Pay to Play

Since the repeal of Prohibition, federal and state guidelines governing the alcohol industry have been very strict. The most stringent surround ‘Tied-House’ laws. In a nutshell before Prohibition breweries in all states would offer up fully functioning taverns/bars/etc. to willing tavern keepers. The catch was that once they received the fully functional bar but all they were allowed to sell was the beer from the brewery that owned it. That was anti-competitive, particularly when you add in the aggressive price fixing, and additional inducements to lure patrons away from other bars (and hence other brewery’s offerings). The general consensus was that this needed to be banned once Prohibition was lifted in the spirit of fair competition and limiting the corruption involved in the alcohol industry. It clearly gave undue advantage to the big breweries with the exceedingly deep pockets like Budweiser, et al to literally control the beer market.

Ownership in bars and taverns is not the only game in town however when it comes to inducements to leverage the market in favor of a particular brewery as there are myriad methods. In Massachusetts AB-InBev was investigated for giving away over $1 million in enticements to retail establishments in the form of coolers and draught lines for prime shelf placement and committed draft lines. Although the MA Alcohol Control Board determined there was insufficient evidence to charge them, which was not the outcome in California where they did face consequences for their actions. AB-InBev was forced to pay a $400,000 fine for violation of pay-to-play laws when their reps furnished refrigeration systems, televisions, and draught lines for 34 retailers. AB stated that they were just ‘leasing’ the equipment and it wasn’t an inducement to prioritize sales of their beers. They promised re-training of all sales representatives to avoid such confusion in the future. Hmm….confusion is it?

AB-InBev also got into trouble in Washington State in 2016 when they engaged in Tied-House violations when they paid for concert venues in which AB products were exclusively sold. It does not stop there however, in 2016 AB-InBev agreed to pay $6 million to the US Securities and Exchange Commission for anti-trust violations involving- you guessed it, pay-to-play practices, this time in India. The issue here is that a $400,000 or $1.6 million fine is a drop in the bucket for the mega-monopoly that is AB-InBev and it is not a deterrent against these pervasive pay-to-play practices.

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Other high profile breweries engaged in these illicit practices and were also fined. This month (May, 2018) Warsteiner Importers Agency, Inc. agreed to pay $900,000 for Tied-House, Commercial Bribery and Exclusive Outlet violations that placed, or potentially placed the retailer’s independence at risk. Warsteiner paid for draught lines, and sponsored events where Warsteiner beers were exclusively carried.2

This is not however strictly a macro-brewery violation. Recently Craft Beer Guild LLC, a wholesaler who distributes more than 200 craft brands throughout Massachusetts and the Northeast paid bars $120,000 over a two year period (2013-2014) for tap handle placement. The Guild admitted to paying kickbacks up to $2000 per tap handle and up to $20,000 for committed lines. They were already forced to pay the TTB (Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) $750,000 in fines for another, separate violation.

Southern Glazer’s, a Miami based wine and spirits distributor demonstrated that pay-to-play was not in any way restricted to the brewing industry. They were fined $3.5 million by the New York State Liquor Authority last year for schemes involving cash, gifts, and credit card swipes (large expenses paid through Southern Glazer’s expense account), among a host of other preferential placement schemes.

This problem is also not limited to manufacturers and wholesalers. There are many stories of bar owners with their hands out for that flat screen television, or a new draught system and they are more than happy to prioritize tap lines in kind. For others it isn’t the flat screen or direct cash, but instead they receive a reduction in the total beer bill in exchange for tap placement- and in many states this is legal. It is something called an accumulation credit. The translation is: if a bar buys a certain number of kegs of a certain brand, they distributor will credit them back the cost of a fair percentage of those kegs.1

What is perhaps more shocking is that not everyone sees this as a problem. A recent article in FoodDrink International argued in favor of the erosion of Tied-House statutes enabling for example manufacturers of alcoholic beverages in some states to hold ownership of retail licenses to operate retail outlets on production premises. I would argue this is more of a carve-out specifically for taprooms which serves as a brand building necessity for small breweries to gain an audience. A more intriguing analysis of the ‘evils’ of the Tied-House laws comes from the Midwest- Wisconsin to be precise. The Tied-House law is so restrictive that a restaurateur Justin Aprahamian had to open his craft brewery in Illinois because the laws in Wisconsin prevented him from holding any ownership in both a retail establishment and a production facility. Logic dictates that a brewer would like to sell his hand crafted beer in his own restaurant but Wisconsin law firmly stands against such an act as an unacceptable integration of the three-tier-system.

