A couple news stories of interest

We’re only two weeks into 2012 and there’s already been some headlines that caught my attention. They aren’t stories making national headlines on CNN or Fox News, but in the world of beer I find them pretty significant. There were two breweries I consider local in the news and one legislative bill signed by Governor Christie.

1. Yuengling named the largest American owned brewery

With year-end sales being reported, it’s official that Yuengling will surpass Boston Beer Co. as the largest American owned brewery. This distinction has been held by Boston Beer Co. since 2008. It’s important to note that the amount of barrels produced by these breweries are pale in comparison to Anheuser-Busch, Miller Coors, and Pabst who are all owned by companies outside the US. To give you an example, Anheuser-Busch (Purchased by InBev in 2008) sold a reported 98.8 million barrels compared to 2.7 million by Yuengling in 2011!

It’s hard to say whether Yuengling is still considered a craft beer in the mind of the consumer, but it once was. Both the Black and Tan and Porter were offered long before the new craze for dark, complex beers (i.e. smoked, bourbon aged, etc..). Whenever we would secure keg of it in the college days it was considered very highbrow. There was something about the old Hoff Stevens two-pronged tap that seemed fancy. Having seen their expansion first hand, I applaud the company for their achievement.

I think it’s interesting to see two breweries who started as local craft beers topping the list of sales leaders in the beer industry. Yuengling’s ability to pass Boston Beer Co. has been contributed to their expansion of distribution to Ohio near the end of 2011. What’s more compelling is the potential for more breweries with modest beginnings growing to this level as the craft beer market continues to grow. How breweries handle expansion while maintaining the craft quality is one major factor that will define a craft brewery in the coming years.

2. Sam Calagione calls out beer snobs

One of the founding father’s of Dogfish Head Brewery responded to a discussion on Beer Advocate regarding the most overrated breweries. If you haven’t seen it, the entire thread can be found here. In typical Sam fashion, he was very outspoken and let his opinion on the subject be known. Only in the ever-expanding craft beer world would you find an owner engage in such candid discussion about their industry on an internet forum.

For the record I LOVE Dogfish and also enjoy looking on Beer Advocate, so I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand I commend Sam for sticking up for his brewery. If you look at some of the beers discussed in the thread he’s right. Many of the best craft breweries are bashed for one unwarranted reason or the other on Beer Advocate. He also makes the point that taste is in the eye of the beholder. Since Beer Advocate is a site dedicated to rating beers, this is even more applicable. That’s just like, your opinion… man.

On the other hand I think the phrase, “You can’t please all the people all the time” applies. Haters are gonna hate. Beer Advocate provides a forum for strong opinionated beer lovers to debate topics like this. I don’t view the negativity as a hindrance to the future growth of craft beer. The small percentage of people who post to the website don’t represent the entire market. I’m sure for every one person with a negative opinion on Beer Advocate there are hundreds of others who consider them exceptional. Yeah, I made that last stat up, but I’m sure it’s not far off the mark. Even if a really great, small startup brewery receives some flack on Beer Advocate, their beer will shine through if the product is good.

3. Governor Christie passes bill eliminating homebrew license in NJ

Buried within a myriad of legislative bills signed by the Governor earlier this week was one that eliminated the requirement to possess a license to brew beer at home. This law was eliminated almost as quietly as it was enforced. For the past 21 years any homebrewer in the Garden State was required to fill out an application, pay $15 and receive a permit to brew up to 200 gallons of homebrew per year. This license would need to be renewed annually.

When I started getting into the hobby I heard about the license and thought I should apply just to be safe of any potential penalties. After meeting other homebrewers it was obvious a very small percentage actually secured a license. Many new brewers never even knew it was a requirement. It’s not common for a state issued license to be homebrew requirement. Just recently I discovered that anyone in possession of this license agreed to be subject of state alcoholic beverage regulators. This essentially means the state could pay your home a visit at anytime, although I’m sure this didn’t happen too often. Regardless, here’s to the state getting rid of such nonsense. P R I V A C Y is priceless to me. (If you’re a Pearl Jam fan, hopefully you get this one!)