#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*

Beauty and the Yeast

“I am seeking for the bridge which leans from the visible to the invisible through reality”
– Max Beckman

When most people say there’s magic in the air, they’re referring to a scene in a romantic comedy or the first autumn day. When brewers talk about magic in the air, they’re referring to something much different. Yeast.

As unappetizing as it may sound, yeast is the very essence of beer, and the catalyst to making the product we brew and love today. While yeast has always made the brew process possible, it wasn’t discovered until considerably late in the brew game. Yeast is a living organism but is single-celled and practically invisible, which would certainly explain the late find for this pixie dust.

So what’s the secret to this magic act? Well, behind door #1, you’ll find the brew solution, ready for fermentation. And behind door #2, you’ll find the brew yeast…asleep. Until it’s ready for action, yeast stays in a stasis and, much like most people, when yeast wakes up, it’s hungry. When added to the brew solution, yeast starts to snack on all fermentable sugars and, in turn, releases drinkable alcohol and other byproducts. Once it’s eaten its fill, yeast packs up and goes back into hibernation.

While all yeast used in the brewing process is considered “brewers yeast,” there are still different varieties, or strains. My absolute favorite strain is the wild child of the yeast world: Brettanomyces or, as its lovingly referred to, “Brett.” Brett is a wild yeast strain and it certainly behaves that way. It is pretty well the yeast that ate everything. While it probably won’t score itself a horror movie deal any time soon, it is a very important player to keep in mind. Brett eats everything, which means that it will consume all sugars of any kind in a brew solution. This can lead to a higher alcohol content but, more notably, Brett can also contribute a wide variety of flavors.

The Drink Along: The Ghost In Their Eyes | Anchorage Brewing Company

The Ghost in Their Eyes- Anchorage Brewing

First, I would encourage you to seek out any brew from this company because, let’s face it, they all look SO cool. And while you can’t judge a book (or a brew) by its cover, this one certainly is just as cool as its packaging. This is a Brett IPA, however, the hops bitterness is toned down quite a bit.  You definitely get the citrus-y juiciness that you might expect but then, if you let the taste linger, there’s that…funk. There’s honestly no better way to describe it. It’s strange but in a really good way.

Brett proves that he can pretty much hang with any crowd, although his favorite place is back at the farmhouse.

The Drink- Along: All Funked Up: Fruitus The Farmer Beescake | Against The Grain

All Funked Up Fruitus The Farmer Beescake- Against The Grain.jpg

This is a brew in the brewery’s Wild Series and boy, does it live up to that. This is a melon and honey saison.  Just by looking at it, it looks like you’re staring straight into a jar of honey. This gorgeous color is just the beginning of a seamless drink. The Brett, in this case, adds the funkiness in a different way. It enhances the melon flavor, giving a different tone than most fruit beers would. In addition, it carries its flavor all the way through instead of a big punch at the end. There are even bits of a floral feel, which adds more complexity to this already full docket of a beer.

The best way I could ever think to describe Brett is the quintessential movie version of a “bad boy teenager.” Not only does he eat your beer out of house and home (although, can’t really complain about the results in this case,) but he always leaves a funk behind him wherever he goes. He goes wherever he wants, does whatever he wants, and no one can tell him what to do. Everyone wants to be around him, but no one quite understands him.

That being said, just because he’s the stand out doesn’t mean that the other strains are any less important. They’re just overlooked because they don’t demand attention. They’re the stage crew while you’re too busy watching the actors- They’ve made everything happen behind the scenes so that the production goes smoothly. It’s a thankless job, but someone has to do it. So, here’s to you, yeast.

Cheers.