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EDITORIALS & LETTERS 2013 » BACK TO EDITORIALS & LETTERS INDEX
 
December 2013/January 2014
Is Beer Going to Pot?

 
More and more breweries are offering up beers with a marijuana theme. Many years ago, Humboldt Brewing in Arcata, Calif., famously came up with Hemp Ale as part of its Nectar series and sold it (along with the failed brewery) to Firestone Walker in Paso Robles, Calif. Today there are numerous commercial beers with a weed connotation. But our government has fought such references and continues to oppose any marijuana innuendo on beer labels. For most breweries, however, it’s innuendo and out the other.

The federal government says “drugs, drug terms or slang associated with drugs” are forbidden in beer labeling, and adds, “We do not believe that responsible industry members should want or would want to portray their products in any socially unacceptable manner,” according to a Huffington Post article.

Tony Magee, the founder of Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, Calif., ran afoul of authorities back in 2005 when California state agents shut down his brewery after witnessing the alleged use of marijuana there. Lagunitas then released Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale. More recently, Lagunitas was denied TTB label approval for an ale named “The Kronik” (“chronic” is slang for high-grade cannabis). The brewery ended up naming the beer “Censored,” which was ironically approved by the TTB. What are those guys smoking?

Magee stated, “When they rejected Kronik, we did push a little. I told them: ‘Let me just ask you guys a question: What do you think Bud means? What about High Life?’” This Bud’s obviously not for them.

One brewer who did choose to fight and got major international publicity for it was Vaune Dillmann, co-owner of Mt. Shasta Brewing Co. in Northern California. In 2008, the feds told Dillmann he could not market his brewery’s “Weed Golden Ale” with bottle caps that read “Try LEGAL Weed.” With the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union, Dillmann argued the word “weed” in his branding references the town where the beer was made, Weed, Calif. The town, BTW, was named after a 19th century California legislator, Abner Weed. Whaaat?

Michigan-based Dark Horse Brewing wanted to distribute a brew previously sold in limited batches as “Smells Like Weed IPA.” After being rejected by the TTB, the brewery renamed the beer “Smells Like a Safety Meeting IPA.” (A “safety meeting” is stoner babble for a break taken while on the job to smoke marijuana.)

In Seattle, Wash., Redhook Ale Brewery bypassed the feds’ dislike of its newest beer, “Joint Effort Hemp Ale,” by distributing it only within Washington state. That was allowed because the federal government has power only over interstate commerce. Redhook’s brand manager said the brew is being marketed to celebrate the 2012 legalization of recreational cannabis by voters in that state.

Steve Lopas, co-owner of Concord, Calif.–based Ale Industries, named one of his brewery’s offerings “Orange Shush” to commemorate censorship by the feds. The original label of the beer was “Orange Kush” (also the name of a high-potency strain of cannabis).

And now, marijuana has been charged with giving alcohol a bad name. That’s the contention of liquor lobbyists, who are getting tired of an ad campaign that makes the claim that pot is safer than their beloved alcoholic beverages.

“We’re not against legalization of marijuana; we just don’t want to be vilified in the process,” said one alcohol industry representative who didn’t want to be quoted. “We don’t want alcohol to be thrown under the bus, and we’re going to fight to defend our industry when we are demonized.”

Geez, chill, big liquor. Relax and have a homegrown brew. We can’t imagine your industry going up in smoke.
October/November 2013
Brewers Association Survives Man and Nature

 
The Brewers Association, based in Boulder, Colorado, faced near tragedy as torrential rains flooded its home base and many of the homes of its employees, closing down streets and disrupting planning for the association’s biggest event of the year, the Great American Beer Festival.

This year’s GABF will be the biggest ever. Tickets for the main show sold out in 20 minutes. Frustrated brewers trying to get a booth at this year’s classic and get their beers entered for the judging were turned down by the overworked computer system. For some brewers, this meant not being able to return to defend a highly prized medal. Meanwhile, ticket resellers like StubHub are selling GABF tickets at a premium, attesting to the success of the country’s greatest beer festival.

Naturally, many beer lovers who wanted to attend were disappointed and just plain pissed off. The Brewers Association, however, must be given some slack here, considering the huge national — indeed, international — allure of the country’s biggest and most important gathering of beer and brewing.

GABF Director Nancy Johnson has already put in place procedures to help alleviate the brewery registration cutoff by arranging to provide space for an additional 200 breweries. That is a complicated maneuver, as it involves more than just space; draft equipment and volunteers need to be secured as well. There will be increases in beers allowed for judging next year, along with the recruitment of additional qualified judges.

