Arlington, VA

This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway). Sign up for Nick’s email newsletter and also receive exclusive discounts and offers.

Just before the closing of Falls Church’s Mad Fox brewpub last month, founder/brewer Bill Madden was kind enough to agree, after wrapping up the closing and taking some time to collect his thoughts, to answering some questions I’d sent him.

Early this week, Madden responded and we’ve had a back-and-forth covering a range of topics, focusing on the challenges facing not only brewpubs like Mad Fox, but for restaurant/retail in our area in general.

In his statement announcing Mad Fox’s closing, Madden cited competition becoming “fierce since our opening in 2010 with… an overwhelming number of choices for the local population,” such that staying open was “no longer sustainable.”

Digging into that a bit more, Madden emphasized the intensity of that competition as we see an increase in “restaurant options that are hot for a few years and then fizzle out,” “(w)ine and beer shops opening restaurants,” and supermarkets “with buffets and bars and more prepared foods to take home or just eat there like a restaurant.”

Factor in meal-prep services like Blue Apron, and you have a lot of businesses trying to cover higher rents on smaller pieces of the pie.

Mad Fox faced unique challenges nearly from the start. “When we opened the only way to sell a pint of beer to a consumer on site was to have a food component in Virginia,” Madden said. “That changed in 2012 with SB 604,” the law allowing brewery taprooms to serve full pours on-site.

604 was instrumental in the proliferation of new breweries in Virginia, but for a large brewpub in a high-rent district like Mad Fox, it made things just that much more difficult. “If we opened with a smaller footprint in a lower rent location and had gone into canning our product we would be in a much different position,” Madden told me.

I brought up my hunch that most taprooms will become brewpubs of sorts over the next few years; Madden responded that “the food component needs to be addressed, consumers need food with their beer, period,” and that he could see brewpubs in “high rent, suburban, urban locations,” albeit “in a much smaller space.”

Even those smaller spaces might be hard to find, however. Madden sounds downright prophetic.

“Rents either need to go down or there will be blight… I see plenty of shuttered spaces and I would ask anyone in Real Estate the question ‘where is the hot area to be in like a Reston Town Center or Arlington used to be?’ They all say they have not a clue.”

Reflecting on the legacy of Mad Fox, Madden says he’s most proud of how they supported the area’s beer scene, “promoting what were then new breweries with our festivals and events when many were just starting out.”

He recently attended the opening of Old Ox’s new Middleburg location and visited Quattro Goombas Brewery in Aldie, and while his future plans aren’t yet known, he says he plans to stay in the beer business in some capacity. Hopefully he’s not out of it for long; we’re missing something without him.

Upcoming Tasting Events at Arrowine: 

Friday, August 16 (hey, that’s today!), 5-7 p.m.: Rafael Mendoza of Hardywood Brewing Company
Friday, August 23, 5-7 p.m.: David Hartogs of Rocket Frog Brewing Company
Saturday, August 24, 3-6 p.m.: Frankie Quinton of Atlas Brewing Company
Friday, August 30, 5-7 p.m.: Stephanie Boles from Old Ox Brewing
Friday, September 13, 5-7 p.m.: Tom Blanch of Sierra Nevada
Saturday, September 14, 1-4 p.m.: Joe Kasper of 3 Stars
Saturday, September 21, 1-4 p.m.: Devon Callan of Reason Beer Company
Friday, Novermber 8, 5-7 p.m.: Jesse Ploeg of Potter’s Craft Cider

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This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway). Sign up for Nick’s email newsletter and also receive exclusive discounts and offers.

Can it be that time already? Oh, it can, dear reader, and it is. I’ve already received some fall seasonal beers and the flood gates are about to open in earnest.

I’ve written about the concept of seasonal creep before, but the older I get, the less I seem to care about it. Is it a little absurd that I have two Oktoberfests in stock and one Pumpkin Ale already offered by the third week of July?

Sure, a little. But at the end of the day my policy is “Drink what you want when you want,” so I’m not sweating it too much. Except for that Pumpkin Ale; you’ll find it out there already, but too soon, man. Too soon.

