re not going to have slow news weeks in beer anymore. We’re going to get into some stuff outside of the headlines week, but there are some news stories worth reading up on:

-Florida’s HB 1329 bill, which I wrote about in last week’s columnis dead in that state’s House, but a fight remains as the state Senate takes it up in its original form.

-Left Hand Brewing is fully entrenched in trademark litigation madness, simultaneously attempting to trademark “Nitro” (as in “Milk Stout Nitro”, “Sawtooth Nitro”, and Wake Up Dead Nitro”), and facing a challenge from Maryland’s DuClaw over the Sawtooth and Black Jack names in a case that could have maddening consequences for breweries and brand names as craft beer grows.

-The FDA is trying to kill a symbiotic relationship between brewers and farmers that has benefitted both for centuries, because life isn’t hard enough as-is.

-Craft brewers are exporting a lot more beer, according to the Brewer’s Association.

-And in this week’s most talked-about beer story, The New York Times profiled the twin brothers behind Mikkeller and Evil Twin, casting them as sibling rivals who “can’t stand each other.” The article itself is fascinating, thought-provoking, and at times sad. Two quick thoughts from my perch: 1) I’ve never heard much about Mikkel and Jeppe’s relationship at all, let alone anything about them “hating” each other. 2) Considering Jeppe’s reaction, I think the author might have picked up on some tension between the brothers and decided early on to take the piece in this direction. As a writer, it would be hard to resist. In any case, it’s worth a measured, open-minded read.

So what else is going on this week? Well, some reflection and hard truth-facing for me: with craft beer becoming more popular at Arrowine, I find myself constantly trying to find space to carry the beers our customers are asking for. At the same time, I see breweries whose products I’ve supported for a decade grow to the point of being featured in grocery stores and ‘big box’ retailers, with distributors pushing price points higher all the time. Every day now it seems I’m having to decide whether one brewery or another is worth keeping on in my beer department.

I’ve known for years that this day was coming. I’ve talked and written about it often: growth and expansion will lead many of our craft beer “heroes” away from smaller, independent shops — that’s the nature of business. I just thought I’d have more time before facing some of these difficult decisions.

Retail is a good way to rid yourself of sentimentality, but it’s hard to avoid in this case: without naming names I’m talking about some of the breweries who got me into craft beer in the first place; breweries whose work I enjoy immensely even now. But also breweries whose pricing structure has become tilted in favor of those who order in terms of pallets rather than cases. Difficult decisions, but when brewers start flaunting how great the selection of their wares is at your neighborhood mega-mart, that decision’s pretty much been made for you, hasn’t it?

There comes a time where you just have to be honest and go your separate ways, like friends who grow apart. Such is life. On the plus side there are more than enough up-and-coming breweries to get excited about, many of which are located in our region: last week’s Spring Beer Tasting at Arrowine featured Hardywood, Devils Backbone, and Three Brothers breweries — all of whom are in Virginia, along with North Carolina’s Mother Earth Brewing Company. All four have become a regular presence in our shop, and with recent arrivals like Atlanta’s Sweetwater and New York state’s Ithaca (Flower Power IPA in this week!), it makes it a little easier to give up some old favorites for a while.

Until next time!   (more…)

by Nick Anderson — March 21, 2014 at 2:30 pm 740 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

For all of the annoyances of Virginia ABC laws — and there are many — there is one way the Commonwealth has managed to not mess with beer lovers. Virginia doesn’t “cap” the amount of alcohol a beer can have either by volume (ABV) or weight (ABW), unlike many other states.

Over the past 20-30 years, most states with caps have raised them to the point where there functionally is no cap; it’s not uncommon to see caps anywhere from 14-17.5 percent ABV. There are still low-cap states, though; among them is Tennessee, where an effort to raise the limits of beer strength gives us one example of how breweries small and large are attempting to shape policy to take advantage of the rapidly growing market.

This week saw the release of the Brewers Association’s (BA) 2013 craft beer growth figures, and what they showed was that craft beer’s momentum is far from slowing. Compare to 2012, 2013 saw an 18 percent increase in sales by volume and a 20 percent increase in retail dollar value. Craft beer accounted for 7.8 percent of the total volume of the U.S. beer market in 2013, up from 6.5 percent in 2012.

Even taking into account BA’s definition of what makes a “craft” brewery and the associated controversy and consternation that goes along with it, the 2013 figures are impressive. By the BA’s count, some 98 percent of the United States’ 2,822 operating breweries are craft breweries, and even with the rate of new breweries opening increasing almost exponentially there are still far more openings than closings — with 413 openings to 44 closings occurring in 2013.

