I was honored to be in attendance at the ninth annual Perl S. Buck International “Taste of The World” event at the Pearl S. Buck House near Dublin. It was a great event. I wasn’t keeping count but I know that it did quite a bit of good for the foundation. Since I was there in my official capacity of photographer I can’t share anything just yet. This was such a great experience I am sure I will be talking about it somewhere or another in the coming weeks and as soon as I can I will share the photos with you. Until then I will be sharing anything else that I find relating to the event on my Facebook. Also be sure to “like” Local Living Magazine’s Facebook page to receive updates on the event as well.
The Brandywine Valley Craft Brewers’ Festival
This weekend I visited the Brandywine Craft Brewers’ Festival in Media. The latest assignment for “Foodie Town”, my series of articles in Local Living Magazine, is Media so when I found out about this I decided to check it out. It’s timely that I should visit a craft beer festival after learning a little about organics and locally grown or locally prepared food. If you remember from my last blog, I talked Leni Calabrese of Perfect Day Coffee, a local coffee roaster in Frenchtown, NJ. Leni mentioned how Starbucks, the ubiquitous coffee brewer, made everyone “coffee snobs.” The whole thing started in Seattle right at the time grundge was taking off and there was this collection of rock bands from there that wore knit caps and flannel or a cardigan. It was a legacy of rebellion. The cardigan was to hide the needle tracks on their arms while they were performing. At the time the drug of choice among the young, rock elite was heroin. The rock life in Seattle was tough so they were always drinking coffee to stay awake. And apparently Seattle had really great coffee. The whole idea of Starbucks coffee died when they started to mass produce them. Leni pointed out how crucial it is to roast and grind the beans pretty close to the time you drink their coffee. I don’t think there’s much roasting going on at your local Starbucks. And while Starbucks is still a cut above the gas station, what Leni and other local brewers provide is not only a step up from Starbucks but also unique and personal to the roaster. The personality is rendered through the roaster’s own technique and blending.
We find a similar chronology in beer. In the early nineties beers that were not made by one of the oligarchy of major beer manufacturers were termed “micro-brews”. At the time real beer snobs still would not drink a micro because the general consensus among them was that there are no good American beers. I also think that then beer was judged not only on taste but on purity and a fidelity with it’s advertised brewing method. Some of these beers did offer something unique, like Honey Brown, or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The former was probably the first pale ale I had ever tried. But most micros were in it for the same reason the big boys were in it: to move units. While todays crafts are no less interested in pushing out as much as they can, the business model in the nineties was to create a flavor everyone could agree on. And based on that, from this “early craft period” we see the rise of two particularly popular brands, Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Yuengling Lager.
Now the clear winner of the “Beer Everyone Can Agree On” category is Yuengling who consistently outsells any other American-owned lager. In fact here in PA we just call it “lager.” But winning that contest isn’t really much of a compliment by today’s standards.
That’s because creating the Boston Beer company ended up more than just another commercial enterprise for one Jim Koch who, instead of creating just another lager, began to offer seasonal brews which were obviously made in smaller batches. The name Sam Adams became synonymous with “high quality beer” and inspired an entire generation of brewers while helping expose some that had been around for a while.
The Brandywine Beer Festival is hosted by the Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant in Media and takes place on State Street which is blocked off for the occasion. The event coincides with American Craft Beer Week. I’m familiar with almost all the beers here which I think says more about how stable these family-owned businesses are rather than how knowledgeable I am in
beers. All these brewers have been in business for a while and I have had ample opportunity to not only try them but know my favorites. Today is more of an investigation for me, so I’m drinking very little. I pass on all my old favorites and I look into some places I’ve never heard of before.
I’ve established that craft beer is not about universal agreement. The name of the game is to create something special. Further, many of the decisions a brewer makes about his or her beer goes beyond the brewing. Take Sly Fox. I tried both their Route 113 IPA and the Odyssey Imperial IPA both of which seemed to achieve their respective goals. The rep at the booth admitted the Odyssey was somewhat stronger, including some interesting flavor characteristics.It was good and I would like to try a whole bottle. Oh yeah. About that “something special.” Most of Sly Fox craft brewed beers come in cans. That’s right, aluminum cans. They love it when you ask them why. I agree with all of it; there’s nothing wrong with cans. For one, I think I saw an episode of Modern Marvels where they explained how these days aluminum cans are coated on the inside to keep the product from absorbing that metal taste. I’ve only experienced this taste problem with cans when I was drinking really crappy beer. Second, some restaurants do not sell much good beer. Much of the beer they sell is tapped. If you order a beer in a bottle that was stored in a refrigerator with a glass door and florescent lighting it’s going to be skunked.
Twin Lakes Brewing Company is located in Greenville, Delaware. Their Pale Ale is refreshing and is also available in cans. It seems that cans make it easier for small brewers to gain distribution because they’re cheaper to ship. Twin Lakes is a small brewery with a big lineup, including a Stout, Pilsner, a wheat beer, and an Oktoberfest. Now that it’s in cans, this Pale Ale has legs and the brand will begin to disseminate throughout the region.
Twin Lakes is proud of their local origin and are happy to say so. But, for argument’s sake, what constitutes local? On one hand, by offering cans, Twin Lakes and Sly Fox have expanded their market within this geographic region. Originally the beer was only available on tap. Of course, among brewers, there’s stiff competition for taps especially when half of them are wasted on typical American macro-brews. Hence, Twin Lakes’ emphasis on buying local. Bartenders are more likely to recommend a beer from just down the road. Cans make it possible for those who have had the opportunity to try the beer to now take it home. But cans also make it possible to distribute farther away. What difference does it make if the beer was made nearby? With coffee, it’s important to roast the beans close to home. But with beer does it really matter to buy local in terms of quality? Of course not. There’s plenty of great beer coming from all over: the west coast, Europe, Mexico. But the idea that it’s local means something to those who are local. And the idea that it’s a craft brew means something to those far away.
As of this writing, craft brews represent about seven percent of the market share of all beers in the US. Imagine what that percentage will be if the general distribution method turns to cans.