Archive for the ‘economic mini-series’ Category

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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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Fact: The US Likes Wine

October 15, 2012

Sorry for the lack of posting late last week. I was the victim of awful  hotel wifi!

But anyways, it’s just as well we continue our US spirit industry posting with some wine on a Monday. Nothing eases you back into the work week like a good glass of wine. Or in this case, some facts about wine. It really is quite amazing the availability of wine these days. And while the fine wine collectors have been steady with their interest, it’s the average wine consumer that is making all the difference.

Just look at the wine consumption data provided by resident wine expert, Adam. Those numbers are pretty wild. From 1993 to 2010 US wine consumption almost doubled! It shouldn’t be all that surprising, right? Walk into any wine retail shop these days and the number of bottles is in fact overwhelming. Expanded domestic production in the big 4 (NY, Washington State, Oregon, and California) plus a growing number of import regions has made the US number one (by volume) on the world’s wine consumption list. We’re number 1! We’re number 1!

There is one down side to this expansion however. For most of us, who love wine but don’t have the time or the patience to research the wines that fit our expectations in a given price point, we are left with two somewhat frustrating options. The first, which I have become victim to before, is to overspend. By grabbing the bottle just above your price range, you hope to minimize the risk in being left with a crappy bottle. In the end, you are likely to wonder what made this bottle $10 more than the others and next time around default to option two. Option two, of course being to purchase the $11.99 bottle and at least reduce the likelihood of being ripped off. These bottles however, are rarely exciting. The long and the short of it is: there are just so many options!

So with that in mind, I’ve asked Adam to write-up some recommendations of some good solid bets at a few different price points that you are more than likely to find in your local shop. Many of the big producers find their way into national wine stores and these recommendations have proven successful for me before: even once in a rural suburb outside of Chicago, Adam was able to talk me through finding a good bottle to bring as a gift for some friends.  (So what, I’m a little needy…)

Check back tomorrow for the last post (for now) on this true US economic success story. A story of technology and innovation pushing the limits.

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New York’s Distillery Resurgence

October 10, 2012

New York City is often a focal point of National economic indicators. So after a little analysis of the recent liquor boom within the city and state, it isn’t so hard to see why the spirit industry as a whole is on the up and up.

I’ve seen a few different ratios declared but no matter which number you trust, the following fact is mind-blowing. Approximately 1000/1 is the ratio of small-scale distilleries in NY state at the peak of the 19th century to the number just ten years ago. Think about that for one second. As you might imagine, the laws of Prohibition, prohibiting the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the US devastated the thriving industry. But to think that close to 70 years after it’s repeal, NY state hadn’t even come close to recovering, is really quite fascinating.

Turns out, while many of the details of Prohibition were overturned, not quite all of them were lifted. To be more specific, many of the regulations that classified distilleries as small batch or larger were skewed heavily against start-up initiatives. The licenses required for production were cost prohibitive and the taxes associated with the sale of these goods basically acted as an unresolvable deterrent. That is until 2002.

At this crucial time in NY legislation, a newly classified “D” distilling permit was introduced allowing small batch production at a seriously affordable license cost with one key caveat: 50% of the input ingredients must be sourced from New York State. It isn’t so hard to see why this has made NY one of the most easy and attractive places to open a distillery. Being able to produce up to 35,000 proof gallons per year, being able to provide tours, and being able to tout their product as locally sourced was all the incentive the minds behind Tuthilltown Spirits, Kings County Distillery, and many others have needed to get up and running.

But New York isn’t the only place in the US changing legislation to spur on distillation activity. Oregon for example passed similar allowances in 2008 and their now 46 distilleries contributed $53 million in annual sales within the state alone. These are the types of changes that spur on growth and real creativity. And in direct effect, some of the most interesting things in American Liquor have emerged in the last few years. I can only imagine what else is coming!

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What Recession?

October 9, 2012

Okay, so obviously this is a made up graph. One that I put together in about five or six seconds. But you get the point. In a time where you can’t go a half hour without hearing something about the struggling economy, Mitt Romney’s lies, and Obama’s debate flub, I’m here to tell you that we have one industry doing quite well through it all. The beer, wine, and spirit industry has seen some pretty fantastic growth over the last few years including ten percent growth in manufacturing in a 12 month period and similar results in overall sales. And almost by default, the answer to this curious dichotomy with the rest of our economic standing, is that when people are happy, they drink, and when they are stressed and depressed, they drink just the same, maybe even more.

Well, I’m not willing to say this has nothing to do with the recent growth, but the story is a bit more interesting than that and in fact it’s a lot more encouraging. Over the next few days I’m gonna post about some of the more recent and fundamental changes that are making the US alcohol industry the place to be! New legislation, new innovation, and a whole lot of passion is making for more competition, more choice and a heck of a lot of good drinking!

Stay tuned, as this is going to be way more interesting than all that political BS…and probably a whole lot more factual..

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