What I’m doing today is giving a quick rundown of fall beers to keep an eye on, both those available now and ones on the way that I think are notable. Let’s start with what you can find on shelves right now: Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest landed in Virginia last week, and I’ll take any version of that anytime they want to offer it.

Every year of Sierra Oktoberfest has seen it pair up with a different German brewery to offer a different take on the style; this year, it’s Bitburger, which brought its house yeast and proprietary hop blend out of its brewery for the first time ever for the occasion. The result is a tick sharper than last year’s (made with Weihenstephaner), but very tasty and as good now as it’ll be when the weather turns.

Also in stock now is the Oktoberfest from Von Trapp Brewing in Vermont. Von Trapp’s Lagers are excellent across the board, so it’s no surprise this is tasty. What I like is the judicious use of darker malts, contributing to a color that is coppery rather than brown, along with a lovely caramel note.

I don’t like to play the FOMO card, but if you’re a Von Trapp fan, the word around the campfire is that the run of Oktoberfest that just hit Virginia is the only one we’ll see for the year. Purchase accordingly.

What’s on the way? Admitting a bias up front, I’ve always loved Port City Oktoberfest, which releases tonight at the brewery before hitting the market early next week. Around the middle of August we’ll see Atlas’ Festbier arrive. Lighter in color and body and using a blend of German and American hops, it’s definitely built for a more American audience but should be as fun and show as well as our favorites from the DC brewery.

Around the end of August/beginning of September, we should see the return of one of my old favorites — the Hofstetten Original Hochzeitzbier von 1810. This brew aspires to revive the style of Märzen that would’ve been served during the days of festivities surrounding Crown Prince Ludwig II’s wedding in 1810 — the first Oktoberfest. The best part? We’re getting cans of it this year!

What fall beers are you looking forward to? Let me hear it in the comments; you always do (he said, smiling).

Until next time.

Upcoming Events at Arrowine:

Saturday, 8/10, 1-4 p.m. — ANXO Cidery
Friday, 8/16, 5-7 p.m. — Rafael Mendoza of Hardywood Brewing Company
Friday, 8/23, 5-7 p.m. — Richard Hartogs of Rocket Frog Brewing Company
Saturday, 8/24, 3-6 p.m. — Frankie Quinton of Atlas Brewing Company
Friday, 8/30, 5-7 p.m. — Stephanie Boles from Old Ox Brewing
Saturday, 9/21, 1-4 p.m. — Devon Callan of Reason Beer Company

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This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway). Sign up for Nick’s email newsletter and also receive exclusive discounts and offers.

A week and a half ago, just ahead of its 9th Anniversary celebration, Mad Fox Brewing Company’s Bill Madden announced that the Falls Church brewpub would close its doors this coming Sunday, July 21.

With more breweries opening than ever, closings are also becoming more frequent, but the loss of Mad Fox has reverberated throughout the D.C. and Northern Virginia beer scenes like… well, a loss for the local beer scene.

Madden is a D.C. area legend, a mentor to brewers who can be found all over the area, and a brewer whose recipes at Mad Fox ranged from a world-class Keller Kolsch and excellent Pilsner and American Pale Ale, to robust Barleywines, to some future-forward IPAs — the Citra hop laden Orange Whip was years ahead of its time.

I always admired Two Hemispheres: A Wet Hop IPA featuring a blend of Citra and Galaxy that debuted in 2011. Galaxy was already out there, but that beer felt like a harbinger of things to come.

We’re also losing a hub of activity for local beer enthusiasts. Mad Fox’s festivals were well run, well-staffed and always featured a great selection of beers and breweries. The Spring Bierfest, Barleywine Fest, the Cask Ale Fest; lovely lecture/tasting evenings with Bob Tupper; the Festivus release parties. All gone.

