Don’t Judge a Beer by Its Label

The issues behind the label:

1. The craft beer industry is highly competitive and is only becoming more competitive

In an industry that grew 18% by volume last year, it’s hard to distinguish and identify what beer is right for you. We all know our favorite styles and we also know how deflating it is when the brewery doesn’t do them justice. So what makes you buy a brewery’s brand? Is it their size? Their packaging? The way your friends talk about them?

In a survey I dispersed through my social media profiles(LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook Page, and G+), craft beer forums and several beer communities, I was able to draw a few points worth considering.

  • 59% said packaging impacts their purchase decision
    • 70% said simple packaging is most effective
    • 40% said abstract packaging is most effective
  • 64% said friends impact their purchasing decision
  • 51% said that beer festivals impact their purchasing decision
  • 30% are loyal to 3-5 brands while 25% are loyal to none
  • 3% prefer cans and 48% prefer bottles

After analyzing the results it can reasonably be concluded to blame your friends. This is because most people in the survey are more willing to try a beer that their friends like. Also packaging makes a strong impact on purchasing decisions which can be good and bad.

So how do you look past the packaging along with the opinions of you friends? One of the answers is obvious, get new friends. The downside to that is that in order to get new friends, you must put in some effort. Therefore, I suggest looking into other sources.

One of the good things about beer is that people like to talk about it. So before you make your next purchase, consider checking out Untappd or downloading their app. I personally recommend Untappd because it’s not only a great reference but it’s full of awesome people and multitudes of consumer reviews on virtually every beer on the market. Another one of my go to references is Beer Advocate. They have already established themselves and provide helpful ratings along with reviews.

2. Deceptive Advertising

Some beers may not be what you believe them to be. For example, I recently read an article by Brad Tuttle about 5 ‘Imported’ Beers That Are Really Brewed in the U.S.A that really opened my eyes to what I’ve been lead to believe. Although I very rarely drink Beck’s, Foster’s, Killian’s, Kirin, or Red Stripe, knowing that they’re all brewed in the U.S. makes me question their ethics.

I am now influenced to read beer labels more often. Although I have always enjoyed reading what each brewery has to say about their beer, there is a lot of information that is overlooked. For instance, you can find out which breweries are eco-friendly, true to their locations and other hidden factors.

Another example of deceptive labels is how breweries use the terms craft, local, and other words of that nature. For instance, I picked up a few other interesting points in another article by Brad Tuttle about 5 Ways You’re Being Duped by Food & Drink Labels. One of the things that concerned me most was the fact that some breweries claim they have aged beers which are older than their breweries are. Since it is impossible to age a beer with no equipment, how can they say their 3 year old brewery has a 8 year old bourbon aged stout? The answer lies where they are getting their barrels. Producers are purchasing hooch from other sources which is in fact aged but not how you perceive it to be. By adding the aged hooch, it makes the beer taste aged and gives the flavor the consumer is going for.

Here are some other things to watch out for:

  • When a brewery or distillery says their product is “produced by” rather than “distilled by”
    • This could indicate an outside source is making the product
  • Local vendors that own the label “locally produced” when in fact they’re importing to increase inventory
  • Craft beer that isn’t produced like craft beer
    • Craft beer is defined as a beer made in a traditional or non-mechanized way by a small brewery
    • Blue Moon, Shock Top, and Goose Island are all brands that label their beers as craft beer. In addition, they are produced by MillerCoors and AnheuserBusch InBev. The two largest breweries.

The resolution:

Stop eluding yourself.

There are many ways to get around picking up a beer that isn’t going to give you what you want. For example, you can pick up a beer magazine such as DRAFT, The Beer Connoisseur, and Craft Beer and Brewing. These are all magazines that are well-established and I find worth my while. Other options are finding a good review sight like Untappd, reading the label or asking a reliable friend.

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Thanks for reading!

It’s the Barrel Age.

What was the newest style of beer you experimented with? Was it barrel aged? It wouldn’t surprise me if it was.

Before I get into things, let it be known that barrel aged beers have been around for a very, very long time. In fact, all beer up until the introduction of steel vats was stored in wooden barrels. It’s only just recently that breweries have been labeling them as “barrel aged.” This is because they’re aging them in barrels that have previously contained a spirit of some sort. The most common barrels used are Bourbon and Rum barrels.

This fairly new twist has finally established barrel aged beers as a “have to try” among beer enthusiasts. Their sales and demand has sky rocketed since Goose Island released the first documented barrel aged beer 22 years ago. Although most of these beers are either seasonal, limited edition or experimental, the trend has earned these unique beers a place in known styles.

With that said, the demand for barrel aged beers is high but the availability of the barrels are scarce. These are the reasons why:

  • Each barrel can only be used once.
  • 98% of these barrels are used by Scotch distilleries leaving 2% for the craft breweries to divide.
  • Ideal temperature for aging is 67 degrees Fahrenheit

To illustrate the scarcity of these barrels, Goose Island alone requires 3000 bourbon barrels for a full batch of their barrel aged beer. That’s only 1 out of 3,464. I know that not every one of these breweries are putting efforts towards producing a barrel aged beer but a good majority of them are. If done right, a barrel aged beer does nothing but help the credentials of the brewery along with the resume of the brewer.

So how does the aging process work?

  • Cold causes the barrels to contract which tighten the pores and traps flavors
  • Heat expands the wood which in turn expands the pores and releases flavors
  • Time provides the high alcohol content

To give you some insight to the flavors are produced and how, it is important to know the process before the beer is put in. Most of the time, oak barrels are charred before they are used. This creates most of the flavor and color. Charring the barrel infuses the sugars in the wood which is in turn responsible for the robust wooden and vanilla flavors. After charring and prepping the barrel, the beer is added and time is allocated. The ideal time to age is 1 year which ensures all the flavors are extracted and a well-balanced beer is produced, 1-2 months creates very strong vanilla and bourbon flavors but lacks the delicacy.

Whether your favorite brewery produces a barrel aged beer or not, it is definitely the Barrel Age.

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