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Grapes, Bacteria, and Cans Making Craft Beer Sore

October 16, 2012

The world of fermentation has always been flooded with traditionalists. Year after year, production of historically accurate beer, wine, and liquor is continued and to great success. From a quality and marketing perspective, consumers do enjoy tradition. But like in any long existing industry, technology and innovation find their way in, leading the trend setters into new, uncharted territory.

To round out the little alcohol industry series on the Nobler, I decided to focus today’s post on beer. We’ve seen how the distillation legislation has changed the game for liquor, and how US wine consumption is off the charts but there may be no more obvious expansion and growth, than in the US beer market.

Craft beer has all but taken over the previously popularized term, microbrew, but no matter how you call it, you can’t help but be pumped about what’s on the market today. To think, that I can walk down the block to my local grocery store and find Saison style ales next to the six pack of Bud Light Lime, sort of says it all. Even European consumers have taken note, now demanding US craft beer overseas. One of my favorite trend-setters these days is the Allagash Brewery in Portland, Maine. Their specialty beers are thoughtful and delicious, like this pair of wine inspired beers the Victoria and Victor. Allagash mashes in Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc grapes respectively and ferments directly with the barley grain. The result is mind-blowing.

But the innovation in beer isn’t just in style and quality. As more and more beer production has been generated via this craft beer demand, the waste streams have become near unmanageable. The leftover mash/water mix is pretty terrible for the environment and folks in the industry have been looking for solutions for years. Well over the last half a decade or so, breweries have looked to yet another microorganism to help them in their processes. This time asking help from anaerobic bacteria instead of the yeast they rely on for fermentation.

These little guys digest the mash purifying the waste to some degree but maybe more interestingly, create methane gas and CO2 in the process. These byproducts can be harnessed for energy and in some cases, like the Saranac Brewery in Utica, NY it is expected that this process could replace  up to 40% of the current energy utilized. In this example, the beer may not taste any different, but the focus on the future is what makes the US craft beer market so fascinating!

But for the Oskar Blues Brewery it was actually a bit of the past they took advantage of. Because for years, canned beer had a stigma. And that stigma did not fly with craft beer. But for increased efficiency in distribution and storage and a serious dip in costs, cans were the way to go for founder, Dale Katechis. And the decision was obviously wise. Many other brewers have jumped on the bandwagon and now it’s just as easy to find your new favorite in a can as you would in a bottle. By reducing the packaging costs, Dale also managed to lower the hurdle of pricing for his consumers. Making craft beer just a bit more access-able, has simply opened the flood gates.

Starting to make sense why this part of our economy is expanded in spite of all the other BS out there, isn’t it. And what perfect timing to mention BS. Tonight’s the next debate!

Hope you all enjoyed the little mini-series!

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