With over $14 billion in retail value and over 110,000 jobs coming from craft beer, states with lower ABV/ABW caps are being lobbied to raise those caps in order to generate more tax revenue and encourage new start-ups. Tennessee in particular has stifling regulations for small brewers in-state: they can make and sell beers over the current limit of 5 percent ABW (~6.2 percent ABV), but to do so they must acquire a “high alcohol content” beer license for $1,000 and then pay an additional $4,000 for a “liquor-by-the-drink” (LBD) license to sell said beers in their taprooms.

Not only do those licenses and their fees need to be re-upped every year, but the brewery must have at least 15 percent of its gross sales come from food to keep its LBD license. The proposed changes to Tennessee law would raise the limit to 12 percent, eliminating the license burden for in-state brewers and opening the state to the sales of more popular, stronger beers.

It’s not only small brewers who are trying to change regulations to their benefit. A recent article on The Motley Fool took a peek into the money “big beer” is spending in its lobbying efforts and the numbers were eye-opening even for me: Anheuser Busch-InBev (ABI) spent $4.3 million in 2013 and MillerCoors doled out over $2 million (by contrast, the only “craft” brewer mentioned was Boston Beer Company — $130,000). (more…)

by Nick Anderson — March 14, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1,038 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Hot off the heels of last week’s fun with Hill Farmstead, here’s this: Cigar City Brewing of Tampa Bay, Fla., held their annual Hunahpu’s Day event this past weekend, celebrating the release of the once-per-year Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout (this week’s column is pretty much Christmas for “nom de guerre” – enjoy, sir or ma’am). Much like similar events put on by Three Floyd’s Brewing in Indiana (Dark Lord Day) and Founders in Grand Rapids, Michigan (for the release of KBS/CBS/any other kind of BS), crowds were expected to be big and demand was assumed to well outstrip supply — as it does pretty much every year.

This is fine in and of itself; these special release parties have become little beer festivals unto themselves, with many making the trek with no other desire but to share some good beers and good times with fellow beer geeks. Check out articles here and here to get some of the story of what went down, but suffice it to say this year’s Hunahpu’s Day was a disaster. Loyal, ticket-paying customers got screwed out of beer they’d paid good money for, Cigar City is now out some $175,000, and once again beer fans get to argue about who is at fault and who should’ve done what.

For his part, Cigar City owner Joey Redner says this will be the last Hunahpu’s Day event, as the beer will go into distribution next year and drive saps like me crazy when we can’t get enough to meet the demand. In reality, it’s probably the best way to handle items like these today; there are just too many people clamoring for beers that aren’t (or can’t be) produced in quantities that will make everyone happy.

Pay attention now, because I’m going to pull back the curtain on this business for a quick moment. Beyond the business interests of distributors and tax revenue figures and anything else anyone wants to argue, there is one  reason that the three-tier system of producer, distributor, and seller is never going to be done away with in this country: because then we, as an industry, when faced with the realities of limited production on beers or wines that everyone wants, would have to point the finger and actually blame someone. And no one wants to do that.

As it is, when I run out of HopSlam in 45 minutes I can say “that’s all the distributor allocated to me”, and if you take the time to call said distributor they can say “well, Bell’s only sent so much, and we have to reward all of our customers who support them over the year”, and then you can sit down with Larry Bell and he’ll say something like:

”This year we made 12 percent more than last year so we’re making 5,500 barrels of Double IPA. How many other brewers are making that kind of Double IPA in that volume? There’s really quite a bit of it. Also, I like having it once a year because the whole idea of that style is to have it fresh. People know when it’s HopSlam season. When you see it, you buy it, you drink it fresh and then it’s done.” (This is a good interview, by the way. Read the rest here.)

The beautiful part is, everyone in that scenario is right, is being truthful, and is only reacting to the current state of the business. What’s been bothering me lately — and yes, even I can tell something’s been bothering me lately — is my inability to put my finger on what it is that is making the craft beer market so contentious when it comes to special releases like Hunahpu’s Stout or HopSlam or the like. Of course, it took some wandering into other interests and sub-cultures for me to get an idea of what’s really happening. (more…)

by Nick Anderson — March 7, 2014 at 2:30 pm 2,035 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

“It’s not that easy to find people who know what you need done. But that’s what we’re doing, moving in a direction that will allow us to increase production if we wanted to. And I don’t actually want to. I don’t want to be a larger brewer. I just sort of want to build a playground…”

“I just feel like I’m managing chaos all the time.”

“‘Why don’t you just move into an industrial park? Why don’t you grow? You guys could sell so much beer.’ They come from the point of view that business has a responsibility to meet their desires as opposed to business having a responsibility to create a positive-feedback loop that meets its own desires.”

“From day one I’ve been saying that we are part of a neo-American ideal, which is the opposite of infinite, boundless growth.”

–Shaun Hill, Hill Farmstead, Vanity Fair.

“’People can’t understand why we don’t want to grow our brewery,’ she said, ‘That’s the American way.’”

“We built what we could afford … we didn’t go beyond our means at the time. With hindsight, yeah it would be nice to have room for another tank or something but at the same time, (there is) the comfort level, the financial comfort level. We knew exactly where we needed to be.”

