Thursday, October 26, 2017

The 9 Award Winning KS & MO Beers at the Great American Beer Festival This Year!

We all already know that we've got some great breweries around here. Well now we have even more proof--Kansas and Missouri breweries brought home 9 medals from the Great American Beer Festival competition this year! Our states haven't won that many medals at GABF since 2013. There's a lot of new names on the list too. Two of my favorites, Cinder Block and Wichita Brewing Company, brought home their first medals ever. Also, inexplicably, Schlafly and Side Project have never won a GABF medal before and brought home their first medals this year too.


Now, I'll be the first to admit there's a lot more to winning a medal at GABF than brewing great beer on a regular basis. To wit--Schafly and Side Project make awesome beer always and have never won before! There's a lot of luck involved in winning--you have to have your beer at the peak of freshness, enter the exact right category, and get a good position in the judging flight. You also have to actually enter your beer, which is no small undertaking for most small/new brewers! All that being said it's still a great accomplishment to medal at the fest--just don't stop buying your favorite brewery's beer because they didn't win.

Congratulations to all the medal winners!

Gold Medals:


Springfield Brewing Co. - Bull Creek Brown Ale
Gold - American-Style Brown Ale

Silver Medals:


Wichita Brewing Co. - Shaven Yak Brown
Silver - English-Style Brown Ale

Logboat Brewing Co. - Mamoot English Mild
Silver - English-Style Mild Ale

Schlafly Beer - Pumpkin Ale
Silver - Pumpkin/Squash Beer or Pumpkin Spice Beer

Perennial Artisan Ales - Maman 2017
Silver - Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout

Side Project Brewing - Blended 2017
Silver - Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale

Bronze Medals: 


Cinder Block Brewery - Northtown Native
Bronze - Dortmunder or German-Style Oktoberfest

Perennial Artisan Ales - Working Title
Bronze - Belgian- and French-Style Ale

Charleville Vineyard & Microbrewery - Barrel Aged Barleywine
Bronze - Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Oktoberfest Season is Upon Us

My favorite time of the year is upon--time when it finally becomes enjoyable to be outside again with the weather, the harvests of hops & grapes come in, and hunting season opens. No I am talking about Fall, I am talking about Oktoberfest season.  And if you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I'm in deep in the Oktoberfest scene. (Hm...gotta see if I can still squeeze into the lederhosen this year...)

As I've written in the past, there really is only one true Oktoberfest in Munich. But I've become less of a purist as I've aged so I've come to enjoy our local Oktoberfests almost as much as the real deal (even if nothing can really compare). These days, we actually have some great Oktoberfests around here that are truer to the original design than what we've had in the past. I've got a list of all the festival events at the bottom, but I'm going to highlight a few of my favorites here as well.


KC Bier Company Oktoberfest - 9/24 - 9/25


This is the fourth year for KC Bier Co's Oktoberfest, but it's become my favorite fest in town. They've got the perfect mix of music, dancing, kids activities, food, and, naturally, great beer.  It seems like most of the Oktoberfests in town lack one or another of these critical elements, but KC Bier Co hits all of them right on. You'll find some of the best German beers around fresh out of their fermenters including their excellent Festbier (a true Oktoberfest-style beer that is what they actually serve in Munich, not the Märzen style that most Americans associate with Oktoberfest). And they make awesome radlers to order that can keep you drinking by the Maß all day without difficulty.

The fest runs on Saturday from 11am-10pm and Sunday from 12pm-9pm. There are activities going all day long both days. Check out more on their website. No admission tickets are necessary before this event.


Grünauer Oktoberfest - 9/24 - 9/25


Guess what?  That awesome fest your read about above was made even better.  Grünauer has actually partnered up with KC Bier Co and will be doing all their food!


Lee's Summit Oktoberfest - 9/22 - 9/24


Lee's Summit Oktoberfest is another great fest celebration held on the streets in downtown LS. If you're wondering, it's kind of a big deal with more than 70,000 visitors last year. This one probably mirrors the actual Oktoberfest best of any in the area minus the beer drinking (although their beer garden has come a long way from just serving up Bud Light). They've got all kinds of events, activities, and carnival rides in addition the main beer tent.


This fest is really geared more towards families rather than hardcore festbier drinking, but they do still have a beer tent, a wine tent, and their second annual homebrew tasting and competition sponsored by Grains & Taps. There will be traditional music and food throughout the fest as well. Also, completely random, there is a dog contest and a baby contest. I assume the baby who throws the beer keg farthest wins.

So, for the carnival atmosphere with a little beer and German food thrown in, the LS Oktoberfest is a good call especially for families. The fest runs on Friday from 5pm-11pm, Saturday from 10am-11pm. The fest continues with the carnival only (no beer!) on Sunday from 12pm-4pm. Check out more on their website.


Hermann Oktoberfest - Every Weekend in October


The Oktoberfest celebration in Hermann is my favorite in the area for a full weekend excursion. If you haven't ever heard of Hermann, it's a little town in the "Missouri Rheinland", the heart of Missouri wine country. (Don't laugh! Most of the MO wineries are actually making some great wines these days, not just the super sweet alco-pop wines that they used to.)