So, what happened? Mad Fox’s closing announcement cites the proliferation of taproom breweries among the challenges it faced in staying afloat. Opening in 2010, Mad Fox didn’t have the option of opening a brewery with a taproom; SB 604 wouldn’t become law until 2012, allowing on-premise retail sale and consumption at Virginia breweries. The rise of strong craft beer programs for restaurants has made tougher competitors of them, as well.

As a brewpub, Mad Fox was walking the tightrope of running two high-risk, high-overhead businesses under one roof. The irony, I think, is that as you see taprooms focusing more on food features or planning to add kitchens, it feels like we’re just a few years away from a brewpub renaissance. Alas.

Running a little early on my way into Arrowine on Wednesday, I detoured into Falls Church to drop in on the Fox. Bill was at the end of the bar, spinning all the necessary plates to keep everything running through Sunday’s last service. He noted that the lunch run was the busiest he’d seen in a while, which, of course, right?

He’s obviously had a hard few weeks but was as kind and gregarious as ever, with high praise for the staff sticking things out with him. We caught up and ended up swapping stories, which is impossible not to do with him. I’m hoping to have an interview with him up for you soon. Not before Bill gets some deserved and needed downtime, though.

This will be the last weekend for Mad Fox; if you’re around at the right time on Sunday you might just catch me enjoying a last beer or two.

Upcoming Arrowine Events:

Friday, July 19, 5-7 p.m: Sean Michaels of The Bruery
Saturday, July 20, 1-4 p.m.: Laura Boyle from Three Notch’d Brewing
Saturday, August 10, 1-4 p.m.: ANXO Cidery!
Friday, August 16, 5-7 p.m.: Rafael Mendoza of Hardywood Brewing Company
Friday, August 30, 5-7 p.m.: Stephanie Boles from Old Ox Brewing

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This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway). Sign up for Nick’s email newsletter and also receive exclusive discounts and offers.

The hottest beers of the summer are… cheap? And… German?

(A quick note: We’ll pick up the discussion of lactose in beer in the next column — I’m waiting on a couple more responses to give a wider view of how breweries approach using it and labelling it.)

Despite the nature of my job and how long I’ve been doing it (I need no reminders, thank you), I don’t consider myself any kind of “influencer.”

I have breweries and styles I’ll lean into, of course, but more than anything I try to approach my job in a reactive manner. I’m not here to tell our clients at Arrowine what to like; I’m here to play off of what they do like and introduce new things that are exceptional in quality, or value or, best case scenario, both.

So no, you won’t find me on Instagram in selfie after selfie with every can/bottle I drink in the foreground while I attempt a friendly smile in the background. I do notice patterns and trends, though, and I’ll say this: Y’all, something’s happening with Germany.

It started a couple months back with the arrival of .5L cans of Veltins Pilsner. It was an instant hit not only because it’s just damn good, but because came in at $8/4-pack. It’s become a staple in my fridge.

Then, just before Memorial Day, Wolters Pilsner arrived in the same format but at $5/4-pack, followed by Tucher’s Helles Hefeweizen, which delivers clean, easy, classic German Wheat Ale goodness at only $7/4-pack. And there are more on the way.

So what gives? The origins of this wave hitting our shores now can be found back in 1976, the year per capita beer consumption peaked in Germany, dropping one-third in the decades since. Competition for those remaining beer drinkers has driven a price war that has seen German retail beer prices drop to levels nearly half what they were back in the early 90s (adjusted for inflation).

Rather than a temporary method of boosting sales, those low-margin prices have become the new norm. With no more margin to lose and home-market sales continuing to stagnate, German breweries have turned their eyes back to the States, where Mexican beers dominate import sales (accounting for about 70 percent of the American import market) but where “macro” is down, and “craft” continues to grow, albeit slower over the past couple years than the previous 10-15. It’s a perfect moment for these beers, with many transitioning to more Lager-centric drinking preferences and a (for now) quiet but growing exasperation with $20 4-packs and the FOMO mentality.