This year’s GABF will see 49,000 attendees in the Colorado Convention Center in early October. The backstory is now being revealed. Be sure to give Brewers Association staff members a nod and a thank-you.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (October/November 2013)

Tom:
I hope you warned the monks not to look at image No. 3 on page 3!

Roger Protz, U.K.
[British beer authority and author]

Dear Roger:
I doubt if the monks will have time for non-ecclesiastical reading with their busy schedule. But many thanks for your thoughtful concern. — Ed.



Hello, Tom!:
First, let me congratulate you on 25 years of the Celebrator. Since I started homebrewing, it has been a consistent source of news and fun. I too am looking forward to the next 25 years! Now, for the crux of my missive: Why was June/July 2013 the final Brewers Swimsuit edition?

Tony Carnicello
via Internet

Dear Tony:
Our Brewers Swimsuit Issue began many years ago as a spoof on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. We thought we’d get a few pictures of brewers in swimsuits and rubber boots in the brewhouse. But the amazing imagination of the brewing industry gave us some very memorable pictures, including an underwater shoot with the Kona Brewing people, snakes in the brewhouse, a beach made of malt in the brewhouse, and a most mamorable photo shoot from Walking Man brewery in Washington involving a retired porn star. Now we seem to have entered an era of HR departments looking askance at our immodest efforts and contributing to a notable decline in participation. Next June we will have a retrospective of our favorite Brewers Swimsuit Issue contributions, and that should be the end of that. — Ed.



Hi, Tom:
Great advice regarding telling our politicians that we want growler fill/sales laws. I wrote to the Brewers Association asking for their “model legislation” that I could use with my legislators and was told: “We don’t offer model legislation. You have to find a state guild that has a copy of their state’s law.” Very poor response from our “national” brewers organization.

Cheers,
Tom Ciccateri
via Internet

Tom:
The BA is a national organization, and most alcohol laws are subject to various state legislatures. Hardly the sort of thing that the BA could keep up with. Try the California Craft Brewers Association (CaliforniaCraftBeer.com), which recently sponsored legislation to clarify confusing and just plain silly laws regarding growler fills. — Ed.
August/September 2013
Growler Nation a Worthy Goal

 
“You know the beer drinkers have won when you can fill your growler with local craft beer at a drugstore,” wrote Angela Chen in The Wall Street Journal. The July 16, 2013, article noted that not only is the craft beer “craze” (her word) not slowing down, but the number of craft breweries is growing, and in many areas where the practice is allowed, people are taking freshly brewed beer home in handy jugs called growlers.

This practice not only offers the beer enthusiast fresh, local brew; it also doesn’t involve expensive packaging equipment — just a hose to let the beer flow freely from the taps into your (or their) bottle to take home and enjoy, without packaging waste or the need to drive home after drinking.

The obvious reasons for filling a growler over buying bottles or cans are that it is environmentally friendly and cost-effective. The container is reusable and generates no trash. Filling a growler uses far less energy and water than the bottling and canning processes. Additionally, growlers allow the beer lover to take home limited-release and seasonal beers that are not bottled. A perfect solution, you might say? Well, not in all states.

Many states ban the growler fill outright. The North Carolina legislature has passed, and the governor has signed, a bill to permit growler sales, but the state ABC has yet to put regulations in place. This delay puts quite a few growler station businesses on hold. The Delaware governor signed into law House Bill 31, which allows Delaware liquor stores to fill and sell growlers of draught beer on-site. Neighboring states Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey already allow liquor stores to sell growlers, while Maryland’s law is on a county-by-county basis. California continues to develop its regulations for growlers, but only breweries can fill them at present.

If you like the idea of a licensed beer retailer (brewery, pub, restaurant or liquor store) having the ability to sell you fresh beer delivered to your own container to take home and enjoy, let your local politicians know of your interest, and perhaps something will get done. Fresh beer should be a right, not a privilege. Make Growler Nation a reality!
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (August/September 2013)

Hello, Tom!:
First, let me congratulate you on 25 years of the Celebrator. Since I started homebrewing, it has been a consistent source of news and fun. I too am looking forward to the next 25 years! Now, for the crux of my missive: Why will this be the final Brewers Swimsuit Issue?

Cheers!
Tony Carnicello
Orange, Calif.

Tony:
Thanks for the nice words regarding the Celebrator’s 25th. It was a great one, as 25ths go. Ah, the Brewers Swimsuit Issue. That started as a joke to spoof the Sports Illustrated annual boob and butt fest. We thought we’d have pictures of brewers in trunks and boots in the brewery.

