Monday, December 29, 2014

2014: The Beer in Review

You’ll have to pardon the pun of that headline (unless it made you chuckle, that is). As 2014 draws to a close, it’s time to participate in a tradition every blogger loves: compiling a year-in-review listicle.

Craft Beer Continues to Expand Throughout the Capital Region in 2014

Some local hipsters tend to disparage the beer scene of the greater Albany area as being low in quality and/or selection, but I don’t know why. This year saw a remarkable growth in the number of craft beer-centric establishments, events, and other items of note. For starters, here’s a list of places that opened in 2014:*
  • Argyle Brewing Company
  • The Beer Belly
  • Brew
  • Brown’s Willoomsac production brewery
  • Common Roots Brewing Company
  • Green Wolf Brewing Company
  • Madison Pour House
    Madison Pour House – the phoenix that rose from the ashes of Mahar’s
  • Mean Max Brew Works
  • Mohawk Tap Room
  • Nine Pin Cider Works (not technically beer, but close enough for me)
  • Rare Form Brewing Company
  • S&S Farm Brewery
  • The Shop
  • Wolff’s Biergarten (of Schenectady)
  • World of Beer (at Crossgates Mall)
Additionally, both The Ruck and the Allen Street Pub received major makeovers this year. And let’s not forget about the noteworthy events that happened, especially: the debut of Troy Beer Week, and the availability of Hill Farmstead beers in Capital Region bars and pubs. Lastly, Druthers Brewing Company announced their plans to open a production brewery with a canning line in downtown Albany in 2015.
Compare these accomplishments to the short list of craft beer-centric places that closed in 2014:*
  • The Grape and the Growler
  • Lager House
  • Mahar’s of Castleton
  • Raven’s Head Brewing (though they never really opened to begin with)
Mahar’s of Castleton shuttered this year

upperhudsonvalleybeercoverAlbany Ale: now in hardcopy
2014 finally saw the history of Albany’s brewing heritage finally documented in the form of the book Upper Hudson Valley Beer co-written by local beer blogger and historian Craig Gravina (along with Alan McLeod). This area was one of the biggest brewing hubs of the world in the 17th and 18th centuries; a legacy that has largely gone ignored by both mainstream history and beer enthusiasts alike. Gravina and McLeod founded the Albany Ale Project as way to document and publicize this oft-forgotten part of the Capital District legacy, and their book is a fantastic primer on the subject. I highly recommend all local beer geeks pick up a copy and catch Gravina and McLeod’s occasional speaking events, too.
Oh, I co-authored a book about beer, too, but I’ll save that for my own personal recap blog.

Some National Beer Stories of Note:

Blue Point sells out to AB/InBev
Mark Burford and Pete Cotter, owners of Blue Point Brewing Company (Credit: Blue Point Brewing Co.)
Mark Burford and Pete Cotter, owners of Blue Point Brewing Company (Credit: Blue Point Brewing Co.)

This irked a lot of people when this announcement was made. I’m not sure why, since Blue Point (in my opinion) tends to make pedestrian brews anyway. It’s not like some world class beers are suddenly going to be churned out en masse from St. Louis. Personally, I’m not going to boycott them, but I was never really too crazy about them to begin with.

Yuengling is now a craft brewery?
I definitely raised an eyebrow when I heard this news. I’ve always found Yuengling’s beers to be among the best of the macro breweries, but now that the Brewer’s Association considers them “craft,” I definitely downgrade my opinion of them. Yuengling always met the B.A.’s definition of a craft brewery to the letter of the wording, but they certainly do not meet it in spirit. Perhaps they’ll begin to attempt higher quality brews of styles that are remotely niche (they did release a hefeweizen this summer I thought was pretty decent). Only time will tell.

Stone is expanding to the East Coast and Europe
Taken at face value, this would seem to be pretty great news for the craft beer industry as a whole. After all, no American craft brewery has ever opened a satellite facility outside of the United States until now. Of course, the announcement did not come without some controversy as Stone decided to use crowd-sourcing as a way of funding the projects (though only a tiny fraction of the total cost). Beer nerds scoffed and cried foul, though I mostly just rolled my eyes. Additionally, there’s also been controversy over Richmond’s decision to give Stone some startup cash. I certainly look forward to visiting Stone’s East Coast brewery someday, and I hope it will mean we can finally start receiving fresh bottles of their beer around here.

Founders sells a third of their ownership to a foreign brewery
This might’ve been the biggest sleeper story of the year. An announcement as big of this should’ve generated way more buzz than the three aforementioned items put together. Not just because they sold a sizable portion of their company to a foreign brewery, but because that brewery – San Miguel – most definitely does not meet the Brewer’s Association’s definition of a craft brewery. When most American craft breweries sell even a paltry portion of their ownership to a macro brewery, beer geeks tend to hit the roof. The Zeitgeist seemed to simply shrug at this. I can see why: it demonstrates how arbitrary the terms of “craft brewery” and “craft beer” really are. So… is Founders is a macro brewery now? Do we have to boycott them, too?

Bartender Marcos Conde carries beer at Founders Brewing Company Friday, November 2, 2012. (Cory Morse | (file)
Bartender Marcos Conde carries beer at Founders Brewing Company Friday, November 2, 2012. (Cory Morse | (file)

When Goose Island sold out to AB/InBev, some craft beer enthusiasts thought they’d be able to pick up Bourbon County Brand Stout at every corner gas station and supermarket. Obviously, that never happened, so there’s no reason to think something like that will happen now that Founders has a sizeable (but minority) ownership by a foreign macro brewery. If anything, it’ll probably mean Europeans will be able to acquire Founders beers a little more easily (but hopefully not at the cost of American distribution).

The “Food Babe” goes after Big Beer; declares “victory”
This is a long, messy story that requires a lot of prerequisites in order to fully appreciate and understand, so I’ll sum up quickly: an amateur food blogger (with no scientific or medical background whatsoever) decided to pick a fight with the beer industry. Like any good propagandist, she took facts out of context (or just made them up) and started a scare campaign that the major macro breweries are using dangerous chemicals or just plain gross ingredients in their beer and have been doing it for years. Her original 2013 blog “8 Beers You Should Stop Drinking Immediately” went viral on the internet and has been regurgitated by mostly pseudo-scientific bloggers and conspiracy theorists. Thankfully, many legitimate scientists, doctors, and news outlets have offered counter-arguments debunking her claims using real, verifiable facts. I even ran one such article as a guest post back in April and it has received over a QUARTER MILLION VIEWS to date!

Additionally, “Food Babe” also managed to get some of the major American macro breweries to release the list of ingredients in their beers after keeping them secrets for years. So what were the ingredients they didn’t want you to see? Water, malt, corn, rice, hops and yeast. Anyone will even the basic understanding of how beer is made already knew this, yet she declared “victory” anyway.
Food Babe seems to have backed off the brewing industry for now, but don’t be surprised when even more outrageous claims of finding GMOs, anti-freeze, fish guts, and beaver anal glands in our beer emerge in 2015. If and when that happens, I’ll be here to provide the public with the truth.

*if I missed any, please let me know in the comments section.

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