Blogs from Alan Horton - Beverage Journal, Maryland and Washington, DC Sat, 13 Feb 2016 03:36:49 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Wives Tales and Sea Lawyers

 “Sea Lawyer” is a maritime term first used in the US Navy in the 1800s.  A sea lawyer is someone who speaks authoritatively, and gives advice about rules and regulations even if he/she has no idea what they are talking about. Wives tales, folklore and near truths are their stock in trade.  They casually pass along myths, regardless of their factual basis, from one generation to the next.  In today’s beer selling world, the industry equivalent of sea lawyers are still passing along bad scoop just as sailors did in Old Ironsides navy. 

In an industry so highly regulated, one wonders how wives tales and sea lawyers can exist.  But here is the problem. A majority of the people, who now work in the alcohol industry are relatively new to the business. This fact isn’t isolated to any one level of the three-tier system, but is true across all levels of the industry.  It is equally true at both the major brewer and craft brewery level, at the distributor level and at the retail level.  This isn’t to knock new people, but it brings to light the fact that new people don’t have the same body of knowledge as the more experienced and tenured industry members of yesteryear.  The beer industry currently suffers from a lack of “institutional memory.”  Knowledge and understanding take time to acquire while false or erroneous information doesn’t have the same time requirement.

A perfect example is a recent ad in the trade paper Mid Atlantic Brewing News.  A brewer placed an ad that showed a beer label with a character wearing a Santa hat. What’s wrong with that? Well, it clearly violates industry advertising guidelines that alcohol advertising shouldn’t contain a depiction of Santa Claus.  This reference could give children an erroneous impression that a relationship exists between Santa and alcohol, and industry leaders have long agreed this type of advertising was not good for business.  The advertising guideline about Santa was developed within the industry by the Beer Institute, the brewers’ trade group, in an effort to self-regulate, but, it is not law.

A widely held myth about the beer business is that regulations and guidelines governing beer marketing and advertising are codified at both the federal and state level.  The fact is, with the exception of a few broad prohibitions, there is little law at either the state or federal level that regulate beer advertising/marketing in detail.  This is fortunate for the industry as self-policing and self-regulation works best in a free economy.

The intent of federal and state law is to provide an orderly marketplace in which one tier of the system doesn’t control the actions of another tier.  Laws at both levels attempt to protect consumers and promote control over the responsible use and consumption of alcohol and beer in particular.  More detailed and specific guidelines are often provided by industry trade associations.

In a broad sense, the Federal government is concerned with four areas of how alcohol is sold in the United States.  

Federal Basic Trade Regulations

Tied House - addresses the degree to which financial ownership allows one tier to have undue influence over another tier through vertical integration.

Exclusive Outlet - competition and consumer choice are effected when one brewers/wholesalers brands become the only brands offered for sale by a retailer.  This is usually the result of a financial inducement based on direct investment in a business in a different tier, or when a member of one tier provides free goods or equipment to another tier.

Commercial Bribery - occurs when a brewer or wholesaler pays another tier member for exclusive rights to have only its products sold or to receive other favorable treatment.

Consignment Sales - is a practice whereby a supplier tells his customer you are not obligated to pay me until you have sold my product.  This regulation also includes the notion of a false sale in which a supplier agrees to take back unsold products.

The enforcement arm of the federal government is known as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).  This agency has long taken an interest in alcohol advertising through measured media i.e. television, radio, billboards, etc.  Recently TTB concluded, that in its view, social media is a new form of advertising.  This past Spring TTB came forth with guidance that says social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. serve the same function as traditional forms of advertising.  Website home pages, blogs, microblogs and links are all included in this communication.  Social media messages must, therefore, conform to established advertising standards such as:

Statements in advertising must be fair and true.

They cannot disparage competition.

Messages must not be obscene or indecent.

Statements about products and graphics should not mislead the consumer.

The consumer should not be misled through false

False health related claims that induce a consumer to purchase are not allowed.

The name and origin of the product must be conspicuously stated, be legible and clearly part of the message.

Blogs, microblogs, email blasts and other communication via the internet must adhere to these standards.


The State of Maryland Comptroller’s Office, through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division, (ATT) publishes regulations and bulletins that promulgate how the beer business is to be conducted within the state.  The agency provides guidance to all three tiers of the alcohol industry regarding allowable marketing and trade practices.  In an overall sense, ATT efforts are intended to promote an orderly marketplace in which no tier dominates or has undue influence over another tier.  Monetary payments and other inducements are prohibited that would encourage the discrimination and unequal treatment of a retailer by a supplier.  And, state regulations define the type of involvement a brewer and wholesaler can have with consumers.

The Beer Institute

Located in Washington, DC, the Beer Institute is a trade association of the major brewers.  Over time, it has developed a broad array of marketing and advertising guidelines to keep its members and their customers out of trouble and in compliance with alcohol regulations.  It is the overall philosophy of the Beer Institute that beer is a beverage intended for use by adults in a responsible manner.

Some of the Beer Institute's
most important marketing and advertising guidelines include:

Beer advertising cannot make false claims about the qualities of a specific beer or beer in general.

Advertising can’t boast unsubstantiated health claims.

Beer advertising cannot make false claims that users can attain status in education, athletics, professional or social through its use.

Advertising cannot claim that social and other problems can be solved by drinking beer.

Advertising and marketing materials should not include images of lewd or indecent topics including graphic nudity.

Sexually explicit activity cannot be claimed as a result of consuming beer.

Religious themes or images should not be used.

Beer advertising cannot be used to disparage competing beers.

Claims cannot be made that a competitor’s beers contain additives or objectionable ingredients.

Recycling and anti-littering campaigns should not be disparaged.

There should not be depictions of drinking and driving.

No representations should be made of underage people consuming beer.

Appeals should not be made to underage people to consume beer. 

People portrayed in beer ads must be at least 25 years old.

Beer product shots may be used in media advertising as long as 71.6% of the audience is expected to be of legal age.

Advertising may show beer being consumed but not at a rapid rate or to excess.

Marketing materials and advertising may not show people not in control after consuming beer.

Beer consumption may not show situations where there is a question of personal safety.

A depiction of Santa Claus cannot be used in marketing or advertising materials.

Combining industry guidelines with law has kept the beer industry as a responsible economic entity in this country. It is important, therefore, to know the facts of the law and industry guidelines as they relate to your part in the marketing and sale of beer.  Otherwise, it is easy to put your job and your company at risk to substantial fines or loss of its federal and state permits to operate. Agents at the state and federal level are willing to help you and your company stay out of trouble, as is the Beer Institute and your local trade associations.

The headquarters of TTB is located in Washington, DC.  Their phone is 202-455-2272.  The agency also has a District Field Office which is in Philadelphia, PA.  That phone number is 202-453-3144.

Maryland’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division is located at 110 Carrol Street in Annapolis.  The phone number is 410-260-7388.

The Beer Institute is located in Washington, DC.  202-737-2337.

It is not difficult to comply with either the spirit or the letter of the law if you make the effort to ask questions before you act.  It is also important to have some knowledge about the most important facets of federal, state and local law as they relate to selling and promoting beer.  There is an old legal maxim that says, “Ignorance is no excuse for the law.” If you have doubts about your plan of action, ask questions of qualified experts at TTB or Maryland’s ATT.  There is no benefit to be gained by listening to sea lawyers and their wives tales. 


Read more]]> (Alan Horton) December 2015 Editions Tue, 17 Nov 2015 15:43:21 -0500
The Office Bar and Grill

If you were ever a fan of the immensely popular TV series “Where everyone knows you name.” Then you might want to visit a local version of that fabulous watering hole right in the heart of Anne Arundel County.

Pasadena, Maryland is an interesting place to visit, and is probably an even more different and interesting place to live.  Pasadena is a place of conviviality. It is situated almost equidistant between Annapolis and Baltimore, but it doesn’t seem to suffer from the social or political ills that plague either locale.  According to the local patrons I spoke with on a recent visit to The Office Bar and Grill, it is what we might envision mid America to be but is located here in Maryland.

The Office Bar and Grill sits on a busy thoroughfare with the unlikely name of Mountain Road.  It is curiously not mountainous, and abruptly ends at sea level by the Chesapeake Bay. This stretch of flat highway was once known as the longest piece of dead end road in the United States.  Locals say, “It conveniently ends nowhere.”

And on this dead end road, a neighborhood bar still exists where you walk in and it’s a race to see who will say hello first.  It could be the person sitting on the stool next to you, or it could be Ashley Marshall or Rob Wilt (bartenders/assistant managers) ... whomever it is; the greeting from both employees, strangers and regulars comes with the same upbeat cheerfulness. In any case, walk into “The Office Bar and Grill” in Pasadena and be ready for a genuine “hello.”  

This friendly welcoming attitude is what makes The Office Bar and Grill a meeting and gathering spot for neighbors.  It is reminiscent of the sort of friendly local pubs you can find throughout small town America, where the locals gather at the end of the day to swap tales of their daily experiences, “out in the world.”

Just as you would find in a quintessential local pub, a sense of camaraderie exists and emanates from its owners, general manager and employees. In the case of The Office it starts with Frank Kahrs, who along with a couple of partners, a few years ago bought a run-down bar in need of some tender loving care. They founded this tavern with the philosophy of “have fun and pay the bills.”

Fortunately for everyone including owners, employees and the customers, Frank recently managed to lure his niece Sarah Hoover away from another career to become the general manager. They both made a great decision. Sarah is an example of an unusual sort of person who instinctively knows what to do and is able to motivate other people to get things done.

 In fact, the genesis of this article is the result of Sarah’s desire to say thank you to the folks who put in long hours every day at The Office to make it a successful business.  She wanted to pay tribute to her co-workers for their hard work and their individual creativity.  In every business, owners and managers wish they had employees who cared enough about them and their business, that when they go home at night voluntarily, on their own time, think of recipes for new drinks, new menu items and new ways to become better members of the community in which they work and live. This situation is pretty rare.

Sarah starts each day by asking the staff if there is a special drink or menu item they would like to serve. This common sense and hands on approach to motivation encourages the staff at The Office to make it a place to visit on a regular basis.

Kudos to Sarah, Ashley, Frank and all the staff of Pasadena’s The Office Bar and Grill who deserve to be recognized for doing a great job serving their customers each day to the best of their ability.  The “Having fun and paying bills” philosophy makes for a great spot to spend time with good people.

Cheers to you!


Read more]]> (Alan Horton) October 2015 Editions Wed, 23 Sep 2015 11:08:16 -0400
Narragansett Lager Beer

First brewed in 1890, Narragansett Lager Beer is making a resurgence, and in some New York City bars has taken over the low priced but good beer spot … a spot that was previously dominated by Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The Gansett story began with the Rhode Island’s Haffenreffer family in December 1890.  From its inception through the 1970s, Narragansett Lager beer was the dominant beer in the New England area when in 1955 it attained a lofty 55% share of market. Ownership of the brewery changed hands when Rudolph Haffenreffer sold it to The Falstaff Brewery in 1965.

In some ways, Falstaff and Narragansett were ahead of their time as they were innovators in sponsoring major events such a Led Zeppelin concert in 1969, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at the Boston Garden in 1971, and the Newport Folk Festival. The brewery also continued to use the beer’s clever advertising featuring the designs of cartoonist Theodor Seuss Geisler, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss.

 Unfortunately, under the new owners, the Narragansett name began to lose its identity as Falstaff fired sales people, discontinued sponsorship of the Red Sox, and moved production from its home base in Rhode Island to Indiana.  And in 1983, Falstaff ended the production of Narragansett Lager.

In 2005, a group of investors purchased the rights to Narragansett.  They hired Phil Anderson, its former brew master, to recreate the beer’s original formula.  Since its return to market, Narragansett Lager has won several beer competition awards including a Silver award at the World Beer Championship and a Gold award at the Great International Beer Competition.    

Narragansett Lager with its ever-popular slogan, “Hi Neighbor – Have a Gansett!” is brewed in the style of a classic American Lager.  It is clean and crisp and has a mild aroma of grass and hops. Its 5% alcohol level is derived from the use of six row barley malt and a strain of its original proprietary yeast.  Iowa corn provides additional body and sweet flavor while other aroma and flavor characteristics come from a blend of hops from the U.S. northwest.

Narragansett is refreshing and drinkably smooth. Available in 16oz tall boy cans, Narragansett Lager Beer has stayed true to its heritage and New England roots. It is “Made on Honor – Sold with Pride.”

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) October 2015 Editions Wed, 23 Sep 2015 10:46:03 -0400
You Can’t Sell from an Empty Cart

Twenty-five or so years ago, the floor, shelves and cooler of Bowie Liquors in Bowie, Maryland was chock full of wine, liquor and beer.  A customer entering the store was greeted immediately by one of the owners, and was asked “May I help you?” If the customer said no, he/she was free to walk the narrow aisles of products to peruse and shop the wide-ranging inventory. The stacks of beer, wine and liquor seemed to be a complete listing of all the products advertised in the Beverage Journal.  But, it was up to the consumer to choose what to buy with or without the owner’s advice.

At some point during this time period, Tony Gentile co-owner of Bowie Liquors said these important words to me - “You can’t sell from an empty cart.”  His words and this thought have stuck with me as being one of those immutable truths of retailing that ranks up there next to the well-worn maxim “location, location, location.”

Prior to joining his older brother Fred and his father Fred Sr. in the retail alcohol business, Tony worked for one of the area grocery chains.  He learned a valuable lesson from that experience.  It was obvious to him that a successful retailer had to have what a customer wanted, when he wanted it or risked losing a sale or even worse losing a customer.

The Gentile’s customer friendly approach stood in contrast to a more prevailing attitude of the day, which was, “ If we don’t have it; you don’t want it and you don’t need it.”  But wait, this very broad generalization needs to be put into some form of historical context.

