Drink Craft Beer
Monday February 9th, 2009 saw well over 1,000 beer enthusiasts converge on the small city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Now, this is a town used to its share of tourists but that’s usually during the summer. What could have brought this many people out on a cold February Monday? The answer is Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great Imperial Russian Stout. Brewed only once or twice per year, depending on their ability to brew it, this brew has seen a huge surge in popularity lately. A few years ago, Kate the Great would go on tap and last for a few months. Now, you’re lucky to get a glass after a few days… and if you want to get a bottle you’d better get it in the first few hours.
If you look at craft beer now, it seems almost like a no-brainer to open a brewery. Massachusetts alone has seen a huge boom of new craft brewers in the past year, many focusing on specialized niches and most thriving. Smart move, right? Sure appears to be. But go back almost twenty years to 1995. Then tell people you're going to open a brewery focusing on Belgian-style ales. That's exactly what Allagash Brewing founder Rob Tod did. Now fast forward a bit and see yourself as a young brewer who, after the brewery had seen years of growth, convinced the founder to hire you. You grow into the role of Brewmaster over time. You're the top brewer at one of the most prestigious breweries in North America, perhaps the world. You've helped your brewery pump out some of the super-innovative, and delicious, beers. You have a Belgian-style coolship at your disposal. Your brewery is exploding with growth. Congratulations, you're Jason Perkins of Allagash Brewing! Now can you see why we wanted them at Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest so bad?! I was lucky enough to get a bit of time from Jason to talk about beer, how he got here and more. So let's dive right in!
Drink Craft Beer: How did you get into craft beer?
Jason Perkins: Like many craft brewers, I started with homebrewing. After college, I moved to Montana and after a few months, noticed that the place I was buying my homebrew supplies (a small brewery) was hiring. It seemed too good to be true to make beer and get paid (kind of) for it. I haven't look back since.
DCB: What was the turning point (a beer or moment) that made you love craft beer?
JP: There have been a bunch. I remember smelling wort and hops while I played soccer in high school (the origional Catamount Brewery was right next to the field) and loving the smell and the idea of a product being made small and local. I also often say that Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale got me started, as I still remember it as the first craft beer I truly fell in love with. I still love that beer.
DCB: You walk into a magical beer shop with every beer currently available. You can put together one six-pack. What do you walk out with? Only one beer can be from your brewery.
JP: This is not an easy question. There are so many great options out there, and my decision would change immensely depending on mood. Right now (keep in mind it is 7 AM) would be: Orval, Firestone Walker Pale 31, Smuttynose Robust Porter, Sierra Nevada Celebration, a fresh DeDolle Arabier and Russian River Temptation.
DCB: You have one night in your favorite beer city. What city are you in and where do you go (it doesn’t all have to be beer)?
JP: Gent, Belgium. Beer at the Waterhuis, Waterzooi at Chez Leontine and a nightcap at Velootje, the strangest bar in the world.
DCB: What would you be doing for a career if you weren’t in beer?
JP: I suppose I could work in a shop of some kind, doing freelance selling of some sort of product. Maybe in a habadashery or a Chapeau shop or something.
DCB: What do you drink when you’re not drinking craft beer (or beer at all)?
JP: Locally Wood-Roasted "Matt's Coffee". A good Malbec or Cabernet.
DCB: Where do you see the craft beer industry going in the next year? And, in that vein, can we get a sneak peak at what new to expect from you in the coming year?
JP: I think the sky is the limit for the craft beer industry. There are tons of people discovering craft beer every day, so the demand will continue to rise. The only issue we will have as an industry is the ability to keep the overall quality strong. With all the new breweries opening, I hope the focus continues to be on great quality beer, first and foremost. Allagash is continuing to expand our brewery to keep up with growing demand, with some increased fermentation and a new brew house coming on line in 2013. We will also be expanding our team, to maintain the quality levels that have been a cornerstone for us since our founding.
DCB: Thanks so much for your time, Jason! Looking forward to seeing you guys at Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest in November/December!
Pumpkins are not harvested until September and October...with maybe a few early ones harvested in late August. So why are pumpkin beers being released in early August and even July?
In 2011 I wrote "Why Seasonal Craft Beer Comes Out So Early: The Campaign for Seasonal Beer." This article covered what is known as "seasonal creep," and why it's happening. Pumpkin beer has lately been the most egregious violator of the beer seasons, and it's only getting worse. When I wrote the article back in 2011, you'd maybe see a few pumpkin beers in August. Now they're everywhere, even some in July like I mentioned, and it seems pumpkin beer season begins before September. What makes this particularly disconcerting is the fact that pumpkins in July may be the most seasonally discordant combination of all of the seasonal creeping beer styles.
