Jul 28 2016

Kickstarter Breweries: Where Are They Now?

Kickstarter Inspection

It seems like the peak for breweries utilizing Kickstarter was back between 2011 and 2012. Social media was full of homebrewers wanting to live the the dream, and you could support their fantasies for a mere $25 to $50 and, in exchange, you’d get some swag and vicarious bragging rights. Mostly the latter. 

I don’t think any of us really expected these breweries to necessarily thrive. It is hard enough to be a successful brewery for many reasons, and many of those reasons have nothing to do with beer. Owning a small business is a tricky game of spinning plates, and it takes a skill set that doesn’t overlap with the ones required for actually making beer. But the naive hope was that if a few people, with a small amount of disposable income each, could get these breweries over the hump of initial investment, then darwinism would sort the rest out.

Spurred by seeing an article today where someone I backed made an ass of himself, and I’ll get to that later, I decided to revisit beer-related Kickstarters that I backed.

Mystery Brewing

Mystery Brewing Company (Funded July 23rd, 2010)
Mystery Brewing continues to thrive in Hillsbourgh, NC under the leadership of Erik Myers. I had “virtually” met him through a round of the old Iron Brewer competitions, and he seemed like a serious and driven guy. This was, by my reckoning, a good Kickstarter, although I’m not sure it was needed for Mystery because he was going to succeed regardless.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes.

Pipeworks Brewing Company

Pipeworks Brewing Company (Funded January 1st, 2011)
Pipeworks Brewing is alive in Chicago, IL. and looks to be cranking out a lot of different styles of beer. I had a friend in Chicago pick up some of the initial beers offered to me through the pledge. He enjoyed those beers and gave his seal of approval for this brewery. Props to Pipeworks for making it in a city that has no shortage of quality beers at its disposal.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes

Wilderness Brewing

Wilderness Brewing (Funded August 4th, 2011)
Wilderness Brewing is the poster child (perhaps milk carton child) for floundering once getting funded through Kickstarter. Mike and Nate have left a lot of angry people in Kansas City with their lack of communication as much as their failure to thrive or produce anything at all. After raising $41,000 dollars for their brewery, they disappeared. These guys had the heart to start a brewery, but obviously none of the other skills. This one hurts because I even interviewed the Wilderness Brewing guys to support their campaign, because I liked their story. If I led anyone to pledge to this train wreck, I apologize. I know the shame of all this must be strong and demotivating to them, but they’ve never done the right thing in apologizing with a finality that would bring about closure for pledgers.
Worthy Pledge?: No.

Short Snout Brewing

Short Snout Brewing (Funded November 17th, 2011)
Short Snout appears to have had some fits and starts. In this interview/article I uncovered about Short Snout, it appears that things didn’t go to plan, so Brian took some time off to refocus and take another swing at opening a brewery. From the silence since that, I assume things fizzled out again. Brian is another acquaintance from Iron Brewer, and it was a no-brainer for me to throw him a few bucks. It doesn’t look that things worked out, but it appears that he gave it a good try. Hopefully he’s still chugging away at it, or at least has come to a place of peace for having tried.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes.

Brenner Brewing

Brenner Brewing Company (Funded June 12th, 2012)
Brenner Brewing is in Milwaukie, WI, and still making beers. I even stopped by their table at GABF and said hello to Mike Brenner to congratulate him. This one is a success, but yesterday’s article about beer shaming gave me some pause. In it he says:

“Mike Brenner, the owner of Brenner Brewing Co., 706 S. 5th St., is an intentional beer shamer without any shame in being one.

“The people who come to a brewery and order a Bud or Miller are just trying to be a**holes,” says Brenner. “I always try to be nice and offer them our German pilsner, but if they push me, I’ll say, ‘Wait! I DO have a Miller Lite.’ Then I’ll grab a glass and start to unzip my pants like I’m gonna p*ss in it.”

Brenner believes buying a local beer is a choice that impacts more than a person’s taste buds.

“If you drink Miller, Pabst or even Goose Island for that matter, you’re pretty much just an ignorant piece of sh*t who doesn’t care about your own community,” he says.”

To give him the benefit of the doubt, I can hope that this is a planted article by big beer, or perhaps he’s playing loose and trying to drum up some indie cred and get some free press. But, in hindsight, this isn’t the kind of brewer and maturity that I would have liked to support.
Worthy Pledge?: Yes, from a successful business perspective, but increasingly less so from an idealogical perspective.