It is important to remember that as recently as twenty-five years ago, Sam Adams, on the east coast, was the entire craft beer market.  Heineken was the number one imported beer and had been for many years until it was overtaken by Corona.  Customers of that era were brand loyal to a much greater degree.  The leading beers of the day, contrary to what some of today’s critics would have us believe, Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Lite were not identical beers, but were variations of a type of pale blond, light bodied, highly carbonated beers brewed in the pilsner style.  Beers with interesting sounding names such as Hefeweizen, Stout, India Pale Ale, American Pale Ale, Imperial anything were not part of a typical beer drinkers’ lexicon.  Back then; what you needed to carry in inventory was pretty straight forward and relatively simple.  A retailer only needed to have available the most popular brands in various can and bottle configurations and sell them at a competitive price

Beer advertisers, for the most part, tailored their selling messages to separate their brands from their competitors through interesting but frequently contrived imagery. The typical beer drinker was often referred to as “Joe or Jane Six Pack.” Scantily clad women or buff men, sporting events and humor played well with the audience of the day.  Now let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with “Joe or Jane Six Pack,” because whether or not we want to admit it, these men and women remain the mainstays of the today’s beer business.  Upwards of 75% of all beer sold in the U.S. is still purchased and consumed by what industry experts refer to as “regular beer drinkers.”  And, despite the tremendous growth of many craft beers and current import favorites from Mexico - Modelo and Corona, America’s typical beer drinker still consumes tons of Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, Budweiser, and in recent years Yuengling, but these same consumers also drink other beers in addition to their favorite brand.  These “other” beers are referred as a consumer’s “brand set.” Many beer drinkers today have between two and four primary brands they buy and consume on a regular basis.  They are no longer ultra-loyal to only one brand, but will consume one of these other beers depending on use occasion.

Returning to the question about inventory and how to manage it,  in a recent issue, there were some ….brands of beer listed in the Beverage Journal.  The number of beers actually available in the marketplace is understated as not all brands are advertised or listed.  Suffice it to say, if we compared the number of beer brands listed in the Beverage Journal today with one from twenty-five years ago, it would be very different.  There are many many beers available now than there were then.  Herein lies the problem for today’s retailer.

It is unlikely that the average liquor store or tavern over time has increased its storage capacity to any large degree.  So, what does a typical retail business do to accommodate a rapidly changing landscape with so many new products? In the past, when a beer distributor wanted to sell a new product to his retailer, a typical retail response was, “That’s fine but you have to eliminate it or take it out of your own space.”  That’s a response no salesman wants to hear.  It’s heresy to voluntarily give up hard earned and sometimes well-deserved shelf or cooler space. Today, optimistic thinkers on both the retail and distributor side usually try to be creative in order to address the challenge and opportunity new products represent. There is always a new star product on the horizon or so it seems.

How does a retailer who is already pressed for space agree to take in a new product or group of products?  Admittedly it’s not an easy decision, but it can be made on a somewhat rational basis. Although the number of beers brewed in Maryland is increasing, it is fortunate for Maryland retailers that most beers introduced to the market come from out of state brewers that will have some track record of success prior to their arrival here.  Their degree of success in other markets may help Maryland retailers to decide on what new risks to take on as there is a constant stream of new beers seeking to enter the state. 

It is useful for retailers to monitor various social media platforms as they have a way of spreading the word about hot brands faster and better than traditional advertising as beer consumers share their likes and dislikes. For retailers, the word “like” on Facebook is a quick and easy way to learn about prevailing opinion with regard to a new beer.  It can be a useful gauge of a brand’s probable success or failure.  Regardless of whether consumer opinion is uniformed or unscientific, opinion leaders on the internet can easily become powerful brand endorsers or brand killers.

So, is there a formula that can be used to help decide what new brands to bring into your inventory?  The quick answer is no, there is no magic formula. Sometimes the decision will be based on your own individual knowledge or reading about up and coming breweries in trade journals. Or, it may be the result of research you have done on internet websites such as or  Naturally, recommendations will be made by your local distributors’ sales personnel.  Another valuable source of knowledge about new products is your own customers, who have had some direct experience with products outside of the state or from friends who live in other areas. Or often, thoughts about new products will come from your network of fellow retailers.  Retailers who have made themselves into “craft beer destinations” are generally well known within the industry, and their knowledge and opinions can be of considerable value in deciding which new brands to bring in.

But as with so many other aspects of business, bringing a new item into your inventory is still at best an educated guess and at worst it’s a crap shoot.  It is necessary to try new products to meet or anticipate consumer demand, but it would be imprudent to bring in a brewer’s entire product line until you have some firsthand sales experience with a few products and you can more readily estimate consumer acceptance.  If a product doesn’t work out, don’t linger over the decision but cull it from inventory as soon you recognize consumers aren’t accepting it.

There will always be a delicate balance behind having the correct number and variety of beers in inventory.  It is obviously more art than science with no magic formulas.  But it is also clear that in order to grow your business, you need to be sure your cart is always full in order to keep satisfied customers.

Thank you to Tony Gentile for his mentoring, and Danny and Nick Cipriani of Dawson’s Liquors in Severna Park for their recent conversation about how to bring in new products into inventory.


Read more]]> (Alan Horton) September 2015 Editions Wed, 19 Aug 2015 16:20:47 -0400
The Frustration of Being a Retailer

After 27 years of working in the alcohol beverage industry and writing about the industry during the past ten years, I have heard over and over again from retailers about the frustrations they experience day in and day out. So with my apologies to all the professional advice columnists out there, let me proceed with a letter from a retailer:

Dear Al,

I can’t sleep at night. I have a landlord who is always looking for excuses to raise the rent, but who is also slow to address complaints and drags his feet when it comes to making repairs. There’s the credit card company who thinks of new fees to charge for their services at every turn.  And the liquor board that wants to tell me one more time how to run my business. But more than any of those things, my suppliers, customers and employees are making me crazy. 


I get it that without suppliers, I would have nothing to sell, and the retailer/supplier relationship should be collaborative and symbiotic.  Both of us should gain equally.  Unfortunately, I frequently deal with supplier sales reps who seem more interested in meeting their sales quota than they are in helping ME- their customer grow my businesses profitably.  Too often, sales reps try to jam in new products I know won’t sell, based on my intimate knowledge of my customer base. Without a doubt, this relationship could be improved if supplier management provided more training concerning customer empathy.  Sales people need to be able to see themselves in my shoes.  And while a new item may make perfect sense in the salesperson’s mind, in many cases, it is just another slow mover to add to my inventory.


I can’t tell you how many times I have asked myself, “Why is this customer here; it’s obvious he has no idea what he wants?”  I know customers walk in in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds and some are rational buyers, but others are not. Each of them is an individual and acts in his own self-interest. I get that for some of my customers, what may have been customary business dealings somewhere else isn’t the norm locally, and, what some consumers consider to be polite behavior may come across as rude and offensive.  But it drives me crazy when customers come in and tell me they can get a better price from my competitor.  They don’t realize my competitor often uses bargain basement pricing on three or four items to draw traffic, but, in fact, overall his prices are higher and his level of service is subpar in comparison.


Once again, I am asking myself, “Why the heck did I hire this person?”  Initially, I thought he was going to be at least an adequate employee.  But within a short time, it became clear to me the employee was only interested in himself and not me or my business.  I get it that reference checks have proven to be useless in identifying problem employees beforehand.  It seems very few employers are willing to risk a lawsuit by giving a former employee a bad reference.  So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when a pattern of tardiness and absenteeism emerges as he begins to test me.  I also think that some of my employees leave their brains at home when they come to work.  Why else would they continue to make the same mistakes over and over again?  Then, there is the age old problem of dishonesty. And, what happened to loyalty on the part of an employee?  After all, they came here looking for a job.  They got hired, were given regular work hours and are being paid more than minimum wage.  Yet, for fifty cents more per hour, they jump ship and go somewhere else.  Fortunately, not all my employees are like this.

I really need to get some sleep, and would appreciate any advice.


          Frustrated Retailer 


Dear Frustrated Retailer,

Unresolved frustration can lead to long term health problems as stress builds up until it seeks some release.  Sometimes, relief can be found by doing something as simple as taking it out on a golf ball, but left unresolved, it can result in dangerous health issues such as stroke, heart attack or other serious physical or emotional problems.  Professional help and counseling, as well a myriad of organized programs, may provide the necessary stress relief.  But, self- help and education may be just as effective and a much cheaper alternative.

What can be done?

Sometimes we need to make personal changes in our lives in order to minimize increased levels of frustration.  One of the most important approaches many people can take is to concentrate on so-called “soft skills.”  These are skills we use when we interact with others.  They include such things as:  Emotional Intelligence - our ability to control our emotions and act calmly under difficult circumstances, and learning to communicate through active listening to what people are saying and not talking over them.  For some people, the ability to teach another person comes easily but for most managers it is skill that is acquired over time. Last, any boss who strives to be successful in the long term has to understand each employee’s magical hot button that is the key in motivating them.

Some practical hints for dealing with stress and frustration

Some people might propose an easy but impractical solution to solve your frustration by telling you, “Well, you can always get off the merry go round and sell the business.”  You probably don’t have that choice, so this simple answer is not a practical one.  So what can you do?

Rely on your family as a source of strength

Devote the time and effort necessary to maintain a few close friendships

Have interests outside of the business  

It is also important to: Look for reasons to smile or laugh

Get some exercise. Eat heathy.  

Make a fresh start by changing your daily routine.  

Stop procrastinating and just do it - -whatever it is.  As a practical matter, why put up with a lingering problem or a sub-par employee.  Get rid of them!

Practice better “Time Management” which really means getting better at managing yourself and the activities you choose to be part of. 

Try to have a good day every day, because who knows how many more there will be?  

Actively seek out ways to increase your happiness.

Remember the adage, “A busy man never has time to take a vacation; he must just go ahead and do it.”  If you really can’t take a vacation this summer, at least take off a couple of long weekends and do something different.

Try Some Summer Reading

Several recently published books shed light on and provide useful tips in relieving stress and frustration.

“Happy is the New Healthy” by Dave Romanelli - Author Romanelli provides some useful guidance with his 31 ways to relax, let go and enjoy life.

“You Mean I am Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy” by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo - This self-help book is full of practical how-to’s for adults who may have Attention Deficit Disorder.

“The Power of Thanks” by Eric Mosely and Derek Irvine - Mosely and Irvine provide insight into several successful companies and how much of their success is the result of employee empowerment.

“Work Simply” by Carson Tate - Author Tate talks about creating a stress free environment by embracing the power of your personal productivity.

“Driven to Distraction at Work” by Edward Hallowell, MD -  Hallowell explains how to feel more in control and productive at work through increased focus.

Read one or two of these books and see if you can see a change in your outlook about captaining your own business.

Finally, Frustrated Retailer, don’t forget the now famous quote, “No man ever said on his deathbed, ‘I wish I had spent more time in the office.’” Frustration and stress can rule your life, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Make the changes necessary to reduce stress and frustration in both your business and personal life.

          Sincerely, Al 


Read more]]> (Alan Horton) July 2015 Editions Wed, 17 Jun 2015 12:47:58 -0400
The Evolution of Beer Packaging

Draft, bottle or can? Each person has his/her own preference when it comes to enjoying a brew, and each of these beer packages has its own unique history.

Draft Beer was First

Draft (or draught) was the first method of getting beer from the brewer to the beer drinker. In fact, draft beer has been available in kegs for several hundred years. Early on, beer kegs were wooden barrels made by artisans called “coopers.” The barrels they made were large, bulky and much heavier than today’s stainless steel, aluminum or polyethylene kegs, but for the times they allowed large amounts of beer to be transported to local pubs and on ships across oceans.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) May 2015 Editions Tue, 21 Apr 2015 16:00:29 -0400
Troeg’s Cultivator Helles Bock

There is an old wive’s tale that Bock beer is made from the leftover liquid that remains in the bottom of a lager tank.  The notion is pure myth.  The truth is that Bock is a style of lager beer that got its name from Einbock, Germany the town in which it was originally brewed. The residents of Bavaria often pronounced the word einbock as two words ein and bock which literally translated means “goat,” and it is common to see to a picture of goat on the label of a bottle of bock beer.

The term bock doesn’t describe a singular style of beer but rather it refers to a variety of brews including: Maibock (Helles Bock), Eisbock, and Dopplebock. Bock beer was brewed typically in late Fall for consumption at celebrations during the Spring of the year.  

Beer made in the bock style has a higher alcohol content, in the neighborhood of 6-7.5% abv, which is more than most lagers.  Its color can vary from a light brown to a dark, nearly opaque liquid.  In terms of taste, a typical bock beer tends to be on the sweet side due to its high malt content in contrast with a low level of hops. 

The Troeg Brewery of Hershey, Pennsylvania has introduced Cultivator Helles Bock to celebrate the beginning of the Spring hop growing season. Cultivator’s aroma and flavor characteristics are provided by Magnum and Hersbrucker hops.  Both hop varieties come from the famous Hallertau hop growing region in Bavaria.  Magnum hops provides a base layer of bittering agents while Hersbrucker hops contribute to the overall aroma and finish of the beer.

Cultivator’s unique taste, pale gold color, and light white head is the result of the use of floor cured pilsner malt. Combined with hop notes that are both floral and bitter, the hops give the lager a nice aroma and adds just enough zing in its taste.  The sweetness of the malt nicely balances the hops and make it a drinkable session beer.

Troeg’s Cultivator Helles Bock is a perfect introduction to the bock style for someone who has not previously tried a bock beer, and as the weather finally turns warmer, Cultivator is a beer to be enjoyed while sitting on the porch enjoying the sights and smells of Spring.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) May 2015 Editions Tue, 21 Apr 2015 15:08:13 -0400
Weyerbacher Last Chance 120 IPA

When a brewer describes his beer as being a “….full blown hop assault-delightfully lacking in balance,” the beer drinker is clearly forewarned as to what to expect. Without a doubt Last Chance 120 IPA is a hop centric brew, but it is by no means off putting to the beer drinker who prefers a mild pale ale or lager.

Last Chance 120 IPA is one of the Weyerbacher Brewery’s seven, year round beers. Other year round brands include: Blithering Idiot, Double Simcoe IPA, Merry Monk, Old Heathen, Tiny and Verboten. They are all more or less examples of the abundant use of aromatic and flavoring hops as the means of giving each brand its own unique character.

Founded in 1995 by the husband wife team of Dan and Sue Weirbach, the Weyerbacher Brewery has remained true to the owners’ vision of producing full flavor beers of a high quality. Since the beginning, the brewery has had a loyal customer following that over the years has grown exponentially. From its small humble beginnings in a livery stable in Easton, PA, Weyerbacher has gone through several growth iterations. It is now housed in a modern facility with an up-to-date brew house and a fully refurbished Krones bottling line. The owners and Weyerbacher sales team now sell their thirty-one brands in 19 states.

With an alcohol level of 5.9%, Last Chance 120 IPA has a mid-level alcohol content, and its strong hop content yields a somewhat hefty bitterness reading at 60 IBUs. With a backbone of Apollo (A), Centennial, Cascade, Simcoe and Columbus (A) hops, Last Chance has an aroma of grapefruit, pine and citrus and there are clear hints of citrus orange in its flavor profile. From the first sip through the finish and aftertaste there is a strong hop presence throughout.

