Weights and Measures

At a recent employee meeting at the brewery, there was a mention that we may start packaging some of our products in 19.2 ounce cans.  This is an odd size that I’ve seen a handful of breweries releasing.  One day in the car my wife and I were doing what we do best, which is bounce ideas off each other.  A couple of sizes I knew off the top of my head was that 500ml is 16.9oz, so it’s bigger than a half liter, but it’s smaller than a 22oz bomber.  The size doesn’t come out to anything even in ounces or milliliters (568mL).  So what’s the deal?  My wife tossed out “Is is an Imperial Pint?” and I said that it was close, but an Imperial pint is 20 ounces.

Turns out, she was right, and I was… half right? So I did some research and this is what I discovered.  Unbeknownst to me, even with my food science background, the US and the UK measure things slightly differently when it comes to liquid ounces.  There’s several things that play in to it, but the gist of it is a gallon in the UK is the volume of 10 pounds of water (160 ounces) while a gallon in the US is the volume of 8 pounds of water (128 ounces).  But to get quarts and pints, you still divide by 4 and 8 respectively, so a pint in the US is 16 ounces and a pint in the UK is 20 ounces.  But, based on a minor difference in the ounces themselves; apparently one was measured with water, one with wine, so minor density differences, a UK ounce is roughly 0.96 (or 96%) of a US ounce.  So 20 ounces in the UK is only 19.2 ounces US.  What complicates things even further (and brings this full circle) is that several bars now in the US will offer an “Imperial pint” or “true pint” that is 20 ounces US… so actually slightly larger than the “true pint” you would get in an English pub.  So yes.. an Imperial pint is 19.2 ounces.. and 20 ounces… depending on which side of the pond you’re on… or both?

Oskar Blues appears to be the first US brewery to use such a size, debuting Dales Pale Ale in that format in 2012.  A nice light beer.  Founders Brewing also came out with their All Day IPA in that 19.2 size, a 4.5% session beer, meant to be drunk “All Day”.  At some point Oskar Blues jumped the shark and came out with their Barrel Aged Ten Fidy, which clocks in at a whopping 12.9%ABV, in the 19.2 format.  I hope you’re sharing that, or at least not driving anywhere.  My “19.2 oz can” Google search also brings up the Wolf Mother Triple IPA from Golden Road, clocking in at 11.2%, so breweries aren’t afraid to go big in this format.

So that begs the question, why are American breweries packaging beers in UK pints? The answer would seem to me to be, “Because it’s there”.  Ball Corporation makes the cans, which are the same diameter as standard 12 and 16 ounce cans, just taller. (24 ounce cans and 32 ounce cans; often referred to as crowler, a portmanteau of can and growler, are wider). This means you can offer a larger size with only minimal adjustments to your can filler.  Raise the height, set the flow controls to a larger volume and boom, you’re done!  I’ve read in a couple places that breweries like them since it’s only slightly smaller than a 22 ounce bomber, but has the advantages of a can, such as being infinitely recyclable, lighter weight for shipping (full or empty), and no breaking.  The last one is a big deal in the hiking/camping/fishing group and the pack in/pack out mentality.  Easier to carry, easier to store, quicker to cool, great for outdoor activities.

I don’t know what products (if any) we’ll end up releasing in this format, but it sent me down an interesting rabbit hole of science and history that I wanted to share.  I’m a huge geek for numbers and trivia, so this is right up my alley!

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Proper Pint Taproom

It seems you can’t blink in this town without a new brewery/restaurant/taproom opening.  Most of it goes unnoticed because we just can’t keep up with it all.  Proper Pint was different.  My wife and I drive by the location everyday and have been watching the progress since before we even knew it was going to be a taproom.  When the signs went up for Proper Pint we were excited to have another beer bar in the area that would be walking distance from our house (Only 7 blocks).

Last Saturday, we drove by the location (52nd and Woodstock) and saw people inside.  They looked open.  We already had plans for that day, but we decided we would swing by on Sunday.  While I was searching the internet for a website with online tap listings and hours of operation, I didn’t find it, but I did run across this great article from New School Beer  which gives a little bit of history of the owner Sean Hiatt, formerly of the Civic Taproom.  The article also has some great pictures of the interior, which I neglected to take because I was more interested in the beer.

So we stopped in on Sunday, and as fate would have it, ended up sitting next to Sean at the bar.  He looked nervous, but in that excited energy kind of way.  Turns out they had opened the day before, when we saw people inside, so this was only their second day open.  We chit chatted with Sean and with Gary behind the bar while we ordered a couple beers and enjoyed the space.  Sean said they hoped to have a “grand opening” celebration in a couple weeks.  He said the target was Saturday August 5th, but that sounded up in the air, so don’t quote me on that.

One of the things I discovered in the article, and then spoke to Sean about on Sunday, was that he built the bar. Literally.  He is an accomplished wood worker and he built the tables, stools, shelves, bar, barback etc.  Anything made of wood in that bar, he made it.  He said it took him about four months to make all the chairs and tables.  Talk about a labor of love!

