Saying Goodbye To The Kojo Nnamdi Show
On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Craft brews still account for less than 6 percent of the U.S. beer market, but that slice totals nearly $9 billion in sales, and it’s rising fast. And while beer sales went down overall in the past few years, new and established craft breweries continue to grab more market share. Some wonder whether the market can sustain so many labels, while others say “the more the merrier.” We explore the business of independent brews.
Image courtesy of Brewers Association
Jeff Hancock, who along with Brandon Skall co-founded DC Brau brewing company, talks about what he likes about beer brewing, why he decided to start his own company and what kind of work a brewmaster really does:
Chocolate City Beer founder and brewer Ben Matz talks about making beer in his home city:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Summer has unofficially arrived and for many that means it's time to pull out the grill and crack open a cold one, but if or when you do what kind of beer will you reach for? And old standby or an innovative craft brew? The independent beer business has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade. So much in fact that there's now a beer equivalent to an assimile, a cicerone, to help people navigate it. A cicerone, I think it's called.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISo how do you tell a microbrew from a brew pub or a nano brewery? Here to help us figure it all out is Greg Engert. He is the beer director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group which includes ChurchKey and Birch and Barley in D.C. Greg Engert, good to see you again.
MR. GREG ENGERTThank you. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Greg Kitsock, beer columnist for the Washington Post, editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and the associate editor of American Brewer Magazine. Greg, good to see you again.
MR. GREG KITSOCKNice to see you.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from studios of KGNU, Boulder, Colo. is Julia Herz, craft beer program director with the Brewers Association. Julia Herz, thank you for joining us.
MS. JULIA HERZHello gentlemen.
NNAMDIHello to you. Julia, I'll start with you. It's a part of the beer business that's growing so fast it's becoming harder to define. So how do you define craft beer?
HERZWell, the Brewers Association, which is the national nonprofit trade association on behalf of the majority of breweries in the United States doesn't define craft beer. We do define what a craft brewer is and that's for statistical purposes. And basically of the 2000 plus breweries in the United States 97 percent of those qualify as craft brewers according to our definition, which is if a brewer meets the small portion of the definition it means they make less than six million barrels of beer a year; if they're independently owned with no more than 25 percent ownership by a non-craft brewing entity, then that's a tier; and then traditionally based means the majority of what they would sell and ferment is all malt based.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that craft brewing industry grew last year, 13 percent volume, 15 percent retail dollars, but the overall beer market in the U.S. was down one percent; is that correct?
HERZYou are right, Kojo. And so what we've got is a $95.5 billion industry that literally adds to 1.5 percent of our gross domestic product, but yet the large brewing companies are losing share. And that's something that we're watching very closely. What's exciting in beer is that it's what I call a localization of beer has gone on. And a movement towards local and small breweries is bringing innovation, excitement and interest back to beer.
NNAMDIGreg Kitsock, help me out here. How do I make a distinction between a craft brew and a micro brew and independent brew, a nano brew and the rest?
KITSOCKAll right. Well, a micro brewery is defined as no more than 15,000 barrels a year. A craft brewery can be up to six million, as Julia said. I think the main thing though is the quality of the beer. You're going to get a beer that's much more flavorful than the mass-market beers, like Miller and Bud and Coors.
NNAMDIFor you, what does a craft beer mean, Greg Engert?
ENGERTFor me, it's just what's in the glass. We've constantly kind of gone back and forth. People always ask me, you know, how do we define this? I think definitions are less necessary. It's just you can taste the difference. And, you know, I mean I've had beers that taste as if they've been handcrafted made by very large producers, those that wouldn't meet the craft brewer guidelines. And then I've had those by really small producers that are more seemingly macro. So I think it's just based on your subjective taste.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to join this food Wednesday conversation on craft beer. Are you a craft beer fan? Why do you opt for it over so-called macro brews? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @Kojoshow. Email to Kojo@wamu.org or simply come to our website, Kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. It seems that I am among a group of early adopters. Greg Kitsock, what got you interested in craft beer in the first place?
KITSOCKI grew up in Pennsylvania not far from the Yuengling Brewery. And back in the 1970s when I became legal age there really weren't a whole lot of breweries doing anything interesting. It was all this mass-market beer, but Yuengling did an ale, Lord Chesterfield ale, and they did a porter. And that got me interested. And it showed me that not all beer had to taste the same.
NNAMDIHow about you, Greg Engert, what got you interested in craft beer?
ENGERTWell, I needed something to do after I decided to leave graduate school. So no, I think, actually, it's great. I started out at the Brickskeller in D.C., the original beer bar in the country and started literally studying the beers that I was constantly tasting the way that I had studied literature and found that they had the most amazing stories, flavors, you know, histories and possibilities. And so I decided to kinda make a go at it.
NNAMDIJulia, it's my understanding that you have Brickskeller in your history, too.
HERZI do. I love that Greg just brought up that story. So before I was double digits, meaning before I was even 10 years old, my brother's beer can collection was a family focus for some reason. And my parents who -- I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, but on the Maryland side -- would road-trip in every few months to the District and we'd go straight to the Brickskeller. And they would have beers over food. So I kinda was exposed to the appreciation of beers in the sense that it went with food. And then also I was paying attention to the packaging 'cause of the beer can collection from my brother. So we owe that all and my crazy awesome career to the Brickskeller.