“Have a glass and make a difference.” For every drop of Last Chance 120 IPA sold, the Weyerbacher Brewery makes a donation to a local animal rescue organization. Most recently, the company donated $2700 to the Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue Association which is located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This is another good reason to consider stocking Last Chance 120 IPA as well as Weyerbacher’s other fine brands.

The Weyerbacher family of quality beers will certainly be appreciated by your loyal craft beer customers.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) April 2015 Editions Mon, 23 Mar 2015 12:00:28 -0400
Help for Small Business Owners is Close at Hand

As a business owner, you may at times feel “stuck.”  Perhaps you can’t get the traction necessary to move ahead; doing the same old thing in the same old way has made you stale or you are just plain tired of fighting the same old battles, or maybe you know what you want to do but you just don’t know how to do it.  Fortunately, there is plenty of affordable and practical help close at hand for Maryland’s small business owners.

Inexpensive Life Long Learning

Maryland can take great pride in its network of sixteen community colleges.  Hagerstown Community College, Maryland’s first community college, was founded in 1946 an innovator in a series of local institutions of higher education.  Most of Maryland’s counties and Baltimore City are home to a central community college campus that is supplemented by other locations convenient to the business community, who may want more specific information and education about a wide array of topics.

Over time, the community college system has become hugely popular, with more than 500,000 of Maryland’s residents taking courses annually.  It is particularly noteworthy that most community college students are part timers who are not pursuing a degree and who are enrolled in “non- credit” courses.

The hundreds of programs offered by these colleges have something for everyone.  From the recent high school graduate to people who later in life want to enjoy a college experience, there are a multitude of Associate Degree programs ranging from business to phlebotomy.  Community Colleges also offer many programs designed for those people who are looking to make a career change to another field.

With tuition rates at about $400 for a full semester three credit course. Tuition costs are a relative bargain at one of Maryland’s Community Colleges, compared with almost any four year college.  There are even easy payment plans that allow students to spread the cost across 4-5 payments.

A sample of the many classes available across the State include: “Practical Marketing for Small Business” (Howard County Community College), “Computerized Accounting” (Baltimore County Community College), “Business Mathematics” (College of Southern Maryland), “Principles of Management” (Mid Shore Community College), and “Legal Environment of Business” (Hagerstown Community College).  And, non-credit courses like “Beer Styles from Belgium (Anne Arundel Community College) and “Demystifying Wines of France (Prince George’s Community College) are among industry related courses. 

Free Business Advice

We all know the phrase, “There ain’t such thing as a free lunch.” Well, Maryland’s SCORE organization is a welcome exception to that rule.  SCORE is a non-profit association whose sole purpose is to provide free advice and mentoring help to small business owners.  It doesn’t matter if the business is a fledgling idea in someone’s mind, or if it is an existing business that has been operating for a period of time.  SCORE counselors, who are retired business executives and business owners, donate their time free of charge to aid current businesses owners who recognize they need help.

In addition to providing free confidential counseling, SCORE advisors conduct workshops for a minimal fee on topics such as:  How to Start and Manage your New Business, Growing Profitable Sales, Effective Marketing, Social Media and Quick Books Basics. 

SCORE Chapter Offices:

Greater Baltimore
(Baltimore City 410-962-2233)



Upper Shore
(Chestertown 410-810-2969)

(Easton 410-822-4606)


Southern Maryland
(Annapolis 410-266-9553)

SCORE has been instrumental in helping owners start more than 1100 Maryland businesses, and its counselors have had an unusually high success rate of making sure these new businesses stay in business.

Short of Funds

A common problem for many small businesses is the periodic need for short term funds. A lingering problem, that is the result of the Great Recession of 2008, is the problem of borrowing money from banks, which have traditionally been the source of lending to small businesses.

Although many banks are now flush with cash, most have continued to be overly cautious about making loans to small business. While it seems obvious an established, profitable and well managed small business should be able to obtain the funding it needs, many banks have been slow to change. Typically, even business’ with good credit history, may encounter more scrutiny and paperwork than seems necessary ... all of which are the result of the post Sarbanes-Oxley era.

One alternative to bank financing is an old fashioned source of funds that still exists, and continues to play an important role in many financial transactions -   that is, person to person financing.  “Angel investors” are high net worth individuals who live in the local community and who are likely to be familiar with your business. Typically, these individuals have excess cash they want to put to work close to home where they can keep a close eye on their investment.  This type of investor is motivated by the opportunity to earn a greater return on his money than he normally could through other limited risk investments.  Some of these investors may also have other altruistic reasons such as wanting to help another community member be successful.

In recent years, “Crowdfunding” has become a novel way for both startups and existing businesses to raise capital.  The process is quite simple.  A business owner sets up an online account on a website such as or  The owner lists how much money he wants to raise and sets a target date by which to do so.  People who know the owner or have some interest in his particular kind of business participate in the funding process by contributing as little as one dollar. is another website that offers help with “line of credit” loans to small businesses and particularly to small businesses who are doing some of their business online.  According to the Kabbage website, credit advances can be made online and may be taken out in installments up to the agreed amount – the maximum credit line is $100,000.  After an applicant has supplied the required information, evaluates a business’ credit worthiness based on the business’ current results, its history and its customer ratings. Lending fees are graduated and go down over time.  For a six month loan, a customer pays 1-12% for the first two months and then 1% for the next four months. is known for its quick response and approval, which take only a matter of minutes.

Mom’s Childhood Lesson Remains True

As a child, your mother told you she didn’t want you hanging around with certain kids because they would be a bad influence on you.  Regardless of your age, your mother’s admonition holds true.  The four or five people with whom you spend the most time have a profound effect on your motivation and your actions.  If those people close to you are achievement motivated, if they have a positive outlook, if they are supportive and are committed to excellence rather to complaining, chances are you will be motivated similarly.  In other words, don’t allow yourself to be brought down by the company you keep.

Being a small business owner can be pretty lonely.  But for Maryland’s small business owners there is an array of assistance that can help them be successful.  Next time you are feeling the pinch don’t be afraid to seek out education or advice to help make your business life easier. 


Read more]]> (Alan Horton) March 2015 Editions Sat, 21 Feb 2015 16:41:40 -0500
Samuel Adams Boston Lager

What is a brand?  Simply put, a brand is a picture, an icon, words, feelings, beliefs or any notion we attach to a product (person or service).  In the case of Sam Adams “Boston Lager,” it is the beer, the brewery and a marketing genius named Jim Koch, wrapped into one.

Koch is the self-effacing, denim shirt clad CEO and spokesman who is seen often in Sam Adams television commercials.  He comes across as sincere and knowledgeable.  He is both.  After all, it’s his beer and his company.  The company’s marketing engine has carefully crafted the legend that Koch himself comes from a long line of brewers, and in fact, he tells the story that the recipe for Boston Lager is one developed in 1860 by Louis Koch a forebear who owned a brewery in Missouri.

But, Jim Koch is much more than just a brewmaster.  He is one smart guy. Koch holds three degrees from Harvard including a BA, MBA and JD.  Prior to founding Sam Adams with his partner Rhonda Kallman, he learned many lessons about marketing and business strategy while working as a consultant at the prestigious Boston Consulting Group.  Koch, Sam Adams and Boston Beer are a good example of a modern version of the “Horatio Alger” story of American success based on a unique idea, a lot of hard work and a fair share of good luck.

Soon after Boston Lager was introduced to the Boston area, in June 1985, it was declared the “Best Beer in America” at the Great American Beer Festival.  Beer drinkers were looking for something different and Koch gave it to them.  No amount of prepaid advertising could have accomplished more!  The brand was on its way to storied success.

With hints of red, gold and amber, Samuel Adams when poured sports a big head of foam.  The head, the beer’s malt character and its substantial body are all the result of the generous use of two row barley and Caramel 60 malt.

Spice rather than pronounced bitterness comes from a mixture of classic German hops.  Hallertau Mittelfrüeh and Tettnang Tettnanger Noble hops give Boston Lager its unique hop spice and mild floral aroma.

The beer is well-balanced but has a complex taste profile.  It has a textured mouthfeel, a subtle sweetness and layers of honey, toffee and toasted barley.  Overall, it is the beer’s complexity that makes it fun to drink.

Boston Lager, as its names suggests, is a lager beer and lager beers, because of their complexity, are difficult to brew on a consistent basis. To ensure the desired result, the Sam Adams brewmasters use three old world brewing techniques to ensure Boston Lager meets their specifications every time. 

Boston Lager is brewed using a “decoction process” which means a small batch of separately cooked malt is added to the malt in the mash tun in order to raise its overall temperature. This technique greatly influences the final malt character of the beer. Second, the brewers use “krausening” an old world brewing technique in which freshly fermented wort is added to the maturing beer to induce a secondary fermentation. This additional step gives the beer a smoothness and plenty of dissolved natural carbonation.  Finally, the brewers at Sam Adams have their beer rest on a bed of hops in the aging tank. This step adds flavor to the finished beer without adding bitterness.

Samuel Adams may no longer be a favorite amongst self-proclaimed “Millennial Beer Geeks,” but it remains a “go to” beer for beer lovers who like to enjoy more than a couple of beers at a sitting. And, if you ever have the opportunity to share a pint or two with Mr. Koch, the scholar, entrepreneur and master storyteller, he would easily convince you that Samuel Adams Boston Lager is “the perfect beer.” 

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) March 2015 Editions Sat, 21 Feb 2015 16:36:17 -0500
SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale

Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerney founded the SweetWater Brewing Company.   The two became friends while attending the University of Colorado.  During college, they developed a passion for beer, and after graduating they headed to California to attend brewing school at the American Brewers Guild.  They then worked at various craft breweries before opening their own brewery in February 1997 near SweetWater Creek outside of Atlanta, Georgia.  In April of that same year, they produced their first brew, SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale, and it remains the brewery’s most popular beer.

American Pale Ales are made from U.S. ingredients and are brewed for a careful balance of sweet malt and bitter hops.  They are typically a brilliant gold color, are approachable, and are often considered to be session beers because of their easy drinkability.  They are in complete contrast to the older British style ale, which is darker and has a bitterer flavor profile.

SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale perfects the American Pale Ale style with its aromatic and full flavor that is equally weighted in both directions.  The beer pours a rich gold color and has a generous head of foam that sticks around and provides plenty of lacing inside the glass. It gets its gold color and sweet flavor from a blend of Munich malt known for its robust malt flavor characteristics, L40 malt which imparts caramel notes and two row barley malt that supplies the majority of carbohydrates and sugars for brewing and fermenting.

In order to achieve a nice blend of aroma and bitterness, the brewer combines Cascade and Centennial hops.  Cascade hops, a “go to” hop variety for pale ale, provides a medium level of aroma and a low level of bitterness.  Centennial hops add flowery and citrus aromas to the mix and a medium to high level of hop bitterness that is more pronounced at the beginning than at the finish.

Before the brewing process is complete, the brewer takes an extra and final step to produce a naturally balanced and well-carbonated beer by using a technique known as “conditioning” where priming sugar and yeast are added directly in a bottle or can.  This process produces a secondary fermentation in the container. But, don’t be alarmed to see white particles sitting at the bottom of the bottle; they are harmless unfermented yeast particles.  Besides, these “sinkers” tend to be a great conversation starter.  While conditioning adds to the overall length of the brewing process and is a costly step for the brewer, it results in a well-carbonated, smooth and drinkable beer. SweetWater 420 is typical of most American Pale Ales with a bitterness content of 41 bitterness units (IBUs) and a moderate alcohol level of 5.3% abv.

The name SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale officially memorializes the date the beer was first brewed April 20, 1997, but there is much conjecture over the 420 name.  Regardless of the truth – myths, legends and stories are great free marketing tools and SweetWater Brewery makes ample use of stories and slogans to promote their brands. And, the good news for your customers who have had to travel out of state to find SweetWater beers is that the entire SweetWater portfolio including SW 420, Georgia Brown, Spinner (a Belgian Red Ale) and SweetWater IPA is scheduled for introduction to the Maryland market in late February or early March of 2015.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) February 2015 Editions Wed, 21 Jan 2015 19:09:10 -0500
Schlafly Christmas Ale christmasbttlglss.jpg - 56.56 KB

At this time of year, retail shelves are stocked with brightly packaged Christmas Beers. The packages, the labels and perhaps even the name contain the word Christmas, but what is Christmas Beer?  It’s one of those questions open to interpretation and opinion to which there is no definitive answer.  Some might reason it is a beer for drinking during the Christmas Holiday.  Others might suggest that it is a spiced beer with aroma and flavor common to holiday desserts; and, still others might say it is a higher alcohol beer brewed especially for the Christmas Season.  Regardless of the definition, Christmas beer has a long and interesting history.

Whether it was pre-Romans, the Druids or Scandinavians celebrating the Winter Solstice, holiday beers have been around for a very long time –thousands of years in fact.  Strongly brewed beer intended to be shared with friends and family became the norm in Europe during the late Middle Ages.  The beer of the time often contained spices, herbs or fruit and plenty of alcohol.  It was a special brew made for the season and to make common folk feel both warm and happy at the same time.  This idea is not entirely new, and could have been a storyline in a Charles Dickens’ novel.

Clearly, the notion of a Christmas beer defies a simple definition.  It seems to be less a style of beer and more of a tradition. The Beer Judges Certification program (Category 23) proclaims Christmas beer must contain spices, be dark in color and have a Christmas cookie like aroma and be true to its underlying style – whatever that is?  To further complicate matters, many of today’s commercially available holiday beers lack one or more required characteristics found in the beer committees’ rules.

Schlafy “Christmas Ale,” a seasonal beer from the St. Louis Brewery, seems to conform closely to the wider notion of what a Christmas or Holiday beer should be.  At 8% abv, it possesses a fairly high alcohol content.  Its color is a bit dark and pours a deep copper (SRM 30 on the color scale), and is full of spice. Flavoring ingredients include orange peel, juniper berries, ginger root, cardamom and cloves.

As it is poured, the beer shows off a large tan and tightly packed head of tiny bubbles.  In a beer clean glass, the head lasted for 2-3 minutes just long enough for any excess carbon dioxide to escape.  

The first hits of aroma and flavor come from a pungent combination of cloves and ginger. Schlafly Christmas Ale is best described as a zesty and spicy brew.  The aroma of clove and ginger was pleasant, muted and not overbearing.  To its credit, the St. Louis Brewery, as it does with all of its beers, puts blend and balance as its first objective.  Although Christmas Ale is substantially different from this brewer’s everyday beers, the overall result is one of outstanding drinkability.

