AboutTaylor Laabs – PorchDrinking.com
So, there I was, standing outside on a cold March night in Chicago watching Off Color’s social media manager Ben Ustick and co-founder Dave Bleitner (lovingly called “The Other Guy”) methodically put together the fence that would block off their soon-to-be-open patio space. There was a palpable excitement shared between Ben and Dave as they hammered each 2×4 into place. The patio meant something more than just providing extra seating on a swanky summer day. It was validation that Off Color’s grand experiment had paid off.
The new taproom space, dubbed the Mousetrap, has been a smashing success as it has provided Dave and the other Co-Founder Jon Laffler (the one you usually see in the papers) with more room to share their craft beer genius with hordes of willing Chicagoans. While 2017 was an exciting year for Off Color Brewing, with more momentum and new experiments in the hopper, 2018 is shaping up to be even better.
I remember sitting on the patio of Ballast Point’s Little Italy taproom in San Diego a few years ago sipping on a fresh Grapefruit Sculpin. At the time, I marveled at how impressive that beer tasted – the combination of mellow bitterness and fruity overtones came together in perfect harmony. It was one of the best beers I’ve ever tasted, and it’s still a beer I weigh other fruited IPAs against. Introduced in 2005, Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA has become a pace setter in the American craft beer scene — especially for West Coast IPAs.
Craft beer seems to go through phases. Right now, you can’t find a new brewery that isn’t making something exceedingly bitter, hazy or barrel-aged. In some ways, consumers’ preferences for different craft beer styles mirror their often-fleeting style, dietary and exercise obsessions. Every year there seems to be a new trend popping up that captures the minds of the economically important 25-34 age demographic. One dietary preference that has weathered the storm of fleeting fads has been the rise of gluten-free and gluten-reduced diets due to its digestive health benefits. Now, several prominent craft brewers are joining the fray by introducing gluten-reduced beers. Are these new options a simple novelty or a beer style that is set to explode? We asked two brewers leading the charge.
Much like seeing flowers bloom for the first time, many craft beer drinkers associate the beginning of spring with the release of Bell’s Brewery Oberon Wheat Ale. Bell’s signature ale has been around well before craft beer was in vogue, and its popularity continues to this day thanks to a great flavor profile and a myriad of clever marketing tactics – the best being Oberon Day.
The beer was actually called Solsun up until 1998, but a naming dispute with a Mexican brewery prompted the name change to Oberon… and the rest is history. The day-long event celebrating the release of Oberon for the year has become a fan favorite for Michigan beer fanatics and casual drinkers alike. On March 26, Bell’s plans to make this year’s Oberon Day the biggest ever – here are the details.
Craft beer has a diversity problem. While there’s no easy fix to an issue that is prevalent throughout most industries in America, several craft brewers are making their presence felt by promoting diversity and inclusion from within their ranks. One of those breweries is Chicago’s Revolution Brewing, who employs 68 female employees throughout their expanding operation. To celebrate International Women’s Day, the women of Revolution came together to brew a special beer: Spirit of Revolt IPA.
Founded in 1988, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery has enjoyed over three decades of success by tapping into the craft beer furor of the Pacific Northwest through artfully-hopped beers. With years of experience behind them, Deschutes is acutely aware of the difference between a fleeting fad and a trend that is here to stay. And the rise of brewers moving to cans is no fad. To meet the growing demand among many craft beer drinkers for increased flexibility and accessibility from their beers, Deschutes is moving three of their flagships into 12oz cans this March.
Following a somewhat stagnant 2017, the first month of the new year presented signs of optimism for the overall craft beer market. IRI Worldwide reports that U.S. beer sales in off-premise retail (like grocery, liquor, mass-merchandise stores, etc.) increased 3% in January 2018. This increase was bolstered by strong segment growth from craft beer (4.4%), imports (7.3%) and domestic supreme premiums (12.3%) like Michelob Ultra and Blue Moon. Because this is largely a craft beer site, we thought we’d take a look at the notable craft highlights from the IRI report and give our thoughts on the notable data points. Who knows, this might become a recurring monthly column. Here’s the lowdown.
While we may enjoy a quality craft beer at PorchDrinking from time to time, we also appreciate a good cider, and the craft cider business is booming. If you’re a cider fan, beer fan or anything in between, I highly recommend you check out the ongoing Chicago Cider Week, which offers a week-long list of events and parties aimed at fostering new interest with the increasingly popular realm of artisanal cider. The big event of the week, the 2018 Chicago Cider Summit, takes place on Saturday February 17th. Featuring over 150 different local, regional and international craft ciders from the likes of Colorado-favorite Stem Ciders to local upstart 2 Fools, this all-day cider fest is sure to please every taste bud. Here are the details you need to know.
Delaware-based Dogfish Head isn’t shy about experimentation. As one of the largest national craft brewers on the market, founder Sam Calagione and crew always seem to be on the cutting edge of innovation when it comes to mixing in wild ingredients, whether its lobster, wasabi, or the two active ingredients found in Mace spray. Dogfish Head continues to make it clear that nothing is off limits when it comes to brewing beer – here’s a look at their six wildest creations.
Tony Magee started his brewery dream back in 1993 in Lagunitas, California. The goal was to create bombastic beers that teemed with the plentiful hops found on the West Coast, and to have a lot of fun doing it. Originally an Illinois native, Tony has grown into somewhat of a national celebrity when it comes to craft beer due to his unique brewing practices that led to creations like Undercover Shut Down Ale, his outspoken personality, and the great beers his brewery(s) have produced since his early days.
