#SeektheSeal

“The best teamwork comes from men who are working independently toward one goal in unison”
-James Cash Penney

Since time immemorial, the human race has banded together in pursuit of common objectives, some of these based in survival and others based in truly living. Beer is one example of how, occasionally, it can be both.

Over the years,  brewers and drinkers alike have endeavored to create and consume quality craft beer, resulting in the craft beer culture we know today. One of the key pillars of this environment lies in independence. In fact, in some ironic sense, it depends on independence.

I was fortunate enough to be able to converse with Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director at the Brewers Association, regarding this facet of the craft beer community.  She emphasized how important independence is and has always been, commenting that it is  “a true part of the fabric of our country.”

But why should this matter in a beverage?

Turns out, quite a few reasons. Julia explains to me that “small businesses drive so much of our economy” and that craft breweries are far from an exception.  Sure, consumers help keep local breweries afloat and successful by being patrons and helping these businesses become profitable enough to sustain themselves and continue to make their product, but Julia says that it actually goes the other way, too. She asserts that craft breweries help stimulate entire communities with their outreach. Between events, fundraisers, and other programs, local craft breweries tend to take a vested interest in their consumers, far beyond that of a typical business transaction-centered relationship. In fact, the Brewers Association estimates that, in 2016, breweries donated approximately 73.4 million dollars!

While that number is pretty staggering, there are other reasons besides money to value craft breweries, specifically those independent and locally owned. Quality, variety, and passion come to mind. But, more importantly, trust. When I walk into a brewery, I can have confidence in the beer that I order. In most cases, I can literally look up and see where the drink in my hand was produced. If I speak with the brewer, they can tell me exactly what ingredients were used, how much, and from where. And I can hear the passion behind their words. I know that this is not just some mass-produced product, this is their little beer baby. There is an understanding that, upon handing me this beer, it is someone’s proud creation and I should cherish it for the rest of my life.

Well…at least for the rest of the pint.

While I have always believed that no one should be ashamed of what they drink, I do think everyone should know what they are drinking and be able to make an informed choice. So does the Brewers Association. The Brewers Association, which is a “membership organization dedicated to promoting and protecting small and independent craft brewers in the United States,” says that, unfortunately, making educated decisions based on face value is becoming harder. Whereas, in the past, one could make an educated choice simply by examining the beer bottle or can, these days, it has become a little trickier. This is in part to what is referred to as “craftwashing.”

Craftwashing is when a larger beer producer (think Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, etc.) either mimics labeling to appear like an independent brewery or purchases a smaller company, keeping it “formally independent” but not truly independent. This means, even if a consumer looks at the label, they may not find proof of the parent company, and make the purchase believing they are supporting a small business, instead of a multi-million dollar corporation. And some people are quite content and don’t feel the need to know; we all have a right to spend our hard earned wages as we wish. However, the problem with these practices is that it muddles the information that a consumer uses to decide what they want to purchase. It is inherently deceitful in that it is an omission of all the proper facts. This also “skews the marketplace,” according to Julia, which is a large concern, as it diminishes the amount of opportunities and shelf/tap space for locally-owned/smaller breweries.

Julia reveals that brewers and consumers alike have been pushing for a definitive standard for quite some time. In late June 2017, their wish was granted. The Brewers Association introduced the #seektheseal movement, as well as the Independent Craft Brewer Seal which brewers can obtain and display both on their brewery entrances and their bottles/cans.

Julia explains that, to obtain usage of the seal, a brewery must meet certain credentials. The Brewers Association does clarify for their usage what a “craft brewer(y)” should be and the business must provide proof they fit this definition in that they are (among other factors) small, independently owned, and licensed. The seal depicts an inverted beer bottle to represent how the “U.S. craft beer movement has turned beer on its head worldwide.”

The seal accompanies the campaign’s slogan,

“That’s Independence You’re Tasting.”