NNAMDIWhat ultimately happened to your brother's beer can collection?
HERZI'm negotiating with him weekly on sending it to me so we can house it at the association 'cause I think he really collected something that's great. We're not breweriana focused, but I do think it would do well in our offices.
NNAMDII thought it was still alive. Greg Kitsock, I mentioned earlier that beer sales have gone down over all, but craft brews are selling more than ever. And new breweries are opening at a swift rate. How have they defied the odds even in a down economy?
KITSOCKI think people see beer as an affordable luxury. I mean maybe they can't take a vacation to Europe, maybe they can't buy a $100 bottle of wine, but you can get a great beer, a 750 mil liter corked bottle for under $20.
NNAMDIAnd that's one of the reasons that...
KITSOCKI think so. People wanna treat themselves to something nice for saving and for skimping and beer allows them a luxury that they can afford.
NNAMDIHow about this, some worry that the beer market can only support so much growth, while others say the more the merrier. Is it likely we'll see a backlash or a slowdown soon?
KITSOCKThat is possible because there are a limited number of distributors to distribute the beer and a limited amount of space on retailer's shelves, but on the other hand, brew pubs or restaurants sell their beer directly to the customer. And theoretically you could have as many brew pubs as you have restaurants with liquor licenses.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Greg?
ENGERTYeah, I agree with Greg Kitsock about that. I think that, you know, in the mid to late '90s we had a fall out of pretty large proportion where a lot of craft breweries had popped up and then went away. People wondered if the craft brewing thing was kinda over. Obviously it's not and it's growing now at a much different rate. And I think that there is a kind of limitless possibility for growth when we consider that the consumer is much more savvy today and the distributors are as well. I think that they're not just gonna pick up anything because it's new and well labeled. They're gonna pick up things they think can sell. And I think the internet is hugely helpful.
ENGERTNowadays, if you go into a bar and you see a bunch of beers, if you have no idea what they are hopefully the server, the bartender can educate you, but even if not you can pull out your PDA and find out a little bit something about the beer. There are plenty of rating sites and things like that. So you have more access to information which I think makes decisions better. And so I think that brewers are forced to really do better than maybe they did in the '90s. And I think because of that things can keep getting better.
NNAMDIJulia Herz, what do you say?
HERZI think that this is definitely a market-driven demand, where the marketplace has said, I want more beer. I mean bottom line is from those 2,000 plus breweries today, of the small and independent crafters there's about 1900 and they can't keep up with demand. So I think it's a mute point to have this conversation in that regard. As well, there's, you know, thousands more wineries than breweries out there and nobody's asking that about wine.
NNAMDIJulia Herz, give us some history here. Before there were virtually no small independent brewers in the U.S. there were lots of independent brewers in the U.S. How much of the revival we're seeing is kind of a heartening back to the days before prohibition?
HERZWell, we have as many breweries today as we've had since the late 1800s. So we've finally recovered for diversity and the availability of the small brewer to get into the market since prohibition hit us and that ended in 1933. So a great day to point at is in 1978 there were 42 brewing companies in the U.S. And definitely a low point. So diversity, which is what makes the U.S. great, was very devoid in the beer category and the community. And the community that's blossomed now demands diversity. We at the Brewers Association document 140 beer styles in the world. And with 13,000 plus beer labels in the marketplace we are now the main global destination for beer.
NNAMDIAnd a lot of people may not know or have forgotten that they read somewhere that going back to colonial times, what gender was the traditional brewers?
HERZWell, probably Colonial times men and women were definitely brewing, but it is important to bring up the women in beer topic, which tends to organically find me weekly these days, because it seems -- to digress a moment, that at least for today what we're used to seeing for beer in the U.S. -- and let's all acknowledge 83 percent of the market for beer is still light American logger from the large global brewing companies. And those loggers have traditionally been marketed as beverages for men in their mid 20s to 30s to enjoy.
HERZBut when craft came on the scene from the small brewers it was, at least to me as a beer lover I'd noticed, just marketed as a beverage, not a gender specific one. So with that that's bringing many women into the fold. And, Kojo, what you bring up is the historical aspect that it's been documented that women traditionally in many different countries were the brewers and the brew masters. And that's kind of an exciting thing.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. What's your favorite beer right now? Give us a call and let us know. If you prefer your old standby to newer offerings tell us why you stick with it. 800-433-8850 or send us an email to Kojo@wamu.org. You can also go to our website, Kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Let's start with Jacob in Silver Spring, Md. Jacob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JACOBHello, Kojo. How are you doing today?
NNAMDII am well. I got beer in front of me. I'll tell you more about that later.
JACOBThat sounds great. I just wanted to say that it's actually really wonderful living within the District area and having a lot of options available. For instance, I actually work at a craft beer and wine store and I volunteer at a very new nano brewery in Rockville called Baying Hound Aleworks. And I work at a store in Silver Spring called Fenwick Beer and Wine which has over 600 different bottles to choose from, too.