Pale, caramel, and Munich malts provide the body for this Christmas Ale. The inclusion of chocolate, honey and additional sugars provides fuel necessary for a higher alcohol content.  American Ale yeast is used as a catalyst, and Magnum hops provide additional flavor and aroma. The ale has a medium body with a smooth and medium mouthfeel.  Its pleasant and lingering aftertaste tells us we have a beer to be enjoyed.

Schlafly’s Christmas beer clearly falls into the tradition of holiday beers.  It has a combination of bold, expensive ingredients that yield a spicy aroma with robust alcohol content.  It is a beer to be shared with friends and family during the holiday season, and could be one of the best gifts you can give or receive this season. Give it a try.  It could well become one of your top ten Christmas/Holiday brews.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) January 2015 Editions Sun, 21 Dec 2014 14:08:05 -0500
Sour Beer Gains Popularity At first thought, the idea of sour beer seems neither appealing nor appetizing.  But, to the contrary, the sour beer style has gained popularity among sophisticated beer and wine drinkers who appreciate the complexity of its many flavors

Just as the nuances of single malt Scotch are too difficult to appreciate the first time, learning to enjoy the flavor of any complex beverage often requires certain background information before it becomes an acquired taste. But once acquired, it is a taste to be savored and enjoyed over and over again.  It is much the same with sour beer.  In order to appreciate the sour notes that range from tart to puckery to darkly sour, it is important to know something about the subject before embarking on the sour beer journey.  Although it may seem an unusual analogy, it may come as no surprise that a first attempt at enjoying sour beer is much like attending an opera being sung in a foreign language. Without a libretto in hand, it is difficult to follow the story line. Similarly, it is useful to have reference points to guide you as you sip one of the many sour beers now available in the marketplace.

The Home of Sour Beer

Belgium is considered to be the home of the ”sour beer style.”  Its origins are in the Zenne Valley, which surrounds Brussels, the capitol city. From October through May, local breweries that specialize in brewing sour beer open their windows and allow wild, airborne yeasts to flow in and settle on top of open fermenting tanks. These tanks, known as “coolships,” contain a mixture of malted barley and wheat - the raw materials for a sugary liquid called wort.  Once the wild yeast has settled on the wort and has performed its magic, the sugary liquid becomes a sour flavored mixture of alcohol and carbon dioxide commonly known as sour beer.

Along with wild airborne yeasts, there are a few basic ingredients standard in making sour beer.  Malted barley is mixed with unmalted wheat grist to give the beer its body.  Hops are added, but are used in limited quantities, and are more important as a preservative than as a flavoring agent.  Coigneau is the traditional Belgian hop variety used in making sour beers. In addition, some brewers add fruit such as sour cherries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches amongst others.

After the fermentation process is complete the newly fermented beer is stored in used port, sherry or burgundy wine barrels for aging.  This type of storage is a clear departure from brewing typically top fermented ales where the aging process is short and usually lasts from one week to a few weeks.  Belgian sour beers are often left to develop and mature for a period of one to several years.

The principal type of sour beer is called lambic.  Lambic is a refreshing drink by itself or it may be combined with other beers or fruit.  If two lambics, a young lambic one year old or less is combined with an older lambic (3-5 years), the resultant beer is known as “gueze.”  If sour cherries are added to a lambic it becomes “kriek lambic” or in the case of raspberries is called “framboise.” Faro, a fourth type of sour beer, is a lambic to which other ingredients including: candi sugar, pepper, orange peel, and coriander have been added to make the beer sweeter and more palatable.  All of these classic sour beer styles have been staples in Belgian bars for centuries. 

Brewing Sour Beer in America

Only in recent years has “Sour Beer” become popular among American brewers and beer drinkers. The American beer scene has been historically slow to evolve and to accept new styles of beer, and it should be remembered that not long ago different styles of beer were difficult to find amongst ubiquitous lagers.  Today, however, many freshly brewed styles of beer are widely available including: India Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, Brown Ale or Stout. These beers and others are now everyday staples across the bar. “Sour beer” has begun to make a lasting impression and is getting more and more attention and may soon join the ranks of new beer favorites.

Despite the increasing popularity in the U.S., they are not easily made or readily accepted in many U.S. breweries.  A brewmaster in an American brewery, for example, typically exhibits obsessive/compulsive behavior as it relates to keeping stray organisms (referred to as bugs or beer spoilers), out of the brew house.  

It was discovered recently that wild yeasts used in the fermentation process can also invade and inhabit the brewing vessels and wood beams within breweries.  Unwanted and uncontrolled organisms can easily contaminate and spoil one or several batches of non- beer. As a matter of practice, a brewery that makes beer other than sour beer will segregate sour beer brewing in order not to contaminate and interfere with normal ale and lager production.

According to author Michael Tonsmeire, in his recent book American Sour Beers,  sour beers here in the United States, “……are beers designed to be intentionally tart and are inoculated with souring bacteria.  A yeast strain called Brettanomyces and lactic acids such as Pediococcus, Lactobacillus are added to the wort to produce a liquid with a funky aroma and flavor profiles from dry to tart similar to those of Granny Smith apples or lemons.  The author also noted the same wild yeast strains that occur in Belgium are also present here in the U.S. and throughout the world. These lactic acid bacteria are good bacteria and are used in making yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut and pickles.

Brewing sour beer in the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon. Colorado’s New Belgium Brewery is recognized as the first American brewery to brew sour beer in 1999.  It is no surprise that New Belgium was the  first to brew sour beer as its brew master, Peter Bouckaert, a native of Belgium, had worked in Belgium’s famous Rodenbach Brewery.  Originally, the methods used to make sour beer by New Belgium and other American brewers were modeled after European brewing techniques.  As time went on and more breweries gained experience in producing sour beers, the process in this country has taken on the unique twists of individual brewers.  Certainly, the practice of blending of base beer, i.e. normal ale with a newly produced sour beer, became standard practice.  And, bottle conditioning sour beer has gained popularity. In addition, many brewers also tend to use a more complex grain bill than normally used in Belgium.  American brewmasters have found the use of more predictable micro-organisms injected into the wort to produce a more consistent product.

According to Brewmaster Bouckaert, “……good beer is the result of knowledge, experience and creativity.”  If you want to add a different experience to your beer drinking enjoyment, or if you are interested in giving a customer a recommendation about sour beer, try one of the fine beers in the following table.

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Read more]]> (Alan Horton) January 2015 Editions Sun, 21 Dec 2014 12:41:29 -0500
Guinness Blonde American Lager GUINNESS-Blonde-American-Lager-Bottle-Shot-0-395x1200.jpg - 121.99 KB

With the launch of Guinness American Blonde Lager, the Guinness Brewery is taking a page straight out of a college marketing textbook.  When a mature product begins to decline, the brand owner has the option of trying to rejuvenate an iconic brand, or it can add a new product to the product line and trade off the strength of the existing brand.  Guinness wants to accomplish both objectives.

Sales of Guinness Stout, similar to other popular global beer brands, have been on the decline in recent years.  Younger beer drinkers who haven’t actually tried the brand have a perception that it is heavy, filling, too alcoholic and loaded with calories.  Although none of these perceptions are entirely accurate, it is a short leap from perception to reality.  Unfortunately for iconic Guinness Stout, the brand is also burdened with a stigma of being “my father’s beer”.  And, as consumer goods manufacturers are beginning to learn, Millennials want to be different from their parents’ generation.

Guinness American Blonde Lager is a logical follow on to another recent Guinness product, Guinness Black Lager, which was introduced a couple of years ago.  The brewer has made a major shift in product strategy, and now believes it is time to move toward lagers and away from relying solely on stout for it success.  It is a case of “fishing where the fish are.”  The overall sales of lager beers, despite the recent success of craft ales, continue to be the most popular style of beer in the United States and far outweigh the sale of stouts and other ales. 

Guinness Blonde American Lager is the first product in the “Discovery Series” of beers, and is a radical departure from the famous black stout brewed at Guinness’ St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin.  The judicious use of a well-known brand name can be considered to be good marketing as long as a limited number of brand extensions are developed using the name of the flagship brand. There is a fine line between having too many brand extensions that result in diluting the power of the original brand.  For now, it doesn’t appear Guinness is in danger of either over using its brand name or diluting its brand equity.

Some might say Guinness Blonde American Lager is really a lager beer brewed for ale lovers.  Its dark gold color clearly tells us it isn’t your typical Guinness Beer.  When poured, a large puffy head of foam appears and lingers in a beer clean glass. The drinking experience itself is characterized by plenty of mild hop notes throughout.  A combination of American grown Mosiac hops (for aroma and bittering),  Williamette hops (aromas earth and spice) and Mt. Hood hops (aroma of grass and flowers) are used for aroma and flavor purposes.  The body, the color and the 5% alcohol level (abv) are provided by American Crystal Malt.  The ever present ale overtones are the result of using the traditional Guinness yeast which is imported from Ireland.  However, the beer itself is actually brewed in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

No doubt some beer drinkers will take a critical approach to this and other new innovative Guinness brands.  Instead, we should say “Slainte!” (cheers) and applaud Guinness, an old established company for re-inventing itself and bringing out new types of products.  Another product, dubbed a specialty beer, “Guinness 1759” will be available this holiday season. There is more than a kernel of truth to the idea that if you don’t grow, you will atrophy and eventually go away.  Guinness is too important to the world’s beerscape for that to happen.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) December 2014 Editions Tue, 25 Nov 2014 20:39:46 -0500
Water: Beer’s (Not So) Basic Ingredient water_Blog.jpg - 33.68 KB

There aren’t a lot of ingredients that go into making beer, but the type and amount of those ingredients determine the style and taste of the brew.  Add more malt and you get a higher alcohol content; add different hop varieties at different times in the brewing process and you have a completely different beer. Malt from the Midwest gives a beer a different complexity than malted barley from Europe.  But what about beer’s main ingredient – water?

Comprising over 90% (give or take a few percentage points) of a beer’s ingredients, does it really matter where this main ingredient comes from?  Wine enthusiasts often speak of “terrior” which refers to the soil and climate of the area where the grapes are grown.  But when it comes to the water in beer, does “terrior” apply?  If a beer, for example, comes from a famous brewing location such as Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, Trent on Burton in the UK, or Munich, Germany, then yes, local soil and substrata conditions may provide the water source with unique aroma and flavor characteristics. But in the Unites States, and many other locations throughout the world, the water most breweries use comes from the local municipal water source.

This means the water available to the majority of commercial brewers does not come from pure artisan wells located deep beneath the earth’s surface or from pristine natural springs.  In most instances, it is the same potable water we get at home when we open the kitchen faucet.  And because that is the case, the question then is whether or not we should be overly concerned about the water used in brewing? The simple answer is that water used in making beer needs only be within a certain range of hardness, be free of most chemicals and have no noxious odors.  But as with so many rules of thumb, there are important exceptions.

To Treat or Not to Treat

Authors John Palmer and Colin Kaminski, in their recent book, Water - A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers, state clearly that brewers have three choices regarding the water they use:

  • They can leave it alone and use it as is.
  • They can add or remove certain chemical properties. 
  • Or, they can start with the water that is available, and build its composition from scratch to match the style of beer being brewed.

A home brewer, or for that matter, a commercial brewer who uses “extracts” to make his beer, may need only to filter the water to remove impurities, and by simply boiling the water prior to brewing, many odors and chemicals such as chlorine are removed.  On the other hand, brewers who make all grain beers will probably have to condition their brewing water to get the desired levels of ph and alkaline.  Carbon filtration, reverse osmosis to filter out unwanted pollutants, and ultraviolet light to break organic solids are all methods used to purify brewing water.

 In recent years brewers have shown an increased interest in understanding the complexity of water.  Prior to the current interest in ales, the vast majority of beers brewed in the United States were lager beers.  A certain “pilsner effect” existed that meant not much had to be done to the source water as the longer maturing period, integral to the lagering process, helped resolve residual water problems.  But with consumers currently showing an increased interest in the many popular types of ales, water with more exacting specifications is required by brewers to match the profile taste of a particular beer style.

A Brewery Has Many Uses For Water

Water is not just used in the final product. Large amounts of water are used throughout the entire brewing sequence from start to finish.  The use of water begins with irrigating the grain to be used in making the beer, all the way through to the process of cleaning the brewing vessels after use.  Walk into any brew house, and a usual first impression is that everything is wet.  For brewers, washing and cleaning the brew house borders on obsession.  The walls, floor and equipment are always wet from the frequent washing, which is an effort to maintain high standards of cleanliness to prevent the growth and spread of beer spoilers (germs) that can easily contaminate and ruin a batch of beer.  

A second major activity for brewmasters is chewing and tasting.  When not actively making beer, they are sampling the raw materials.  They actively taste all brewing ingredients from grain, to hops, adjuncts, to the water being used.  In fact, tasting and testing the water takes place in most breweries every day and sometimes several times during the day.  Tasting water between brews is particularly important when different styles of beer are being made in succession.  

Besides brewing and cleaning, water is used throughout the brewery for many other purposes including making steam for use in the actual brewing process, washing the brew equipment after each use, to washing empty bottles and kegs prior to packaging.  Also, spent cooked grains undergo “sparging” or rinsing with water to capture the sugary wort (unfermented beer). 

 It wasn’t until recent years that brewers began to realize not all the water used in the brewery needed to be of “brewing quality”.  Water for heating or washing certainly doesn’t have to have the same level of purity as water sometimes used in the final step of the process. 

It is in the final step of the brewing process that the greatest care of water needs to be taken. Brewers sometimes add pure dilution water to the finished beer prior to packaging; it is the last and easiest way to control the final alcohol content of the beer.  Beer is frequently brewed with a high level of alcohol (high gravity brewing), the alcohol level may need to be adjusted downward by adding water to arrive at its desired strength.  Although tremendous amounts of water are used in the brewing process, dilution water, which is the smallest amount of water used, is the most important water in the overall operation of a brewery.  

Water, Water Everywhere

We know that brewers are concerned with the current shortage of hops and the increased expense of obtaining ample supplies of malt, but one of their biggest concerns has to be about the decreasing availability of water. Scarcely a day goes by when a media network or national newspaper doesn’t run a feature story about the record drought occurring in many parts of the Western United States.  The flow of once mighty rivers has slowed to a trickle, and the water level in huge municipal dams is at record low levels.  In the absence of breakthrough technology, the west and eventually parts of the east coast will experience potentially catastrophic water shortages in the future.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his epic poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” wrote these famous words, “Water, Water, Everywhere, nor a drop to drink”.  Coleridge was referring, of course, to the undrinkability of seawater.  Yet, seawater, once desalinated, may be the answer to our thirst and the salvation for many breweries in the future as traditional sources of water no longer meet our needs.