“I cannot force a retailer to charge a certain price, but we can certainly not sell them beer anymore…”

Natalie Cilurzo, Russian River Brewing Company, The Press Democrat.

A short column this week, because with a topic like this, a high word counts only lead to trouble.

It’s a new week, so there’s another “controversy” in craft beer — and this time, our area is involved! Bourbon DC held an event this past Tuesday night featuring the beers of Hill Farmstead from Vermont. Hill Farmstead beers are currently considered to be some of the best in the world (I couldn’t say, as I’ve never tried any of them), are notoriously hard to get a hold of, and have no distribution in our area.

Bourbon took advantage — with no malice or harm intended, it should be said — of D.C. laws that allow retailers/restaurants/bars to “direct import” beers that have no wholesale representation as long as the appropriate import/sales taxes are paid. Shaun Hill got word of the event on Twitter and was none too pleased with what he saw as his beers being “smuggled” into the District. This, in turn, set off round number who-the-hell-is-keeping-count-anymore of the classic “It’s legal so it’s OK”/”Just because you can doesn’t mean you should” craft beer debate created by D.C.’s unique alcohol laws.

It’s easy to dismiss complaints from brewers like Hill and others who have spent lots of time and energy shutting down sales of their beers on eBay, Craigslist, and at retail in markets they have not entered into agreements to be distributed in. It’s easy to say business is business, and that there are worse things for brewers to deal with than demand for their product.

But all too often, that’s not what is said. What is said by beer fans is said in angry, vitriolic screeds in forum posts or social media about people being overrated, whiny, snobbish, and worse — all the while wondering why these overrated whiny snobs won’t sell their beers to us.

Not all criticism is obscene or uncalled for, of course, and not every brewery objection comes from a humble, noble commitment to their “art.” Just do a basic web search and read some of the complaints from beer enthusiasts about breweries they can’t get in their area; then re-read the quotes above and the stories they come from. You may not agree with Shaun or Vinny and Natalie Cilurzo’s business philosophies, but do they sound unreasonable? (more…)

by Nick Anderson — February 28, 2014 at 2:30 pm 573 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Well everyone, we’re getting surprise snowstorms followed by not-so surprise snowstorms and polar vortices — let the spring beer releases commence! I’m not one prone to griping about “seasonal creep,” but even I can’t help but chuckle about some of the stuff that’s coming out right now. It’s ok, though: I’m always happy to see more great options when it comes to craft beer, and this week brings a couple that I’m particularly interested in.

Abita is a brewery I’ve always had a soft spot for but after nearly 30 years, it seems it’s at an impasse. Adding an IPA to its year-round lineup seemed like a smart move, and Jockamo is a great beer — especially at its price, but still I’ve noticed an ebb of interest in Abita’s core beers. The recent addition of Andygator 6-packs to the year-round line was an especially nice touch, as I love that beer.

All the while, Abita’s seasonal and Harvest beers have become more popular, which it’s starting to take advantage of with new recipes. This week we’re seeing the return of Abita Spring IPA, which debuted last year. Spring IPA is focused on combining the resinous, citrusy flavors of the Amarillo and Centennial hops used with the unique touch Abita has with malt. At once light and unobtrusive while also adding just the slightest touch of sweetness, Spring IPA is Abita at its best and will serve well to hold me over until Strawberry Harvest Lager comes out.

The other spring beer coming back this week that I’m excited for is Victory’s Swing Session Saison. Another beer returning after a 2013 debut, Swing is in my opinion one of the smartest recipes to be found among craft beer’s seasonal releases.

Clocking in a 4.5 percent ABV, Swing not only uses a subtly spicy yeast strain, but gets a refreshing hit of orange peel and fresh lemon zest. The finishing touch on Swing is black peppercorn, which shows itself not as a heat element but serves to clip its finish, luring you back in for more. Swing is an absolute gem of a beer; one to enjoy as long as it’s on the market.

Is it a little early to be seeing spring beers? Yeah, it really is — but I’m not going to get worked up. More good IPAs are always welcome, and I’d buy Swing year-round were it available. As always, we come back around to beer rule No. 1: drink what you want. Now, the renowned weekly feature…

What I’ve Been Drinking This Week

Evil Twin Imperial Doughnut Break: I’ll offer up a censored version of my quickie review from Twitter: People love to hate Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. They call him a hipster, say his beers are too expensive, too hard to find, and just too weird. But find me another brewer who can dump a bunch of glazed doughnuts into a massive Imperial Porter and have it come out as legitimately great as Imperial Doughnut Break is. The beer is rich, roasty, and yes — as it warms a bit the doughnut flavor really does come out but somehow is without the cloying sweetness you’d expect from a beer with sprinkle-covered doughnuts adorning its label. I need more. (more…)

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