There is yet one more aspect to delve into and perhaps it is more significant in many ways when applied to craft alcoholic beverage producers- advertising. There are numerous federal and state restrictions linked to alcohol advertising. Beers cannot be advertised in a way that confuses brands, promises health benefits, disparages another brand, targets children, or makes promises it cannot deliver. These seem like pretty common sense rules. Many states go a step further- like Missouri where alcoholic beverages cannot be advertised for a discounted price outside of the retail premises, cannot be advertised below the retailer’s actual cost, and requires manufacturers to exclude retail pricing in all advertisements while including multiple unrelated retailers in the ad. Most states are like California and prohibit manufacturers from giving rebates or kickbacks to retailers, or paying a retailer for advertising. Again this all seems to be under the guise of common sense.

Old-German-premium-Lager-Cone-Top-Queen

As a comparative tool let us briefly delve into Maryland history and take a gander at Queen City Brewing Company. Post-Prohibition, Queen City and Cumberland were THE major breweries and employers in Cumberland. Their brews were a staple of bars and package stores across western Maryland, into southwestern Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The brewery salespeople and the retail establishments knew each other well. By the 1950s every package store in the region was suddenly flush with massive advertising displays of Budweiser. To top it off the displays were prominently placed where Queen City and Cumberland products once sat. There were plenty of giveaways along with the six packs of Budweiser that were far cheaper. As a regional brewery with limited tchotchkes, and a far smaller advertising budget- there was no wat to compete. It didn’t matter that the six packs of bud were in 10 ounce or 12 ounce cans instead of pints, consumers were enjoying the bells and whistles- as were the bars that began to carry more macro brewed beer than regional beer. When was the last time you drank an Old German or an Old Export? Chances are you either weren’t alive when it was still on the market, or you were too young to drink it. Although the Queen City and Cumberland merged, they still could not survive the macro brewery advertising and closed down in the 1970’s. This is a reminder that many of the laws that are so bothersome today were put in place to protect regional breweries and level the playing field- advertising was just one facet of that.

There is no question that advertising has changed over the past few decades particularly with the advent of social media. Should we adapt to this- yes. Does that mean we throw out the rule book completely and start over? Not necessarily. There is absolutely no doubt that pay-to-play is happening in almost every state of the union whether it is dedicated tap lines, prime retail shelf space, sponsorship of certain events, or outright bribery as already outlined. Granted it is also not something happening only at the macro level. Must craft breweries- or their distributors pay-to-play to garner shelf space and sales? Ideally no- particularly when we think about the role of social media when it comes to advertising craft beer.

Ponder this for a moment, the whittling away of the Tied-House and pay-to play prohibitions may serve smaller craft alcohol manufacturers in the interim, but it is setting up a terrible precedent for the future that monopolistic breweries and wholesalers will take advantage of, and I wager that they already are. I will quote Craft Beer Professor Daniel Croxall,

Without these laws, the market would turn into a free-for-all for those with the deepest pockets. Of course international monoliths would take every advantage to squeeze out pesky independent brewers who keep taking market share—dare I say even pay bribes to retailers? And as I have pointed out before, many state three-tier systems and accompanying Tied-House regulations are under attack through sophisticated lobbying efforts, legal challenges, and even through circumventing the laws in questionable/illegal ways. Are there problems with the three-tier system? You bet. Do the benefits outweigh the problems? That depends on if you favor consumer choice, an even playing field, and good old independently brewed beer in all its glorious iterations.”

So where do we go from here? Each state is witnessing a battle brewing against restrictive Prohibition-era legislation that inherently favors monopolistic breweries over local craft. Some laws -like the franchise law imposed upon small breweries deserve to be challenged and overturned. This will help with the levelling of the playing field and engender a greater ability for craft breweries to compete in the market. State by state many of these statutes and regulations can be revised, removed, or renegotiated to give craft brewers a fighting chance, while leaving certain protections in place for all three tiers. Other laws however, deserve a much greater level of scrutiny and attention to the long term implications and should be examined without opening a Pandora ’s Box that would certainly incite a bloodbath with the removal of Tied-House laws en masse thus spelling an end to our independent craft brewers.
Beer for Thought
Cheers!