We’re not in a full-on paradigm shift just yet: I still tell people often that anyone who can get even a half-decent IPA into 16oz 4-packs that retail at $13.99 is going to sell them with little problem. But more people just want to have a couple good beers, maybe even with friends, without having to all-but get them to sign a waiver and without breaking their banks, and these Germans are filling that void.

Upcoming Arrowine Events:

Friday, July 19, 5-7 p.m.: Sean Michaels from The Bruery
Saturday, July 20, 1-4 p.m.:
Three Notch’d with Dave Keuhner
Friday, August 30, 5-7 p.m.: Stephanie Boles with Old Ox Brewing

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This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway). Sign up for Nick’s email newsletter and also receive exclusive discounts and offers.

This week I came across a tweet from Meridian Pint’s Jace Gonnerman about a Kolsch he’d just tapped at the Brookland Pint location in D.C., unaware that lactose was in it.

I figured it was a sign to get around to the subject of lactose — What beers it’s in, if it’s noted on the label and if not, why not? Also, why use it? While there is a “traditional” use of lactose in beer — though even that’s arguable; we’ll get to that in a moment — it usually comes up now relative to Milkshake IPAs, Pastry Stouts and Dessert Sours.

Let’s learn a little about the usage of lactose in beers then and now.

The commonly accepted origin of lactose in beer traces back to the early 20th century, with the advent of Milk Stout. Like many of the styles we know today, Milk Stout was largely a marketing-driven creation.

A quick aside: if the theme of my beer writing through the end of my first stint at Arrowine was “Beer is History,” the theme of this run is “Beer is Marketing.”

In the late 1800s, Stouts grew weaker in strength and came to be recommended as restorative, nourishing drinks — the kombucha/wheatgrass juice/Master Cleanse of its time. Very Goop. Mackeson’s patented the Milk Stout in 1907, with the idea that lactose = milk = health = even healthier Stout! Science!

These days, you’ll find lactose not only Stouts but IPAs, Goses, Berlinerweisse and apparently even the odd Kolsch. An unfermentable sugar, lactose can add richness to a beer and take the edge off of harsher, more intense flavors while retaining the brewer’s target ABV. Lactose also has less perceptible sweetness than sucrose, so it can do all that and help keep the final beer from being cloying.

The biggest issue surrounding lactose in beer of course comes from the fact that many people are lactose intolerant. Omnipollo’s Henok Fentie, who along with the folks at Tired Hands can be credited with/blamed for the Milkshake IPA (depending on your point of view), is lactose intolerant himself but claims he can have a couple without incident.

But his experience isn’t everyone’s, which is why clear labelling is becoming more important to more consumers.

Stillwater is good at putting lactose use front and center on its labels; Commonwealth Brewing is generally reliable on this too, though I recently discovered its Villuminati Gose, a favorite of mine, has lactose through the brewery’s website and marketing info, not its label.

Every Perennial Brewing Stout is a Milk Stout, which I didn’t learn until I was doing research this week and came across this website that offers shopping advice for vegans. Sure enough, “Contains Lactose” is on every bottle/can, but I didn’t notice until I knew to look for it.

That Kolsch Jace tapped in D.C.? Singlecut’s Hop Sounds, which mentions nothing about lactose on the brewery’s site even though its Strictly Hand-Held Honey Kolsch notes a lactose addition.

So, who labels their lactose use clearly, who doesn’t and why/why not? With luck, I’ll be able to answer that… next time.

Upcoming Arrowine Beer Tastings:

Friday, June 21, 5 7 p.m. — Abita Brewing Co. with Clayton Daniels
Saturday, June 29, 1-4 p.m. — Port City Brewing Company with Will Bruder (Helles Release Event)
Friday, July 19, 5-7 p.m. — Sean Michaels from The Bruery
Saturday, July 20, 1-4 p.m. — Three Notch’d with Dave Keuhner
Friday, August 30, 5-7 p.m. — Stephanie Boles with Old Ox Brewing

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This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway). Sign up for Nick’s email newsletter and also receive exclusive discounts and offers.

“So, what’s your favorite?”