Well, over the years we got quite a lot of very creative and occasionally risqué photos. Nothing wrong with that. The ones from our friends at Walking Man Brewing in Stevenson, Wash., even included a retired porn star. Some of the pictures were memorable but not printable in a family beer rag.

Over the years, we’ve seen the input drop off. This year we got a really cool shot from a well-known brewery and two weeks later an anxious call from management asking us NOT to run the picture. Could it be the age of HR departments run wild, or just concerns over sexual harassment exposure? Who knows. Next year we’ll do a retrospective of the very best Brewers Swimsuit contributions and then let it go. — Ed.




Dear Editor:
Continued congrats on keeping the Celebrator alive and thriving all these years. Definitely enjoy the “Hop Caen” column and — in the June/July issue — the Austrian brewery item at the bottom of the page. No doubt they’ll have to increase production dramatically and get their export program in gear to satisfy all those thirsty souls on this side of the ocean seeking out —dare I write it? — a “Fucking Beer.”

Cheers,
Miles Jordan
Chico, Calif.

Dear Miles:
Indeed they will. They also have to order more signs that give the town name, as someone keeps stealing the Fucking sign. — Ed.
June/July 2013
Shed a Tear for the Three-Tier System

 
Beer drinkers are blessed with an amazing selection of beers to choose from at their local retail stores and at their favorite bars and restaurants. This era of seemingly infinite choice comes at a price, however — a price that often costs the consumer more money than it should.

Ever since the repeal of Prohibition, the federal government has required the states to regulate alcohol sales and enforce a system whereby alcohol manufacturers and retailers are ostensibly separated by distributors in a three-tier system to prevent the sort of criminal behavior rampant during the Prohibition era. Since repeal in 1933, some states have allowed manufacturers to buy into distributorships, thereby obscuring the separation and giving big manufacturers more control over access to market than smaller players have, as well as a greater influence on the choices made by independent retailers.

Chicago has always had a tightly controlled and fiercely competitive beer market. Several years ago, Anheuser-Busch secured a minority stake in large Chicago distributor City Beverage. This is the subject of a bill that just passed the Illinois Senate, forcing A-B InBev to divest itself of its distribution ownership.

The Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo., is also actively trying to prevent the world’s biggest beer companies, such as A-B InBev, from owning beer distributors. “When A-B owns a distributorship, they have a lot of control” over which beers are carried and shipped around the country — and at what cost — said BA Director Paul Gatza.

The Chicago beer market has a reputation as a “pay-to-play” market where kickbacks, tap installations and free beer are common elements in beer sales, leaving out our less well-funded craft brewers. A proposal to ban brewers from buying wholesale beer distributors in Wisconsin recently won a key legislative vote.

Craft beer lovers can have a voice by insisting that retailers carry their favorite brands. Make your voice heard and let your retailers know that you know how they get their products. A level playing field works for everyone.
April/May 2013
Craft Beer is Expanding!

 
Our craft beer world is expanding — and in a big way. The Brewers Association, the Boulder, Colo., group that puts on the Great American Beer Festival, the Craft Brewers Conference and quite a lot of other things beneficial to our industry, recently had to move the goal posts on what defines a “small” brewer from two million barrels of annual production to six million barrels. This was done to accommodate the increased production of some of our top producers. Boston Beer Company’s Samuel Adams should make it there first, but you never know with this rapidly expanding industry.

The world’s equipment producers are working feverishly to produce the tanks, kettles and related gear necessary for established and up-and-coming breweries to increase brewing capacity for a demand that never seems to be filled. Social media was recently atwitter with pictures of huge tanks on an oceangoing freighter — tanks destined for Sierra Nevada’s new location in Asheville, N.C. A similar sight will follow not far up the road at New Belgium’s new facility. Plucky Green Flash is proving not to be in a pan (flash-wise) by announcing its new East Coast location in Virginia.

Lest you think all this expanded craft beer production is destined for domestic consumption, the Brewers Association also released data showing that the American craft beer industry set a new record for exports in 2012. Based on results from a recently completed industry survey, craft beer export volume increased by an astounding 72 percent from that of 2011, with a value estimated at $49.1 million. Consider that American beer was once considered déclassé and was to be avoided, if not mercilessly ridiculed.

According to the BA, Canada remains craft beer’s largest export market, with shipments increasing 140 percent by volume (up to 68,180 barrels) in 2012. Significant gains have been made in Ontario and British Columbia, and American craft beers are now gaining distribution in other provinces. Not very long ago, American beer geeks sought out Canadian beer mainly because of the higher alcohol found in ales. What’s up with that, eh?