Brewers Get Proactive About Water & The Environment

In 2013, a coalition of more than two dozen of the nation’s craft brewers partnered with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) through the “Brewer’s Clean Water Campaign” to strengthen the 1973 Clean Water Act.  Over time, the strength of the Act had been eroded by partisan politics at the federal level.  Brewers both small and large have become increasingly concerned about the future availability of clean pure water - the main ingredient in their beers.  Larry Bell of the Bell Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan saw firsthand the impact a polluted river, the result of an oil spill near his brewery, could have on his future.  He acknowledges, “…..If we don’t have clean water, we are out of business.” 

The average water used in brewing amongst all brewers is between five and six barrels of water for every barrel of beer produced. An exception is Vermont’s Long Tail Brewery, which is reported to have refined its process so that only two gallons of water is used for each gallon of beer. Larger brewers such as MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch have economical water to beer ratios between 4.1 and 3.5 barrels.  Bigger breweries have a definite advantage over most of the smaller brewers as they can afford to install large sophisticated reclamation systems.

Clearly, throughout the brewing process, there is great potential for large amounts of water being lost and finding its way down the drain due to cleaning, evaporation and all around general use within the brew house.  As individual breweries grow and produce increased volumes of beer, brewers as well as the local water utility, become concerned with the greater discharge of water into sewer system.  Much of the liquid that finds its way into the system is chock full of spent grains, grain husks and other solids, suspended yeast and cleaning chemicals, all of which can raise havoc with the operation of a municipality’s sewage systems.  So, today, in addition to their concerns about clean water, many brewers are also actively involved with making their breweries “green,” and advocate for the sustainability of our natural resources. Most breweries therefore develop methods to recapture and treat wastewater to the greatest degree possible. Otherwise, they become ready targets for increased fees and stiff fines.

The environmental catch phrase, “reduce, recycle, reuse” is being used by an increasing number of brewers across the United States. For them, protection of the environment is about more than just social consciousness, it is all about the survival of their businesses and the ability to continue to supply customers with the beers they have grown to appreciate. 

So, the next time you are enjoying your favorite beer, stop and think about the fragile nature of its main ingredient – water.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) November 2014 Editions Mon, 20 Oct 2014 11:21:38 -0400
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As summer comes to its end, beer lover’s thoughts turn to Octoberfest.  It’s a time for sharing good food and drink with friends old and new.  It is also a good time to enjoy a seasonal style of beer known as Marzen.  Harpoon Octoberfest is a fine example of the Marzen style.

The Harpoon Brewery was founded in Boston in 1986 by two old friends, Rich Doyle and Dan Kenary.  Four years later, they held their first Octoberfest as a means of selling more beer, generating cash flow and gaining additional notoriety for the brewery.   It is commonly acknowledged that this festival and others provided additional profits necessary to keep the fledging company alive.  Since then, both Harpoon and its Octoberfest celebration have grown and prospered.  Last year eighteen thousand people enjoyed the festival in Boston, while another seven thousand had a great time at the company’s other location in Windsor, Vermont.

Harpoon Octoberfest is a garnet colored liquid with a firm head of creamy foam that tends to linger on the top of the beer.  As the head recedes it leaves an ample coating of beer lace on the inside of the glass. A pleasant aroma and taste redolent of malt sweetness is immediately noticeable - the result of a combination of Munich, Chocolate and Pale Malt.  These flavorful malts are balanced nicely by a mix of bittering hops (Williamette) and aroma hops (Tettnang).  There is an overall sensation of a silky smooth malt blend with just enough hop bitterness to keep the beer from being out of balance.  The result is a beer that is fun to drink from the start through to a nice dry finish. Harpoon Octoberfest is refreshingly good, and is sure to please a discriminating beer drinker.  At 5.4% abv, Harpoon Octoberfest is the perfect accompaniment to enjoy with your favorite fest foods: wurst, kraut or pickled savories.  Grab a six-pack and enjoy the experience!

Addendum: As of August 1, 2014, the Harpoon Brewery became an employee owned company as the result of an extraordinarily generous move by the owners of the company who turned over 48% of the stock to an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) at no cost to the employees. With 187 motivated full time employees, we can expect the Harpoon Brewery to grow from its current number 12 sales ranking amongst craft brewers. The owners/managers have given us another great reason to buy and enjoy the Harpoon family of fine beers.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) October 2014 Editions Wed, 24 Sep 2014 09:48:51 -0400
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The Devil’s Backbone Brewery of Lexington, VA, currently Virginia’s largest craft brewery, has won many awards for its beers over the years.  In 2013 the brewery was named “Small Brewer of the Year” at the Great American Beer Festival and its flagship brand “Vienna Lager” has won both Gold and Silver awards at GABF and a Gold award at the 2012 World Beer Cup Championship.  Most recently, the brand won The Washington Post’s “Beer Madness” award after five rounds of tasting. 

Vienna Lager, a new style of beer, was first brewed in Austria in 1830 by Anton Dreher a brewmaster at Vienna’s Schwechater Brewery.  It was his goal to create an alternative to Germany’s popular Oktoberfest and Marzen beers. Stylistically, Vienna Lager is similar to both of them, but is lighter bodied and has less alcohol. 

When poured and held up to the light, Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager is an amber, or might some say chestnut, color with a thick creamy head of foam that tends to linger.  To add to the picture, a steady stream of small carbonation bubbles continue to rise through the beer as it sits. 

After taking a first sip, the initial impression is one of sweet malt upfront followed by caramel. Both flavors remain throughout the drinking process.  To achieve these flavors, Brewmaster Jason Oliver uses a combination of Vienna Malt, Pilsen Malt, Dark Munich Malt and two types of Cara Malt.   Any tendency toward cloying sweetness, however, is counterbalanced by the presence of German Northern Brewer hops used for bittering and Czech Saaz hops, which are known for their aroma and flavoring characteristics.  The beer has a bitterness rating of 118 which puts it slightly under the maximum IBU level for a typical Vienna Lager at 125.

Vienna Lager is a true thirst quencher and beer that is meant to be enjoyed in any season and with more than one bottle at a time.  And, it is only one of the fine beers from the Devil’s Backbone Brewery.


Read more]]> (Alan Horton) September 2014 Editions Mon, 18 Aug 2014 15:51:15 -0400
The Ever Changing Face of the U.S. Beer Business  

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Historians often urge caution when interpreting current events as being important and permanent because in the larger scheme of things, these events often play only a minor role.  With the passage of time, a longer view can provide interesting and different perspectives.  The changing face of the U.S. beer business is an example.

As of July, 2014, the number of brewing locations in the United States reached 3,040.  This number isn’t as large as the 1873 record high of 4,131 breweries, but it is significantly greater than the 82 breweries active in 1980.  It raises an interesting question; is this recent increase just a blip on the radar or a permanent change to America’s beer landscape? 

Big Beer - Big Issues

As recently as the 1950s the domestic beer industry, although competitive, operated in a much friendlier way.  When the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Newark, NJ operated a draft beer school, local rivals including Pabst, Schaefer, Rheingold and Ballantine were encouraged to have their employees attend.  The goal was improve the image of beer and bring better and more consistent serving and storage techniques to bar patrons.

Today, our largest brewers are owned by foreign corporations and any semblance of friendliness is long since gone.  Their only interests seem to be increases in sales, market share and profit.  As the number of craft/micro/brewpubs continues to grow, headlines in the daily trade publications talk about how these new entities are chipping away at big beers sales.  This is certainly big news, but it wasn’t long ago that industry pundits in the 1950s were writing about how Philip Morris’ upstart Miller Brewery and its CEO John Murphy were nipping at the heels of #1 Anheuser-Busch.  Murphy, a lawyer turned marketing pro, was able to take Miller from being the 7th place brewer to the #2 spot in short order.  He revolutionized the business with the introduction of Miller Lite – the first nationally available low calorie light beer.  Murphy clearly understood the power of advertising and further understood that in order to grow his company he would need a portfolio of products that would appeal to different segments of the population.  Unfortunately for Murphy and Miller, a story appeared in a national news magazine about Murphy wiping his feet on a rug he kept under his desk which was emblazoned with the Anheuser-Busch corporate logo.  Chutzpah and ego had awakened a sleeping giant.  The beer wars were on!

Russell Cleary, another lawyer, turned G. Heileman from a small Wisconsin based brewery into a rapidly rising #3.  He took a non-traditional route to growing the company. Instead of building brands and introducing new products, he expanded his company by acquiring nearly a dozen regional brewers.  Cleary and Heileman were on a roll, but they were stymied when Australian Alan Bond purchased a large block of stock, and was able to gain control of the company.  Bond himself was then undone when he took on an unacceptable level of risk by relying on junk bonds to fund his companies’ expansion.  Heileman’s demise was caused by poor financial management practices and lost market share.  The brewery was sold subsequently to the Stroh Brewery of Detroit, Michigan.

The management of the Stroh Brewery committed at least two significant errors.  First, they purchased two badly damaged breweries.  One was the once mighty Schlitz Brewery and the other was a much weakened G. Heileman Company.  Schlitz was burdened with debt and self-inflicted wounds when management made a fateful decision to save money by shortening the brewing process.  Consumers knew immediately the taste had changed and that it wasn’t the same beer.  A second and fatal error was committed when management chose not to recall thousands of bottles of bad beer from the trade.   In addition to the Schlitz debacle, Stroh also committed a grievous error that today continues to haunt other large domestic brewers.  In a desperate move to chase sales volume, the brewer introduced 18 packs and 30 packs of cans at a price that guaranteed a consumer would get a free six pack.  This strategy became an example of marketing folly rather marketing brilliance.  In this case, Stroh became a victim of short term management thinking.

Milwaukee based Pabst was once a mighty brewery.  Founded in 1844, it fell upon hard times due to poor marketing.  The company was rescued temporarily from extinction in 1982 by financier Paul Kalmanovitz.  He became interested in owning recognizable brand names that could produce lots of cash without additional investment. Kalmanovitz was disinclined to advertise and succeeded in further gutting an already weak marketing program.  Pabst ceased to be a brick and mortar brewer and became a “virtual brewer,” relying on others to make its beer.  Pabst would no longer be considered a serious player in the beer business because of its owner’s greed.

We can round out our tales of woe for the big brewers by acknowledging the 2006 takeover of Anheuser-Busch, the world’s largest brewer, by a much smaller but aggressive Belgian/Brazilian company named InBev.  It’s too soon after the event to make final conclusions, but it now seems certain an American icon was lost because of shareholder self-interest.  Other bits of unfinished business include the tie up between the South African Brewery and Miller Brewing and the alliance (a joint venture in legal terms) between Miller/Coors.  Nor can we ignore Constellation Brands, who was already a heavy hitter in wine and spirits, and is now a big hitter in the beer business after its acquisition of a state of the art brewery in Mexico and the marketing rights to the Corona portfolio of beers in the United States.

Craft Brewing - Present and Future

So, arriving at the present day, how do the 3,000+ craft/micro/brewpubs fit into this historical journey?  Certainly, from an historian’s perspective, it is much too early to arrive at definitive conclusions.  But, there are some clear indicators of what could likely happen in the future.

To this point in time, achieving double digit sales increases seems to be a norm in the craft beer world.  However, this level of performance will become increasingly more difficult to achieve in the future as competition for sales heats up not only with the large global brewers but also between other brewers in the craft segment. The current friendly, cooperative almost fraternal atmosphere between craft brewers will be in danger of becoming simply another footnote in U.S. beer history.  

Other potential disruptions to the status quo appear likely as well.  Until now, price competition between craft brewers has been almost non-existent.  But, for growth reasons and possibly survival reasons, some of the craft brewers will try to gain a competitive edge through price differentiation.  Just as with the big brewers, price promotions and discounting could well become an everyday selling practice by craft brewers and their distributors.  

On the political front, important differences in philosophy between large craft brewers and smaller craft brewers will emerge based on their own particular business needs. Clearly, the potential exists for a wide schism to open within the craft beer community based on different size and differing approaches to legislative and regulatory interests.  Although many craft brewers, regardless of size, are unhappy with existing state franchise laws that either limit or prohibit them from terminating distributors, they have different reasons for wanting to be allowed to change distributors more easily.  Larger craft brewers will seek to change distributors to achieve a unified distributor footprint in a geographic area, but smaller craft brewers may feel compelled to make such changes because they are not getting the attention they need to have from their current distributor; in other words, they feel lost in a distributor’s brand portfolio. 

Also, while special lower excise treatment is important to all craft brewers, it may be more important to one size group than the other.  Smaller brewers may need special treatment for survival reasons but lower taxes can be an important profit multiplier for larger craft brewers.  Regardless of their motives or philosophy, each side has only a limited amount of political capital vis a vis relationships they can use; it simply may not be possible for most of them to fight both battles.  Sadly, it is a fact of life that one’s self – interest is, after all, more compelling and important than friendship.

“Unlocking shareholder value” is a business term currently in vogue.  Simply put, it means a business isn’t worth more than its annual cash earnings until such time as the business gets sold.  Presently, there has been only a trickle of sell offs and consolidations in the craft business, but a trend is beginning to develop as owners start to think about “cashing out.”  Spending 365 days a year at the job and worrying 24/7, merely working for a weekly paycheck may not be enough for some owners, who will conclude it is better to call it quits than to continue to face an uncertain future.

A local Maryland lawyer named John Mitchell used to like to talk about “the horribles."  He was referring to those unknown and unforeseen events or changes that can take place over which a businessman has no control and that could put him out of business.  Today, the craft beer business has wide audience appeal, but its core customers are members of the fickle millennial generation.  Let’s suppose one day, not long from now, some of these consumers are no longer satisfied with highly hopped IPAs, sour beer and beer laden with strange and non–traditional beer ingredients.  They may simply want a session friendly beer that is less expensive and that can be shared with friends.  Craft brewers are going to have to adjust and learn to produce satisfying lager beers.

A valuable lesson craft brewers should learn from failed large brewers is that in the overall scheme of things, making a consistently excellent product is key to survival.  Hugh Sisson, the owner of Baltimore’s Heavy Seas Brewery, is an outspoken proponent of quality assurance versus quality control.  Quality assurance practices need to be in place throughout the brewing process to ensure product integrity whereas quality control addresses problems after the fact.

In order to have good quality products, you need to have good quality people.  The question craft brewers need to ask is whether there are enough educated and trained brewing professionals available to sustain the growth trends of the craft movement, or will its growth be stymied due to a lack of qualified brewing personnel.