To date, Julia reports that approximately 4,000 U.S. craft breweries participate in the #seektheseal movement and proudly display the seal. For perspective, she elaborates, this represents about 85% in volume of craft brewed beer. In fact, the movement already had over 400 participating breweries within the first day. Talk about traction!

While this is very good news for both brewers and consumers alike, the movement won’t stop there. It can’t stop there. As a consumer, it is our responsibility to #seektheseal.  Julia suggests several ways to do this. We must first prioritize what the Brewers Association stands for, which is “certified, independent, craft.” Choosing those breweries that furnish the seal is the best way to live out that priority.  The Brewers Association also proposes, for those social media savvy beer lovers, taking a photo of your seal and posting it to Instagram with the tagline of #seektheseal. This allows others to inquire into the campaign, become more educated themselves, and to also know what you stand for. Besides beer consumption, Julia notes that visiting the breweries themselves is a wonderful way to not only show your support, but to become more knowledgeable. “Tour the breweries,” she encourages, “Take a beer-cation.” I like the sound of that-as did an estimated 30 million people in 2017!

So while it might sound scary and a little like Big Brother brewery edition is taking over your right to choose certain aspects of your livelihood, there is quite a bit of silver lining. With so many people choosing independence and becoming more vocal about it, both in their online posting and their offline activities, craft breweries are thriving. If we continue to #seektheseal and do our part, we can continue to keep the craft alive and well and take back our independence in regards to choice. By empowering ourselves, we can empower the whole craft beer movement. You just have to take a stand or, in this case, a seal.

Julia, her enthusiasm evident in her voice, ends our conversation on this note, “It is the greatest time in history to be a beer lover.” And I couldn’t agree more.

Cheers.

To find more information on #seektheseal:

https://www.brewersassociation.org/

https://www.brewersassociation.org/press-releases/brewers-association-launches-thats-independence-youre-tasting/

https://www.craftbeer.com/

 

*All information/statistics/quotes taken from Julia Herz directly and/or Brewers Association website. All photos used in this article are property of Brewers Association and used with permission*

It’s A Process…A Brew Process, That Is.

Water. Check.
Grain. Check.
Hops. Check.
Yeast. Check.

So now what?

Well, like any recipe, once you have the ingredients, it’s time to put them all together. But just as you can’t expect to get a cake by throwing eggs and flour in a bowl and just baking them, you can’t expect to get a beer just by wishful thinking. If only…

While there are many, many details that go into a brew process, we will keep it simple.

The first step in the process is called mashing. The grain essentially hangs out in a jacuzzi for about an hour, which helps it break down and release the fermentable sugars. This creates a strange tea-like mixture known as wort. But don’t let the gross name fool you- this stuff is liquid gold. Well, liquid pre-beer but…you know…basically the same thing, right? The wort is then strained through the bottom of the container, or mash tun, (a process called lautering) and water is poured over the top to flush out any more sugars (called sparging).

Once all the sugars have been pulled out of the grain, the liquid is then drained off and boiled. This is when the hops are added. Other ingredients may also be added at this point, at the brewer’s discretion.  This is when all those wonderfully crazy chemical reactions happen, including sterilization (good-bye icky bacteria!) , hops aromas and flavors released, etc. In the end, we’re left with the brew liquid (now much closer to being beer!) and a solid mound of hops and residues. The liquid is separated (because who wants to drink something with chunks in it?) and cooled down.

Once the brew liquid has been cooled, yeast is added. And…we’re done! Right? Right? All our hard work has paid off and we get to drink now? Well, yes and no. While the “brewing” portion is technically over, we still have to let the yeast do its job. During the process of fermentation , the yeast eats all the sugars it can and turns it into alcohol. Whereas the brewing process only takes a portion of a day, fermentation can take anywhere from a week to over a month!

20180626_211312

It’s Aliiiiiiiiive!

From here, the now-beer is carbonated. This is the process by which the beer is infused with Carbon Dioxide, which adds the body and the bubbles. This can be done by a CO2 tank or the traditional/homebrew method which is done during bottling. Depending on who is brewing and its purpose, the brew is then bottled, canned, or kegged.