Consider also that, in 2012, Western Europe accounted for 56,204 barrels of American craft beer, valued at $14.6 million, a 5.6 percent increase over 2011. Exports to the Asia-Pacific region increased substantially, with shipments to Japan jumping some 57 percent by volume! Thailand, Japan, Australia and China are now among our industry’s largest export markets.

With the American craft beer industry running at full speed and the rest of the world drinking up all we can make, the future for good beer looks promising indeed. Those who are nervous about all the new breweries opening can be assured that American beer drinkers and their international kin will be spreading the news of good beer far and wide.

As we at the Celebrator Beer News begin our next quarter-century of covering the good-beer movement, the future looks bright indeed. Introduce a friend to the fabulous flavors of craft beer and pass it on. We’ll make more.
February/March 2013
Craft or Crafty?

 
“No other section of the supermarket offers as many choices as the wine aisle.” That’s the conclusion reached by a new report called “Concentration in the U.S. Wine Industry.” The surprising news to the wine world? Just three companies account for more than half of all wine sales in America.

The three firms are E&J Gallo, The Wine Group and Constellation Brands. Together they represent 51.5 percent of the wine market. The study points out that consumers might not know they are buying wine from the same producer when they purchase a bottle of Turning Leaf, William Hill or Edna Valley. However, they are all Gallo-owned wines. Sterling Vineyards, Beaulieu Vineyard and Inglenook brands are all owned by The Wine Group. The wine blogs are atwitter over this recent “revelation” that a huge number of obscure wine labels are so concentrated in the hands of only a handful of big wine groups.

Welcome to the beer world, where 75 percent of all beer brands are in the hands of only two foreign-owned brewery groups — Belgium-based ABI (Anheuser-Busch InBev) and London-based SABMiller (Molson Coors). Add Heineken and Modelo and other imports, and you have 94 percent of the beer industry. The remaining 6 percent is the 2,700 or so “craft brewers” that seem to be getting all the attention these days for producing richly flavored, assertive beers in small breweries.

Compared to the wine business, the beer industry’s continuing consolidation is a bourgeoning monopoly of historic proportions. But the Big Two aren’t satisfied with their stranglehold on the beer biz. ABI is trying to buy the remaining shares in Modelo (Corona) to obtain an additional 5 percent of the beer market (nearly the size of the entire craft beer segment!).

Not content with this huge slice of the beer pie, the big guys are also benefiting from brands that appear to be craft-style beer without putting their names on the labels. The nearly ubiquitous Blue Moon Belgian White Ale is made by SABMiller (Coors) in Colorado and elsewhere. Shock Top comes from the fermenters of Anheuser-Busch’s 12 breweries. Craft or Crafty?

The Brewers Association in Colorado has stepped up with a publicity program to point out this subterfuge. The Craft or Crafty? message is starting to get some notice. This, of course, has been going on for some time. This publication coined the term “stealth brewer” back in 1993 to call out big breweries that were then marketing craftlike beers without acknowledging corporate ownership. Clearly, the Big Two want to own as much of the whole pie as they can. Our government’s Department of Justice, charged with breaking up monopolies, is clearly disengaged on this issue.

Celebrator readers are steadfast in their support of honest, locally owned and independently brewed beer. Let your less discerning beer-drinking companions know (politely, of course!) that some of their choices may not be what they seem. They might think they are supporting independent brewers by drinking Blue Moon, Shock Top and Pabst, but they are actually drinking BudMillerCoors instead. Life is about choices, and beer drinkers have never had such a wealth of great local beer from which to choose. Even if we have only 6 percent of the beer market, we choose 100 percent real beer. Spread the word…

Celebrator at 25

The Celebrator turns 25 years old with this issue. Our 12-page tabloid hit the streets for the first time in January 1988, dedicated to covering the then-called microbreweries of California (all 20 of them). Very quickly, we expanded territory by taking over the defunct Cascade Beer News in 1990 and moving eastward in just a few more years.

The Celebrator Beer News can now be found in every state in the nation, and our esteemed writing corps covers the beer scene firsthand across the nation. Thanks to our loyal readers, the Celebrator continues to expand its circulation around the country. Thank you for supporting the Celebrator and getting us to this point. We are looking forward to the next 25 years and the many changes to come. The future can bring only more great craft beer to enhance your level of beer appreciation. What a long, strange sip it’s been…
 

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