Beer Unites (Except in the Maryland State House)

To borrow from my friends at Union Craft Brewing, beer unites us all. Take for example the United States Congress. It could not be more divisive, or partisan. It is akin to warring factions from distant galaxies fighting for control of the Universe at all costs. Despite these disparate agendas, they have still found a way to come together over beer. The Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, better known as CBMTRA has united both factions of our bicameral congress. This legislation, well covered by Tom Cizauskas at Yours For Good Fermentables, is a once in a generation legislative reform act for the United States craft brewing industry that also provides benefit to wineries and distilleries.
Here are the nuts of bolts of what it does for breweries:

  • Reduces excise taxes from $7 per barrel to $3.50 per barrel for domestic breweries producing less than 60,000 BBLs per annum.
  • Reduces excise taxes from $18 per barrel to $16 per barrel for domestic breweries producing 60,000 to 2 million BBLs per annum.
  • It simplifies beer formulation and label approval by expanding the list of ‘common beer ingredients’ (like fruit).
  • It encourages collaborations by removing regulatory hurdles like enabling tax free transfers, removing restrictions on both inventory and expansion for packaging and storage.
  • It levels the playing field between domestic and international producers.
  • It expands TTB program integrity to crack down on those circumventing the rules.

With 54 Senate co-sponsors, and 299 House co-sponsors this Bill had incredible bipartisan support, and was heavily promoted by both the Brewer’s Association of America, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, and the Beer Institute, among several other industry associations. Since the wording of the Bill was exactly the same in both houses of Congress when approved, there is little doubt it will make it through the conference committee and be signed into law in coming weeks. This will be a grand and much needed victory for craft beer manufacturers across the country. Apparently beer was the only thing capable of uniting this most combative 115th Congress.

Perhaps the political factions within the Annapolis State House should take note. If the federal government is willing to sit down and listen to the concerns of craft brewers, and their need for the modernization of existing, incredibly antiquated laws, why shouldn’t the elected representatives serving in Annapolis? Say what you will about swampy, pay to play Washington politics, but nothing holds a candle to Maryland particularly if the Reform on Tap Act of 2018 does not get a FAIR and IMPARTIAL hearing before the legislature this session. Politicians must pay at the polls in 2018 if they do not heed the demands of their constituents (as a whole); not just the select group lining their campaign coffers.

Make your voices heard! Call your representatives and tell them (as a voter) what you require of them. If you have questions ask your local craft brewer, the Brewer’s Association of Maryland, or the Comptroller. Sign the petition HERE to make the Reform on Tap Act of 2018 a crucial component of the 2018 legislative session in Annapolis. Always remember they serve at OUR pleasure.

#SaveMDBeer
#BreweriesSaveMainStreet

REPEAL!!!!!!

A brief jaunt through the Repeal of Prohibition in America.

In honor of the 84th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition it seemed fitting to take a stroll through the dry years, revisiting some of the motives and debacles of a failed experiment. The Volstead Act was brought before the United States Congress to prohibit the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages in the United States. It was ratified on October 28, 1919 despite a presidential VETO, and went into effect as the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. One has to question how this got traction, and why the government would support it.

Initially the movement was known as ‘temperance’, indicating a lessening of manufacturing, sales, and consumption. This in no way was originally intended to ban alcoholic beverages. The early intent of the temperance movement involved improving the troubles within society. The mindset of those (predominantly women) supporters was that men would become better citizens and husbands if they limited or even suspended their alcohol intake. This bloomed into a vast and incorrect conviction that ALL of societies’ ills would be cured if alcohol were removed from the equation. The list is extensive but includes the belief that:

1) Domestic violence would end
2) Penury would cease as all men would be employed
3) Divorce rates would drop substantially
4) Literacy rates would skyrocket
5) Crime would diminish drastically, and the list went on, and on…

We were in for a true Utopia if the Volstead Act passed. Adding fuel to the temperance (now Prohibition) fire in the early 20th century was the anti-German sentiment sweeping the United States (and the world) because of the Great War. In Maryland, and much of the USA, a vast migration of Germans in the 19th century equated to a cataclysmic rise in the number of breweries. Prohibition certainly would have an impact upon German interests across the nation. German societies and newspapers were silenced along with the US Brewers Association when they dared speak in opposition to the proposed legislation. The KKK also supported Prohibition as they too were both anti-German (anti-immigrant), and anti-Catholic. The Catholic Church of course opposed Prohibition, as the body and blood of Christ is taken in the form of a wafer and wine as an intrinsic part of ritual.

What was never truly factored into the equation was the loss of jobs, and revenue. It wasn’t just the breweries, wineries, and distilleries that would be impacted, it was all of the affiliated industries that would feel the loss, over 200 to be precise. Coopers, glass manufacturers, sign painters, liveries, cork manufacturers, and a host of others were deleteriously affected by this legislation. Fiorello La Guardia of New York served in the US House of Representatives, and as Mayor of NYC during Prohibition. He commented on the loss of local, state, and federal revenues particularly when alcohol was still being manufactured, sold, and illegally distributed across America. He also noted that the Federal Government KNEW this and accommodated it by printing large bills ($5,000, and $10,000 bills) in much greater quantities than ever before. Why? This was done specifically because bootleggers only dealt in cash, hence large bills. This was just one glaring witness to the failure of the experiment. Another came in the form of job loss. This was wide spread. The Federal government was told by the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, the Anti-Saloon League, and other Prohibition organizations that job loss resulted from machines replacing humans, not Prohibition closing businesses. A federal study was commissioned, followed by hearings in 1926 that proved otherwise, yet the 18th Amendment remained.