NNAMDIWhat do you like so much about living in this area? Are you much of a beer drinker?
JACOBWell, here's the thing. Up until the age of 19, like, we kept relatively good beer in the house, but it would be all like lagers and things along those lines. Then my neighbor brought over home-brewed Scotch ale and from there it was just like, oh, my God. I need to learn more about this. And from there, I just looked up information until I turned 21 and indulged. And essentially, I love Russian Imperial Stout, Scotch ales, IPAs, I mean porters, Belgian sours. I mean, I love beer in general. And at some point in the next 15, 20 years, hopefully I can open up my own brew pub.
NNAMDIGreg Kitsock, is this a good area to be living in if you're a craft beer lover?
KITSOCKAbsolutely. I think you can get more different beers here in this area than just about any other city in the United States.
NNAMDIOh, thank you very much.
HERZThat's a big statement.
NNAMDIHey, you wanted to add something to that, Julia?
HERZWell, no. I just love that Greg puts himself out there to say that 'cause he's an expert. I've shared and tasted beers with Greg and he's so knowledgeable and a gem to have in the D.C. area to educate others. But I think cities like San Francisco and Chicago and San Diego and the like, you know, there's a lot of cities out there vying to be the best beer city. And the fun is trying to discover which one it is.
ENGERTWell, I think that, you know, I would just say about that...
ENGERT...yeah, so this is -- what's interesting to me about it is that really D.C. at this point is just now developing a local beer scene. So to Greg Kitsock's point, one of the reasons I think we have so many different options here from all over the globe is because we didn't have that local scene to lean on. So I think one big difference is that while we have a burgeoning local beer scene coming up right now it's joining into a very national and international kind of arena. And D.C. definitely has brewers from all over the place, maybe more so than other cities.
ENGERTAnd then I just got back from Asheville, N.C., which is pretty much the exact opposite where all the taps in that town are dominated by beers brewed within, you know, a ten-mile radius, which is wonderful as well. But one thing I wanted to bring up based on actually what Julia said before about all the different possibilities of craft beers. What I just noticed down there is where they have 10 or 11 different, you know, breweries in Asheville, they actually are all kind of serving similar styles. IPA and pale ale are dominating the taps there.
ENGERTAnd so I found a lot of different breweries kind of being served in the same style down there, which I thought was an interesting topic for conversation.
NNAMDIGotta take a short break. We will continue this conversation when we come back. And you can join it by calling 800-433-8850. If you're looking for a few new brews to try we can probably come up with some suggestions. I'll certainly try a couple after this short break. 800-433-8850. I’m Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation on the craft beer biz. We're talking with Julia Herz. She's the craft beer program director with the Brewers Association. She joins us from the studios of KGNU in Boulder, Colo. Greg Kitsock is a beer columnist for the Washington Post, the editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and the associate editor of American Brewer Magazine. And Greg Engert is the beer director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group which includes ChurchKey and Birch and Barley in D.C.
NNAMDIGreg Engert, I have been saying that I have beer in front of me. Tell me exactly what is this I'm holding up right now?
ENGERTSo the one you're holding up is a wonderful beer from Goose Island Brewery in Chicago called Juliet. It is a Belgian strong ale, 8 percent. It's fermented with wild yeast, gives it a funky note. And then it's matured in Cabernet Sauvignon wine barrels along with black berries.
NNAMDIWell, as I take a sip let's go to Carlos in Arlington, Va. who wants to talk I think about Belgian beers. Carlos, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARLOSHi, Kojo. First time caller. Love your show. Just basically wanted to talk a little bit about my liking of the Trappist beers. And I've been fortunate enough to have an aunt working for the European Union in Brussels and to travel to some of the Trappist monasteries. And I saw her in Achel. I got a correction from some of the Belgians there about that Trappist monastery. And then I made my way to Westmalle and it was interesting that they had some of the Westmalle beer mixed with grenadine and that was kind of unique.
CARLOSAnd I guess to top the trip off, I spent two days in Westvleteren or Westvleteren, one of the most famous Trappist monasteries. They don't...
NNAMDIAnd all of this has caused you to fall in love with Belgian beer?
CARLOSOh absolutely. I think it's the closest you can get to heavenly beer, especially the one in Westvleteren where they don't even sell it internationally, such as other...
NNAMDIWell, let's see what our panelists have to say about that, Greg Kitsock.
KITSOCKI have never visited the Trappist breweries of Belgium, but I've tried their beers here and I've enjoyed them very much.
NNAMDIAnd I have certainly just enjoyed this Juliet beer and yet you mention the flavors in it and I could taste them immediately.
ENGERTIt's very wine-like beer and actually not unlike many beers we see from Belgium. Not necessarily those that are brewed by the Trappist monks. Those tend to be a little bit more fruit and spice-driven, sweeter, maltier or drier, a little bit hoppy. But this one's very sour, almost like a Flemish red ale.
NNAMDICarlos, thank you very much for your call. Greg Kitsock, in the wake of prohibition came the three-tier system. What is that and how does it affect small brewers?