It’s early in the week and I’m not expecting the question. My mind is pre-occupied forming orders, placing orders, writing Newsletters in my head or on my laptop, and trying to write the column in my head all at once. The customer sees she’s caught me off-guard, apologizing, relating it to being asked if she had a single favorite wine.

But that’s not where I get tripped up. I have favorite beers for sure, but I realize I really tend to have favorite breweries.

My type, if I in fact have one, are breweries that offer high quality, consistency and a sense of balance in their beers, regardless of what their lineup looks like. Over the years, breweries like Maine Beer Company, Allagash, Bell’s, Port City, Schlafly, Brooklyn and more have won me over this way, becoming one of my “go-to” breweries.

I tell you that story to tell you this story, I’ve got a new go-to.

Reason Beer opened in 2017 to no small amount of buzz, founded by friends of over 20 years and Charlottesville locals J. Patrick Adair, Jeff Raileanu and Mark Fulton. Fulton’s involvement generated much of the interest.

Prior to opening Reason, he was the second full-time employee of Maine Beer Company, working as Brewhouse Manager, running its pilot beer program, and finishing up his four-year stint as Director of Brewery Operations, overseeing all brewing and packaging at one of the country’s most highly-regarded small breweries. So, kind of a big deal.

Of course, an impressive resume alone doesn’t make impressive beer. What Fulton has done at Reason is to take the aspects of Maine Beer that made it stand out — the consistently high quality; the elegance and balance found in even its boldest recipes — and apply them to an entirely new paradigm within Reason’s lineup.

The principles are simple — mostly, though not always, skewing lower in ABV. Recipes that have been refined to the point where you just know the homework has been done. Beers that are approachable, regardless of style, simultaneously showing off the best of each of their ingredients.

The Reason beer that won me over initially was Pattern Recognition, a 6% ABV IPA that features the smartest selection and application of hops I’ve seen in a long time, is crystal clear, and comes as close to translating the experience of opening a bag of hop pellets into a final aroma/flavor as anything I’ve had.

These days, I’m rotating their core six-packs: the pinpoint, easy but complex Hoppy Blonde (4% ABV), the Belgian-style Grisette labelled as Saison (4.5% ABV) and the outstanding, Session IPA-killing Pale Ale (5% ABV). Needless to say, they’re recommended.

Don’t just take my word for it though — Reason Beer representative Devon Callan will be at Arrowine this Saturday, June 8 from 1-4 p.m. sampling their outstanding brews. Swing by and check them out!

Upcoming Arrowine Events:

Friday, June 21, 5-7 p.m.: Tasting with Abita Beer

Saturday, June 29, 1-4 p.m.: Port City Brewing Company Tasting — Helles Lager release

Friday, July 19, 5-7 p.m.: Tasting with The Bruery

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This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway). Sign up for Nick’s email newsletter and also receive exclusive discounts and offers.

Before we get into it: yes, the Dogfish Head/Boston Beer Company deal is, well, a big deal. I don’t really have anything of substance to add so I’ve just been recommending Bryan Roth’s great piece for Good Beer Hunting.

So, Memorial Day. Unofficial kickoff of summer. Three-day weekend for all you non-retail-working types. What should you have to drink if you’re spending time by the pool, or the grill, or just enjoying the outdoors over this long weekend? Well, you can go Big Beer — and nothing wrong with that, I probably will at some point too. But if you’re looking for alternatives, I’ve got some suggestions:

German. Pilsener. Cans.

I don’t know what’s gotten into Deutschland, but we’ve been seeing some wonderful canned Pilseners coming over this year, and at wonderful prices to boot. Veltins Pilsener has already become a go-to for me, and this week we’ll see the arrival of Wolters Pilsener in the same half-liter, 4-pack can format. Super-clean and crisp, these beers are hard to beat for a refreshment on a hot day, and when you see the pricing on the Wolters especially, you’ll flip — I did.

Session IPA Ales of all types.

