#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*

Brewery Spotlight: Pizza Boy Brewing

Peanut butter and jelly. Bacon and eggs. Oreos and milk. The food world’s power couples. Arguably, however, one of the prime courtships is fated to be pizza and beer. At Pizza Boy Brewing, they couldn’t agree more.

Offering a wide variety of both glorious fixtures, this 10,000 square foot location is quite the destination and houses both a brewery and a restaurant, Als of Hampden. Serving up so much more than just pizzas, the restaurant menu ensures that no one leaves hungry and the brew menu allows any palate to find hoppiness- I mean, happiness.

This happiness doesn’t just come from the products themselves, but from the people that create them.

“I think the most unique thing about our brewery is- though we do brew MANY IPA’s- our range of styles and unpretentious approach to beer. We enjoy having lots of fun: making fun of ourselves, laughing at the absurdities of the industry (and its patrons at times) and, lately, we’ve been having a blast with our labels and paying homage to some of our favorite things.”

This lighthearted attitude translates very clearly into both the labels and delicious brews inside. For instance, my favorite, their Michael Meyer’s Lemon IPA, is both entertaining in design and delightful in flavor.

Michael Meyers Lemon
How cool is that??

As Terry mentioned, Pizza Boy is known for their astounding array -as well as quality- of IPAs.  Even though IPAs are a style I am still acquiring a taste for myself, every IPA I’ve had from Pizza Boy is wonderful. They are crisp and clean, with an evenness I haven’t found in many of that style. And, of course, that hop bitterness one expects of an IPA. Terry says of Murren River, his current favorite, “it’s a classic West Coast style IPA, my favorite IPA style, and really screams Citra, one of my favorite hops.”

And Pizza Boy has more to offer than just IPAs. For instance, this delectable Belgian style aged with Brett named Whatever, Forever.  Keeping with the common standard, this brew is crisp and clean. It pours similar to a champagne- and there is plenty to celebrate!

Whatever, Forever by Pizza Boy

Even aside from the caliber of the brew, it is obvious that there is passion behind each beer. When asked about his craft beer love story, Terry told me,
“I grew up on Yuengling, not what most people think of craft beer these days, but certainly in the late 80’s to early 90’s it was; they let me know beer could have flavor. Then one day while moving out of an apartment in Ohio another guy was moving in and brought 2 big jugs of liquid in. When I asked him what they were he said ‘homebrew.’ I still didn’t know what he was talking about, then he said ‘it’s beer!’ I was shocked and amazed you could make beer at home so much so that, after I moved, I bought myself my first homebrew kit and the rest is history. It’s a fascinating process that never ceases to amaze me. Brewing is the perfect combination of science and art, how could I not love it?”

 I am far from the only one noticing their passion for the craft, however. Pizza Boy was recently invited to and attended the 2018 BXL BeerFest in Brussels, Belgium. This festival boasts sixty breweries from ten countries and each brewery must meet certain standards to be in attendance.

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Terry says of his adventures at BXL, ” BXL BeerFest was a blast. It was humbling to be invited, to pour my beer in the company of the greats like Cantillon, Drie Fonteinen, Jester King, and so many more. I also met so many new, talented brewers like Beerbliotek from Sweden, Brauerei J. Kemker from Germany, Boundary Brewing Cooperative in Belfast, and L’Ermitage Nano Brasserie in Belgium. To me, this fest embodied the real spirit of brewing. It was so well organized and everyone was incredibly nice. Food was amazing, as well. It was truly an honor for me to represent myself and Pizza Boy, showcasing our beer to the world.”

Terry and his team exhibit the epitome of the universal theme of the craft beer world: there is a beer for everyone and a place for everyone in the craft beer community.

“As a brewer there’s a LOT of things I wish consumers knew about beer but really it’s all about what YOU like, what YOU enjoy drinking and that’s all that matters. My brewery? The only thing that matters to me is to constantly strive to do better, I want people to trust me and trust our brand, to really know we care about what we’re making…I brew for our local customers. Sure, our beer is distributed statewide and I listen to their wants and needs too, but I see my locals everyday. I try to do my best to brew something for everyone.”

And there truly is something for everyone.

So if you’re lucky enough to get that chance, snag a can or , even better, snag a seat at Pizza Boy!