While it may seem like a daunting process (and definitely can be), it is certainly a labor of love, one that yields delicious results.

Oh! And can’t forget the final step, my favorite: Drinking!

Cheers.

 

How Sweet It Is… (Malt)

“We did not domesticate wheat; wheat domesticated us.”
-Yuval Noah Harari

If water is the life-blood of a brew, grain is the backbone. It provides the necessary raw materials for yeast to turn water into beer. Unlike some of the other essential elements to the brew process, most of the affects of malt are surprisingly easy to detect, even aside from the sweetness they produce. The types of grain used provide color, flavor, even alcohol content (just to name a few.) The determining factor comes down to the grain bill, or the variations and quantities of malt used.

“Malt” (or “malting”) is technically a process, not a grain. It is the way grain becomes suitable for fermentation, through an arduous system of steeping, germinating, and then drying. “Malt”, therefore, refers to grain post-process.

It is also important to note that many types of grain may be used and certainly have a big impact on the outcome. Wheat, for instance, is going to produce a much different type of flavor than a beer brewed with Rye. The most common grain used, however, is Barley due to both availability and functionality.

When creating a grain bill for a recipe, you start with Base Malts. These are pretty well exactly how they sound- a mixture of (usually) different varieties of malt that offer food for the yeast. That is their main priority and they do it well. Sometimes, they offer slight hints of flavors such as honey or bread but, otherwise, tend to keep to their assigned task. The more base malts used, the more “food” for the yeast, and the higher the alcohol content.

Once these have been determined, other varieties of malt are added. These tend to lend more to flavor and aroma than base malts. These varieties can be categorized into Pale/Light Malts, Caramel, and Roasted/Dark Malts. The categories are named for their levels of  “malted” product. The Pale is only lightly roasted while the Dark is deeply roasted and the sugars in Caramel Malts have been caramelized. These create a spectrum of colors and flavors ranging from very light to very dark and very sweet to very toasted, respectively.

Other materials, such a corn, oats, or rice, may be used as well. These are referred to as “adjuncts” and are used primarily to adjust body and head of a beer.

The Drink-Along: Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat

Unfiltered Wheat- Boulevard

As the name suggests, this is a wheat beer. This typically means that this style was brewed with primarily wheat grain. Using wheat instead of barley does impact the finished product. Wheat tends to have higher protein yields which, in turn, makes a longer-lasting, foamier head as well as impacts its mouthfeel (the way the body of the beer feels when you take a drink.) Using wheat also tends to give the beer a slight haze, which adds to the stability of the beer. Many brewers filter this out due to consumer appeal, although some are starting to leave it natural. Usually, a hazy beer is completely suitable to drink and, in this case, will add to the experience and understanding of the beer. This style is malty all the way through, from the sweet aroma to the bread-like flavor.

And if we change the grain bill up just a bit…

The Drink Along: Lazy Magnolia’s Southern Pecan

Southern Pecan- Lazy Magnolia

Southern Pecan is a Brown Ale, which is one of the original styles that brought me to the love of craft beer. In general, a Brown Ale has a much deeper flavor, especially when compared to a Wheat. The grain bill can include a multitude of different malts and has a lot of wiggle room. In general, though, some Amber malts are used, which gives a similar color to its name and some mild roastiness to the flavor. Chocolate malt is also used in varying quantities and, yes, it does provide a chocolate-like taste, although it won’t pass for liquid Godiva without some help. Other dark and roasted malts are added which, as you can imagine, give a roasted or toasted flavor and aroma. Some malts added may even give a Brown Ale a slight nuttiness- especially in this case, where whole pecans are added in and used just like grain.

As I’ve mentioned so many times before, the myriad of possibilities with beer is just about endless. Malt is one of the many examples of how a brewer can quickly turn into a mad scientist. It is quite enjoyable to see how changing just one element of the big picture can alter the end product so drastically- and even more enjoyable to taste it!

So here’s to the one bill no one minds paying.

Cheers.