Charlottesville’s Reason Beer alone could get an entire column devoted to its core lineup of 6-pack cans: the Hoppy Blonde (4% ABV), Saison (4.5% ABV), and Pale Ale (5% ABV) are all stunners that you can enjoy more than a couple of without too much worry.

Even the recently released Collaboration 29 IPA clocks in at only 5.5% ABV. I’m also personally a fan of The Trooper and Trooper Light Brigade, made by Cheshire, England’s Robinsons Brewery with the crew from Iron Maiden. At 4.7% and 4.1% respectively, I can get my all-purpose UK fix on easily.

Shameless plug but also a really good option: Three Notch’d Firefly Nights

Charlottesville gets more run in this week’s column. The “Summertime Ale” from Three Notch’d is a lighter-bodied 5.2% Ale with honeysuckle. Good for warm summer evenings; great for Mid-Atlantic nostalgia, and a lovely option for those who want something “different” but not too far outside of the box. Also, Arrowine will be hosting the Firefly Nights Release Event this Friday (hey, that’s today!) from 4:00-7:00pm. Gotta get the most for that Sponsord Content dollar, people.

There Gose the weekend.

There’s a Gose for every Sour Ale fan these days, which would’ve been crazy to imagine ten years ago. Union Old Pro is a favorite, and relatively easy to find. Commonwealth Brewing has a plethora of Goses in the market right now, inspired by everything from sangria to mezcal margaritas to limoncello. Modern Times Fruitlands being available in the area now is awesome.

If you’re looking more local-ish, Vasen Guava Otter Gose is newly available in cans and very tasty.

No matter what you decide to knock back, I hope everyone has a fun, safe Memorial Day. I’ll see you back here in a couple of weeks.

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This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

There are any number of issues that keep breweries from turning out their best beer.

Sometimes (read: often) there are equipment malfunctions; sometimes ingredient supply chains are interrupted, or a hop producer has an off-season; sometimes the demands of expansion cause a brewery’s consistency to suffer. What’s happening in Belgium to one of the world’s best-known breweries, however, may be a harbinger of an issue we’ll see more often in the near future.

The Guardian reported recently about the brewery of the Trappist order of monks at the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy of Rochefort, Belgium — better known to us simply as Rochefort — and its efforts to keep a local lime quarry from drilling into the area’s aquifers, lowering the overall groundwater level.

Popular Mechanics (yes, they’re writing about beer now, too) notes that the quarry wishes to drill some 60 meters deeper than the current level in order to extend the quarry’s lifespan from 2022 to 2045.

The fight has been ongoing since the quarry, owned by the Lhoist-Berghmans, one of Belgiums wealthiest families, first revealed its plans for drilling deeper into Rochefort’s groundwater about a decade ago. A December ruling by a regional administrator to allow the quarry to test the effects of drilling on the local water supply has taken the dispute to a more urgent level.

The Rochefort monks have accused the administrator who approved the testing of bias (once again, the quarry is owned by one of Belgium’s richest families) and are passionately fighting even the testing of deeper aquifers. Rochefort believes the drilling will not simply affect their beer. Luc Perez, a representative for the monks, was quoted saying that “The water that Lhoist will pump up is not drinkable.”

Issues surrounding the quality and availability of freshwater are rising and will continue to rise due to the effect of climate change. While worldwide freshwater supplies are currently arguably good in terms of being able to sustain society and industry, they are unevenly distributed. Belgium specifically is in relatively decent shape, but there is still reason for concern.

European groundwater overall tends to run cleaner than its lakes and rivers, the issues that are found are usually due to “nitrates from agricultural run-off, salt intrusion and hazardous chemical pollution from industrial sites, mining areas or waste storage. Mercury was one of the most common pollutants, with common sources including mining, coal combustion and other industrial activities.” (European Scientist, 5.7.18.)

Still, Lhoist’s testing is slated to begin mid-month. It may turn out to have no effect at all; it may irrevocably alter one of my personal favorite beers ever — the sublime Rochefort 10. Even if the monks manage to fight the quarry off, they won’t be the last to be put in this position.