TTB Craft beer advertising guidelines: https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=29140e6cab911aaf20a26fd46e304766&mc=true&node=pt27.1.7&rgn=div5#sp27.1.7.f

Maryland’s Beer Community Steps Up for Autism!

I often speak of Maryland breweries and how very generous they are when it comes to charitable causes- from cancer to quadrupeds. Philanthropy doesn’t stop at the brewery door however. That generosity extends far beyond the breweries to the distributors, taverns and taphouses across the state that serve local Maryland beer.

Alice Kistner, General Manager of Mahaffey’s Pub organized a brilliant fundraiser for Autism Awareness, a charity near and dear to her heart and that of dedicated employee Doug Mace. She reached across the state to bring together a group of twelve women deeply involved in the craft beer industry in one way or another: homebrewers, commercial brewers, historians, distributors, sales and marketing geniuses, tavern keepers, beertenders, and consumers. Each woman was assigned a month and the result was a 2019 Baltimore Beer Babes calendar shoot that was put together at Union Craft Brewery. Professional stylists, makeup artists, and photographers (yes all ladies) were brought in to help us look our best. I was honored to be included among the ranks of these incredible women.

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From Left to Right: Judy Easterbrook Neff -Miss July, Brittany Benewicz- Miss August, Maureen O’Prey- Miss February at Mahaffey’s Calendar Signing/Auction

The calendars were only part of the fundraiser however, and Ms. Kistner went above and beyond for the Kennedy Krieger Center for Autism and Related Disorders. At the calendar release party on Saturday April 7, not only did the calendar girls represent (and sign a lot of calendars) but the gentlemen came out in full form- at auction! An auction was held at Mahaffey’s Pub with a host of men displaying an array of skill sets for everyone to bid on. The special skills ranged from help with child rearing, to homebrewing lessons and fishing trips. There was something for everyone, and that ‘something’ brought in more than $4200 and counting! It was truly an incredible outpouring of support. A donation page was also set up for those that could not attend the festivities. Click here to donate*

In a day and age where disparate perspectives outweigh commonalities and civility, and it seems as if there is a fundraiser for every cause imaginable, Alice Kistner found a way to bring everyone together over great local beer and get them to pay attention to something really important. To once again quote Kevin Blodger of Union Craft Brewing, “Beer unites us all.” No truer words have been spoken, and I must say Maryland beer is a force for good that I am humbled to be a small part of. Events like this planned from the heart are the only way to connect people to a cause, and perhaps the best way to get them to engage and invest!

Take a moment today and grab a glass of locally crafted brew and think about what matters the most… I guarantee Maryland’s beer community has already stepped up to help! Perhaps head on over to Mahaffey’s and pick up a calendar of your own to benefit an incredibly worthy cause!

About the Kennedy Krieger Center for Autism and Related Disorders:
The Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) at Kennedy Krieger Institute is a multifaceted, interdisciplinary program serving children, families, and professionals in the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) community. CARD combines research, clinical service, a therapeutic day program, and training programs to unlock the potential of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), enrich their life experiences, empower patients, and promote the well-being of families through evidence-based practices. One of our major endeavors is developing effective new models of care for families and providers, whether locally, nationally, or internationally.

For more information: https://www.kennedykrieger.org/patient-care/patient-care-centers/center-autism-and-related-disorders

Photography:
Kristina Stotler Dreamcatcher Photography

Hair:
Courtney Burgess (Tenpachi Salon)
Despina Fokianos (Hair by Despina)
Candace Parrish (Charm City Hair)
Brittany Taggart (Possibilities Hair Design)

Makeup:
Kaitlin Vancura (Makeup by Kaitlin)
Jacqueline Mills (Charm City Hair Studio)
Hannah Pryor (Charm City Hair Studio)
Bailey Pararas (BaileyPararas@yahoo.com)

Graphic Designer:
Jenna Dutton (Union Craft Brewing)

Printer:
Alpha Graphics

Beers To Your Health

January 21, 2018

It has been quite the week for beer folks! While the federal government may be shut down, the state government is absolutely operational. As the 2018 legislative session has begun in Maryland things have most certainly been heating up, and the local breweries have seen standing room only crowds.

