On The Acquisition Of Elysian Brewing By AB INBEV

What those who state “I’ll keep buying Elysian as long as quality doesn’t suffer” don’t realize is how detrimental the acquisition of “craft” breweries by the big boys (AB INBEV, SABMiller, etc.) really is to your local and regional “craft” beer scene.

First of all, perhaps you aren’t aware of it, but AB INBEV owns their own distributorship (these are the companies that get the beer you love to drink to your local watering hole, bottleshop, etc.).  They have a lot of money, power, and influence in what beers from their portfolio saturate your market.  What they like to do to independent companies who are solely signed to their distributing arm is push them out of the market if they refuse to be bought up (see the recent examples of Firestone Walker and Ninkasi).  This isn’t just bad for those wonderful independent brands, but it’s also bad for your other favorite labels who are signed to smaller distributors because AB INBEV has the ability to buy up shelf space from them at your local grocery store.  Okay, so you’ll just shop at your super craft-dedicated uber local bottleshop and to hell with it, right?  Not quite.  Many fans of craft beer aren’t lucky enough to live in areas of concentrated craft offerings, and many cities aren’t considered to be craft beer meccas like those that pepper the country.

Regardless, this acquisition (and those of Goose Island & 10 Barrel) should trouble a true fan of independent craft breweries on a more personal level.  I assume you are advocates of craft beer because of the quality of the product and the wonderful gastronomic and sensory experiences those beers provide you with.  Many small and independent breweries make it their mission to cater to those exact expectations.  Lest you forget, AB INBEV doesn’t give a damn about those expectations; their eye is on their bottom line.  This isn’t to say independent breweries don’t also factor the business aspects of their industry into their products, prices, processes, etc., they do; however, once AB INBEV feels their pocket book is getting a little light, I can guarantee you they will cut costs anywhere they can — be that in quality ingredients or in their labor force.  So while some of you may be correct that the quality of GI and 10BBL products have not yet suffered, it is very early in the game to make such statements while turning a blind eye to these other acquisition issues.

Oh, just like their ability to squeeze out independent breweries from the market, AB INBEV likes to buy up more ingredients (hops, malts) than they need to create an artificial deficit which means your favorite brewery might be forced to change your favorite recipe because they cannot obtain their usual ingredients.  This also forces ingredient prices to rise, which will be felt by the consumer down the line as your favorite brewery is forced to raise it’s prices.

I could go on indefinitely, but I’m probably just preaching to those same people who are satisfied with a Starbucks on every corner.  So make no mistake this acquisition is corporate American all the way and it will have ramifications that many of you may not have considered.  I’d much rather see larger craft breweries follow in New Belgium’s footsteps and become employee owned entities.  I’m lucky enough to live in Seattle, which means I still have plenty of local, independent options for delightful craft brews.

You can be sure I’ll be supporting those guys, because just as Elysian Brewing once said on the label to their Loser Pale Ale: Corporate Beer Still Sucks!

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Brett’s A Mild Dude — Partial Fresh Hop English Style Mild With Brettanomyces

Hops 2014I have been growing my own hops for three years now with varying degrees of success.  Before we moved to Alki beach they did very well and I even had a harvest the first year (they usually need a year to acclimate to their environment, producing the second year).  Since moving to Alki my plants have produced, however, the yields have been much smaller than they were that first year.  It can get very windy where we are situated and I’m not sure if the salty sea air has a detrimental effect on their growth.  Regardless, I have been able to use those hops that do endure in partial fresh hop homebrews.

Last fall Gregory and I used my homegrown Willamette hops in our funkified take on an old standard.  We began with a basic English mild recipe and fermented it with White Labs WLP013 London Ale and White Labs WLP645 Brettanomyces Claussenii which resulted in a great fruity beer with light funk and a crisp dry finish.  Here’s our recipe:

Brett’s A Mild Dude — Partial Fresh Hop English Style Mild With Brettanomyces

Recipe Specifics

Batch Size (Gal): 5.5
Total Grain (Lbs): 8.875
Anticipated OG: 1.044
Anticipated SRM: 21.0
Anticipated IBU: 23.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75%
Wort Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Grain

67% – 6.0 Lbs. Maris Otter Ale Malt
08% – 0.75 Lbs. British Crystal 50-60L
08% – 0.75 Lbs. Brown Malt
05% – 0.50 Lbs. Flaked Oats
05% – 0.50 Lbs. British Crystal 135-165L
02% – 0.25 Lbs. American Chocolate
01% – 0.125 Lbs. Black Malt

Hops

1.50 oz. Bramling Cross (Pellet, 6.0% AA) @ 30 min.
0.10 0z. Fresh Hop Homegrown Willamette (Whole Cone, 5.0% AA) @ 1 min.