 

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To learn more about Pizza Boy Brewing, visit:
https://pizzaboybrewing.com

To learn more about BXL BeerFest, visit:
http://www.bxlbeerfest.com

Getting Weird With Beer

“The greatness of art is not to find what is common but what is unique.”
-Isaac Bashevis Singer

One of my favorite things about the craft beer community is the acceptance of the strange. While there are always exceptions, for the most part, the community will accept you with open arms (but full hands- let’s be real, we don’t wanna put the beer down.) Beer is a strange discovery as is and can represent and tie together both traditional history and the evolving uniqueness of the world. When it comes to this craft, brewers certainly brew very specific, classical styles and there are certain rules regarding what can pass for a given type. However, there is also more than enough room for having fun and getting crazy by pushing the limits of what could- or should- be possible. In fact, that’s part of the charm. So, today, I’ve picked two of the craziest sounding beers I have found thus far.

Let’s get weird.

 

The Drink-Along: Bozo Beer| Evil Twin Brewing

Bozo Beer by Evil Twin

Evil Twin is one of those breweries that keeps cranking out new, innovative brews and I am obsessed. So, of course, this one drew me in. The name, for starters, issues a challenge that I couldn’t help but accept. And, at 17.2% ABV, it’s quite a sucker punch. It is a Imperial Stout with “molasses, lactose, chocolate, almond, hazelnut, vanilla bean, cinnamon, oak spiral, chili, marshmallow, muscovado sugar, and coffee” which is SO MUCH. Guys- it’s so much. That being said, it was surprisingly easy to pick out notes of almost all of the individual flavors which is impressive, considering just how much they were able to cram into one drink. Thankfully, for my taste, there was far less of a syrupy molasses flavor than I expected, although there were certainly notes. The chocolate and the chili balanced well, also. In fact, no one ingredient overpowered another.  However, it certainly does not taste nearly as boozy as it is, so do drink with discretion. Or share with as many people as there are ingredients.

So now that we’ve established ourselves as dessert-first drinkers, let’s move on to our entree.

The Drink-Along: Out Of The Lunchbox| The Bruery

Out of the Lunchbox by the Bruery

Just in time for back-to-school, we have liquid peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I am a sucker for this theme in a beer. This was the subject of one of my first homebrews and I can vouch for how tough it is to make a beer that tastes like not only a sandwich, but one that is so iconic. This is not one you can get “close enough.”

The color, first off, is gorgeous. Definitely can discern “jelly” from this. Admittedly, I am not a fan of the initial taste, as it reminds me of a stout which is not the advertised style nor is it a style I feel works with the intended flavor profile. HOWEVER. The after taste is creepily on the nose. The mouthfeel feels exactly like it would after taking a bite out of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, complete with the bread-y flavor and feel. The sweetness of the berry mimics jelly very well and works with the peanut butter. It is incredibly balanced, although I would prefer more peanut butter. That being said, speaking from experience, even getting this much to come through successfully is a win. Overall, the combination of the flavors and mouthfeel in the aftertaste is incredible enough to eclipse the initial taste, making this a slam dunk in my book despite itself.

As we’ve seen (and tasted,) taking chances can lead to surprisingly fun results. Although not all risks come with rewards, even if you end up looking like a “bozo,” the risks are worth taking. Especially in craft beer. So take the chance to sit with the weird kid at lunch, especially if that kid is a beer and tastes like a sandwich.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Milkshake Brings All The Beers To The Yard…

I don’t know about you guys, but I have never been one to follow fads. I have never been up on the latest fashions or honestly even cared what was popular. Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just never been my thing. That being said, beer trends have fascinated me from the very beginning of my craft beer journey. It is incredible to me that, in an ever-growing world full of endless possibilities, enough people can still come together to agree on a certain style of beer.  We have previously discussed the beer trend of the New England style IPA. Today, however, we will be looking at a new up-and-comer. The Nitro Smoothie/Milkshake beer.