This week I had the opportunity to watch communities rise up and support the craft breweries in their neighborhoods. Perhaps not entirely their ‘local’ neighborhoods exactly, as some travelled from the farthest reaches of Maryland specifically to visit a favorite brewery. Others showed en mass to support a beloved brewery employee celebrating a birthday, while many celebrated new beer releases across the state. The outpouring of support for Maryland breweries was exceptional! It did not stop there however. On Wednesday evening, I had the good fortune of being present at Rockwell Brewery in Frederick. Paul Tinney and Matt Thrasher were also celebrating the release of their collaboration beer with Brian Voltaggio. The lovely wheat beer was created to compliment Family Meal (Voltaggio’s Diner) Chicken, and oh what a pairing it was. Clean, refreshing, perfectly hopped and just delectable.

Rockwell Brewery filled quickly in a very short span, not only to celebrate the beer (and chicken), but to witness Paul and Matt receive accolades from the crusader for Maryland beer reform, Comptroller Franchot. Earlier in the day, the Comptroller sat in for the “Uncapped” Podcast with Chris Sands and Liz Murphy, answering questions, and addressing not so subtle accusations thrown in his direction from well-placed editorials. The editorials have charged that breweries are being kept in check with oppressive regulations due to public health issues, and it is the legislature is acting responsibly. Franchot answered these allegations succinctly. He is the alcohol regulator in the state, and that is not lost on most of us. Franchot stated that he wasn’t advocating for an increase in the amount of alcohol people consume, but sought to increase the proportion of Maryland beers consumed in the state, reducing the out of state intake, thus leaving the consumption rates the same. A reasonable, logical person would understand that is responsible and not at all a public health concern.

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In reality the health benefits of moderate beer consumption have become widely known via scientific studies that have been conducted in recent decades. This is something the medical community knew even before Prohibition. Studies have demonstrated that one or two beers a day offers tremendous health benefits:

  1.  Mitigates symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in women
  2.  Helps prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes
  3.  Increases bone density to stave off osteoporosis
  4.  Slows the decrease of good cholesterol , while lowering bad cholesterol
  5.  Prevents heart disease – moderate beer drinkers have a 42% lower risk of getting heart disease
  6.  Flavonoids found in hops help prevent the onset of Dementia, Parkinsons, and Alzheimer’s disease
  7.  Those same flavonoids (Xanthohumol) are also key preventing Prostate and other cancers
  8.  Lowers Blood Pressure
  9.  Thins the blood, acting to prevent the formation of clots
  10.  Reduces risk of kidney stones
  11.  Reduces risk of gallstones
  12.  Stouts have strong antioxidants that act to prevent the formation of cataracts
  13.  Hops contain Humulone which cures the common cold

 
Truthfully the list is far longer, but this will suffice to demonstrate that if we want to have a real discussion about public health issues surrounding beer, this might be the place to begin. The editorials are false flags and should be dismissed without merit. Please go forth and research, find the answers for yourself on health benefits of beer,  Maryland’s record of alcohol enforcement, and the legislature’s voting record and list of campaign donors. That is the best way forward to determine where you stand on Maryland’s craft brewing industry, and whether to throw your support behind them. I have done the research and know where I stand- it is overwhelmingly in the corner of Maryland craft breweries.

Sláinte

#SaveMDBeer
#BreweriesSaveMainStreet
#BreweriesSavetheChespaeakeBay

MLK/BAM Update

January 15, 2018
Today is a doubly good day indeed. First and foremost, we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was born on this day in 1929. Dr. King forged a path of non-violence at a provocative and difficult time in American history that literally changed the world. That is no small feat. His message of unity and equality have become a part of the fabric of our society.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

This is one message that has personally resonated with me. Everyone will have a different takeaway from Dr. King. Think about his message. Take a moment today and ruminate on Dr. King and his legacy, and perhaps raise a glass to this incredible humanitarian and the gifts he has given to civilization!