It seems axiomatic that those businesses who have the gelt (financial resources) will be able to avoid the “horribles” and spend their way out of difficult situations.   Many craft brewers are feeling the squeeze of rapidly increasing prices and the lack of available raw materials.  Hops prices are at an all-time high and some hop varieties will not be available to smaller brewers because larger or more financially sound brewers have been able to lockup future crops through forward purchasing.  Grain available for malting will likely become another issue for smaller brewers as some grain farmers are switching to corn, a more lucrative crop that can be used in making ethanol. If that’s not enough, abundant, good quality water is becoming a problem in the western part of the country.

The craft beer business is booming, but it is not without peril and nothing can be taken for granted. What the beer business will look like in twenty years is anybody’s guess.  Some industry observers even believe the unthinkable could occur.  That is, Anheuser-Busch InBev could buy out SAB/Miller. 

Anyone have a good crystal ball they would like to sell?

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) September 2014 Editions Mon, 18 Aug 2014 15:40:36 -0400
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“What’s more important, having a good product or having good marketing?” This rhetorical question is worthy of academic debate, but Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery has hit both sides of the question with their latest offering, “Dead Rise Summer Ale.”

This beer’s key “marketing hook” is a lesson in local marketing.  Deadrise Summer Ale is a celebration of Maryland’s cultural icons - blue crabs, a Bay built deadrise boat and Old Bay seasoning.  The beer is brewed in collaboration with Maryland based McCormack Spice, the makers of Old Bay Seasoning, to celebrate the spice’s 75th Anniversary.  And  to give consumers another reason to buy the beer; they are donating a portion of each sales dollar to “True Blue,” a program that benefits the Chesapeake Bay’s professional watermen. That’s for the good marketing part, now for the product.

The beer is the color of pale gold and pours a thick, creamy, but quickly disappearing head.  It, however, does leave a generous amount of beer lace inside the glass. Old Bay Seasoning is an integral part of the beer that, in combination with other interesting ingredients, gives this beer a unique taste and aroma.  The brewers at Flying Dog use three hop varieties to give the beer plenty of hop character.  CTZ hops (Columbus-Tomahawk-Zeus high alpha hops) provide it with strong, spicy, citrus overtones.  Cascade hops give it a floral aroma, and Northern Brewer hops add a mint like/evergreen flavor.  Acidulated rye and malted white barley are the backbone of the beer. The rye provides a sour component while the barley gives it a milder and lighter taste.  German ale yeast further adds to the beer’s fruity character.

Dead Rise Summer Ale has a moderate alcohol level of 5.6% abv, but is at the top end of the bitterness range for most ales at 25 bitterness units. There are moderate yet discernible notes of Old Bay, in fact, there is just enough to let you know it is there, but the unique blend of ingredients gives this medium bodied ale an effervescence full of fruity flavors and generous amounts of citrus and pine scents that put both tastes and aroma in harmony.

If you haven’t already done so, pour one for yourself and give this summer’s beer selling sensation a try and enjoy a taste of Maryland.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) August 2014 Editions Thu, 24 Jul 2014 16:22:26 -0400
Is It Possible For Beer to Age Well? aged beer.jpg - 106.34 KBOn the first morning of beer school many years ago, the instructor boldly stated, “Nothing good happens to beer once it is put into a bottle, can or keg.” Freshness fades and beer quickly deteriorates once it is put into any kind of container.  And while pasteurization might slow the process, the original taste is changed and the deterioration process from aging continues unabated until beer has lost its freshness, its flavor and its taste. 

During the 1970s and 1980s, the country’s largest domestic brewers spent millions of dollars studying the effects of aging on beer freshness. They concluded that after heat, light, oxygen and dirt, beer’s greatest enemy is time. Preservatives are one way to prolong the shelf life of beer, however, during the past thirty or so years, the use of preservatives has become unacceptable and most, if not all, brewers have discontinued using chemical preservatives. The brewers’ collective answer to prolonged shelf life was to store beer at lower than ambient temperatures, i.e. the temperature surrounding beer. 

Each brewer followed its own approach to address the aging problem only to arrive at a similar but temporary solution. At Anheuser-Busch, brewing chemists experimented with the effect of lower temperatures on beer aging. They concluded temperature played a very important role in the aging process, and was the one element that could be controlled throughout the manufacturing/distribution process. As a result, Anheuser-Busch wholesalers were mandated to either build expensive climatized/refrigerated warehouses or to retrofit existing facilities.  Each wholesaler plan had to be approved by AB prior to construction. The Coors Brewery approach not only involved a similar warehouse solution, but took the extra step to require its beer be shipped  in refrigerated trucks from its brewery in Golden, Colorado. It also required its wholesalers to deliver Coors products in insulated and refrigerated trucks. Miller imposed its own policy on air conditioned warehouses with temperature set points that vary throughout the year. Currently, Sam Adams and Pilsner Urquell amongst other brewers have adopted their own cold storage policies. Without a doubt these approaches have helped slow the aging process, but the overall effect is muted as a large percentage of beer is delivered and stored at retail locations in warm, unfriendly conditions.

Brewers also began to emphasis freshness by enforcing their own type of a code date policy, with violations leading to stiff penalties and the threat of a loss of a wholesaler’s franchise. Whether based on a born on date, a best before date or a pull date, it is important that any code date policy be designed for ease and understanding by its intended audiences - retailers and consumers. Unfortunately, code dating and code date policies were often confusing and not of any real value.

Many wines and spirits improve over time. 
Why not beer?

Over the years, the most popular beers on the market have been light bodied lagers that don’t have the inherent qualities necessary to allow them to age naturally without spoiling. They are clear beers rather than dark beers, they have low alcohol content and they have undergone super filtration that virtually eliminates all traces of yeast and sugar before packaging. 

It wasn’t until recent years, that most US brewers began to experiment with beer types other than light bodied lagers with low alcohol content.  They learned the primary reason for a short shelf life is the low alcohol level (3.2-6% abv) in their beers. Vintners and distillers don’t have these same problems because of much higher alcohol levels in their products. 

So, although the majority of beers on the market cannot and will not grow old gracefully, happily there are a few that are the exception to the rule, but patience and planning is required. Brewers have learned that aging certain beers can yield enhanced flavor and taste characteristics over time. The difficult question is to figure out which beers will benefit and how long to age them. In the end, you may change your mind at how you now feel about “old beer.”

Selecting the right kind of beer for aging

If lagers, IPAs and most ales don’t age well then what type of beer does? The answer is not straight forward and is a matter of subjective judgment. But, the one thing experts seem to agree on is there are very few beer styles suitable for aging.  The first and most important factor in selecting a beer for aging is alcohol content.  A beer must have an alcohol level of at least 8-10% alcohol by volume.  High levels of alcohol retard spoilage. But then high alcohol content raises concerns about the beer’s taste. Not to worry, strong alcohol flavors just like in wine and spirits mellow out over time.

Hops once thought to be an ideal preservative are an interesting story. For the past 150 years or so, hops have been used as a natural preservative. In fact, highly hopped India Pale Ale was developed to with stand the long trip from England to India.  But once it had arrived at its destination the hop flavor and aroma quickly faded away. So, in order to be enjoyed, it had to be consumed soon after reaching its destination.

Beers with high concentrations of malt and sugar tend to age well. So called “conditioned beers,” that is beer that has had sugar added to the bottle or has unfiltered yeast remaining in the bottle are good candidates for aging. A useful corollary to keep in mind is that in order to have the most enjoyable drinking experience, any beers that aren’t suitable for aging should be consumed as soon as possible once they leave the brewery. 

Cellaring - Ideal ways
to Age and Store Beer

To properly age beer, a cool dark environment is necessary where the ideal ambient temperature is less than the fermentation temperature.  A stable temperature range of 50-60F year round seems to work best.  The humidity level in the storage area should also remain fairly constant. And, unlike wine which is normally stored on its side to keep the cork wet, bottled beer should be stored upright.  When beer is laid on its side, the plastic liner in the cap can interact with the alcohol in the beer and eventually allow air to enter the bottle and oxidize the beer. Practitioners of aging beer carry out “vertical sampling.” That is, they buy and age several samples of the particular beer and test it at predetermined time intervals in the future. Through trial and error they can determine if a particular beer is enjoyed the most at 6 months, 1 year or 5- in a log or journal for future reference.

Anticipating the Results –Some Thoughts

Every beer has its own unique aging profile, and deliberately aging beer is a very inexact science. Some beers may actually have enhanced flavors and be best after aging for three years.  Others, however, may have a freshness window of only one year.  Only through experimentation or talking with someone who is familiar with a particular beer is it possible to know at what age it is best to drink a particular beer. On a cautionary note, the aging process when done correctly will not yield a beer that tastes like it did when it was when fresh.  Expect changes in aroma and flavor to occur and be open to enjoy those changes.   What started as a somewhat harsh alcohol flavored brew may end up as a mellow and enjoyable beverage with a very different character from when it was first bottled.

Beer Types that Age Well

With proper alcohol levels and cellaring techniques, there are some types of beers that can benefit..  They include: barley wine, gueze, Belgian Quads (strong brews), lambic (sour beer) and Imperial Stout.  Happily, some of the world’s best aged beers are brewed here in the U.S.

While most of these beers are readily available, many “beer aficionado’s” throughout the world make a hobby of tracking down scarce vintage beers.  It can be an expensive hobby as rare vintage beers known as “whales’ can cost between $1,000-2500 per bottle.  That is, if the collector can get the owner to part with one.

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Want to know more about “Aged Beer”?

There are two good reference sources for learning about “aged beer.”  “Beer Cellaring Basics: A Guide to Aging” can be found at  It is a four page primer on beer that deals with beer aging basics. The authoritative guide to the subject is a recently published book by Patrick Dawson titled Vintage Beer – A Taster’s Guide to Improve Age over Time.  This is a short (140 page) book that gives a comprehensive explanation about the subject. 

Learning to cellar and age beer requires patience and experimentation, and is another step in becoming a more educated beer seller and beer drinker.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) July 2014 Editions Sat, 28 Jun 2014 10:52:45 -0400
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Milk stout takes its name from the milk sugar that is added to a stout to sweeten its taste.  As a style of beer, milk stout was developed more than one hundred years ago as an alternative to the ales, stouts and porters of the time. In those days, milk stout was promoted as having nutritional value and was frequently prescribed to nursing mothers.

The Left Hand Brewery of Longmont, Colorado has made classic milk stout uniquely its own with the infusion of nitrogen directly into the bottle without using a widget.  The combination of nitrogen and a low level of carbon dioxide together with flaked oats and flaked barley gives the beer its creamy texture, smooth body and almond colored collar of foam. 

The brewery provides instructions on the label telling consumers to pour the beer straight into the glass at a 90 degree angle.  After pouring,  a one half inch cream like head of foam appears, lingers and continues to add successive layers of silky beer lace to the inside of the glass, and at some point, there is a faint but pleasant aroma that is mostly malt.  Although hops (Magnum and US Goldings) are used in the recipe, they are overshadowed by the combination of several grains. There are 25 Bitterness Units (IBUs), which is at the high end of the range for a beer of this type.  The hops compete with a full line of grains including: Pale 2 row barley malt, nitro keg malt, Crystal, Munich, roasted barley malt, flaked oats, flaked barley and chocolate malt. In addition, milk sugar provides sweetness and is the key ingredient in all milk stouts.

The beer’s flavor is best described as having a complex mix of soft roastiness, mocha and sweetness.  There are also hints of espresso and chocolate as well.  At the end, the stout leaves the lingering impression of a good desert.

This is really fine milk stout that any beer drinker who likes to try different beers will enjoy. It has an opaque, almost black color (at the top of the color chart at 47 SRM), with a 6% alcohol level that should suffice for any occasion.  Some people might be tempted to wait for cold weather before trying it, but don’t miss out; Left Hand Milk Stout is a beer that provides year round pleasure.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) July 2014 Editions Sat, 28 Jun 2014 10:44:54 -0400
Amstel Radler RNDC Amstel Radler Pic 2.jpg - 74.22 KB

The Netherland’s Heineken Brewery has added a new product called “Amstel Radler” to its portfolio of world class beers.  

The radler style of beer has been around since 1922 when a Bavarian tavern keeper named Franz Xavier Kugler created a beverage to serve a group of cyclists participating in a local event. His creation married fresh lemon juice with a local beer in roughly a 50/50 ratio. 

Over time various citrus juices, flavored soda and carbonated lemonade have been added to beer as the basis for popular summer drinks throughout several countries in central Europe.  In England or Australia a similar drink is known as shandy. Whether it’s the addition of raspberry flavored soda in Berlin or a shot of peach syrup in France, low alcohol flavored beer is popular on a hot summer afternoon. 

Amstel Radler like other radlers has a low alcohol content at 2% abv. Once poured from its bottle, Amstel Radler pours a hazy yellow color and a large white lingering head appears in the glass.  There are pleasant aromas of lemon, citrus and light malt.  In the mouth, there is a feeling of light carbonation, and although the company lists hops as an ingredient there is a notable absence of hop aroma.  Other ingredients in the beer include fruit juice, lemon extract, lime juice, stabilizer, lemongrass extract, and locust bean gum.

Amstel Radler aims to be known as a refreshing pick me up after a workout or just a nice thirst quencher for a quiet summer afternoon at the pool, on a boat, or at the beach. Amstel Radler is a pleasant surprise in that it is not cloyingly sweet, and is in fact, an excellent thirst quencher.  

The new product is part of the world’s third largest brewer’s strategy designed to attract new drinkers and expand the beer category, while simultaneously closing the “innovation gap” with wine and spirits. Company test results to date indicate that fully 40% of consumer trial came from non- beer drinkers. Heineken is confident about the potential success of Amstel Radler, and has plans to roll out the brand globally in 2014.


Read more]]> (Alan Horton) June 2014 Edition Mon, 19 May 2014 14:00:52 -0400
Blue Point Toasted Lager toasted lager label.jpg - 54.03 KB

Twenty nine years ago the Blue Point Brewing Company, Long Island’s first significant microbrewery, was founded in Patchogue, New York by two old friends - Mark Burland and Peter Cooper. Unlike most microbreweries, Blue Point’s first beer was a lager rather than ale.  This was risky business as lagers require much more care throughout the brewing process than your typical ale.  Darker color or additional hopping cannot mask flavor flaws and other mistakes.  But Burland and Cooper’s risk paid off.  Toasted Lager became the brewer’s flagship brand, and a Gold and Silver Award winner at the World Beer Cup competition.

Blue Point’s “Toasted Lager” takes its name from a brewing technique that uses the direct application of flames to heat the brew kettle. This is in contrast with the usual method of heating the kettle with steam.  The long used “Fire Brewing “method has been around for a long time and provides a hint of toasted flavor.  It was used and highly touted by Detroit’s famous Stroh Brewery. 