This is one of the coolest styles I’ve seen in awhile for a multitude of reasons. The first is that it is a nitro beer. Nitro being short for, ya know, Nitrogen. Most beers use carbon dioxide, so this is already a bit different. The main reason for using Nitrogen is to cause smaller bubbles so the head seems thicker and creamier. Which leads us to the smoothie part of the beer. Depending on the brewery, I have seen these referred to as milkshake but, more commonly and perhaps more aptly, as smoothie beers. I have seen so many varieties from Stouts to IPAs, but the main things they have in common are they are brewed with lactose (which adds some body and definitely some sweetness) and they typically have smoothie/milkshake flavors, such as mango or vanilla.

The Drink Along: Whipped |  Stillwater Artisanal and Oliver Brewing collaboration

There are actually several different versions of the Whipped collaboration, including an IPA. However, I chose the style that most called to me: Sour Raspberry Nitro Smoothie Ale. (Most are referring to this as Volume 3, I believe.)

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The first thing that caught my eye was the vintage can design which is, frankly, groovy. The second is the instructions. Shake up and then pour. Well, alright. Typically counter-intuitive to most beers, however this actives the nitrogen and doesn’t make nearly the mess it would with other beers.

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Just a little mess.

The head on this beer was gorgeous. Full, thick, and creamy. Make all the inappropriate jokes you want but it was impressive.

Whipped- Stillwater, Oliver 2

The major downside is it came out smelling very much like burnt rubber. I have talked with several people who have tried this and haven’t had this issue so it is definitely just the particular batch. It could come from a couple different issues but I won’t really fall down that rabbit hole.  The main thing is it definitely wasn’t kept cold enough (can instructs to keep ice cold) so I will definitely have to get another one…..for science.

While very off-putting at first, I gave it a chance and let the smell dissipate. And I’ll tell you, I wasn’t disappointed. It certainly has a heavier, denser feel than most sour ales and tastes super creamy, as well. It really lives up to the smoothie descriptor. To be honest, it was so close I half expected to accidentally wind up with a raspberry seed in my teeth. The fruit flavor comes through smoothly and very balanced. Surprisingly, even with the added sweetness, the sour aspects came through as well.

Hands down, I think the two most important things to keep in mind when drinking craft beer are to have both an open mind and a decent amount of bravery. Some batches or even entire beers don’t turn out and can have some…interesting…side effects, like a rubber smell. Admittedly, there is also a level of common sense on when to abandon that particular ship for more more flavorful –  I mean, favorable- seas. But, in this case, my bravery was rewarded. I certainly understand why so many people have become enamored with this style and, if anything, this experience has made me even more curious to see what others are doing. And to even try a different batch of this one.

So la la la la the beers are waiting.

Cheers.

 

Domestic vs Craft Beer

“With but few exceptions, it is always the underdog who wins through sheer willpower.”
-Johnny Weissmuller

With all this talk about craft beer, it is important to realize what allows it to be considered “craft.” It certainly isn’t sitting around whittling birdhouses, so what makes it so special?

To best grasp what craft beer is, it may be easier to first understand what it is not. Non-craft beers that are brewed in a particular country and circulate throughout are considered “domestics” while those brewed outside and have to be brought in are called “imports.” The imports category can have many different types under its umbrella so, for now, we will focus on domestics.

Domestic breweries tend to be extremely large scale and considerably older than most craft breweries. This is because most of the domestic beer companies that are still around are those few that survived Prohibition.  They are also, generally speaking, cheaper than the majority of craft beers. Examples of this are Miller, Coors, and Budweiser.

This all sounds great, so why even bother with craft brews?

Like most things, just because it sounds good on paper, doesn’t always make it true in execution. The first and biggest strike against them is that most only produce American Lagers, which is not an issue if that is the style you like all the time. But, for most people, the same thing gets boring after awhile. After Prohibition was repealed, a few brewers felt the same way and decided to try something different. From there, craft beer was born and, today, hundreds of varieties are available.

While craft breweries tend to stay small, there is a certain appeal to that. The breweries are able to stay more customer-centric and keep a decisive level of quality. It also allows for more creative brewing, creating styles and variations of styles that would be much more difficult on such a large scale as most domestic producers. The number of styles adds to the inclusiveness of the craft beer world, leading to the phrase of “there’s a craft beer for everyone.”

At the end of the day, it boils down to preference. And no judgements here if domestics are your jam. Be proud of the beer you like. However, personally, I see it as the difference between Wal-Mart and the local mom and pop shops. I know that one is cheaper and more convenient, but the other is going to be run with passion and personal motivation.

