The Marquis de Sade – who is quoted as supposedly uttering the title request above – loved his grapes and apparently others agree, at least among the society of France. So while the economy may be bad in many parts of the world, some folks still have a few extra pesos to splash about as wine prices take a 54% leap at the high end…also way above my security clearance:
Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Style: Abbey Dubbel
I’ve reviewed a couple Great Lakes brews in the past (LINK, LINK) as they’ve long been one of my favorite Midwestern breweries. While they’re not an “over the top” shop that pushes any style boundaries, they make flavorful beer that is consistent,
balanced and tasty.
Their location is nice too, near downtown Cleveland’s century-old West Side Market, they have a very nice pub and beer garden – with an amazing dungeon-like cellar – and a smaller brew system (which served as THE brewery until their production facility opened across the alley about a dozen years ago). They brew some of their pub pours and Belgians in the pub brewery to go with their upscale pub grub menu while their packaged labels are produced in the big brew-house next door, which is photographed here.
I recently stopped by for lunch to visit one of their brewers, with whom I
studied at Siebel about 15 years ago. While in town, I took the opportunity to
run through their list to sample a few of their rarer pub pours.
Their Abbey Avenue Dubbel is described as a “Belgian style with dark, malty
flavors and hints of fruit.” Pouring a deep reddish hue, there was a faint
cloudiness accented by a thin, silky head that lined the glass to show off a
bit of body. The estery nose jumps out at you immediately, reminding me more of
a dunkleweiss than a Belgian. The body was medium-full, with a mild malty
sweetness and balanced ever-so-subtly with a hop cleanliness and long
estery-malt finish. This was very drinkable with almost no trace of expected
alcohol, which belies the hefty 8% ABV…in fact, it’d be “dangerous”
because one could easily dig in for a few pints.
Being a weissbier fan, I enjoyed it very much personally, although it’s
probably not exactly what people will expect when ordering a “Belgian style.”
They “launched” this past Wednesday, which happens to be the “biggest bar night of the year,” also known as the “Night before Thanksgiving.” While their official opening date isn’t until December 20th, this did provide the public with their first opportunity to sample the brewery’s product and get a taste of what was to come. Their RBC Public House doors were open, selling swag and handing out pub crawl beer lists and they partnered with 6 of the 8 establishments in downtown Rockford, each of whom poured a single brew:
Red’s on the River – Hoplust IPA (American IPA)
Rogue River Tavern – White Pine Wheat (Bavarian Style Hefeweizen)
Grill 111 – Rogue River Brown (Brown Ale)
Corner Bar – Carriage House Ale (American Ale/ESB)
Sam’s Joint – O’Briens Red (Amber Ale)
Rockford Lanes – Sheehan’s Stout (Irish Style Stout)
Now Rockford, Michigan (pop. 7,000), for those who don’t know – and that likely includes most of you – is a relatively small town, located just northeast of Grand Rapids. There’s a handful of restaurants in their “historic” downtown square, which covers about 2 blocks, and they don’t really have much of a nightlife as most “entertainment” activity takes place in the much larger downtown Grand Rapids. Suspicious that the few establishments in town would not be prepared for any sort of volume, I headed into town about 4:30 to get a few samples in early. I made four stops by about 6 p.m. In each locale I inquired as to whether they were “ready” for tonight, and was assured they were because they’ve “had pub crawls before.”
RBC had done a nice job getting the word out online, and my fears were confirmed as craft beer fans invaded the downtown bars in addition to the typical homecoming locals who were out and about. After my driver made a quick pickup to recruit a few friends, we were back in Rockford about 8 p.m. and met with lines at every location – some up to an hour – and scrambling distributors rushing to replace kegs. Also, several location kept “regular” Wednesday hours, which meant that they rolled up the carpet about 10 p.m. – which left IPA & stout fans in particular wanting for more as those places were shuttered by then. We did manage to have at least a pint of each beer by the end of the evening, but the last couple were obviously a more challenging procurement than my early evening tour.