KITSOCKWell, the three-tier system states that you have one party actually manufactures the beer. A second wholesales it and a third retails it. The reason for the three-tier system was to create a firewall because you had a lot of abuses before prohibition with the breweries directly owning the saloons and forcing a lot of their product on the market. And it was hoped that this would prevent -- would promote sobriety.
KITSOCKAnd in a way it has helped small breweries because the fact that the large breweries are prohibited from owning restaurants and saloons means that the smaller breweries were able to get their foot in the door. And you didn't have tide houses where you were only -- where the restaurant owner was only allowed to serve one brewery's beer.
NNAMDIJulia Herz, your take on this?
HERZSure. We have a very strong solid three-tier distribution system today with 3,000 plus distributors distributing those 13,000 plus beer brands. We also believe at the Brewers Association that small brewers should get the chance to get a track record in the marketplace, because it's very difficult to get a distributor's attention. And also on the distributor's side it's an investment when they pick up a brand. 'Cause as Greg mentioned earlier, you need a track record or you at least need interest in that beer brand for it to have sell through, meaning for it to sell in the marketplace.
HERZSo many small breweries today will use the ability in some states to sell direct to their customers. And then once they have a certain established amount of accounts they have confidence to get that distributor's attention. And then they really go to where the experts are. And these distributors help ensure that we have safe distribution in the marketplace with trackable products and the like. And they are true partners to breweries today.
NNAMDICare to comment, Greg?
ENGERTYeah, I would just say that I totally agree with both Julia and Greg is that, you know, I often say I believe that small brewers, especially as they're just beginning, should have that opportunity to self distribute and truly, you know, work the market themselves to get the attention of the distributor. But then the distributors are hugely important, you know, for a place like Birch and Barley and ChurchKey. We couldn't have nearly 600 different beers if I didn't have distributors bring in beers from all over the world, not just the nation because I wouldn't have the means or the time to send trucks to each of these brewers.
ENGERTSo I think that for a long time some people kind of were not too excited about the three-tier system as it pertained to craft beer. But certainly from the side of serving so many different beers from all over the world it's really been a boon to the industry.
NNAMDIWell, Greg Kitsock, you wrote in the Post a few miles away in Alexandria we have a self-styled urban farmhouse brewery that employs barrel aging and wild fermentations for its funky, un-categorical beers. But we can't buy them here in the metro area.
KITSOCKThat is kind of an interesting situation. The brewery's name Camdet Artisanal (sp?) Brewery. It used to be a brew and premise where home brewers would rent equipment to make their own beer. There was a restaurant in Philadelphia called the Farmers Cabinet that was apparently unable to shoehorn a large enough system into its own facility. So they bought what used to be Shenandoah Brewing Company.
KITSOCKAnd now they employ a very talented brewer by the name of Terry Hawbaker (sp?) to make interesting Belgian-style beers. And he ships most of his output to Philadelphia but beginning this summer, July or August, he has a deal with an importer in Brooklyn to ship his beers across 35 different states.
NNAMDIOkay. And when will we ever be able to get it here?
KITSOCKI would say by the end of this summer. I certainly hope so.
NNAMDIOkay. On now to Steve in Falls Church, Va. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEHi there. Great conversation. It seems to me I may have read this in Charlie Papazian's great book on home brewing years ago that prior to prohibition there were many, many thousands of, you know, like more thousands than you mentioned earlier. And I was just wondering about that. But another thing that I remember also reading was that the Coors, the Budweiser and all of those light lagers that are the mainstream beers that are marketed to young men were originally conceived of as lady's beers to make the repeal of prohibition more appealing to women by trying to get them to drink beer.
NNAMDIKnow anything about that, Julia Herz?
HERZWell, I've read Maureen Ogle's amazing book on the history of brewing and I maybe didn't get to that portion. But light American lagers were, you know, soda pop-like and meant for the masses in a lighter sense as opposed to the heavier English styles that were more weight once you consumed them and, you know, had more flavor. So that's what I know on that.
HERZAnd then for a number of breweries for sure, late 1800s wasn't the height. We had 3,000 plus breweries for sure in the 1800s. And we had more than we might see today, although we've -- you know, I think craft beer, which has about 5 percent market share in the U.S. might go to 10 percent. And to do that we're going to continue to need to see more breweries. Of the 2,000 plus breweries today we also have on the books 1,000 plus in planning, which is unprecedented and I think the largest number that we probably saw either pre or post 1800s.
NNAMDISteve, thank you very much for your call. You too can call us, 800-433--8850. Does buying local matter to you when it comes to beer? Why or why not? Greg Kitsock, just getting a beer label approved to go to market can be a lengthy and onerous process. Why is it so complicated?
KITSOCKWell, it's so complicated because of various government regulations. And, I mean, some of them are meant to protect the consumer to prevent claims that are untrue. If the beer is using any unusual ingredients obviously they have to be judged safe for the consumer. And there are a lot of little details that go into a label. You have to have the warning language that's federally mandated. States have their own labeling laws. In fact, the states probably have more to say than the federal government with regard to the labeling of alcohol.