So why is this happening?! Well...it turns out the answers is us. We, the craft beer drinkers, are to blame. The brewers are merely responding to consumer demand.
To get better insight into what's going on I used Google Trends, a tool that allows you to see relative search volume (meaning max search volume over the chosen time period is marked as 100) over time. My thought is that this is a good gauge for consumer interest, as it marks when people are organically searching for pumpkin beer on the internet. I looked at 2008 to present, August 2014. What I found was pretty interesting.
It turns out that interest in pumpkin beer by drinkers has moved significantly earlier over the past few years. Up through 2011, relative interest in pumpkin beer in August (17) was much less than in November (25). In 2012, though, pumpkin beer searches in August doubled (yes, doubled!) to 33 while November stayed fairly stead at 27. This is very much in line with what retailers have been saying, that once you start to really get into November, pumpkin beer season is on the wane drastically and you've got to get rid of remaining inventory. So pumpkin beer is showing up more and more in August because that's when we want it.
Beyond that, since 2010, interest in pumpkin beer has exploded during the months of September and October, seemingly prime pumpkin beer drinking time. With this in mind, brewers need to start preparing for the season by getting beer onto shelves in anticipation of demand, and to be the brand that drinkers look to when they're ready to sip on that pumpkiny, spicey goodness. If interest spikes in September, that's another reason to be on shelves for August.
Finally, if you look at October versus November, you'll see a massive drop. In 2013 in went from 100 to 30...that's a 70% drop in interest in one month. Then December is almost off the map, with a 9 in 2013 (a 91% drop in two months). Breweries are a business...a very expensive business with high overhead and low margins. Pumpkin beer can be a great way to help pay for your investment. But, if you want to hit the market at prime, that means you pretty much have to be done with pumpkin beers before November rolls around, or you're late to the game and yesterday's news.
Looking at it a different way, I also normalized the traffic to "Drink Craft Beer's Great Pumpkin Beer Taste Off."
I normalized this data for each year, so the peak of each year is 100. As you can see, it always happens in September or October, with an even harsher drop in to November and December.
So, when you wonder why pumpkin beer is coming out earlier and earlier, there are two reasons and they seem complementary:
- Probably the biggest, is that more people want to drink it earlier and earlier. If more of us are demanding pumpkin beer in August, brewers are going to comply.
- Pumpkin beer is a huge money maker for brewers, and they'd like to extend the season. If interest drops off in November, that's not where they can extend...going earlier allows brewers to get more time in market for pumpkin beers, often their best seasonal sellers.
Note: If you want to try a variety of pumpkin beers, as well as other beers and ciders from 25 New England brewers and cider makers, then you'll want to join us for Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest 2014 in Boston, MA on November 14 & 15!
When I think of Mystic Brewery one word comes to mind, saison. Mystic has built a cult following over the last year or so based on their exceptional line of saisons. As a brewery they actually challenged my idea of what a saison was, and really opened my eyes to the unlimited possibilities out there. While perusing the shelves on my local beer store I saw a new bottle on the shelf. On first glance you might actually miss the fact that it's from Mystic. As it turns out this series was spurred by one of Mystic's original employees, Alastair Hewitt, who is originally from the UK. Let me just say right now that I'm really glad they hired him.
I really like the way they've branded this series. If you try this beer expecting traditional Mystic funk then you'll be disappointed. If, however, you go into this beer looking for an amazing English inspired Oatmeal stout then you'll be in heaven. This is one of the best oatmeal stouts I've had in recent memory, perhaps ever. The aroma is laced with a subtle sweetness with hints of roasted malt. The first sip just pulled me in, though, in reality I can't call it a sip so much as a gulp, it was just so good as soon as I tasted it that I had to have more (cue Will Ferrell jokes). Seriously though, it's incredibly smooth, the oatmeal provides a fantastically good round mouth feel that just begs you to keep drinking more of it. The roasted malt is fairly subtle and the balance between malt bitterness and sweetness is sublime. I don't normally gush over beers like this but it's that good. One of the things that makes me happiest is a single line of text on the bottle "traditional ale series." That one line means there's more to come, and if the rest are anything like this then we're in for some seriously good beer.
A pilsner brewed by Oskar Blues, this is their first canned lager. We were able to try this on-tap at Sunset Bar & Grill in Allston, MA and it's quite good. This will be a great beer to take camping or boating in the summer! A delicious beer to session, it's just hoppy enough without being overbearingly so. This will definitely make it into the regular rotation!