Now, Lagunitas Brewing Company is an international power, its IPA is the current #1 best seller in packaged formats and they produced around one million barrels of beer last year. In many ways, Magee’s creation is the perfect example of craft beer’s explosive growth over the past two decades. But then again, Lagunitas is an outlier in the current craft beer environment. They’re not like your standard brewpub or trendy hazy IPA factory. If you’ve visited their massive 300,000 sq. foot Chicago brewery facility, decorated with secondhand furniture and mind-melting dog murals, you’d recognize that. As craft beer infiltrates every last avenue of American consumerism, Lagunitas has found a way to stay weird. I asked Karen Hamilton, Lagunitas’ Communications Director and Tony’s sister, how they’ve been able to stay true to their brand for 25 years.
Founders Brewing has been around for more than 20 years, but they didn’t find their staple beer until 2012. Since its introduction, Founders’ easy-to-drink All Day IPA has been a smash hit. The beer hit a nerve for many people across the U.S. due to its outright drinkability and convenient packaging formats, making it a beer that could be consumed on land, on water, and anywhere in between—and sales have reflected that. Five years since it was released nationwide, All Day IPA just had its most successful year ever, growing an incredible 50.3% in 2017. All Day is now the 3rd best-selling IPA in the nation, an incredible feat for any beer over such a small period of time. The crazy sales numbers of its stalwart beer have lifted Founders to new heights, with volume sales up 51%, but if you ask co-founder Mike Stevens about All Day, he’ll say that the session ale has only begun to reach its potential.
Next Sunday, the champions of the NFC and AFC will convene on Minnesota’s U.S. Bank field for Super Bowl 52. And while the Eagles and Patriots are sure to provide a lot of on-field entertainment, the trip to Minneapolis will also offer both fervent fan bases a chance to experience Minneapolis’ dynamic craft beer scene. Whether you’re a football fan or just a lover of craft beer, a variety of downtown breweries will be rolling out the red carpet to impress this sudden surge of visitors. Here’s a quick look at what to expect.
Coming off a strong 2017, Minnesota’s Surly Brewing is betting on its growing momentum with the release of an ambitious 2018 release calendar. Along with two new year-round offerings, Hopshifter IPA and +1 Golden Ale, Surly also intends to appeal to the curiosity of the average craft beer drinker with their new Innovation Series, which will feature the likes of Damien and Furious Black in tall boys, and the announcement of their first-ever Variety Pack. The Variety Pack has become a popular format for other large Midwest brewers like Revolution and Summit, so it makes sense that Surly would dip their toes into this popular packaging venue. Here are the details.
Athens, Georgia-based Creature Comforts Brewing Co. has made a name for itself through by creating artfully balanced beers. The beer they brew is not intended to be overpowering, but is instead focused on highlighting each element of the beer—in perfect unison. A testament to their mission is their popular winter seasonal, Koko Buni Milk Porter, which promises balanced notes of coffee, cocoa nibs and toasted coconut.
Let’s face it, the haze craze is here to stay. Amid slowing sales in the craft beer market, the incredible popularity of the Hazy IPA has butted the trend, as its juicy approachability captured the hearts (and wallets) of both brewers and consumers across the country in 2017. What started as murmurs among beer blogs is now a nationwide phenomenon and can be lauded (or scoffed at) as one of America’s major craft beer creations over the past decade.
Minnesota can attribute a lot of its craft beer heritage to St. Paul-based Summit Brewing. Founded in 1986, Summit is Minnesota’s second oldest brewery behind Schell’s, with beers like its Summit EPA being a stalwart on local shelves for decades – even before “craft” preceded its title. Now, Minnesota and the larger Midwest markets are shifting. The Land of 10,000 lakes has 150 local craft brewers, which has led to a dramatic increase in competition from newcomers like Surly and Fulton. Summit felt the pains of this competition firsthand, as they recently announced layoffs amidst a decrease in production. So, how does Summit plan to rebound? We asked Summit’s PR/Content Coordinator, Brendan Kennealy, to find out.
While Surly Brewing resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, its second home lies within the Windy City. In a move to meet growing demand in the Chicagoland area, Surly is shifting its distribution relationship from Windy City Distributing to Lakeshore Beverage, which also distributes the likes of Bell’s, Founders and AB-InBev’s High End group to the Chicago region. While the shift in local distributors might not seem like much on its face, it’s actually an intriguing signal of Surly’s larger Midwest strategy and emphasis on gaining market share in Chicago.
Craft beer is leaving its adolescence stage and venturing into adulthood. The maturing of craft brewers bodes well for the average consumer, but it also opens the market up to judgement by a higher societal standard. Craft beer can no longer skirt by as an emerging economic trend; it is now a prosperous and influential part of the U.S. economy, and it deserves to be treated as such. Outside of bottle releases and new taprooms, craft beer can make a verifiable impact on their local communities through outreach programs and charitable donations. Athens-based Creature Comforts is doing just that through their Get Comfortable campaign.
It has been another exciting year for the craft beer market, and with more than 6,000 craft breweries operating in the U.S, it’s safe to say that craft beer has become a viable economic institution in the United States. That said, the beer market overall is stalling – with stagnant year over year growth across the larger industry. Bart Watson, the Brewers Association’s chief economist, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that “the total market growth for craft brewing production is slowing down… It’s still growing but not at the double-digit rates we saw over the past decade.” So, has craft beer hit a plateau that many predicted? Or do craft breweries find new avenues to expand and improve?
Quick Sips is our way of highlighting beer events, tap takeovers and other notable beer news around the city of Chicago. If you’d like to submit something to be included in the next Quick Sips, please email us at email@example.com.