As demands on freshwater supplies increase, there will be some cases where industry flexes its muscles, and others where the greater societal need will outweigh the concerns of a mere brewery. Something worth keeping an eye on.

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This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

A Twitter thread caught my attention recently from Raven Book Store, an independent retailer in Kansas.

The story is familiar to anyone in retail, especially in the age of Amazon and other online outlets. Beer and wine haven’t really had to deal with e-commerce as a threat to smaller brick-and-mortar shops — not yet, anyway. The conversation has centered on “big boxes vs. little guys” instead. Now, though, it appears that big-time online beer and wine retail is just over the horizon.

Washington Business Journal reported earlier this month that Amazon is looking to hire a Manager of Public Policy focusing on alcohol, fueling speculation it’s looking to take another run at becoming as potent a force in the booze business as it has been everywhere else.

Amazon isn’t the only giant sniffing around online retail: ZX Ventures, the growth/investment wing of AB InBev (Budweiser) is already working with larger retailers like Walmart and Kroeger, along with delivery services like Drizly. Bryan Roth offers a good, comprehensive deep-dive here.

Giant corporations see something they want, and they usually get their way. So what does this mean for independents? For the foreseeable future, I wouldn’t expect the price difference to be as dramatic as in books or other items: with sales taxes and delivery fees, online retail prices will hang near an independents’ for now.

Imagine, though, if one of these services really takes off — say, after regulations are rewritten or struck altogether. Amazon might start moving enough of a local favorite at $11, versus $11.99 at an independent, that the distributor gives them a discount to buy per pallet, knocking off $3-4 per case. Then you’re looking at $8.99 online versus $11.99 at an independent that can’t buy by the pallet and can’t match that price.

That’s the realities of the market, you say, and you’d be right. This is the reality we’ve lived with, as big chains and boxes build an interest in “craft” beer. What I keep circling around is an Amazon-type taking it one step further: working with breweries directly.

Ever see your favorite go-to beer pop up at Costco at a price that shocked you? Just wait: if the big guys get their way, this is the game-changer. This is the move that drops the big guys’ cost dramatically enough to see book-like price discrepancies.

Back to books, actually: I support local bookstores as much as I can. I secretly harbor a daydream of opening one, if I’m honest. But if you’ve given me an Amazon gift card over the past few years, I’ve used it to find books on my wish list, used, as cheaply as possible. I do this because it’s fun, it’s convenient, and because I’m a massive hypocrite.

While those purchases usually end up being made through indie bookstores, after Amazon takes its cut who knows how much I’m actually supporting them? Still I do it: pictured are just some of the books I’ve picked up via this method over the past year.

What do my shelves look like when all of our favorites start popping up online for less than I pay wholesale? What will make sense for me to carry? As our success leans more heavily on the experience, and the service we offer, which breweries will rise to occasion to support small retailers?

Will beer go the way of books, shoes, and widgets of all types? If you’re in the business and not thinking about this stuff now, you need to start. Bezos is coming.

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This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Expounding a bit on the last column’s theme of anger in craft beer, this time within the industry itself.

This is the true story of 7,500 breweries, competing in the same marketplace, with the number of outlets having not increased at the same exponential rate, as we find out what happens when “craft beer” stops being polite, and starts getting real.

This is the American craft beer industry, 2019: Anger over breweries closing; breweries opening; breweries “selling out”; kids in taprooms; taprooms versus bars; whether new styles are actually styles, or if they’re actually beer; if traditionally-minded beers are traditional enough and who gets to decide; what’s local and what’s “local”; what’s “craft” and what isn’t.

I reached out to people in the industry both personally and on social media to ask why craft beer seems so much angrier than it did a couple years ago. A major theme emerged — saturation (emphasis mine in italics).

“Personally, I think it stems from the saturation of the market.”