KITSOCKSome of them they require alcohol above a certain level to be labeled a malt liquor. I mean, it's not always the best designation for it. And some of them -- there are also laws that have to do with what you're allowed to put on the label. For instance, some states will say that you can't have anything that would appeal to children. There are some states for instance that state you cannot have any representation of Santa Claus on a beer label.
NNAMDIGreg Engert, talk a little about those labeling laws and why in some places you have secondary label requirements.
ENGERTWell, yeah, as Greg Kitsock was saying that the TTB approval, the federal approval that every beer needs to gain for its labels to sell in the United States is primary. But most states have a kind of secondary label approval law. And these can -- this can be a difficult thing. I think this is another reason why Washington, D.C. is kind of able to get what we can.
ENGERTBecause, take for instance, if you're an American crafter, that's going to make a very tiny amount of something to sell outside of your brewery, you're going to get it approved by the TTB, the federal government as you would with any of your beers. But if you then were to decide where you wanted to ship that little bit of beer, are you going to ship it to a state that's going to require perhaps a lengthy label approval process like Virginia tends to have, where it could take a very long time before the beer's actually cleared for sale? Or are you going to send it to a place like D.C. where there is actually no secondary label approval law? Just federal is good enough for the District. They're going to send it here.
ENGERTSo it's an interesting thing for me because as the beer director for the entire Neighborhood Restaurant Group I'm buying beer for Birch and Barley and ChurchKey in D.C., but also for a host of restaurants, including both Rustico's in Virginia. And I often find that I can get very small batch interesting esoteric beers in D.C. that will never make it to Virginia because the brewers simply don't need to wait for that approval.
NNAMDIAll of this is making me thirsty. I understand what I’m holding up now is from Chicago. What is this?
ENGERTNo, no. That one is actually from Anchorage, Alaska.
NNAMDIAh, Anchorage, Alaska. You're right. Goose Island is from Chicago. This...
ENGERTThis is -- that's right.
NNAMDI...is the Anchorage Galaxy.
ENGERTGalaxy white IPA. This is Gabe Fletcher's venture. Very small brewery and it's actually important to talk about Anchorage in relationship to cabinet brewing because kind of like what Cabinet's going to do, they're a very tiny brewery in Alexandria. They're going to sign up with an importer named 12 Percent that is going to distribute small amounts of their beer all over the U.S. Anchorage has done the same with an importer out of Belchertown, Mass called Shelton Brothers.
ENGERTAnd so every month or two we'll see a very small smattering of cases from this brewery up in Anchorage, Alaska. And this is because it's going through the importer distribution network rather than just a regular distribution network. It's cool because we can get stuff from further afield but is kind of anti-local if you think about it.
NNAMDIAnd it's got a bitterness that I really like in the flavor.
ENGERTIt's very hoppy, yeah. These are Galaxy hops, kind of the new hot hop on the scene from the southern hemisphere. I believe these are actually from Tasmania, really dry and bitter but great kind of tropical fruit aromatics.
KITSOCKThis is a popular new style, the white IPA. It's kind of a hybrid between a Belgian wheat beer, which is typically flavored with orange peel and coriander and IPA which is a beer that's very bitter from a great amount of hops.
ENGERTAnd this one is actually -- the cool thing is the spin on the white IPA here is that it's very hoppy and it's spiced like a Belgian whit. But with -- rather than with orange peels it's got cumquats And rather than just coriander it's black peppercorn and Indian coriander.
NNAMDIGreg Engert is the beer director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group. It includes ChurchKey and Birch and Barley in D.C. Greg Kitsock is a beer columnist for the Washington Post, the editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and the associate editor of American Brewing Magazine. Julia Herz is the craft beer program director with the Brewers Association. We got this Tweet from Peter. "How are mainstream brewers Bud, Coors, Miller reacting to the local movement? Any innovation or even support of the craft brewing industry from them?
NNAMDIJulia, the so called beer wars have been framed as a David versus Goliath epic pitting the establishment big beer against the upstarts. Does that ring true?
HERZThere's actually even a very interesting movie called Beer Wars that you can get off of iTunes and watch by Annette Baron. You know, the large brewers I think in the brewing community have learned a lot from the small business sector and so that's a beautiful thing. And a shift has occurred culturally I think within the large brewer's mentality. They are now dabbling in their own version of more fuller flavored beers beyond their light American lagers that I would refer to as domestic specialty.
HERZAnd they, you know, large brewers are -- as I said, 83 percent still of the beer sold in the United States is light American lager. So that's important to pay attention to. But the fact that they're losing share is not just something they're unaware of. And losing barrels is not to be, you know, discounted. They are paying attention and they are trying to keep up. And in everything that they do if they create and allow for more diversity in the beer market place, than I as a beer lover applaud that.
NNAMDIGreg Kitsock, any observations on that?
KITSOCKWell, the big brewers are reacting in two ways. First of all, they're introducing their own versions of craft beers like the Anheuser-Busch Shock Top. And then you've got Coors with its Blue Moon line. And also the big brewers are in some cases becoming minority or even majority partners in some of these smaller breweries.