I would certainly call last weekend a “soft opening”, there are still some kinks to work out, like tap handles that don’t fit quite right and figuring out how to best utilize the flow control taps, but I feel confident they will get those worked out quickly.

Another thing that I observed, which was both a kink to work out and a great example of customer service, was when a patron ordered the de Garde Bu Weisse, and then she came back a few minutes later and told Gary that she thought this was the Zitrus Weizen and not the Weisse.  The two taps were side by side.  Gary poured a small amount from both taps, looked, smelled and tasted them (which is allowed now by OLCC regulations) and told the customer she was absolutely right.  Poured her a new glass and then went to the back to see what had gone wrong and discovered the two draft lines were swapped.  The way he handled that situation was very well done.  Obviously with being newly opened, things like this will happen, but to handle them with class and grace is a tribute to the team there at Proper Pint.

When we were there they had a good mix of beers on tap, which has probably changed by now, including the requisite IPAs and Double IPAs, but also a handful of lighter beers like Kolsch and Weizen and Farmhouse beers.  They also have a couple of ciders on tap and two nitro taps.  One was Left Hand Milk Stout on Nitro, the other was a Nitro IPA from Loowit.  While I loved the hop profile of the IPA, the Nitro made it seem flat and overly sweet.  It was missing that bite from the carbonation.

If you live in SE Portland (or maybe if you don’t) I’d highly recommend you swing by.  I know my wife and I will be back fairly often.

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Proper Pint Taproom is located at the Intersection of 52nd Street and Woodstock Blvd. They are open from noon to about midnight, 7 days a week (official hours not yet posted).  For more information check out their Facebook Page.

Into the Woods Part 3

The warm weather has majorly slowed down the consumption of high alcohol, dark, barrel aged beers, but there’s been a handful here and there.  I don’t know how many “parts” to this post there will be since I have several more barrel aged beers waiting in the wings, so this may just become a regular ongoing feature.

2016 Two Beers Overhang Porter – This was a bottle that I brought home from judging the Best of Craft Beer awards and happened to be the last one we cracked open.  This beer had an aroma of dark dry fruit and faint vanilla, the flavor was also heavy on dark dry fruit and slight oak.  I remarked it was not bad, but I felt it was slightly past it’s prime. Interestingly, I tasted this at the competition and gave it 2.75 stars on Untappd and said it was a huge diacetyl bomb.  I obviously forgot this fact when I got a bottle to bring home.  The bottle we had at home though was much better.  I gave that one 4 stars. (4 stars).

2016 McMenamins Longest Night of the Year – Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine.  Ironically enough we ended up drinking this one a couple of days before the summer solstice.  (Also interesting, mine is still the most recent check in on Untappd, so apparently no one else had the willpower to hold on to a bottle that long.)  This one had dark fruit, brown sugar and whiskey in the aroma coupled with sweet dark fruit, vanilla and whisky in the flavor.  Clear red color, highly carbonated (surprising for a BA Barleywine) very boozy with a lot of warming.  Not a normal summer drink, but it was still very nice.  (4.75 stars).

2016 Ex Novo Kill the Sun – Bourbon barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout.  I got to try this one over the weekend at the Ex Novo 3rd Anniversary party and man was it good.  This one had a ton of dark dry fruit in the aroma and flavor, basically tasted like raisins.  Good whiskey character, pretty boozy.  Should continue to improve with age.  I wish I had a couple bottles of this to stash away.  (4.75 stars)

Culmination Pinot Evil II – Barrel aged Tripel with wine grapes.  I love Belgian style beers, so the last time I was at Culmination I had to try this. They don’t specify the barrel used, but with wine grapes added I’m assuming it was also aged in a wine barrel.  It didn’t give off any major whiskey notes.  Wine barrel aging of beer is becoming more popular.  This beer started out with a sharp tang of acidity that I would assume was from the grapes, and then it finished with that traditional bubblegum sweetness of a Belgian beer.  It wasn’t sour, but it had just a little bit of a bite to it.  (4.75 stars)

Oregon Mead and Cider Co. Free Press Pinot Gris Barrel Aged Frankencyser – Say that three times fast… So this was a really interesting sample on my taster flight at Oregon Mead and Cider (Formerly Stung Fermented).  Cyser is a blend of cider and mead, and this one was a blend of whatever was left in the bottom of the tanks after a bottling run of their standard Free Press Cider and Worker Mead.  This was blended (ratio unknown, maybe half and half?) and then aged in a Pinot Gris barrel.  I didn’t write down detailed tasting notes but I remember it being very fruity and refreshing and it picked up a lot of white wine character from the barrel.  It almost just tasted like wine.  But a little sweeter, since most Oregon Gris is pretty dry. (4.5 stars)