All that said, it was a good event and the RBC crew did a nice job of milling about lending greetings, seeking feedback and accepting comments from the masses. Their brews were very impressive in the humble opinion of our crew. Each of the six was clean, fit their profile and were both flavorful and balanced. Of course, we’ll have some actual reviews in the future, but this was a great celebration and collaboration for the brewery and local watering holes to welcome each other to town. Congratulations to RBC and their entire crew on an outstanding sneak peek!
With several new openings in the area over the past two months, including Perrin, Our Brewing Company, and The Mitten. We’re already looking forward to December 5th & 20th, as both RBC and the “new” Grand Rapids Brewing Company are supposed to open before the end of the year.
I’m getting thirsty.
I’ve spend some time on the topic recently (LINK, LINK, LINK) with several posts detailing some of the dangers of the industry consolidation taking place in this country and the world. In a far more detailed essay, the Washington Monthly and author Tim Heffernan restore some of my faith in journalism.
While not entirely agreeing with the premise that “cheap beer” is the nation’s greatest danger (causes of alcoholism are much more complex than just “price,” while alcohol is already relatively cheap in the U.S. compared to nearly every European country), I absolutely agree with his conclusion that two immense companies now wield way too much power – particularly in the growing vertical integration they are pursuing – and they won’t be afraid to use it to crush competitors, distribution “partners,” retailers and consumers who stand in their way.
Quite simply, while this is a long article, this is a must-read to understand what’s happening in the industry. This, in my view, is the greatest threat to the craft industry: the might of AB InBev & SABMillerCoors (or their merged company if it happens) can and will be used to either destroy these pesky little guys or prevent them from ever gaining foothold again, at least in terms of any size (they’ll tolerate a bunch of little breweries that pose no threat). As mentioned in previous posts (see the links above), the big guys are moving rapidly into craft brewer “space,” and the net result will undoubtably be to push the little guys from the shelves. The key will be for the little guys to EDUCATE consumers – one by one – as to who is actually independent and who is part of the massive, multinational conglomerate…and then hope consumers choose wisely.
Let’s face it, there’s a lot of breweries in Michigan. We’ve been visiting them for years and, at best, have made it to a little over half of them. At this point, too, the beer culture in Michigan has become such a phenomenon that I would classify it as a tourist-worthy destination; not just for beer geeks but for people interested in local Michigan destinations.
The problem becomes, then, one of logistics and quantity. You can’t visit all of them, and many of us may not have the fortitude required to plan a proper multi-stop brewery trip. Remember that visiting more than one brewery includes planning places generally close to each geographically, keeping one’s wits even (remember, we’re talking about driving from place to place here, so some temperance is mandatory), and keeping an eye to possibly available tours at each facility. Laura and I do this probably twice a month, and even with our experience it can be quite the investment of time.
Enter Motor City Brew Tours. The Tour company, which operates primarily out of Detroit (but with visions of expansion) takes care of all of that planning for you. It also alleviates the “who’s driving?” issue. Motor City brew Tours offers bus, walking, and bike excursions through the city and surrounding areas of Detroit, giving people an opportunity to learn about Michigan brewing culture and history from experts while enjoying some of the products created here.
Additionally, MCBT organizes day trips; the Michigan Beer Blog was fortunate enough to attend a North Ohio tour, allowing us to visit the Maumee Brewing Company, the Market Garden Brewery and Distillery, and Ohio’s gem – Great Lakes Brewing Company. The ticket price pays for the bus, personalized tours with the brewers, and water and snacks to and from each location.
The trip was a great way to visit areas we would not have historically visited! For those of you in the Detroit area interested in a safe and well planned adventure that incorporates history and culture with Michigan beer, I would recommend checking out Motor City Brew Tours.
More pictures of our tour can be found on our Facebook Page!
“I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.”
—Eddie Glick, chief BeerDork.
“It seems everyone goes through a ‘hophead’ phase when they get into craft beer. Some last a few weeks, most last much longer…even decades.”
– Eric “EZ-E” Albertson, Pit Boss at SpeakEZ Lounge.