KITSOCKRecently Miller Coors made a minority investment in Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, Georgia, which is a little craft brewery. They do a very good rye pale ale which I enjoy. And by investing in that brewery, they're going to help them grow to bring in new equipment, to help them expand their presence and make more beer.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here's Rob in Potomac, Md. He'd like to join this conversation. Rob, your turn.
ROBWell, hello, Kojo. How are you?
NNAMDII'm well, Rob.
ROBAnd hello, Julia and Greg and Greg.
NNAMDIYou all know Rob. Tell them who you are.
ROBI'm with Total Wine and More. We're a large retailer of wine, beer and spirits bicoastal. And I wanted to call in because I can certainly, through my work with this company, attest to the growth in craft beer sales and the consumer interest in craft beers. We have seen in my five years with the company a huge surge and interest in craft beer. And we're fortunate to have fairly large stores, so we have been able to expand our shelf space to accommodate all of the new beers that have hit the market in the last several years. It's really been tremendous.
NNAMDISo it would appear and that's one of the reasons we're having this discussion in the first place, Rob. But thank you so much for validating it. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. But then there is this. Howard in Washington, D.C. writes to say, "I like smooth American easy-drinking beer. I don't like beer flavors like plum, pumpkin or turnip. I don't like that some people choose beer on the basis of its perceived value as a status symbol. I also like affordable beer so I can have more than one. Craft all the beer you want, but I'll stick with mainstream American beer." How regularly do you hear this sentiment, Greg Engert?
ENGERTI would say that I hear that very irregularly at this point, but it's a fair sentiment, and one that I don't totally disagree with. I think that there is a beer for all occasions, as there can be a wine or a spirit. I don't think that people who drink craft beer only drink craft beer. In my experience, they enjoy great wines and cocktails and they love foods of all kinds, and I can even say that there is a time when having a smooth, crisp, refreshing, low-alcohol macro-brewed lager is not out of the question at all.
ENGERTAnd so I can certainly where the writer is coming from there. I guess my things is that I've always looked at beer and food and wine and spirits as an opportunity for experience, and rather than just kind of, you know, mere refreshment, sustenance, or even I guess intoxication, I think there's so much to be thought about when you taste these beers, and to be learned, and then therefore it just automatically leads to conversation. And so I kind of -- I think that maybe what that person was saying is different than the way that I'm looking at it. I'm thinking more about I guess as from a kind of an experience approach.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we will continue our conversation on the craft beer business. If you've called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls. The lines are currently filled, so if you'd like to join the conversation, go to our website kojoshow.org, or send email to email@example.com. You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Food Wednesday. We're talking craft beer business with Greg Kitsock, beer columnist for the Washington Post, the editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, and the associate editor of American Brewer magazine. Greg Engert is the beer director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group. It includes ChurchKey and Birch and Barley in D.C. And Julia Herz is the craft beer program director with the Brewer's Association.
NNAMDIJulia, more and more women are taking on leadership roles in the craft beer business. Why do you think that some people are surprised when women get excited about beer?
HERZI do think culturally that beer has been a beverage that isn't always inclusive of women, and with that there's surprise there, but it's exciting for me to watch women's tasting groups all over the country I get to visit. There's a global one now called Barley's Angels, a consultant called Women Enjoying Beer. There are women brewery owners, Deb Carey of New Glarus has made history, Carol Stout of Stout's Brewing Company out of Pennsylvania.
HERZ(word?) of Rogue Brewing Company who's from your guys' neck of the woods in the east, I mean, just a lot of women are making names for themselves as leaders in craft beer, and that's an exciting thing for sure.
ENGERTI have to jump in because this speaks so much to what my experience has been recently. Myself and the Neighborhood Restaurant Group are in the process of opening a restaurant and bar and brewery down by the National Stadium in D.C., hope to be open in about a year, and we got so lucky as to have our brewmaster be Megan Parisi who is one of the most well known, if not most well known female brewers in the country, and she is wonderful. So I think that that's another cool thing.
NNAMDIHe's talking about Blue Jacket...
ENGERTBlue Jacket, that's right.
NNAMDI...the brew pub that he will be opening up soon. It's not open for business yet, but you are already collaborating with other breweries. What is it about craft beer that seems to invite a sense of camaraderie among people who are at least on some level supposed to be competitors?
ENGERTIt's -- that's the coolest thing about craft beer. I think in some ways you can't explain it, but I think it goes back to the original question we were talking about, what makes something craft, and I think it's just -- if you start out with a brewery that is making its decisions based on flavor rather than efficiency or profits, the first and utmost concern is engendering specific flavors into the product. Then for that, necessarily you can imagine there would be collaboration and community and less competition, because if the first thing that's driving you is not business acumen, but rather the enjoyment of the product and the invention and the creativity, then we should all get along and get together to do it.
NNAMDIWell, the first thing that's driving you may not be business acumen now, but Greg Kitsock, as the market continues to grow, do you think collaborations will continue?
KITSOCKI think they'll continue. I think that the average craft beer drinker is very experimental. If he tries one beer and he likes that, he'll try other breweries' beers, and so that tends to I think foster collaboration and cooperative efforts among craft brewers.
