Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

December 31, 2007

Beer Diary:

2008: A Beer Odyssey

Ring in 2008 with a good beer, and keep it coming throughout the year.
by Nigel Tanner

"It takes beer to make thirst worthwhile."
Contact Nigel»
Few things in this world are more annoying and pointless than the New Year’s resolution. It’s not that I’m opposed to people setting goals for the year; on the contrary, I think that’s healthy and believe everybody should make a point of trying to improve themselves. But there’s a difference between New Year’s resolutions and setting annual goals. Resolutions are things that we vow to do at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s (typically after having consumed copious quantities of alcoholic beverages over the course of the evening), dead set on undertaking them immediately and seeing results by the end of January. This sets us up for complete and utter failure, as they often don’t stick and if we haven’t seen results by February, we usually just give up (god knows, there’s only 11 months left in the year!).

Setting more realistic goals and undertaking them after proper preparation and when the time is right makes it far more likely that they will be achieved. As Beer Dorks, most of our yearly goals revolve around the nectar of the gods, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you, the loyal readers, with the hopes of giving you some ideas as we enter the New Year. Since 2007 was a turbulent year in the world of beer (albeit a largely successful one), it’s best to be prepared for what could be an even rockier year in 2008.

No out-with-the-old/in-with-the-new article would be complete without a look back at the year that was. It was a busy 2007 for us here at, as numerous new brews from some of our favorite Midwestern breweries hit the shelves, all to varying degrees of success. It was also a year in which a couple of issues threatened the booming craft beer industry, including a potential major corporate merger and a shortage of ingredients that could lead to a noticeable spike in prices in the coming year. Nonetheless, the good outweighed the bad and despite these potential pitfalls, the craft beer industry continued to grow at a rapid rate; the future continues to look bright.

One thing that I find so enjoyable about craft beer is that it often goes hand-in-hand with some of the most memorable events of the year. The fine brew we were drinking when a major event happened becomes cemented in the memory banks forever, much like a particular song does. Perhaps you’re an Indianapolis Colts fan and it was the Three Floyds you drank when your team won the Super Bowl. Perhaps it was the wheat beer you enjoyed while lounging on the beach during a Caribbean vacation. Perhaps it was the beer you drank tailgaiting outside of the ballpark before you went in to watch your favorite team play on a beautiful summer day. I have many of my own from this past year, from Founders Red’s Rye and Centennial IPA that got me through some difficult times in the first part of the year while living in a town otherwise full of bad beer, to the New Belgium, Rogue, and Stone offerings I had in March while watching spring training ballgames and celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Tempe, the mini-kegs of Bells Oberon that made tailgaiting at Miller Park that much better, and small northern Wisconsin breweries like Angry Minnow and South Shore that I enjoyed on my many trips to the cabin. I have many fond (and not so fond) memories from 2007 and was fortunate enough to enjoy some quality brews to coincide with them.

While reminiscing can be nice, it’s also quite boring, so let’s move on. The point of New Year’s is to look ahead at the many things to come and set some nice, attainable goals that will help the craft beer industry continue to flourish, and help us continue to enjoy our roles as Beer Dorks. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some key issues for 2008 and see what goals we can set to help cushion any potential blows.

First off, assuming the proposed Miller and Coors merger is approved, it’s more important than ever to support not only craft breweries, but the Midwestern economy as a whole. To clarify, let it be noted that despite our snobbery when it comes to drinking beer, we understand the macros are still good for the Midwest from the simple fact that they provide thousands of jobs and pump millions of dollars into the economy. Should MillerCoors become a reality, further mergers in business operations may ensue on all levels. A pivotal tug-of-war between Milwaukee and Denver to land the headquarters of the new venture is likely to follow, with the outcome of this being critical to the economic vitality of the Midwest. Should Denver win this struggle (and they have a slight edge due to more advanced infrastructure, a stronger economy, and lower taxes), the effects would be devastating to Milwaukee, the state of Wisconsin, and the Midwest as a whole. Despite its role as a purveyor of awful beer, Miller is a Milwaukee tradition that’s been around for 150 years, and is the last remnant of a once booming industry that made the city and region famous. The potential loss of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue could destroy a once-proud city that has seen a recent renaissance that is quickly putting it back on the national map. Despite our dislike for the awful beer brewed by the folks at Miller, it’s important to support it as a Midwestern institution that is vital to the regional economy.

The other threat from this merger that could have a devastating effect on the craft beer industry nationwide in 2008 is the changes it may cause in distribution. Eddie Glick alluded to this in an article back in October, but it’s important to stress it again here. While the merger is at the highest corporate level, the effects trickle down and influence the most basic aspects of brewing and distributing. The distribution process in this country involving beer, wine, and liquor is so fundamentally flawed that it should just be completely scrapped, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. Unfortunately, the archaic nature of distribution (be it on the local or national level) affects the little guys more than the big guys. Thus, craft brewers could be hit hard as various distributors merge. Since any brewer, regardless of size, is at the mercy of the people who control the means of transportation and most areas don’t allow for direct distribution (the beverage distributors are a required third-party), it’s important that you continue to buy your favorite brews from your favorite breweries. This is business, so it’s all about the money. If sales of craft brews remain strong, it’s far more likely that whatever the consolidation situation is with local distributors, they’ll make sure they keep craft brews flowing. Lagging sales could be the death of the little guys, as any merger comes with the goal of becoming more “cost efficient” and eliminating elements that aren’t profitable.