“There’s nothing like the smell of Hallertau in the late summer.”
– Jorg Fuchs, Bavarian, describing a drive through the hop-growing region in the central part of the largest German state.
I’ve never been a tremendous fan of Lagunitas more than any other craft brewer, but that may change with the latest shot across the bow from their founder, Tony Magee.
He was invited to speak at an industry event to “big” brewing execs who are looking to farm the craft beer movement – ok, hijack it and the demographic – into their own pocketbooks.
He envisioned his inner Fort Sumter and took to Twitter to blast ’em (read posts of Nov 8 & 13th). Then he wrote a little follow up, basically culling his inner Network to say he’s “mad as hell, and isn’t going to take it any more!”
“For drink, there was beer which was very strong when not mingled with water, but was agreeable to those who were used to it. They drank this with a reed, out of the vessel that held the beer, upon which they saw the barley swim.”
— Xenophon, c.435-c.354 B.C., Greek historian.
As I’m sure you are aware, if you’re any sort of beer geek, that the world’s oldest written recipe is for beer. Historians have documented beer & brewing since antiquity. Some modern brewers have even made attempts to recreate some of these beverages of yesteryear, although I’m guessing the standards aren’t quite up to modern day expectations. On the bright side, we didn’t have to deal with THIS either.
They aren’t the first ones I’ve heard make this argument. “Craft beer is at a bubble and it’s going to burst.” “It can’t last.” “It’s a fad.” Blah, blah.
Fact is, as every industry matures, there will be some losers. Some people are in the business for the wrong reasons – to chase $$ or achieve status, rather than making a great product. Some people may love beer, but are simply not talented or they’re under capitalized or spent money unwisely in building their business.
Mr. Koch makes a good point, however. There ARE a bunch of new breweries who are doing “nothing special.” While I would argue the overall quality of all breweries is much better than a decade ago – and many are producing fabulous beer – there are still some pretty suspect products out there crowding shelves and fighting for tap handles, often even within their own distribution partners. (In fact, there’s a significant newer player in my area that is seemingly a virtual clone of another successful brewer – and many have commented that it may be tough for them to distinguish themselves unless they do “something a little different.”) As evidenced by the growing number of “limited,” seasonal and extreme beers, hard-core beer geeks are constantly seeking “new and different” and often avoid a standard pour, whether it be a simple pale ale or even drinking one brand regularly.
The reality is, more breweries is still a great thing. “Fresh and local” is an advantage in terms of flavor and community benefit and it’s wonderful when consumers can stop by their local brewery regularly instead of always having to settle for commercial swill. That said, it will be much tougher for ambitious operations to go from “start-up” to “sizeable” (5,000-10,000 Bbl+) in a short period of time, as we saw with some of the established craft brewers – many of whom “grew” a decade or more ago on the basis of distributing to virgin territory that was not home to a local brewer. Some of them have now pulled back and consolidated (LINK, LINK, LINK) as they’ve faced local competition in far off locales and unwieldy distribution networks.
As mentioned above, retailers – both bars/restaurants and stores – are now deluged with craft beer options to the point that shelf space and tap handle real estate are at a premium. Distributors are bloated, with masses of SKU’s to learn, manage and promote. (This may also be the source of some of Mr. Koch’s frustration, as he also faces competition from small, local breweries who take some of his shelf space.) “Local” is also now less often the only show in town in many places…there are several local options.
Historically, brewing was always local. It wasn’t until pasteurization, refrigerated transportation and efficient distribution networks that brewers – foremost Anheuser Busch – expanded much beyond their own regions. Perhaps we’re slowly heading there again? I think it’s incredibly interesting when traveling to seek out local interpretations of styles and check out the local scene. I can get McDonald’s anywhere, were I so inclined.
Bottom line is, I think “bubble” is a strong term. Some brewers will not survive, of course, but I think we’ll continue to see more breweries, even as the large industry players continue to consolidate. It’s just that more of them will be smaller and fewer of them will grow much beyond their local areas. (LINK) That, in my opinion, is not a bad thing.