Burlington Beer Company

Burlington Beer Company (Funded November 30th, 2013)

This Kickstarter was specifically earmarked for barrels and kegs for Joe’s new brewery, Burlington Beer Company. Joe is someone I knew through Iron Brewer, but also Twitter. Backing Joe wasn’t a difficult decision because I knew he would be successful because he had already been successful. He had been cranking out experimental homebrew batches while brewing professionally for both Dogfish Head and Evolution Craft Brewing Company. I still haven’t made it to Vermont to visit, but I will someday. 
Worthy Pledge?: Yes.

 

Is there a common thread here? The Iron Brewer Competition cost me a lot of money. (Kidding.)

These were the halcyon days of beer start-ups, and everyone’s naiveté for living the dream as a brewer was only matched by our ignorance of how terrible a model a nano-brewery is to the long term success of a business. I have little regrets overall, but there is a reason why small businesses go through the process of creating a business plan and are subject to review by investors and banks. The ease in throwing $25 towards a Kickstarter is part of the allure, but it doesn’t require the vetting process that larger investments should have and you should adjust your expectations accordingly. 

I always thought about these pledges as entertainment. If you play the lottery, I hope you are playing it for the thrill. Because winning the mega bucks is a longshot and, with the many points of failure over time, supporting a successful brewery might be even worse odds.

Share

Jul 20 2016

The Bourbon County Stout Recall and the Slow Havoc of Lactobacillus Acetotolerans

goose island bourbon county recalls

The recall of more of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout this week has me fascinated on this ongoing story that began with the recall of the coffee stout and barleywine, but now has spread to the Bourbon County Stout Original and Proprietor’s. To be clear, I have little concern or interest in conspiracy theories about why this happened, or to kick a brewery when it is down. Especially when they are doing the right, and very expensive, thing of doing a recall.

What is really interesting to me is the bacteria that is causing this souring. These beers are high in ABV and IBUs, which is a pretty hostile environment for lacto to grow and thrive in. This bacteria was identified by a lab as lactobacillus acetotolerans, which is a new one to me, and it was originally discovered in rice wine vinegar and it has a very high tolerance for acetic acid.

It appears that they are still trying to figure out how the batches got infected, but one theory is out there that it happened in a transfer or a bright tank rather than from the barrels, although that appears unlikely. That will be an ongoing investigation for GI which is complicated by the many steps that occur once these beers leave the barrels and then go from tank to truck and then back into a tank and through a bottling line. There are many points of failure there, and they must be difficult to manage and monitor.

What is interesting is that when plating these beers and looking for contaminants, most of the things that a lab is testing for will grow in 5 days. The lacto acetotolerans appears to be an outlier in that it grows very slowly and may not show itself until after 7 days or more. This slowness is atypical and makes it an unusual bacteria for a brewery to discover through standard procedures.

The overly easy answer to this is that you flash pasteurize the beer in the future to insure that stability, and that is probably something that GI is contemplating. This is certainly a bit of a mess, but it is rare situation and contaminant, and they are doing all the responsible things they can to make this right with the beer that has already left their docks.

The question that a sour beer geek like myself is asking is “what can we do with this new lacto?” Pedio takes a long time to develop in a beer, but we are patient with it because it gives us much more sour complexity than we find with lactobacillus. I wonder if the final affect that lacto acetotolerans has on a beer is desirable and worth that time it takes to become apparent, as well.

Ed and I had joked on Twitter about finding a recalled bottle and ramping up some of that lacto, and I think he has found trader for a bottle of this glacial moving destroyer of beers. I look forward to seeing if this is a cool, new souring agent for our quivers, or just a nightmare for the GI guys.

Share

Jun 29 2016

The Starr Hill IPA Jambeeree, and the Freedom in IPA Meaninglessness

Throw shade towards the IPA “style” as much as you want, it has already conquered craft beer.

It is the flagship for most American breweries, and not having an IPA in your year-round portfolio seemingly borders on insubordination. And to further the sprawl and creep from this style, it isn’t limited to merely American and Imperial IPAs. There are red, black, white, brown, Belgian, rye, fruit, fruit peel, and session IPAs, as well. Tart IPAs are beginning to surface now, as well. (In full disclosure, I am brewing a tart IPA with a local brewery in the coming weeks so, yeah, I’m part of the problem, too.)