HERZAnd Kojo, if I can...
NNAMDIOh, please go ahead, Julia.
HERZ...jump in. The Washington D.C. area has something very special coming up next weekend called Savor: An American Craft Beer and Food Experience, and the Brewer's Association organizes and hosts that event, and one of the themes literally coming into D.C. thinking about Savor is the essence of collaboration. You've got collaboration between our chef consultant with the breweries to create the pairings that'll be served at Savor, you've got one of the main gifts that's given to all Savor attendees is a collaboration beer between Boulevard Brewing Company and Sierra Nevada.
HERZCollaboration is what made this happen. Rising tide does float all boats when you think about small business in the U.S. The small brewers didn't have a lot of chances, and I quoted that 1978 statistic of 42 brewing companies compared to 2,000 now, and one of the main ways that that all came to be is because small brewers worked with each other and collaborated.
NNAMDIA lot of people want to get in on this conversation. Here is John in Hagerstown, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi John, are you there?
JOHNYes. I had a question. I was in Europe in the mid- to late-1980s visiting a friend who was stationed over there in the military, and one of the things that I thought was unusual was that they would buy their beer over there, this was in Germany, and they would just leave it out and drink it, you know, at regular temperature, room temperature, and he said, oh, that's what all the Germans do. Although we'd go out to some bars and things like that and they would serve it cold, is that a tradition that's done elsewhere in the world? I always assumed it was something to do with preservatives or lack of preservatives, something like that.
ENGERTOh, I mean, I think, you know, serving for temperature for beer is hugely important, and the one thing that has, I think, led to so many people thinking that beer had to be served 38 and 40 degrees, and stored that way and shipped that way for so long was the worry about, you know, eventual contamination, infection, things that will immediately show up in very light-flavored beers.
ENGERTBut I think that your German friends were onto something and I can speak from when I lived in Munich that we did the same thing, is that, you know, (word?) doesn't have to be ice, ice cold. In fact, it should be closer to 42, 45 degrees, because at that temperature it still maintains its crisp effervescence, its refreshing quality, but also gains this beautiful, bold aromatic, the banana, the clove, the bubblegum aromas really jump out. So that's why, you know at ChurchKey and Birch & Barley we serve all of our beers at either 42, 48, or 54 based on style, because you'd be amazed how much better and more intriguing these beers can be at different temperatures.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you for your call. Greg Kitsock, Bradley in Alexandria emails to ask, "So what exactly is a nanobrewery and what makes an IPA, Indian Pale Ale?"
KITSOCKThose are two interesting questions. There is no formal definition that I know of for nanobrewery unlike say microbrewery or craft brewery. A nanobrewery, most people I think would consider it small, even in relation to a microbrewery. I've heard some people would say that it's fewer than a thousand barrels a year. Some people would say fewer than a hundred barrels a year, but it is a very small artisanal operation. Often people will operate it out of a garage. Some of them are not full-time brewers. They keep their day jobs. They brew maybe on weekends or in the evening, and a lot of the business is done directly from the brewery in terms of (unintelligible) .
NNAMDIJulia Herz, we got a tweet from J.P., who asks, "How much influence do home brewers have on the market? It seems the majority of new breweries have come from home brewing."
HERZRight on for home brewers is what I say, and they have definitely a lot of influence and ties to what's going on. The majority of brewers today that are commercially brewing would say they started at home brewers, that's a fact. There's 750,000 home brewers documented in the U.S. actively home brewing, and even more. You'll go in the millions for people that would say that they have home brewed. So we have the American Home Brewers Association with over 30,000 members and it's how the association started, and we are all about home brewing.
HERZIt's a great hobby. It's a way to be more in touch with the source of what you consume and enjoy, and anyone that wants to home brew can find their local home brew shop. Greg and Greg probably know those shops in the area, or you can go on the Internet and purchase your ingredients. But it's a very accessible, wonderfully rewarding hobby.
NNAMDIAnd if you want to listen to a longer conversation about home brewing, we had one such on February 16 of last year, 2011. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, look in the archives, February 16, 2011, you'll find the conversation about home brewing. Here is Johannes in Alexandria, Va. Johannes, your turn.
JOHANNESThanks for taking my call, Kojo. My question is about international beers. D.C. is a very international community, and how is the market for international beers?
ENGERTThere is a huge market for international beers here, and I kind of divide it into two kind of different groups. I remember back in the old Brickskeller days, we would stock it seemed anything and everything we could get our hands on and what -- unfortunately the problem with this is that a lot of the things that come from kind of the more exotic beer-brewing nations, i.e. those that don't brew a lot of beer, tend to be pretty much, you know, in the vein of macro, fizzy yellow lagers that truthfully don't travel as well, and by the time they get here, they're really not as amazing as they would be when you're back home, and we'd have, you know, lots of students who had studied abroad come in and want to drink those lagers, and it was really cool to provide that kind of nostalgic experience.