Secondly I want to take a moment to share with you the results of the Brewer’s Association of Maryland election for the 2018 Board of Directors. On January 14, 2018 the following Board was chosen:

• President: Cindy Mullikin, Mully’s Brewery – Prince Frederick, Calvert Co.
• Vice-President: Tom Knorr, Evolution Craft Brewing – Salisbury, Wicomico Co.
• Treasurer: Phil Bowers, Brewer’s Alley – Frederick, Frederick Co.
• Secretary: Brett Snyder, Waredaca Brewing – Laytonsville, Montgomery Co.
• At-Large: Hugh Sisson, Heavy Seas – Halethorpe, Baltimore Co.
• At-Large: Adam Benesch, Union Craft Brewing – Baltimore City
• At-Large: Julie Verratti, Denizens Brewing – Silver Spring, Montgomery Co.

Cindy Mullikin may not be a name everyone is familiar with, but they soon will be. Mullikin is a strong, business savvy, no-nonsense, straight shooter. She is measured certainly, but has no trouble speaking up for the Brewers Association of Maryland, and understands how to negotiate the best path moving forward. In such uncertain times as these for Maryland breweries, she is poised to lead. I have absolutely no doubt she will navigate this treacherous path with clarity, and sound judgement. She will persevere for BAM.

Complimenting Mullikin’s ascent is Tom Knorr of Evolution. Knorr’s experience with BAM and the industry in both Delaware and Maryland will be infinitely useful, and often called upon. His willingness to work for legislative changes to benefit breweries will buttress the efforts already underway. Unflinching determination is a keystone to his success.

Longtime member Phil Bowers of Brewer’s Alley will also be an asset, having witnessed the ebb and flow of the Association over the years, along with the changes in legislation, and growth in the industry. He has ridden many storms, and is definitely an asset for BAM.

Brett Snyder of Waredaca is one of the newest members to BAM and the board. The farm brewery opened just over two years ago, and is focused on environmental stewardship, and great beer! This will be another great addition, providing a well-rounded perspective.

Our At-Large members are ones well known to most every craft beer drinker in the state. Adam Benesch of Union, Hugh Sisson of Heavy Seas, and Julie Verratti of Denizens. Benesch is business and beer smart, but his true gift is his ever-calm, ever-attentive presence that invites pleasant/rational conversation even in the midst of the most volatile discussions. Shall we call him Buddha? Perhaps. Hugh Sisson of course broke the mold in Maryland brewing in the 1990’s, and continues to understand the shifting tides of the industry. A steadfast member of BAM to utilize for his wealth of knowledge and experience. Julie Verratti- lawyer, activist, advocate. Outspoken when she needs to be, always fighting doggedly to improve the industry, the beer, and society for that matter. A champion we all want in our corner!

The future is uncertain. We can all be sure that this is a powerful group that has been chosen to helm the Brewer’s Association of Maryland, and I cannot wait to see what 2018 brings!

Autumnal Splendor and Things that Inspire

As the weather turns cooler, and the leaves crunch beneath your feet thoughts often stray to hearty stews, cozy fires, and good company sharing a delightful libation. Fall often evinces thoughts like this, inspired no doubt by the splendor of the season, and the crisp breeze carrying the scent of autumn through the air. I find that I become more selective with regard to the beverages chosen to mark the season, and those moments that take on a greater significance. Many people intentionally pair their beer with the evening’s planned victuals, and often do so with painstaking precision. I am perhaps not that particular, but I do enjoy the process of merging flavors in a way that elicits the best qualities of both the food and accompanying brew. What I have more recently taken note of is the story behind both, and how much that factors into my decision.

Cooking heals, and the process has an almost meditative power. Selecting a recipe is more than meeting a list of dietary restrictions, and flavor preferences; it also involves the history of the dish. How, why, and for whom was it created? Granted there are not always answers to these questions, but it certainly is intriguing to embark on the voyage to uncover them. The national dish of Cuba, Ropa Vieja is a perfect example of this. Legend has it that a peasant had no meat to feed his family, so he decided to take his old clothes and put them in the stew pot. While it cooked, he thought about how much he loved his family. When he uncovered the stew, the threadbare garments magically transformed into the delicious shredded beef stew (resembling tattered clothing.) Miracles, inspired by love, created this dish. Fanciful? Perhaps. Delicious? Definitely!