Lager beers are not known for being hop centric.  Blue Point’s Toasted Lager is no different in that regard, but according to the brewer, hops are added three times during the brewing process.  They are added at two different times during the boil in the brew kettle, and are again added later in the process in a technique known as “dry hopping.”  Hop notes are present at the beginning and at the end of the tasting.  The beer has a hop count of 28 IBU’s, which in the range of a Vienna style lager.

This beer obtains most of its flavor from the generous use of five kinds of malt.   English Pale, Crystal, Munich, Carapils, Wheat and Belgian Caravienna are used to produce the soul of the beer and the combination gives the beer a wonderful body.  At 5.5% alcohol this is a very pleasant and drinkable beer.  The typical craft beer drinker would probably be surprised at its refreshing taste.

In February of this year, the Blue Point Brewery began another chapter in its history when it was sold to AnheuserBuschInBev. This acquisition is part of a developing pattern by the largest brewers to broaden the appeal of their portfolios by including high quality craft beers.  No doubt they want to share in the margin pool of the rapidly growing craft beer movement.  Large brewers also hope it will give them increased credibility with craft beer consumers.  For the owners of this and other microbrewers, it represents a good way to cash out on their investment and sweat equity, and is part of a consolidation trend in the craft beer industry. Economic necessities, opportunities for owners to ensure their financial future and increased competition from an ever increasing number of brewing entities for a static beer drinking population will likely continue to add to this trend in the future.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) May 2014 Editions Thu, 17 Apr 2014 17:36:00 -0400
Beer Festivals: A Recent Marketing Initiative oktoberfestgirlsm.jpg - 73.75 KB

Beer marketing practices have changed rapidly in recent years and continue to evolve. It wasn’t long ago that local beer marketing consisted of the “beer man” bellying up to the bar and buying a couple rounds. While bar nights and trade spending still exist they have been eclipsed by other practices, but the one element that hasn’t changed from those bygone days is the firm belief in the popular slogan “Making friends is our business.”

The reach and power of personal marketing has now become more important than ever, and the majority of craft brewers “get it.” They have rediscovered what industry veterans have known for years that a friendly approach, knowledge about one’s product and providing honest recommendations go a long way in the brand building process.

In days gone by, sophisticated beer marketing was dominated by the largest domestic and international brewers.  Expensive measured media such as television, radio, print and outdoor campaigns were successful methods used to reach large blocks of consumers.  But as the Millennial generation gradually turned away from network television, radio station programming and newspapers, measured media became a less effective tool to communicate brand messages.  The value added analysis and conclusions supplied by Arbitron and Nielsen, communication industry auditors, to media buyers were no longer adequate predictors of consumer taste and preference.

Catchy slogans, cartoonlike animal characters, celebrities promoting a particular brand had often been used as successful marketing strategies, but these tactics no longer convince consumers to drink brand XYZ. New beer drinkers and experienced beer drinkers in the 21-30 year age cohort are restless and always on the lookout for new styles and brands. Today’s beer consumers want to personally connect with a knowledgeable brewery rep, the brewery owner or brewmaster to talk about their beer and its unique attributes. For the craft brewers who frequently brew beers that are quite different than the norm, it’s easy to spin up a story about the methodology used to make a beer, to talk about its particular flavor notes or to comment on what to look for in terms of aroma and taste. This sort of personal interaction brings a completely different level of involvement and credibility to the beer buying and beer drinking experience.

There is an old story about Jack MacDonough, the former CEO of Miller, and his thoughts about consumer promotions.  He was once asked at what point it is no longer economical to do sponsorships or promotions.  He replied, “….promotions are no longer viable if  they cost more than a six pack per person; at that point, I am better off buying everyone a six pack; at least this way, at least, I know they are drinking my beer.”   

MacDonough’s thought process was a prescient one as craft/microbrewers have discovered the primary objective of any promotion is to get their brand in the hands and stomachs of consumers.  All the other stuff is secondary.  

Craft brewers have found both an innovative and practical way to promote and market their brands –beer festivals.  Beer festivals can take the form of a single brewer deciding to promote its own brand, a beer festival hosted collaboratively by competing craft brewers, or it may be brewery personnel directly sampling consumers at tasting nights, at beer dinners or tap takeovers.  Beer festivals have become a mainstream marketing technique that allows craft beer makers to do big marketing without spending big marketing dollars.

There is currently an increased level of knowledge about beer as a result of the widespread use of social media. A rapid communication about likes and dislikes between social media sharing friends can make a brand an instant success overnight.  Many if not most members of the prime beer drinking cohort (age 21-29) are getting their information about beer not from commercials but from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  The four letter word “like” had taken on new meaning.  Messages and opinions between friends and strangers morph from one on one communication into viral messaging.  The word about a new beer brand or a sponsored activity can go viral and spread beyond the local area, around the country, or around the world in short order.  This isn’t to say that young adult readers believe and agree with every communication and recommendation they receive, but if it is passed along by a friend or acquaintance with the similar lifestyle interests, the information has a good possibility of being read and acted upon, which has always been the goal of traditional measured media.  Social media communications have an advantage because whether real or imagined, social media messages convey the sense of being honest, genuine and real.  Whether it is true or not there is an inherent assumption that the messages have not been written by marketing professionals.  

At the local level, expensive brewery media programs were often bolstered by local distributor efforts within the community through team sponsorships, concerts and in store merchandising especially product display.  Although all of these activities were without question worthwhile, they often were missing two key components: having sales people who had in depth knowledge about beer, and having the ability to put a brand of beer in a consumer’s hands and talking confidently about it. The good news is the knowledge level within the industry is getting better as beer distributors are providing in depth training such as Cicerone training for their sales staff.  Some have even hired dedicated sales reps with specialized brewing knowledge. 

Brewery and distributor personnel are busy people. Both sides of the business are labor intensive, and whether manufacturing or selling it, both sides put many extra hours in meeting with consumers and to sample their products.  At one time, Gerhardt Kraemer, the long tenured master brewer at Anheuser-Busch was heard to say, “…..I used to worry only about making the beer; now I have to also worry about selling it.”  When brewing personnel show up at a tasting and are able to describe a brand’s unique characteristics, it is powerful stuff for the average beer consumer.  As beer drinkers gain more knowledge about brewing techniques and beer ingredients from hop types to malt varieties and specialty additives (like candi sugar), they also increase their beer drinking enjoyment.  Many savvy retailers already take full advantage of the knowledge and availability of brewery and distributor reps to hold in store or in bar tastings.  This is a sure fire way to directly engage the consumer.

Craft brewers and their wholesalers have really stepped it up a notch in addressing the need to directly engage consumers. They have become skilled promoters putting together major marketing events for their products and beer festivals have become more prevalent. Pick up a local newspaper, an urban magazine such Baltimore Magazine, What’s up Annapolis or Washingtonian or scan a brewer’s Facebook or Twitter postings and you will find a list of planned beer activities for 2014.  Another great way to stay informed about upcoming events is the Mid Atlantic edition of Brewing News.  You may wish to contact the editor and arrange to have copies available for your good beer customers.  The publishers are Bill Metzger ( and Jamie Magee (  Included in the bi-monthly paper is a detailed three month calendar of upcoming events.

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Read more]]> (Alan Horton) May 2014 Editions Thu, 17 Apr 2014 17:22:56 -0400
Terrapin’s Mosaic Red Rye IPA Mosaic-Square-Web.jpg - 225.26 KB

Mosaic Red Rye IPA is a euphonious name for a beer. The name is quite a mouthful, and so is the beer.  This Rye based IPA is brewed by the award-winning Terrapin Brewery located in Athens, Georgia, which began brewing operations in 2002.  Terrapin brews a wide range of full flavored ales that are well balanced and not over the top in any way.

Much of Mosaic Red Rye IPA’s character is based on the use of Mosaic Hops – a new variety of hop. An offspring of Simcoe and Nugget hops, Mosaic derives its pleasant aroma and bitterness qualities from each of them. This new hop from the Northwest United States has a bright future and likely will become widely used in very short order.  

In addition to the unique hop, an interesting assortment of malts provides the foundation for this Rye IPA:  two row pale malt, rye malt, Munich malt and Crystal 45, Crystal 65 and Crystal 85 malts.  The combination adds to the beer’s hearty and unique flavor.

When poured, Mosaic has an appealing look with dark garnet color and tan head. While the head lingers only a short while, a steady stream of small bubbles continues to rise in the glass throughout the drinking experience.  The aroma is redolent of grapefruit, melon and pine and has an abundance of citrus overtones. The beer has a medium body and great mouth-feel, a product of the rye malt, but at 6.6% abv and 60 Bitterness Units, Mosaic is at the same time a hearty beer.

Do you have customers looking for something a little bit different, but not too over the top?  Mosaic Red Rye IPA is the perfect recommendation.  It has eye appeal; it tastes great; it is medium bodied with plenty of character and does not offend with either too much hops or off-putting aroma.  As with a piece of fine art, the interpretation and meaning of the beer’s character is left up to one’s own individual senses.  Besides, the name is fun to say and it’s an excellent beer to enjoy with friends.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) April 2014 Editions Wed, 19 Mar 2014 14:24:34 -0400
Spitfire Kentish Ale “The Bottle of Britain” spitfire.jpg - 127.03 KB

Spitfire Kentish Ale has an interesting back-story.  During World War II, Messerschmidt fighters from the German Luftwaffe dominated the air war over Britain until the Spitfire, a new Rolls Royce powered airplane, entered the fray and changed the outcome of the Battle of Britain. In 1990, fifty years after the battle, Shepherd Neame, Britain’s oldest brewer (1698), brewed Spitfire Kentish Ale in a onetime effort to commemorate the success of the airplane in saving Britain and to raise funds for the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund.  An unplanned success, Spitfire became popular and has remained in production since then, and during the past two years the brand has become the fastest growing bottled ale in Britain.

When poured into a wide mouthed pint glass, the beer is the color of blood orange and sports a thick off white head. As the beer is consumed, traces of foam lace remain while small bubble carbonation continues to rise in the glass.

Spitfire Kentish Ale has a pleasant aroma of both hops and malt.  The brewmaster uses two local hops known for their aromatic qualities: East Kent Golding and First Golding hops.  Although each of these hops varieties are often found individually in English ales, the combination of the two gives off a really nice fragrance with a fresh hop aroma. 

As a counter balance to the hop bitterness, English Pale Malt and English Crystal Malt add sweetness.  The result is a detectable flavor of blood orange, marmalade and pepper.  After panoply of nice flavor and sensations, the beer finishes dry with a refreshing burst of bitter hop aftertaste.

The Shepherd Neame brewery is particularly proud of the fact that all of the ingredients used in Spitfire Ale are grown within forty miles of the brewery.

Spitfire Kentish Ale has won its share of awards including: in 2013 a Bronze award and in 2012 a Silver in the International Beer Challenge, 2012 Silver award at the World Cup  and in 2009 the Monde Selection Grand Gold award. In typical stoic English fashion, a recent advertisement simply says, “….Spitfire is quite a good session beer”.  At 4.5% alcohol by volume, it is easy to drink several at one sitting.  This is a beer you can easily recommend to your customers who are looking for something a bit different.

Spitfire Kentish Ale is imported by the Moosehead Brewery, and is distributed in Maryland by Bond Distributors, Bozick Distributors, DM Distributors, and Northeast Distributors.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) March 2014 Editions Thu, 20 Feb 2014 10:11:46 -0500
Van Mitchell: Retailer-Legislator-Administrator and Lobbyist Van.jpg - 46.82 KB

Over the years, there have been several retailers and wholesalers who have served in the Maryland Legislature.  Names like Pete Bozick, Jim Simpson, Cas Taylor and former Delegate James King come to mind, but very few have had such diverse experience in business, the legislature, government agencies and the alcohol beverage industry as Van Mitchell.

If asked about his widely diverse work history, Van might joke and say something like, “This guy you are talking about must have had a hard time keeping a job.”  The fact is, his varied and cumulative job experience make him ideally suited for his current job as a lobbyist in a firm that represents the alcohol industry.  When Van speaks with legislators, he doesn’t speak in theoretical terms, he speaks with the authority of someone who has actually been there and done it. As the popular 1960s saying goes, “He can talk the talk and he can walk the walk.” And, in his numerous careers we can see examples of his use of best practices in running a business.

Van is a local guy born and raised in Southern Maryland.  He grew up in La Plata and graduated from La Plata high school.  After one year of college in North Carolina, Van joined MSI, Inc., the family hardware and lumber business in his home town.  His father made him promise to learn to do every job in the company before taking the reins. After several years of experience loading trucks, taking inventory and stocking shelves, he took over as CEO from his Dad in 1985.

Most Difficult Business Decision

At that time, MSI was comprised of four retail stores, a lumber yard and more than one hundred employees.  After becoming CEO, he experienced intermittent periods of prosperity and recession. But beginning 2006, he concluded finally the business had undergone a pronounced structural change.  The business no longer had a healthy mix of retail and contract customers, but had become skewed 90% toward contractor business. Unfortunately, for his business, his success was intrinsically tied to the success of his contract customers whose success in turn was determined by the state of the economy. As he watched his business decrease each year for several years in a row, he recognized he had a major problem. As an experienced business person should, he defined the problem specifically, examined his alternatives and arrived at was to become his most difficult business decision. Faced with an uncertain economic future, and not wishing to continue to burn through family assets, he chose to close the company. He did so in an orderly way in order to service his contractors through the end of their projects, and to also help his employees find other jobs. He lived through and learned some very tough lessons from what is probably the most difficult a business owner can face.


In 1995, after several years of involvement in local Charles County politics, Mitchell ran for state office and began a ten year career in the Maryland House of Delegates.  He soon realized that Annapolis and the Maryland Legislature was going to be an interesting and challenging experience.   As a member of the House Economic Matters Committee, his business background proved useful in understanding the myriad business issues that came up for discussion.  However, his real world business experience also would be a great source of frustration to him as so many members of the legislature had little knowledge of business and often lacked understanding of either the nature of entrepreneurial risk or the total effort it takes to maintain a successful business.  He had already spent a career in business in which it was vital to have clearly defined goals and objectives to be successful.  He knew firsthand about the need to hire and fire people on a regular basis and the mandatory nature of making a profit in order to stay in business.  But, he found the legislature doesn’t often think or operate that way. Mitchell also observed during his tenure that over time the Maryland Legislature was changing and had become less collegial and more contentious and seemed to be more about politics than it was about solving problems.  In 2004, he concluded, it was time to make a change and move on to do something else.

