As I bide my time while we all wait for this societal fog to lift, it provides an opportunity to be reflective on our industry. There's a lot on my mind these days but the health of the beer industry is always on the forefront.
Before this crisis reared its ugly head, we were continuously bombarded with reports of the death of the beer industry. I'm about to throw this concept out the window and ask some questions that we should all be posing. It's true... the beer industry is in the midst of change and it's also true that beer has lost share of throat to almost every other beverage alcohol but it is a small cut not the catastrophe that some are portraying. We all need to figure out a way to give beer it's rightful place back at the table instead of running for the hills.
RTD (Ready to Drink) is purportedly single handily killing the beer industry. I would disagree! It is causing some damage but we need to look at the overall impact and why this is happening. This sector has become the darling of the industry - we just have to look at the success of Nütrl (now owned by Labatt) and the tidal wave of interest with White Claw. Why are these brands so hot? It is clearly not about the liquid. These drinks have virtually no flavour and are in reality just soda water with flavour additions. So what could it be? Fantastic branding is the first and most likely, of great value. The second is the so-called health factors. With zero carbohydrates, a lot of drinkers are switching believing it is more important in their healthy choices. However, these drinks and all alcohol beverages have calories. Third, an a possible underlying issue, is the cost. At $2.95 a can at retail, these drinks are an interesting alternative to beer. Not all beer mind you! In a lot of discussions recently, I've found an interesting bit of information - a lot of guys who may have previously taken beer into the post game festivities are now switching over to RTD's - less flavour, just as much alcohol, lower carbs and the same money or less - that's pretty enticing to someone who is not concerned with variety or flavour.
Calories What are calories? Calories are the amount of energy in food. Nutrients that provide calories are carbohydrates, fat and protein. Your body uses the energy from calories to do all of your daily activities. Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram. When you eat more calories than you need, your body stores the extra calories as body fat.
Many people are surprised to learn that the need for carbohydrates is so high – it's about half of your daily calories! Since carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body and brain, they are an important component of a healthy diet. If you've tried a low-carb diet and felt lethargic or your thinking felt a little 'fuzzy', you've felt the effects of low carbohydrate intake.
Nütrl - 100 calories / 341ml / 5% ABV
Mike's - 220 calories / 341 ml / 5% ABV
Smirnoff Ice - 220 calories / 341 ml / 5% ABV
White Claw - 100 calories / 341ml / 5% ABV
Unbridled growth? I'm getting really tired of companies and reporters using statistics without showing the whole picture. We keep hearing about massive growth rates of RTD's but any growth when you are tiny seems huge. Here's are some chart to show the real picture.
Yes, there has been really positive growth in the RTD sector and it is now almost identical to the spirits sector. The real question is whether any of this growth is sustainable over the longer period of time. While we're at it, does the benefit of lower carbohydrates compensate for the loss of the all of the healthy aspects of beer like anti-oxidants, flavenoids, minerals, vitamins etc.?
Personally, I drink alcohol for the unique flavours. This is especially true of beer for me. I just don't get the fascination with these hard sodas (by the way, a Seltzer is just soda water with a fancy name). I grabbed one of these the other day to actually discover the miracle of Seltzer. For me - there was nothing that would drive me to purchase another one, ever. no colour, tons of bubles (almost uncomfortable), no foam, very little flavour or aroma.
Let's collectively raise a glass of beer during these very difficult time and tell RTD's to bugger off!
This year, in our Level 4 Master Beer Sommelier program, we are exploring beer & food in far greater depth than ever before. For the first time since the program was developed in 2009, we have introduced a beer and chocolate pairing workshop.
In this class, we took a hard look at 5 different beers and examined how they interacted with 4 different types of chocolate. Our beers included Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Bench Strawberry Grove, Great Lakes Karma Citra and The Wolf of Glen Moray from Windswept Brewing in Scotland.
This class was a tremendous amount of fun and was very eye-opening but also succeeded in destroying our palates. I love chocolate but I had chocolate fatigue at the end. It didn't really last all that long since I delved back into the chocolate last night.
Prud'homme Beer Certification has been in BC for many years now and it continues to grow. We started off very slowly but the pace has increased in recent years. We have made a point of offering the program to business who value the educational platform that Prud'homme offers. The list includes several breweries like Central City in the past, Vancouver Island Brewery, Big Rock Brewery, Six Pints Specialty Beer Co. and valued retailers like JAK's and hospitality groups including the Victoria Pub Co. and the Donnelly Group (quite a few years ago)
Now, we are finally at the stage where a Level 3 Prud'homme Beer Sommelier program is being offered. I have the pleasure of guiding 7 enthusiastic and knowledgeable participants through the depths of this program. Vancouver will be my home once a month from September to December when we will be proud to announce our newest set of Prud'homme Beer Sommeliers.
The first class in September included a class trip to Vancouver Island. Our first stop was the Cedar Valley Hop Farm just south of Nanaimo where we were treated to an exceptional tour by Debbie and Kevin Lamson. We really could not have asked for more! They opened their farm to us and helped us to understand their business of providing hops to the local brewing community. We were also fortunate enough to be able to use their hop yard as our beer & food exercise where we deconstructed a smoked salmon sandwich and investigated how a variety of different beers interacted with each food element.
Our next stop was in Victoria where we were given a private tour of Phillips Brewing and Malting. Dan was wonderful in guiding us through the brewery and also into the malt house. A nice little sampling of great beers followed and then,...off again to our final stop - Ground Zero for the craft brewing industry - Spinnakers, where we thoroughly enjoyed a round of cask ales.
Next up...a brew day with Evan Doan at Craft Collective and a canning presentation from Evan Singer from West Coast Cannning. Of course, no Level 3 would be complete without a Beer Dinner hosted by yours truly - this one is going to be a Belgian theme at Biercraft. Sunday will bring an intense session of malt and hops presentation with a dark lager blind tasting thrown in for good measure.
I always appreciate the passion of those who venture in the Level 3 realm with me and this class is no different. Check in later for an update on the BC Level 3 class.
It's so easy these days to take a stand on something you truly believe in. The issue for me is that most of these so-called stands are based on opinion and not on fact.
I'm not sure why some folks inherently feel the necessity to support their decisions with negative commentary but it runs rampant through society not just the beer industry.
If you are a lover of local breweries and the variety of beers they produce, good. You are supporting the local economy, local entrepreneur and it's fun to have a favourite brewery. One of the great facts of beer is that is 100% fresher closer to home. Beer (unpasteurized) does not travel well and therefore needs to be consumed fresh.
However, this does not mean that other beers (produced by global brewers, foreign breweries) are crap. If we are measuring quality, it will be impossible to argue that a large brewery has poor quality beer. It can happen but it is extremely unlikely. Many of the beers produced by legacy or foreign breweries are lighter in flavour and aroma. Once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing - it's simply a recipe used to entice us to drink more. These thirst quenching beers appeal to a broad variety of consumers and their lack of body and flavour should never be confused with poor quality. Furthermore, pasteurization is a positive thing in brewing. If done correctly, there is absolutely no flavour change and it will protect the beer from degradation in poor storage and travel conditions.
The word 'craft' is so difficult to define these days as the acquisition of some micro breweries by larger brewers have blurred the lines. I think we should take a hard look at the use of the word and understand fully that 'craftsmanship' is an art that all brewers employ (small and large). Sometimes, recipe development and creativity are much more relevant and easier to do if you are a smaller brewer but it doesn't prevent any brewery from being innovative.
In an industry where beer sales and consumption is declining, we should celebrate great quality beer and consistency at the brewery. The line should be drawn between beer and other beverages, not between brewers.