This wee tale leads me back to the accompanying beverage. What inspired a brewer to make a particular beer? Was it love? Was it history? Was it something more? Not all brewers share the muse behind the conception of a brew, but when they do I find myself intrigued and more inclined to give it a go. Make no mistake, a well told story behind a creation will not make up for lack of quality, or cleanliness in the process. Will consumers select beers with no significant story? Absolutely- if they are well crafted. Often however, one can tell when a brew was uninspired, as it shows on the palate. Similarly, a thirsty connoisseur of malted beverages can taste the inspiration behind it. Brewer’s Alley Wedding Alt is an example of an extremely well-crafted alt beer with an equally inspired story. Brewer Tom Flores created this very personal beer to mark the most auspicious occasion of his very own wedding. It was brilliant, and so well received that it became an (annual) seasonal offering, much in demand.

Other breweries in Maryland have also created beers motivated by personal stories, or historical events; just take a gander at Union Craft Brewing’s Duckpin Pale Ale. Duckpin bowling was invented in Baltimore, and neared the point of extinction (if you can use that terminology for a dying sport) when Union Craft released their homage to the Baltimore institution. The sport was invented around 1900 by a couple of Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famers while drinking beer in a billiards hall (although the specifics of this are open to historical debate.) Union wanted to get in touch with what made Baltimore great, and its rich history of craft brewing was a perfect analogy to the once thriving sport of Duckpin bowling. The sport and the beer have both surged in the past five years, and it would be impossible to separate the revival of one from the success of the other!

To have a muse behind the crafting of a fantastic beer may not be a significant factor to some consumers, but for many it will most assuridly lure them to open their wallets and give it a try!

Beer for thought!

Craft Brewers of Maryland Welcome Guinness

October 20, 2017

The arrival of Guinness in Baltimore was met with mixed emotion, instead of the expected anticipation of a new brewery opening in the state. In large part this jubilance was muted due to the legislature in Annapolis cutting backroom deals at the behest of special interest groups while ignoring the welfare of the craft brewing industry in the state. This was carried out with absolutely no regard for the breweries and their role as a driving economic force in so many communities across Maryland. Despite the legal wrangling, the brewers of Maryland rolled out the welcome mat for the new Guinness Brewery in Relay on Friday for their (pre-opening) Industry Night. Union Craft, Denizens, Pub Dog, Monocacy, Jailbreak, Checkerspot, Key, Heavy Seas, and a host of others were represented. The event revealed a first look at the taproom and the sampling of what Hollie Stephenson (Head brewer) and Peter Wiens (Brewmaster) had in store for those experienced palates in attendance.

The evening was a success, and the brewers of Maryland demonstrated their generosity of spirit, and the brother (and sisterhood) that Maryland breweries are so well known for. The offerings ranged from expected staple beers Guinness Stout, and Guinness Blonde Lager, to the rare and small batch. These special delights included the dense, luscious Foreign Extra Stout on draft (apparently for the first time in the USA), and the small batch Golden Series #1. This blonde ale was exceptional, a favorite for most in attendance. It comprised a beautiful compilation of hops (Mosaic, Amarillo, and El Dorado) that complimented Guinness yeast as the ale was fermented at higher temperatures. This brought out an abundance of aromas and a distinct, yet not overwhelming note of peach that married the flavors beautifully. To the credit of Diageo, they have brought together a winning team in the brewery. Maryland is looking forward to what they have in store for future brews in their Golden Series, and beyond.

The taproom is clean, industrial, and spacious. The expected barrel tables accompanied stools for a brief respite while sampling. This however is merely the beginning. Guinness plans to finish off the taproom, and construct an expansive beer garden that can accommodate several food trucks. Additionally a small hop farm is planned for a sensory experience, along with a pub style restaurant on the third floor of the facility where beer and food pairings will take center stage. Of course much like the St James Gate Brewery in Dublin, tourists will be guided through the history of Guinness, and the brewing process with substantial displays, and a retail store from which to purchase remembrances. The 100 hectolitre brewery will be housed in a separate facility, to accommodate the needs of the anticipated 300,000 tourists per year. Coincidentally, Greg Norris of GEA Brewery Systems (formerly the owner of Clay Pipe Brewing in Westminster) happens to be responsible for supplying this brewing system to Guinness.