Continued support of our favorite breweries will also help alleviate the effects of the shortage in hops and grain, which has led to skyrocketing costs for brewers, particularly in the craft industry where those ingredients are used in larger amounts. This is something I alluded to in an article back in November, but it should be stressed again. As I stated in that article, this is likely a temporary adjustment due to current market conditions, but it will make for a long, expensive year for most brewers. While many breweries will do their best to avoid it, some of the cost increases will have to be passed on to the consumer in order for them to remain financially solvent. The bottom line is, don’t freak out when you see an increase in the price of your favorite beverage. While this may come out to as much as a dollar per six-pack, it’s probably only temporary and it is by no means price-gouging. While times are tough economically for us all, we can still try our best to help our friends in the craft beer industry weather the storm.

Also, make a point in 2008 to continue to fight the swill that BMC continues to throw at us. With the popularity of craft beer comes corporate attempts to copy it with the hopes of competing with—and ultimately squashing—small brewers who work tediously to create an authentic, tasty beverage. Since the big boys can make “craft-style” ales for a fraction of the cost as microbrewers, they will be able to absorb the rising costs in ingredients and thus not have to raise prices. Just because a “craft” offering from Anheuser-Busch costs three bucks less than an actual craft brew doesn’t give you an excuse to try it. Please … stay away!

On the lighter side of the spectrum, there are plenty of goals we can set to get the most out of our craft beer drinking experiences in the coming year. Make some lists: lists of brews or breweries available in your area that you’d like to try, lists of your favorite brews that you’d like to enjoy again, lists of the perfect beer to coincide with upcoming events, and so on. Planning a vacation? Scout out what types of brews and breweries the area you’re visiting has to offer, and take enough spare luggage to bring a few samples home with you. Perhaps you have a long weekend; schedule a trip to craft brewery-rich areas like northern Indiana/southwestern Michigan, Madison/Milwaukee, Minneapolis, or other places not as easy to locate on the map. A few brewery tours while sampling fine brews right off the assembly line is a great way to spend a long weekend.

If you haven’t yet tried homebrewing, perhaps 2008 is your year. Get yourself a decent kit, do some research, and see what you can create. Personally, this is something I hope to do in the coming months as Nigel is one of the few correspondents at that doesn’t yet homebrew. If homebrewing isn’t your thing, look into improving that always-important craft beer fridge (and if you don’t have one yet, for god’s sakes … get with the program! Just stay away from those polluting ones they have in Canada). Perhaps you could buy a new one that runs more efficiently or holds more liquid gold, or you could get a nice used one that doesn’t smell like musty old cabin (Nigel has this problem). There’s always plenty to play with in the world of craft beer.

Ultimately it’s up to each individual beer dork to set their goals for the year. Perhaps you think I’m an idiot for even bringing it up and are of the opinion that “if I want it, I’ll buy it and I’ll drink it, and I’ll do it whenever the Hell I feel like … planning is for sissies.” That’s fine with me, but for those of us who like to plan ahead, there’s no better time than the present. 2008 will be a pivotal year in the craft beer industry, and we as consumers have the ability to shape the future and help a burgeoning industry continue to grow and thrive. Happy New Year to all … now go have a beer, dammit!

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

Beer Dorks News

Want to know how healthy the craft beer industry is? As always, look to Portland. Craft pioneer Bridgeport announces sudden closure, adding to a growing list of PDX casualties.
Did Anheuser-Busch Chicago offer their shit beer to Cody Parkey before his missed field goal? Because that may explain why he "accidentally" biffed it.
Chicago now has the most breweries of any city in the country. Other things Chicago has the most of: murders, mobsters, and Ditkas.
Trying to spin it positive, BA releases end of year graphic. Only 5% growth in the craft sector when nearly 1000 new breweries opened? That's a collapse waiting to happen.
R.I.P. Tallgrass... another casualty as the regional/national craft beer market continues to get squeezed.
Wait... Constellation Brands cut all of the Ballast Point and Funky Buddha sales staff? They merged it with their Corona/Modelo staff?? We're SHOCKED!!!
Pizza Beer founder crying about failure of company, blames everyone else. Reminder, the beer tasted like vomit. Try having better ideas or making better products so you're not a failure.
It's Bud Light so doesn't really matter, but we expect this beer to be sitting around for awhile.
Indiana brewery to open with controversial beer names to "get the conversation going". Translation: taking advantage of serious issues for free publicity.
Hundreds of amazing beers in Wisconsin and the Cubs took back the one everyone drinks just because it exists and people have heard of it. How fitting...