ENGERTBut from a flavor perspective, I'm not sure that they're really up to snuff. Now, the other level are the beers that are brewed by what I would call kind of, you know, international craft, international local brewers that are sending over some absolutely outstanding things, and that used to be dominated by Germany, England, you know, Belgium of course, but now we're seeing wonderful stuff coming to us from every place in between, you know. Tons of New Zealand beers heading up into the states now. We have Japan, Italy, Northern France of course, and things keep getting better. So I'm kind of seeing now more things available from all over the globe, and things that travel better and are more craft driven.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call Johannes. Greg Kitsock, the Washington Post Beer Madness champ is remarkable for a number of reasons this y ear, including the vessel it comes in. Why are more and more brewers starting to offer canned beer?
KITSOCKI think one of the reasons is that the can offers more protection for the beer. It's completely opaque. It does not admit light, and light is the great enemy of beer. There are certain wavelengths of light that will cause the hop oil, the hop compounds in the beer to break down and give it a very unpleasant skunky sort of smell. Still another reason is that cans are lightweight and compact, they're easier to ship.
KITSOCKFor instance, this year's winner was a beer from Hawaii, Maui CoCoNut Porter, and if that brewery had shipped bottles instead of cans all the way to Washington D.C., it would have been a lot more expensive, probably prohibitively show. And still another reason is that cans are allowed in areas like beaches and golf courses where glass is forbidden because of the threat posed by broken glass.
NNAMDIAnd apparently brewers like the fact that cans are opaque?
KITSOCKOh, yes. Yes. Light -- again, you have to be very careful. If you were to take a bottle of beer and leave it in the sunlight even for as short a time as 15 minutes, half an hour, that would greatly impair the flavor of the beer.
NNAMDIJulia, imported beers have been popular in the U.S. for years as we just heard. Are we seeing more American beers exported to other countries?
HERZYeah. We have an export development program for about 40 some odd craft brewers in the U.S. to go overseas, and last year in 2011, exports by dollars were up 97 percent. So you're definitely seeing that cultural shift that's gone on in the U.S. were people are buying local and want to get beer from their local U.S. craft brewery. You're also seeing a global demand for those small breweries that they've heard about as beer lovers.
NNAMDIGreg Engert, the buzz word in food for awhile now has been local. Is drinking beer brewed nearby an extension of the (word?) movement?
ENGERTYes. It is and I don't think it has to be at the same time. I think that local food is incredibly important if for no other reason than just, you know, spoilage and things like that. But I actually -- and local beer is phenomenal as well. I think that there needs to be more of a discussion as to which styles should be consumed more locally than others. You know, I find that, you know, IPAs, pale ales, hoppy beers, crisps refreshing pilsners, lagers, koshers, things like that, do benefit from being local on a flavor aspect to say nothing of environmental concerns and things like that.
ENGERTBut just straight flavor, there are certain styles that certainly are better when they're local. I mean, I'm in the process of no longer carrying, you know, those green-bottled pilsners that come from Germany that are so wonderful when we taste them there, but by the time they get here, do develop that kind of skunk aromatic that Greg Kitsock mentioned earlier. So I think that flavor wise there are certain styles that definitely should be consumed locally, but I am a little hesitant to just say local means craft.
ENGERTOne thing that makes me a little bit nervous is where people will by local no matter what the beer is, and maybe will not buy international anymore. And we have to remember that there's plenty of local brewers overseas that rely on the American audience for expert as well.
NNAMDIGreg Kitsock, Jesse emails, "Could you please discuss why the definition of craft brewers was changed from two million to six million barrels? I've heard it was to help larger brewers such as Sam Adams and others maintain their craft title despite their ever-expanding volume."
KITSOCKWell, I think the main reason was Boston Beer Company, which makes the Sam Adams line. They currently do about two and a half billion barrels of beer a year, and they are, in spite of their size, very much a craft brewery. They're very experimental. They're constantly coming out with new styles. They have a barrel aging program. They do the utopias, which is kind of a kind onto itself, a 29 percent alcohol beer that is really like no other on the market.
KITSOCKNow, Boston Beer Company is by far the largest craft brewery. I don't think you have any other craft brewery that's even near even the old two million barrel a year limit. I think the next largest is Sierra Nevada, about 900,000. Greg Kitsock is beer columnist for the Washington Post, the editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, and the associate editor of American Brewer magazine. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIGreg Engert is the beer director for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which includes ChurchKey and Birch and Barley in D.C. Thank you for joining us, Greg.
ENGERTAlways a pleasure.
NNAMDIAnd Julia Herz is the craft beer program director with the Brewer's Association. Julia, thank you for joining us.
HERZThanks so much, Kojo.
NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Tayla Burney, with help from Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein. The managing producer is Diane Vogel. The engineer today Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker is on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives, CDs and free transcripts are available at our website, kojoshow.org. To share questions or comments with us, email firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook, or send a tweet to @kojoshow. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo talks with author Briana Thomas about her book “Black Broadway In Washington D.C.,” and the District’s rich Black history.
Poet, essayist and editor Kevin Young is the second director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. He joins Kojo to talk about his vision for the museum and how it can help us make sense of this moment in history.
Ms. Woodruff joins us to talk about her successful career in broadcasting, how the field of journalism has changed over the decades and why she chose to make D.C. home.