The war rages on…

Last week was a roller coaster in the beer world.  The Brewers Association announced a special logo, recognizing independently owned breweries.  You can read the release and see the logo HERE. To me, this just further emphasizes the point that the only important part of the “Craft” designation from the BA is ownership.  Based on the BA’s definition of craft, “small” is 6 million barrels of beer a year.  The largest craft brewery is Yuengling at a reported 2.9 million BBLs of production (2012) so there’s still a lot of room to grow and still be considered craft.  The limit was increased last year or the year before, specifically to bring Yuengling into the fold.  Sam Adams (Boston Beer), the 2nd largest “craft” brewer (4 million BBLs/2016) is distributed nationwide.  I can walk into a grocery store in tiny Canby, Oregon and find Boston Lager, Rebel IPA, Grapefruit IPA, 3 flavors of Angry Orchard (a Boston Beer wholly owned subsidiary) and now the new Truly Alcoholic Sparkling Water (another BB subsidiary).  I find it hard to swallow that they aren’t pushing other beer off the shelf, which is exactly what we accuse ABInBev of, but it’s OK because Sam Adams is “craft”.

The other problem I have with the logo comes from a strictly food labeling standpoint.  Even though the logo is not designed as any sort of designator of product quality, that is how it will eventually be perceived.  The BA is trying to assert that local and independent beer is “better”.  That “better” can be interpreted millions of ways, but for the average consumer that will equate to better quality or “tastes better”.  Earlier this morning I responded to a post on the American Homebrewers Forum about how the logo will be adapted into a quality statement.  I was already thinking about this post when I formulated this reply, so I will just copy it here in it’s entirety.  Click the link above to scroll through the entire post.

“This is all well and good for those of us who are deep into the industry, but as always these moves are made for the “rest of the world” who don’t care as much where the stuff in the can comes from.

As with most things that go on a label, and which several people have mentioned above, there will be an implied quality statement with the logo.  That’s just how food labels work.  I’m a food scientist and there’s a lot of stuff that goes on food labels and of course if it goes on a label it must be important right? That’s how people’s brains work.  The FDA doesn’t regulate beer labels yet, but it’s coming very soon.  We’re already having to work on calories and nutrition facts labels.

There’s a lot of stuff out there that has nothing to do with quality, but crafty advertisers or just human intellect of “this must be different and special” turns into quality statements.  For example, if I say the words Black Angus, what do you think? Most people are going to think about a fancy downtown steakhouse like Ruth’s Chris. Black Angus is a breed of cattle.  Not a quality designation.  There are three grades of meat, Select, Choice and Prime.  Choice is what you get in the grocery store, Prime is what you get in Ruth’s Chris, but they are both still Black Angus.  When Hardees/Carl’s Jr is advertising Angus Burgers they are banking on most people equating that with expensive steak.  Are they using Prime beef? Hell no, they are using Choice (or even Select) but people equate Angus with Prime.

The BA’s selling point is “local and independent is better”.. better how? Better for the economy, better business practices, better for your community etc etc.  Over time most people will turn that into “better quality” or “tastes better”.  Is the BA trying to intentionally mislead people? No, I don’t think so, but they are certainly taking advantage of how human emotions work to push their message.  In essence that’s how all advertising works.  Is it meant as a quality statement? No, but in 5 years that’s not what people will remember about it.  People automatically assume “better quality” and pay a premium for things like “Natural”, “No Corn Syrup”, “Free Range”, “Dolphin Safe” “GMO Free” etc etc, all of which are unregulated and mostly meaningless statements (Organic is the only one certified by the government) and don’t always (or sometimes ever) equate to product quality.  It’s a shell game.. and it always has been.”

Of course, the other side of this coin is the immediate and comical reaction from ABInBev’s High End. This is the branch of the company that owns the 10 Barrel’s and Wicked Weed’s in their portfolio.

You can watch the video HERE from Draft Magazine.  It’s… well.  It’s something.  It’s ridiculous and it’s a video that doesn’t need to exist.  I may or may not agree with the labeling, but there was absolutely no reason for InBev to respond to it.  Just let it go.  They aren’t helping themselves with this at all.  They come across as whiny and judgmental even though they are the ones controlling the market.  They have a huge chunk of market share, but some new label comes along and they are all up in arms about how it’s “not fair!”.  Wow.  This is greed and capitalism 101, big companies only like something if it’s *their* rules.  The whole “we need to gang up on wine and spirits” is complete bullshit.  The market doesn’t work that way, at least not at the distributor level.  It may look that way in the high up offices of a multi trillion dollar international conglomerate who has to worry about the Diago’s and Robert Mondavi’s of the world, but on the boots on the ground level, at your local pub, it’s beer vs beer.  Mr Small Local Brewer wheels a keg into a bar, the bar man say’s sorry, we don’t have any open taps because some distributor went in and brought 12 kegs instead of one.  What looks like a decent selection of Budwieser, Elysian, 10 Barrel, Goose Island, Breckenridge and Wicked Weed is not much of a variety at all when they all come from the same company.

I’m all for fighting against illegal business practices.  I don’t think a large brewing concern like ABInBev should own distributors.  In some states that’s legal, in some it’s not.  To me that pushes the boundaries.

However, I don’t think the BA is going about it the right way.  You can’t beat the behemoth at their own game.  It won’t work.