Deputy Director of the Maryland Department of Health and Hygiene

Mitchell, a Democrat, was appointed by Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich to his new position in 2004 as Deputy Director of the State’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In essence, he had become Chief Operating Officer of a governmental department with 8,000 people. The new job was a complete departure from selling drywall and building materials in Southern Maryland.  But fortunately for the employees at Baltimore’s West Preston Street campus, Van’s business experience Mitchell had taught him some common sense lessons about people management.

He vividly recalls arriving at his office building the first day of his new job. When he got on an elevator he observed everyone stood silently with their heads down looking at the floor. There were no greetings among colleagues, no talking, any laughter or interaction of any kind going on. It was apparent, something was clearly amiss.

A first order of business was to learn more about this department and the people in it, so he began a daily practice of choosing a floor and walking it while talking to people for an hour. He would stop, greet people and ask them about their jobs and how they were getting along. He quickly came to realize, the widely held stereotype of the lazy state employee was a myth. The caricature simply wasn’t true. He firmly believes there are many dedicated hard working employees who work for the state. 

 It was also during these walks, he noted that the halls and walls were dingy, dark and inhospitable throughout the multi-story main building. One reason was several hundred light bulbs no longer were functioning. No wonder it was dark.  He set out to relight the interior and repaint the walls in a brighter friendlier color.

He also discovered that, over time, personnel from many of the department’s sub branches had been split up and were located haphazardly throughout the building. After some thoughtful planning, Mitchell relocated personnel into logical departmental groupings, and was also able to free up space that would enable the state to reduce building rental expense by bringing personnel housed elsewhere.

A key takeaway for Mitchell from this experience is that when people are treated as though they aren’t appreciated, they will act accordingly. He felt he had begun to make an impact when people from within the department began to greet him, and he observed that no longer did everyone ride the elevator with his head down.  It is quite amazing what small cosmetic changes and a friendly smile can have on an organization.

Van Mitchell was Deputy Director of the Department of Health and Mental Services from 2004-2007.  The next state general election brought a change in administration, and he realized it was time to move on.

Beverage Alcohol Retailer

Somehow, along the way, Van Mitchell became a retailer for the second time.  This time he, his brother and his sister became partners in a new Green Turtle Sports Bar & Grille franchise in La Plata.  Owning one retail business in a career would be enough for most people but not in his case, as the saying goes he was out of the frying pan and into the fire.  When asked which was more difficult, being in the lumber/hardware business dealing with contractors and the public, or owning and operating a restaurant/bar he replied without hesitation, “Owning a bar/restaurant.”  Van said “No one outside the alcohol industry knows the pressures we face.  It is certainly one of the most regulated industries I can name.  It has all the same problems as any other business that hires non career type workers i.e. tardiness, absenteeism, a lack of genuine concern about the business you own and of course, we sell alcohol – a highly regulated product.  This one product, alcohol, separates us from all other legal businesses.  When I was in the home improvement supply business, I worried about employee accidents and potential product liability issues probably none of which would put me out of business, but with regard to the alcohol business, outsiders cannot appreciate the individual responsibility and liability an owner faces on daily basis.  In addition, there seems to be a general lack of understanding and widespread misinformation about our industry. The body of alcohol regulation contained in Article 2B of the Maryland Code is chock full of nuances, intricacies and potential liability situations. As a simple example, as a retailer, if I run out of a particular brand of scotch on a Saturday afternoon, I can’t just go to a local liquor store and buy or borrow some until Monday.  This would be a common sense practice in any other business but not the alcohol business. If there is one thing that causes me to lose sleep, it is unwittingly serving an underage person and getting caught doing it.  In my case, the local Charles County Liquor Board is unrelenting and unforgiving in dealing with this problem regardless if it is a habitual problem or an innocent mistake by my employee or manager.  A partial solution, but only a partial solution, is to continually train our staff.”


At the behest of Nick Manis, Van’s career path took a completely different turn in an already interesting journey when he agreed to join George Manis, Nick Manis and Mike Canning in January 2008 as an associate in their growing lobbying and government affairs practice.  At that time, the firm represented interests in the alcohol business, the motion picture industry, tobacco, gambling, law enforcement, and the accounting profession among others. Still, one the firm’s goals for the future was to expand the firm’s expertise and reach into other areas of the business community.  The firm now represents more than fifty local and national organizations.

Based on his experience in the health field, it was natural for Mitchell to join the firm and specialize initially in that area.  His clients include Amerigroup, CareFirst and various other professional medical coalitions. He also brings firsthand knowledge and valuable perspective as it relates to beverage alcohol.  With Van Mitchell on board, Manis, Canning continues to represent its clients with a tradition of candor, honesty and truthfulness throughout their lobbying efforts

It takes a good sense of humor and ample common sense to accomplish all that Van Mitchell has done in his various careers.  A good sense of humor, a healthy dose of common sense and a keen sense of perspective is clearly important as he represents his clients.  Van Mitchell is more than up to the task, and the beverage alcohol industry is lucky to have such a valuable asset on our side.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) March 2014 Editions Thu, 20 Feb 2014 10:08:45 -0500
Goose Island Honker’s Ale Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery refers to its “Honker’s Ale” brand as an English style bitter, but don’t be fooled by the name. This fine beer is anything but bitter. What then is an English Bitter?  Simply put, it is a style of ale in which the brew master uses ample amounts of aromatic hops and sweet malt.  The result is a beer with a strong hop presence but a pleasantly drinkable taste.

The brew master at Goose Island uses an interesting mixture of grains including: two row barley malt, wheat malt and roasted barley.  This hearty malt combination produces a bread like aroma with a sweet malt flavor, strong enough to balance out the Stryrian Golden and Super Styrian hops. Although both hops types have mild bittering and aromatic qualities, Super Styrian hops is known especially for its dual flavor and scent characteristics.

When held to the light, a brilliant coppery gold color shows through the glass.  A tight off white head forms as it is poured and quickly dissipates into a nice band of lacey foam around the inside of the glass. An abundance of small bubble carbonation gives the beer a pleasant feel in the mouth that carries through in the aftertaste as a pleasant mix of hops and malt lingers at the back of the tongue.

With a moderate alcohol content (4.3% abv) and a bitterness level (30 IBUs) that is about the average for this style of beer, Honker’s Ale qualifies as a refreshing and pleasant session beer.

Honker’s Ale has been described as smooth drinkable English style ale.  With Maryland’s goose season scheduled to end on January 29; this might be just the right time to recommend Honker’s Ale as a post-hunt refreshment.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) February 2014 Editions Tue, 21 Jan 2014 09:51:45 -0500
Sierra Nevada's Celebration Fresh Hop Ale celbrationbottleandglass.jpg - 163.92 KB

In 1981 Ken Grossman, owner of the Sierra Nevada Brewery, brewed his first batch of “Celebration Ale.”  This beer quickly became the classic ale sought after year after year during the Christmas Season.

Celebration Ale is an India Pale Ale (IPA) made with a twist. It is brewed in late fall using hops just recently harvested from the fields.  These newly picked hops, although dry by the time they are used, provide a fresh flavor and aroma that can’t be duplicated.  The beer would have a very different character if these same hops were allowed to dry for six to nine months.  The brewermaster uses a blend of Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops that together provide plenty of bitterness with a moderate amount of hop aroma. The combination produces a bitterness level of 65 IBUs, which is at the high end of the bitterness scale for an IPA, as well as for most beers, with the exception of barley wine.  Celebration Ale, however, it is not a “hop bomb” that grabs your tongue and squeezes.  Rather, it is a skillful blending of fresh hops, and two row pale malt and caramalt that yields a delicious and flavorful beer.  Additionally, Celebration Ale is bottled conditioned meaning a small amount of sugar and yeast are added to the bottle before it is capped to induce a secondary fermentation that produces natural carbonation and provides additional life on the shelf.

Just as the holiday season is fun; this is a fun beer.  A visual first impression is of a big old-fashioned ice cream soda with a huge creamy head.  The head lingers and lingers and finishes as a fine lace on the inside of the glass.  The beer is at its best when it is sipped through the head.  The citrus and pine notes from the hops are balanced by sweet malt that makes you want to take another sip.  It is refreshing, not overly done in any direction, and is a perfect beer to enjoy with friends and family.

I hope you have an opportunity to try a refreshing Sierra Nevada “Celebration Ale” during this festive season.  Happy Holidays.

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) January 2014 Editions Wed, 18 Dec 2013 14:58:40 -0500
Make it a Beer Vacation in 2014 Do you need to get away? Are you tired of vacationing in the same place year after year?  If you answered yes to these questions, maybe your first resolution for the New Year should be to plan something new, fun and completely different - so, why not take a beer vacation?  A beer vacation can take you to some never before visited place like Belgium with its unending variety of beer styles, or it might be an adventure closer to home visiting local microbreweries within a day or weekend’s drive.  In either case, the options for a beer vacation are almost limitless.

Vacations are tonic for the soul.  They provide us a mental break from the everyday routine of life. They refresh and recharge us so that we return more energetic and renewed about our lives and our jobs. They can be used as learning experiences or simply as a way to relax. The nice thing about taking a beer vacation is you can do it with family, with friends or all by yourself.  The only rule is there is no rule.

If vacations are meant to fun, then a beer vacation should be a hoot and a really cool thing to do. There are new places to visit and new things to see along the way, while having the opportunity to stop and savor new unfamiliar brews.  And, as beer drinking is a social event, meeting new people may turn out to be the most fun and rewarding part of all. 

Some years ago, noted author and political commentator William F. Buckley Jr. was asked by his father about the destination of his next vacation.  The younger Buckley replied in his book “Airborne”, “I don’t have time to take a vacation.”  His father averred, “….A busy man never has a good time to take a vacation; he must just take one!”  And with that advice, Buckley began a trans - Atlantic voyage in his sailboat.


Fortunately, you don’t need to cross the ocean in a sailboat to have a good adventure.  An entertaining microbrewery adventure is never more than an hour away no matter where you live in Maryland as there are more than two dozen microbreweries and brewpubs located throughout the state.  Most of them are concentrated in geographic pockets in Central Maryland, Baltimore and Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

A great place to obtain information about our local breweries is by visiting the Brewers Association of Maryland (BAM) website  The Association lists its twenty-six members.  In addition to a list of members, the site provides links to their websites and a geographic map showing their location. Also, the individual websites provide information about beer tours and tastings. 


Travel & Leisure magazine in a recent article named its choices of America’s 20 best beer cities. Although the article is based solely on the opinion of its writers, it does provide an interesting bucket list of some great breweries to visit. The magazine’s top five choices are:

Portland, Oregon 

Widmer Brothers, Bridgeport, Deschutes
and Hopworks breweries.


Home to many microbrewers
including Great Divide, Wynkoop
and the Great American Beer Festival

Portland, Maine 

Shipyard, DG Geary, Allagash
and Sebago breweries

Seattle, Washington 

Pyramid, Elysian and Fremont

Kansas City, Missouri

Boulevard, McCoy’s Public House,

75th Street Brewery and Gordon Biersch

If you don’t venture out on your own, private companies offer guided beer tours for purchase in each of these famed beer cities.

An American Luxury Beer Vacation

If you desire a more opulent beer vacation experience, several specialty inns across the country provide a memorable on property beer experience.  One such location is the Lodge at Woodloch located in Pennsylvania’s Pocono region. This spa uses beer in several of it treatments as well offering its own Palo Sano brew along with brews from the Dogfish Brewery in neighboring Delaware.

Other interesting east coast beer retreat locations include:  Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, and Trapp Family Lodge in Stow, Vermont.  This inn is owned by the von Trapp family. The innkeepers host “Sound of Music” reunions and feature their own Trapp Lagers.  In Norwich, Vermont, the Norwich Inn/Jasper Murdock Alehouse has been a traveler’s destination since 1797.  More recently, a microbrewery was added to the Inn in 1993, and Jasper Murdoch ales were born.  Luxury locations featuring local craft beer are not limited to the east coast but can be found from Texas, to Wisconsin, to Wyoming and the west coast.

Go Big - Go European

Clearly, you won’t go wrong if you venture across the Atlantic to Western Europe to visit some of the many hundreds of breweries located there. Belgium is a particularly good place to begin your journey and add to your beer education.  Belgium arguably produces more beer styles than any other country.  Brussels is a must visit destination and an inviting place to begin your Belgian beer education is in one of the outdoor cafes located in the Grand Plaza, which is home to the original beer guild, and also contains the home office of ABInBev. Whether your tastes run to beer brewed in open vats with wild yeast flowing in through open brewery windows, or to a Trappist made dubble or tripel made with candi sugar to soften the alcohol taste; you will not be disappointed.

Organized Beer Tours

Your beer vacation can last for a week or more simply for a long weekend.  No doubt seeing new sights and visiting new breweries will provide you with lots of new stories to share with your friends when you return home.

If you’re the type of person who enjoys letting someone else plan the details of your vacation, prepackaged, pre-planned beer vacations are available for purchase both here in the U.S and in Europe. 

A new US company called promises to deliver its customers a memorable beer chasing and tasting experience.  They arrange beer tours for upwards of 35 people at a time.  Guests travel by motor coach to some of the countries best microbreweries.  For tour information, the company may be reached at 1-855-FUN ON TAP (1-855-386-6682).

Would you rather take a beer trip to Europe? is there to help make your journey a memorable one.  Your traveling companions may be singles, newlyweds, novice beer drinkers who want to do something different or well experienced brewmasters seeking a new palate sensation. (BMM) is a tour company that focuses exclusively on beer.  It has 14 trips planned to Belgium in 2014.  They will also arrange beer trips to Prague so you can sample Czechoslovakia’s original pilsner beer. is another tour company that takes beer-focused guests on it’s company owned barge trips through Holland, Belgium and France.  It plans to add beer tours to Germany and Italy next year.  No more than twenty two guests travel together at one time so each guest can enjoy gourmet dining on board or stop along the way to experience local restaurants as well.  Beer cruises are typically run for one week but weekend beer tours are available as well.

Make it a beer vacation in 2014

Vacations are the perfect way to unwind, unplug and get away from the daily routine. They are stress relievers and leave us feeling refreshed and recharged.  Whether it’s going on an exotic vacation to Belgium or traveling the local highway for an afternoon or weekend away from work, vacations are important for our physical and mental well- being.  

As you head into a new year, consider a resolution to expand your horizons and plan a different kind of trip.  Whether it’s a day trip, a weekend getaway, or a full blown vacation, a beer trip is guaranteed to give you a new perspective on the place you visit and just like any good brew, will have you wanting more.

Also, If you do take a beer vacation in 2014, please let me know. I would love to hear about it.

Here’s to a happy and healthy new year!

Read more]]> (Alan Horton) January 2014 Editions Tue, 17 Dec 2013 21:28:31 -0500