When any base style, or color I suppose, can be turned into an IPA, is anything an IPA anymore?

Given that rather nihilistic introduction, you’ll understand why I wasn’t immediately excited about an all IPA festival. The yearly “holiday” of IPA Day that occurs each summer only furthers the notion that history is written by the victors. I’m not a conspiracy guy and IPAs, which I really do enjoy, are not a virus leeching diversity from rows of tap handles, but their growth over the years is something that I have watched with some concern.

And if you are a west coast coaster reading this, you might scoff at an east coast IPA festival, and you have a point. Although after spending a week in San Diego last year, I was left a little underwhelmed by the state of IPAs there. While the finest IPAs do come out of the west coast, the number of unbalanced and Chinook-the-throat-destroyer beers that composed much of the rest of the west coast scene was saddening.

While IPAs have become the vanguard of experimentation for a lot of the American brewing scene, I think the first casualty is drinkability.

“What? Cool, you’ve added a new fruit/hop/grain/yeast to an IPA. No, I don’t want another pint. Honestly, I’m going to struggle to finish this one.” – Me

Starr Hill IPA Jambeeree

Starr Hill IPA Jambeeree

So, Saturday, June 25th, was Starr Hill’s IPA Jambeeree, which was a beer festival focusing solely on IPAs. Including Starr Hill, there were 16 Virginia breweries pouring at least two IPAs each. This netted out to over 50 IPAs with 33 from other breweries and 21 from Starr Hill alone.

The gig was broken into two events for me, as there was a homebrew component the night before, and then the festival the next day:

 

Homebrew Jambeeree

The Homebrew Jambeeree was a Pro-Am Competition for Starr Hill and homebrewers were asked to make IPAs which could be English, American, Speciality, or Double versions. The top 25 entries would be invited to the brewery for a private tour, and the best of show winner would brew their beer with Starr Hill for this year’s GABF.

I made the top 25, which is honestly not much of bragging point, but the thrust of the tour and gig was about celebrating the spirit of homebrewing, the backstory to many a pro brewer, and letting that group geek down with the pros and industrial equipment. I had done a Pro-Am with Starr Hill back in 2010, too, so I wasn’t really worried about the actual competition and I was happy to see someone else get a chance.

Starr Hill Hops Cooler

Starr Hill Hops Cooler/Cavern

Starr Hill Brew Deck

Starr Hill Brew Deck

 

Starr Hill Bottling Line

Starr Hill Bottling Line – Yeah, You Like That

 

The tour was great and the brewmaster, Robbie, and QA Manager, Jason, were energetic and happy to answer any questions that the group had. Starr Hill has gone through lot of changes in the last few years and as the previous brewmaster left, they’ve spent a lot of time reformulating old recipes and upping their quality control game. The hard work shows, and the multiple beers I had during that afternoon were crisp and without flaws. These guys care and they are doing right by themselves and their consumers.

Starr Hill Tasting Room

Starr Hill Tasting Room

In the end, I was not one of the top 3 brewers for the competition, but I knew that would be the result as the beer I brewed had been an experiment with Idaho 7 (now “The Golden Hop”?) hops and the London III yeast strain. That one came out mysteriously mild, but I’ve run through the process and recipe in the subsequent Hoppy McHopface blog post.

 

Starr Hill IPA Jambeeree

Cutting to the chase, I was on the fence about attending the IPA Jambeeree, but it was definitely worth my time. Since it was, metaphorically, in my backyard, I knew a lot of the people and brewers there, and it was fun to talk shop and shit (mostly shit) with those friends. The weather was perfect, and there was a far amount of variety in beer from the participating breweries.

Starr Hill's IPA Jambeeree

Starr Hill’s IPA Jambeeree

The only disappointment for the day was the number of breweries that kicked their kegs very early in the event. I showed up late at 3pm (2 hours after it started, 3 after the VIPs got in), and three or four major players in Virginia brewing were already out of all of their beers and many of the other breweries had already pulled tap handles. Perhaps they misjudged the demand, or maybe they were truly slammed with drinkers, but it would have been nice to see everyone get a chance to try those beers.