The city has a strong German heritage and lots of wineries in and around the city. (And contrary to popular belief, there are wine tents at Oktoberfest in Munich in addition to the beer tents, so you don't have to feel guilty about drinking wine at Oktoberfest) They also have the Tin Mill Brewery downtown, and if for the real beer lovers, you can drive about 20 minutes down the road to visit 2nd Shift!

I'd also highly recommend checking out the Festhall. The entrance is a little hard to find and easy to miss--it's off of the west side of Gutenberg St, just north of 1st Street. It's obscured by trees and some other stuff on the sidewalk. But it's the best place in town for an authentic Oktoberfest experience with lots of lederhosen, dirnds, people actually speaking German, and dancing (and not just the damned Chicken Dance!). Plus, the festhall is an awesome building. Here's a streetview of the entrance:


There are things going on all over town, mainly on Saturdays, every weekend of October. For some extra fun, take the Amtrak down there and drink on the road (it's literally the only economical Amtrak ride you can take out of KC).


Holyfield Winery Oktoberfest - 10/14


Like Hermann, this Oktoberfest is focused on wine instead of beer. But Holyfield makes some of the best wine in the Metro and has some good German-style wines. I mainly love this fest because the setting is so idyllic, they have good music, and the weather is perennially excellent. The fest always makes for a solid day of outdoor day-drinking and chilling. Make sure you bring your own setup though as seating is limited. They've got plenty of space to set up portable chairs, tables, picnic blankets, and whatever else you want to bring. It's a bit of a drive, but well worth it if you can find a DD. "Dan the Bierock Man" will be back and the Alpen Spielers will be playing. The fest runs from 12pm-4pm on Saturday. Check out more details on their website.


And Even more Oktoberfests in KC:


St John’s Oktoberfest - Saturday 9/24

Shawnee Oktoberfest - Friday 9/29

Westport Oktoberfest Pub Crawl - Saturday 10/1

Westwood Oktoberfest - Saturday 9/30

Know of any others?  Post in the comment section!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Kansas City's Premier Downtown Beer Fest is Next Weekend!

KC Beer Fest is next Saturday, 9/9 at PNL
from 2pm-6pm
Fall festival season is upon us! And the first festival kicking off the season next Saturday, September 9, is one of the year's best. KC Beer Fest has had it's ups and downs over the last decade (anyone else remember going when it was on the top of the parking garage at the Legends??), but they've hit their stride at Power & Light in the last couple of years.

I was at the festival last year for the first time in a while and had a great time. The beer list is top notch, and the setup is well thought out. They shut down Grand Blvd between PNL and the Sprint Center for the GA beer samplings, then reserve the inner beer garden/courtyard inside PNL for the VIP tastings and food. This makes for a nice VIP area. Ticket prices are very reasonable at $40 for GA and $65 for VIP if you buy ahead of time. So go get your tickets now! 

One of the best parts of the festival though, is that a lot of downtown locals come to the fest, some of whom could care less about the beer. They're there because it's a cool festival and something to do on the streets downtown. This means a lot of the special breweries and beers have no lines whatsoever. Last year I was hanging out in front of the Perennial and 2nd Shift tables with no line drinking to my heart's desire right in the middle of the beer fest.

2016 KC Beer Fest

They're going to have over 50 breweries at the event this year and 200+ beers. A full list of breweries and special tappings isn't out yet, but we'll post it here when it is. In addition to the brews they're going to have lawn games, local food trucks and local artists on display, including Zeke Crozier, a disabled veteran from Overland Park who creates custom art pieces using beer bottle caps. The festival proceeds go to support the local non-profit Drink Local Think Global that works to provide clean drinking water to people in developing countries.

We've go the details on the fest below and also our photo album from last year's KC Beer Fest. Thanks to the fine folks at the beer fest, we're going to be there with our comp media passes! Hope to see you there also!

KC Beer Fest Details:

When:

Saturday, Sept. 9, 3 – 6 p.m. (VIP at 2 p.m.)

Where:

Kansas City Power & Light District
1310 Grand Boulevard
Kansas City, MO 64106
KC Beer Fest entrance is located at the intersection of Grand Boulevard and 13th Street

Tickets:

VIP admission tickets-- $65, Now through Friday, Sept. 8 ($70 at the door)
GA tickets-- $40, Now through Friday, Sept. 8 ($45 at the door)

KC Beer Fest Online

Facebook at www.facebook.com/KCBeerFest
Twitter at @KCBeerFest
Web at www.KCBeerFest.com

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Is Seasonal Creep real and have we hit Peak Pumpkin?

If you're going to buy a
pumpkin beer it better be
Schlafly's Pumpkin Ale
The end of summer is a great time of the year. Sweltering heat and humidity, swarms of mosquitoes, and school traffic back on the roads. Oh, and also, pumpkin beer! And along with pumpkin beer comes the age old tradition of complaining about pumpkin beers being released in July and Seasonal Creep.