Extras

1.00 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.

Yeast

White Labs WLP013 London Ale (starter)
White Labs WLP645 Brettanomyces Claussenii

Water Profile

Seattle
1.00 tsp Calcium Chloride
1.00 tsp Gypsum

Mash Schedule

Sacch. Rest – 60 min @ 153F
Mashout – 10 min @ 170F

Notes

09.01.14 – Made a stir-plate 1.5L starter with 1 White Labs WLP013 London Ale vial.  Brewtoad suggests 170 billion cells to ferment 5.5 gal.  Cold crashed and decanted morning of brew day.

Brewed 09.03.14 with Gregory

09.03.14 – Chilled wort to 65F before pitching yeast starter.

09.05.14 –  Vigorous fermentation, temperature holding steady @ 60-65F.  Fermented at this temp. for 1 week.

09.10.14 – Put fermentor onto brewbelt for 15 days.

09.25.14 – Transferred mild to secondary.

10.23.14 – Kegged and carbonated mild @ 1.65 volumes CO2.

Tasting Notes

This beer turned out great.  Notes of biscuit, nuts, and chocolate dominate the palate with vinous hints and some dry fruitiness from the Brett.  Finishes dry and crisp, with a very short finish — refreshing.

Calculated OG: 1.045
Calculated FG: 1.012
Approx. ABV: 4.3%

Harvesting Wild Yeast

Wild Yeast 01 & 02

About two months ago I began experimenting with harvesting wild yeast from different areas in my house.  Since most of my beers are fermented in the basement where our Westland Distillery whiskey barrel resides (and because we inoculated it with commercial wild yeasts and bottle dregs after our clean stout was finished) I decided to try to catch some yeast from the basement.  The process is rather simple, though unpredictable, and so far I’ve been successful with two separate batches — successful meaning I’ve definitely caught some bugs and there doesn’t appear to be any mold or off flavors present at this point.

Wild Yeast 01After Gregory and I finished sparging for the chanterelle mushroom beer, we had about 64oz of wort left over.  Instead of just dumping the wort, I let it cool to room temperature and put it into a stock pot which I covered with a grain bag and left in my basement over night.  The next morning I funneled the wort into a gallon growler, added an airlock, and waited to see what happened.  In about a week’s time, I noticed that a Brettanomyces pellicle had begun to form.  I waited another week then made up a starter wort and fed the bugs I caught, taking the opportunity to smell the yeast: mango- and pineapple-like tropical fruit notes with some light barnyard funk is what emerged.  I have been monitoring and feeding the batch roughly every two weeks ever since, cold crashing and decanting when necessary, and Gregory and I plan to use it in our turbid mash lambic-style ale which we plan to barrel ferment.  It has been exciting to witness the different phases the yeast has gone through since it’s initial capture: a few weeks after the first feeding, it was offering more standard Belgian yeast notes; now it has become fairly complex with hints of fruit, a more profound funkiness, and light Belgian-like phenolics.

Wild Yeast 02 UpstairsThe second batch is from upstairs in my kitchen.  After we finished sparging for our Baltic porter, we had about 32oz of wort left (prior to the addition of the cold steeped specialty malts which were added at the end of our boil) and I followed the same process as above, keeping it on top of a cabinet for the night.  Once again I definitely caught some bugs, and it is my hope that this batch will be more representative of the wild yeast down here on Alki beach since I do not ferment any beers in my kitchen.  So far this yeast seems milder in intensity with a light fruitiness reminiscent of stone fruit and a very faint funk in the background.  It will be interesting to see how both of these catches mature and change over time.