I think my ability to enjoy the event was due to the meaninglessness of the term IPA. Taking a deep dive with a style is helpful if you are trying to wrap your head around the parameters of the category and improve your evaluation skills. That could have been done to a degree here, but the diversity of IPA types was impressive. There were double and triple IPAs, but also the Belgian and Black IPAs that you’d traditionally expect, beside fruit and rye IPAs, that many breweries are adding to their quivers.

In a strained parallel, the assumption is that Belgian brewers don’t set out to brew a double, or a tripel, or a quad. They just make beer. Some are pale, and some are dark. Some are dry and phenolic, while others gravitate towards malt and dark fruits. There’s a huge variability on the ABV side, as well. I think styles are important to guide some expectations, and they equip us with a language to evaluate and enjoy beer, but I don’t think a brewer needs to have a style in mind. Just a vision of what he or she wants to create. 

Given the diversity of the IPA category and the fact that its tie to India is more than debatable,”IPA” doesn’t mean anything anymore. And, to me, that feels good. Isn’t there some freedom in that? If a brewer wants to use “IPA” as a placeholder to brew whatever beer he or she wants, then they are serving their creativity and I’ll always respect that drive as long as they have the technical ability to construct that vision. Let’s embrace the ingenuity of American breweries and concentrate on taste rather than extremity that only, in the end, creates similarity. 

Share

Jun 17 2016

Darwin and the Art of Mixed Fermentations

Survival of Whatever Fit

 
In the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin introduced the phrase “survival of the fittest” intending it to mean “better designed for an immediate, local environment.”

As a brewer of mixed fermentation beers, you understand the importance of getting your favorite mix of yeasts and bacteria into your creations. You want diversity, but only the diverse group that you had hand selected to do the job. Once that beer is complete, you probably want to use that same culture of amazing funk and/or sour for future beers, as well. All you need to do is harvest those dregs, and off you go with your prized mix for the next project.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work exactly like that.

You can use a single yeast strain for multiple generations and, slight mutations aside, it will just get better with the first few ferments. But for mixed fermentations, you have often have saccharomyces and brettanomyces competing in some fashion for sugars, as well as lactobacillus and pediococcus bacterias doing the same. It is survival of the fittest until the bodies/cells hit the floor. Many of the players in your vessel are making contributions, but there’s only one or two MVPs being selected to represent after the game.

That concept was new to me and it was brought to my attention by Jeff Mello, of Bootleg Biology, weeks ago and he echoed it again in his presentation during this year’s National Homebrew Conference. (Yes, I continue to struggle with calling it Homebrew Con.)

When he streaks out cultures from finished beers, there are usually only a couple of winners from the yeast and bacteria genera. In addition, most “wild” mixed cultures end up being primarily yeast because of how and when they are harvested and a smaller percentage of cultures that ending up having viable bacteria if there is yeast present. (**What’s important to remember here is that this is my recollection of what he said. If what I’ve typed here is wrong, it is my error not his.**)

That isn’t to say that all of those yeasts and bacteria didn’t have a hand in the final beer, but it is a long shot that you will get the same results with those dregs in your next beer.

Does that mean commercial mixes of twenty brett strains in one vial is just a marketing gimmick? In my opinion, yes. But I have used those cultures with great success, so it is hard to dissuade you from using them, and that is certainly not my goal here. Having said that, if you know only one or two strains will shine through, it seems more logical, albeit maybe less economical, to choose those strains yourself rather than hope they emerge from the hunger games of pitching all the bretts.

What does this mean for my beers?
 
The implications of this, at least for me, was a reminder to continually push for diversity in my beers. At onset of a new batch or new barrel, I’ll still be carefully adding the commercial cultures and dregs that will create the complimentary effects I want imparted into the beer. That’s the same.
 
What might be the larger reminder is to keep pushing for diversity in subsequent generations of beers with that original culture and/or with your wonderfully funkified barrel. While brett might have crawled into your wood and your barrel is riddled with pediococcus, you still need to feed the diversity and to keep your beers from devolving into simplicity. Keep putting your favorite dregs into your beers for diversity’s sake, but also to ensure what you have what is best designed for that immediate, local environment.

TL;DR

The diversity of yeast and bacteria that you add to a beer is a continual endeavor. Your mixed fermentation beer is a living thing, and the cultures that made the beer what it is are not necessarily the ones left to harvest and repitch.

Sour Collab Barrels at a Local Brewery

Sour Collab Barrels at a Local Brewery

Share