With a 10 hectolitre system (in addition to the 2 barrel test system) there is much room to experiment with new brews from a hazy New England IPA, to a Belgian, and a host of other brews. It also provides the perfect opportunity for collaboration brews. In just a few hours, collaborations between Guinness and a few different Maryland breweries were already lined up. There is quite a bit in store for beer aficionados in Maryland and beyond! Guinness will no doubt draw a large tourist population, but all of our breweries should benefit. Collaborations will bolster that. Beer tourism was already thriving in the Free State due to our incredible craft brewers, and the arrival of Guinness will foment that trend. All we need now is an adjustment to the legislation and Maryland will become the premier destination for breweries in the United States!

Sláinte!

“Women Brewing in Maryland”  Left to Right Julie Verratti of Denizens, Judy Neff of Checkerspot, Lynn Pronobis of Union Craft, Hollie Stephenson of Guinness. Photo by Author.

Pumpkin Style and other Seasonal Musings

I recently read an article by Fritz Hahn (Washington Post) addressing the irritation of Pumpkin Ales and fall seasonals appearing on store shelves in summer, when few consumers show interest in drinking them. I too have often complained about this phenomenon, particularly when October hits (and I am ready to drink a fall seasonal beer) and there is nothing to be found. Hahn engaged a variety of breweries and distributors to get to the crux of the matter. The results pointed to a supply chain cast six months into the future. The concern for breweries was a lack of beer on the shelves once summer seasonals were sold out if fall offerings weren’t to arrive until September.

This debacle is absolutely comprehensible, but I seem to recall a time around a decade ago (give or take) when fall brews came out in September/October not July or August. Certainly things have changed since then, and increased competition is definitely a factor. This does not however address the issue. What is the possible solution, empty shelves? Not the best decision. In reconfiguring the brew calendar and distribution needs, fresh ideas are necessary, and as the old adage implies,

Necessity is the mother of invention. 1

It would be simple to suggest that breweries increase production of their staple or ‘flagship’ beers that are offered year round to combat empty shelf syndrome during these inter- seasonal lulls. I for one enjoy my ‘go to’ beers that I can always count upon for quality, and year round availability. I like the reliability, as the beer shelf in my refrigerator can attest to. Delicious, nutritious, comfort liquid for any occasion or season. I also appreciate the adventure of variety, seasonals, and exploring the unknown. Would it be too crazy to suggest inter-season offerings? Wait- that is already happening. A quick look at any of your local breweries at this time of year produces a cornucopia of special offerings like collaboration brews. Now this is where it gets exciting. Well planned and thought out collaborations have produced some incredible results. Many Maryland breweries have received national recognition for their outstandingly crafted mergers. The Partnership Series Olde Ale between Heavy Seas and Union Craft is just one that comes to mind among several across the region.

Not all breweries have the opportunity to collaborate, or produce quality brews when they choose to brew together. There are other options to fill the void, including an increase in their portfolio of brews. Unfortunately not all brewers can take advantage of this under current state franchise laws. One local brewery (who shall remain nameless for this article) created a tasty new brew to fill that void, but was told by their distributor that they would not even attempt to place that (quite tasty) new beer in retail establishments. They were left with no option but to keep it in their taproom. Hmmm was this competition? Or was this our fear becoming reality- that there aren’t enough distributors in Maryland for the number of craft breweries, thus allowing those remaining distributors to basically dictate to the brewers what will be sold and when?

Perhaps the ancient world has something else to offer us in the form of Archimedes, “Eureka!”2  If he could figure out a solution to his difficult mathematical dilemma, we in Maryland can discover a new approach to seasonal brews…

Beer for thought!

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1. Plato, trans. By Benjamin Jowett, The Republic (New York, Anchor, 1960).
2. Archimedes, trans. by Sir Thomas Heath, Works (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1897).