And I personally choose passion.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

Brewery Spotlight: Minglewood

“A couple more shots of whiskey, I’m going down to Minglewood.”
-Grateful Dead

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The sun was shining as I strolled down the sidewalk and up to the doors of Minglewood Brewery. The outside architecture hinted at the past stories of this river town building constructed in 1891. Suffice it to say, this building has seen some sights.  This historically registered establishment was originally home to a Masonic temple, then a well known local music store and, most recently, is the residence of Minglewood Brewery.

As I enter, I catch my favorite Blues Traveler song floating on artisan pizza-scented air that fills my nose and causes my stomach to rumble. Humming along, I take a seat at the bar, a gorgeous wood installment that is reminiscent of dark driftwood. In fact, the entire brewery is a stunning blend of dark wood, brick, and Edison lights.

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A friendly bartender takes my order and, after,  I take a moment to glance around, participating in my favorite sport of people watching. The strangest sight catches my attention. I notice that, unlike anywhere else, hardly anyone is on their phones. Instead of growing another digital appendage, everyone is interacting with each other, content just conversing and laughing in the comfortable atmosphere that is the brewery. There’s a couple clearly on their first date who are breaking the ice over a gigantic Bavarian pretzel and house-made beer cheese. At the next table, a girl snarls her nose up at her friend offering her a beer, emphatically stating she does not like beer. Her friend, rolling her eyes, pushes it her way with a “Just try it.” The girl reciprocates the eye roll and takes the tiniest of sips. And then a big gulp. “You know, that’s really good. Is that what beer is supposed to taste like?” she asks.  A bit further down, there’s a group of businessmen who are making it very clear they’re excited that their boss chose to have their meeting at a place with beer on tap and rugby on television.

A smiling server brings me out of my own thoughts by placing a pizza in front of me. I notice three things immediately. One, that pizza is the best looking pizza I think I’ve ever seen. Two, not only is she smiling, but all the servers and bartenders are too, even while they’re briskly walking around. Which makes me and everyone they interact with smile. Three, did I mention that pizza, though??? It’s a taco on a pizza! Not to mention, made with grain from the beers: Bonus!

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Of course, this glorious meal would not be complete without a beer. While the tap offerings are all in close but delicious competition with each other for my ‘favorite,’ the Satellite IPA wins out today. While IPAs are typically not my go-to, this version of a New England style IPA is perfection, easily my favorite example of the style. Stuart Matthews, owner of Minglewood, agrees. “[New England IPA] is a style that’s growing in popularity despite its non traditional hazy appearance.  But the tropical fruit aroma and low bitterness has made it my go-to beer as of late.  And my number one selling beer as well.” And he isn’t exaggerating. Stuart tells me that the first couple batches of the Satellite sold out in just a few hours and demand has only increased.

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While being one of the first to successfully bring this style to the area, it is far from the only aspect that makes Minglewood stand out. “The most recent thing that makes Minglewood unique is that we’re the first brewpub in the state to deliver beer with our pizza.  We have a phone app and customers can order from our website.  It’s city wide in Cape Girardeau.  Only on weekends as of now.” And if that isn’t enticing enough, they also can beer directly off the tap at request that can be taken home in an insulated brown bag designed specifically to fit.

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And if you don’t think that’s the best name ever, you’re just wrong.

Minglewood certainly has a wide array of offerings. The variety and flavor of their artisan pizza menu is enough of a head turner on its own, but when paired with beer that is made with precision and passion, they just can’t go wrong. Nor do they intend to. Unlike some businesses that get comfortable and lax after their first few years, Minglewood has made it clear they’re just getting started. With new styles of beer being expertly brewed all the time and their evolving relationship with the local community, they strive to prove that everyone has a place in the craft beer world, even if you’ve never experienced craft beer before.

“If you’re not familiar with craft beer and you’re willing to expand your pallet, then there’s a Minglewood beer for you.”

And you better believe I will be back for Minglewing Monday.

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And yes, I did, in fact, finish that entire pizza by myself.

Cheers.

 

 

* Credit where credit is due to Stuart Matthews for providing some of the lovely photos for today’s blog*

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!

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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.