October 23, 2009

Big on beer

A barrel of beer is 31 gallons, which will pour, give or take some 400 beers. Those aluminum kegs you buy for that big party are half-barrels (unless you’re a wuss and buy the quarter-barrel), so a keg will generally produce roughly 200 draughts.

We drink a good bit of beer in this country; 180,396,198 barrels in 2006, according to the most recent statistics available from the Beer Institute. That’s a lot of beer, most of of which is produced by major breweries, such as Budweiser and Miller-Coors. 96% of the beer sold in this country is produced by one of these big boys. However, the small brewers are gaining a toe-hold, and craft beer sales rose by 5.9 percent in 2008, while other domestic beer sales were flat at 0.6 percent, and import beer sales fell by 3.4 percent.

The Brewers Association, a craft brewing trade group, defines craft brewing as being “small, independent and traditional” – that is, brewers that make fewer than 2 million barrels a year; microbreweries which make fewer than 15,000 barrels annually; brewpubs which make beer for sale on their own premises; and contract brewers which either produce craft brews for sale by another company or buy such brews for sale under their own labels. The brewery must not be owned or controlled by a company that is not itself a craft brewer; and they must brew in traditional styles, generally using only hops, malted barley and water.

The resurrection of the craft brewing trade goes back to the 1970s, but didn’t catch full wind until the 1990s. Texas caught on to this trend rapidly, but growth has been in spurts and lurches. For many years now Texas law has hampered the growth of the trade. It seems like you could make all you wanted, but you must jump through many hoops to be able to sell the stuff. As a result, the Texas craft brewing scene is littered with vanished labels and shuttered brewpubs.

After the repeal of Prohibition, most states, including Texas, adopted some form of a “three-tier” regulatory system for alcohol, which firmly separates the manufacture, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages. The scheme was intended to prevent the formation of monopolies, simplify tax collections and ensure fair and orderly markets.

While other states have seen the light and have allowed both wineries and small brewers exceptions to regulation, only in recent years has Texas allowed any exception at all. Texas wineries, for instance, are allowed to sell wine directly to visiting customers. For many small wineries, such sales have made the difference between profit and bankruptcy.

Texas craft brewers have been allowed no similar exception. They are able to offer brewery tours (complete with free samples), but visitors may not purchase the products they’ve seen being made. Brewpubs may sell beer to the public, but only in their establishment and they cannot sell it "to go", or distribute to other establishments. This puts Texas brewers at considerable disadvantage.

In spite of it all, some Texas brewers are succeeding and the market is looking rather favorable. Those that have survived the regulatory burden remain fairly healthy. The more people who learn to appreciate craft brews, the better the outlook, and Texans, me included, are learning to love craft brews.

I keep keg beer at my house, and since my outfit is a two-kegger, Coors, before the merger, was always on one side while the other sported some craft brew or another. Budweiser will never darken my door, and Miller has only one brew (MGD) that I would consider. I used to consider Coors to be a good beer, and push-come-to-shove, I guess I’ll still drink it. Coors pretty much lost me when they merged with Miller. The thought of Coors brewed in Fort Worth with water from the Trinity is more than I can bear.

So I’ve turned almost entirely to the craft brews. Texas has about 40 of these small brewers, with several more in the planning stages. The state ranked fifth in the nation for craft beer production in 2008, behind California, Ohio, Colorado and Oregon. Texas’ craft brewers produced nearly 456,000 barrels in 2008, about 8.5 percent more than 2007’s 420,000 barrels.

Craft beer production is on the rise worldwide, and Texas has jumped on the bandwagon in a big way. The Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner is the oldest in Texas, and the nation’s fourth-largest craft brewer; 10th-largest brewer overall in terms of sales.

Shiner produces a variety of lagers and ales, but their most popular brew by far is Shiner Bock. I’ve found that lovely, dark brew on tap in airports from Seattle to Boston, and in convenience stores in Little Rock, Arkansas and Longmont, Colorado.

I’ve developed a taste for the beer, too. These days, at my home, you will find a Shiner Bock tap handle where once you would have found only Coors. The other side still sports whatever experiment I've found lately.

In a few weeks we’ll be having our state EMS conference. On the closing day of the conference several friends have been invited to visit the mule barn. That evening they’ll be offered some typical Texas fare; steak and beans… maybe cornbread if I have time to get it in the oven...

… and Shiner Bock.

[Edited to fix typos and grammar]


Ambulance Driver said...

And I flat-out cannot wait!

Mule Breath said...

AD's favorite beers... Free, and Cold.

Rogue Medic said...

I am an ale drinker. I have found that few lagers have enough flavor for my tastes. I was very spoiled when I lived in northern California. That area seems to have the highest concentration of breweries in the US. The only product of the mega brewers that I can drink is Blue Moon Ale.

Even Bud's ale is so light on flavor that it falls into the desert island category. If stranded on a desert island, with nothing else to drink, then I might enjoy it.

Texas laws sound as if they were written by the same kind of bureaucratic idiots who wrote the Pennsylvania laws.

When the government is more corrupt than the criminals, things become really stupid.

Mule Breath said...

Government should stay out of the morality business. Period.

Only a zealot could find evil in the fruit of the vine (seed, leaf, stalk, tuber, etc.). Liquor laws are based in some sort of religious principle, and religion has no business telling me I can't buy beer before noon on Sunday, unless god can't stand the competition.

My ongoing gripe with the political parties is their willingness to pander to folks who insist the state should poke noses into my bedroom, library, saloon, etc.

Oh, and I tend toward ales myself, but the American public has light lagers drilled into them, and finding good ales becomes a more expensive pastime.

Bud Light is the best selling beer in the world, followed by Miller Lite and Coors Light. Regular Budweiser comes in 4th. These are the beers you will find on sale at the market... never a brew with any real character or flavor.

When I ask what beers are available at an establishment, I generally save the server some time by suggesting they not mention any beer whose last name is "light".

Rogue Medic said...

Only a zealot could find evil in the fruit of the vine (seed, leaf, stalk, tuber, etc.).

Speaking of witch. ;-)

The Conservapedia is rewriting the Bible. They claim that the good guys didn't drink wine, just Welch's Grape Juice. All of the references to wine were really just misunderstandings or sarcasm.

I suppose this is going to be the Frank Miller version with a lot of graphic sex and violence, just the way God intended. What was He thinking? Throw out the liberal version - you know the one that includes Jesus getting crucified and other oversights.

Frankly, they are disappointed that the Creator of everything perfect and good (not the weak, liberal, or loving) could have allowed the printers' union to sneak such an obvious example of media bias past him. Almost makes one doubt in His perfection. Nah!

TOTWTYTR said...

It's a highlight of the trip for me. Your cooking that is.

BTW, who was that urbane Yankee that introduced Shiner Bock to you? :)