“…distribution is basically flat with tons of breweries opening up or in planning… the competitive aspect of the business is getting more intense… supplier reps getting shadier and shadier as shelf space gets tighter…”

“10 years ago, when there were only 2,000 craft breweries out there to choose from, there was enough elbow room. Now with 7,000+, not so much… We may be near the saturation point… It’s no longer a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ situation…”

Some respondents found blame with brewery reps, with one buyer noting how they’re “getting a lot more pushy,” and an industry veteran referring to the “new breed” of reps from breweries acquired by larger interests as “widget salespeople… more concerned with their numbers” than the culture and history of beer.

Newer breweries caught their share of shade. One brewer told me “a lot of them are horrible,” chiding owners “who think they know more” than their often more experienced brewers. A former brewery sales rep lamented these new breweries “bending over backwards” to get draft lines, often skirting if not outright ignoring laws in the process.

That former sales rep hit on another common theme — “getting much more attitude from buyers and consumers about what I wasn’t doing for them.” Entitlement came up more than once, with one distributor sales manager slagging those they see “trashing a beer or brewer or brewery because he’s an ‘expert’ because he has 800 check-ins on untapped.”

I still felt like there was something more behind it all, and then I heard from a bar/restaurant buyer, “Economic (i)nsecurity causes fear and anger is a fight or flight response to fear. It’s fear displaying as anger” from a segment of the industry that “(s)pent so long with double digit growth and prosperity that everyone forgot it is a business.”

And there it was. Craft beer is afraid.

Now, dismissing bubble speculation is craft beer’s unofficial pastime — hell, I even wrote a column about it my first time here. What has my attention now is that the call is coming from inside the house. That bar/restaurant buyer ended our conversation linking to this tweet, putting a fine point to it; as one current brewery rep put it: “It’s getting real out here.”

Until next time.

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This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

We need to talk about “gimmicky” beers. You know, the ones with cookies, cereal and the like thrown in.

I see and hear a lot of disproportionate anger about them; especially of course, on social media, which seemingly explodes daily over some new somebeer-or-other. Even I found my hackles momentarily raised last week, with the arrival of Captain Lawrence’s Cookie O’Puss.

If you don’t know — and if you don’t, take a moment and appreciate the life choices that brought you to a place where you don’t have to know — this is a “Pastry Stout” made with the ice cream, fudge and “chocolate crunchies from the famous (infamous?) ice cream cake, released to celebrate Carvel’s 85th Anniversary.

I don’t know why this one got to me: If you’ve shopped at Arrowine, you know I try to balance carrying what I like and find interesting with the trendy beer releases customers are looking for. Also, I’m a comic book reader and a wrestling fan — I can’t put on airs like I don’t appreciate a good gimmick.

Truth be told, I usually find my way into enjoying them, especially the Stouts. But here I was, drafting last week’s Newsletter, ranting about shameless cross-promotion and “synergy.” Getting mad is easy; staying mad takes work.

So I took a breath, and as I did some thoughts came to mind, coalescing into something that goes like this: Every beer style alive today has survived, thrived even, because of marketing.

Discovering that the origin story of IPA we all are told is a myth is a rite of passage for beer geeks, but it resurrected a style that continues to carry the segment. Porter was named for the working class drinkers partial to it in the 17th and 18th centuries; the coding of that name, the imagery it evokes, allowed Porter (and it’s offshoot, Stout) to be marketed to all classes over the past century, as it is today.

The paler, lighter Festbier had largely supplanted Märzen as the Oktoberfest beer of choice in Munich by the 70s. American breweries used the name to market a more exaggerated approximation of the “original” style — essentially what would otherwise be called Amber Lager — which came to be known as “Oktoberfest” here in the States.

More honest efforts to explore and recreate accurate Märzen Lager recipes as Oktoberfest releases are a relatively recent phenomenon.

TL;DR everything is copy. Or, to paraphrase Alan Moore with my greatest apologies: Milkshake IPAs and Pastry Stouts are imaginary styles. Aren’t they all?

I deleted my rant, made a dumb meme and moved on. Nothing to get mad about.

Until next time.

Photo via Captain Lawrence Brewing Company

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