Challenges were made across the country, and in Maryland by our Governor Albert Ritchie, who never employed dry agents at the state level, leaving enforcement entirely up to the feds. The veil was finally lifting on the reality of the experiment: IT FAILED. Literacy rates did not rise, nor did divorce rates decline. Domestic violence continued, and crime flourished. Most know that organized crime and the ensuing bloodbaths like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre brought attention to the widespread illegal trafficking of booze. In addition, during the dry years people were drinking alcohol that was much more potent (often deadly) than they had been drinking before 1920.

repeal

The Crusaders were just one of many organizations that demanded the Repeal of the 18th Amendment. Concern over the deaths of young people due to deadly, illegal booze coupled with the anger at the increased, unceasing bloodletting between rival crime factions in New York and Chicago. Many notable and powerful people across the country supported the Crusaders. Albert Ritchie ran for President on a platform of Repeal. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who initially did not run in support of wet party efforts, eventually came around to Ritchie’s way of thinking, even asking him to run on the same ticket. Ritchie refused and Roosevelt became the 32nd President of the United States. On April 7, 1933 3.2% beer was legalized, ushered in with the signature of FDR. Not all states immediately took advantage, but most, including Maryland did. Globe Brewing Company’s Arrow Beer was served just a few minutes after midnight at the Rennert Hotel in Baltimore. In attendance was another wet party advocate, H.L. Mencken.

The 21st Amendment to the Constitution was proposed to Repeal the 18th Amendment. It would be the ONLY Amendment created to repeal another. It took 36 states (a 2/3 majority) to ratify it, thus making it law. Utah became the 36th state on December 5, 1933. This week, grab a nice beverage of your choosing, a locally crafted Maryland beer perhaps, and raise a glass to Utah, FDR, and the 21st Amendment! Happy Repeal Day!
Cheers!

The fine art of Coopers

For over 2,000 years barrels have been crafted to hold liquid gold of varying types. The science behind the construction is fascinating, but the craftsmanship is exceptional and has evolved since Rome ruled the western world. The Romans adopted the method of storing and transporting beer in wooden containers instead of amphorae from the Celts. The process has changed little over the course of two millennia, but the nuances have become more refined, adjusted not only for technological advancements but the expertise and preference of the master coopers constructing them.

Coopers are artists, and each one operates on known, standard practices, but that is where the similarities end. Some coopers prefer uniform size staves for example, while others prefer alternating widths. Like many of the arts, it comes down to the preferences of the master craftsmen, and their own specialized techniques. The starting point is always same- the selection of the wood, traditionally oak. The wood will be weathered (aged) in preparation, and then both steamed to enable bending of the staves for construction (mise en rose), and fired (toasted) to specifications determined by the brewery, winery, or distillery. The characteristics of the wood comes through the process and into the brew, making it the most crucial decision before the first cut is ever made, or the first stave planed. It ultimately constructs the flavor profile of the liquid in the barrel to varying degrees based upon toasting, and length of ageing in the barrel. Master coopers always choose wisely, as that is part of their craft.

An intriguing aspect is the natural water tight seal achieved in the process, without seals, adhesives or other artificial methods. Dowels are used, notably for the head, along with metal hoops to secure the staves, but really nothing else. It all boils down to the craft. This harkens back to the ancient technology of boat building. Ancient shipbuilders also followed a similar process in achieving near water tight construction, but unlike coopers they chose to slather bitumen (pitch, or what is commonly known as tar today) on the finished vessel to procure (and perhaps guarantee) a completely water tight seal. Even when the Romans instituted the Celtic invention of barrel making to store beer and wine, they did not adapt this new ‘bitumen less’ technology toward their seafaring vessels.

Many of the Maryland breweries prior to Prohibition had coopers on site crafting barrels for their touted brews from John Frederick Wiessner to National Brewing. 10,000,000 barrels were in service in United States breweries prior to Prohibition. The invention of steel kegs coincided with Repeal, and threatened coopers traditional role in American breweries. Fortunately it would be another few decades before metal would completely supplant wood. When breweries did decide to turn away from wooden barrels, coopers remained the premier option of wineries and distilleries. All was not lost for coopers and breweries however, as they have seen a much welcomed resurgence in recent decades, not as the primary container for transport, but instead as the vessel to age and enhance golden, malted libations. Although it seems unlikely that barrels would unseat modern metal kegs as the choice for delivery, they have been lauded for their craft, their history, and their contribution to the renaissance of cask ales in America.

All hail the return of coopers to the brewing industry, like Free State Cooperage of Maryland, demonstrating a tradition thousands of years strong, and only getting better and more in demand.
Sláinte!