I think Aaron Robison, the Marketing & Events Coordinator at Central States Distributor, put it best this year:


I agree with him that complaining about seasonal creep is almost as annoying as seasonal creep at this point, and people just need to get over it. Although I do like the fun of the scavenger hunt of which pumpkin beer hits the market first. Which, by the way, I'm pretty sure was Ballast Point Pumpkin Down in KC this year. It was on the liquor store shelf before the end of July. (Side note: I'm not entirely sure what they mean by "bucking the trend" considering they're perpetuating the trend of releasing pumpkin beers super early and also the beer is--in their words--a malty Scottish style with pumpkin in it. This sounds like basically every pumpkin beer I've ever had.)


But the flurry of tweets this year got me thinking: Is seasonal creep actually real? My gut feeling said yes, but I'm an engineer, damn it, and I need CHARTS. So I turned to my trusty Google Trends. (If you've never played with Google Trends, prepare to waste the rest of your day doing so.)

First I went after the obvious choice: Pumpkin Beer. My conclusion: seasonal creep IS real for pumpkin beer. A secondary conclusion: 2013 was Peak Pumpkin. The curves in the chart below show how many of the Google searches for pumpkin beer over the entire year happen in which months. The black line is October, blue is September, Green is November, and so on. So in 2006, 47% of the searches for pumpkin beer that year happened in October. In 2013, only 37% of the searches for pumpkin beer that year happened in October.


You can see that in 2004, there's very little interest in pumpkin beer until September, October, and November. Roughly 90% of the Google searches that year for pumpkin beer happened in those 3 months. By the time we hit 2013, almost 90% of the Google searches happened in August, September, and October. So the relative search interest in pumpkin beer shifted a whole month earlier in ~10 years.

Put another way, in 2006, only about 38% of the yearly interest in pumpkin beer happened in the summer time. By 2013 about 55% of the yearly interest in pumpkin beers happened in the summer time. So seasonal creep for pumpkin beers is indeed real.

The second chart here shows that interest in pumpkin beer also peaked in 2013. There was a meteoric rise in interest from 2008 to 2013 and an equally meteoric fall since then. So, thankfully, we have passed Peak Pumpkin, and can move onto more interesting things in our lives (like Oktoberfest beer).


On that, note, I wondered--ok so Seasonal Creep is real for pumpkin beers--how about Oktoberfest beers? The answer: seasonal creep doesn't exist for Oktoberfest beers. The chart below shows the same monthly comparisons by year as the pumpkin beer. You can see that there's been a slight uptick in interest in Oktoberfest beers when comparing 2005 & 2006 to the last 10 years, but basically since 2007 the relative interest by year has been very constant. Basically, the relative number of searches picks up in August, peaks in September, and drops off in October. This is all as it should be, considering the One True Oktoberfest (in Munich, Germany), actually happens in the 2nd half of September and not in October, contrary to popular belief and the name of the festival.


And although it appears we've also hit Peak Oktoberfest, it hasn't had quite the metoric rise and fall of pumpkin beers. Which is good, because Oktoberfest beers are awesome and I hope the decline in popularity in the last couple years can stabilize and we can have a healthy interest in Oktoberfests until the end of time (as it should be).


Christmas/Winter beers were basically the same--no real change in release times for the last 15 years (although I didn't go to the trouble of charting the data because seriously guys, I do actually have a life outside the beer blog). Also, Irish beer has absolutely zero seasonal creep. And after looking at the Google Trends data on Irish beers--good luck trying to sell out your Irish beer stock after March.

Beyond that, I actually had a really hard time finding specific beer styles that I could test seasonal creep on. Most "summer" beer styles are also year round styles (think wheat beers, pilsner/lager beers, sours). There aren't really any true "spring" beer styles or "fall" beer styles (outside of the two above) that I could come up with.

So my conclusion is that Seasonal Creep exists: but only for pumpkin beers. And hopefully not for much longer.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Brewery Spotlight: Border Brewing

“We’re trying to bridge the gap between beer drinkers and beer lovers.”


Eric Martens leaned back against the couch in his taproom, crossing one leg over the other, ankle to knee. Around him hung photos of Royals players, drawings of KC skylines and other local art. More than most other breweries in the area, Border Brewing embraces the full culture of the Crossroads. The first Brewery/Taproom in KCMO, Border sits a stone’s throw from Grinders and has recently built a side patio to accommodate their overflowing First Fridays crowd.


“We’re set to release our Experimental IPA #4 sometimes next week,” he continued.  “It’ll be a hazy IPA, with floral, piney notes instead of the usual citrus.” Border has 10 taps available, 4 of which are IPAs. The latest IPA available is their Experimental IPA, something they are continually playing around with. Border is a veritable IPA laboratory if nothing else. It’s easy to be, since they don’t yet bottle, and for now, that’s much to their credit. Everything in their tap room is less than 2 months old. This is important with IPAs especially, since their flavor profile tends to change with each passing day.







Eric said that is the next stage, however, for the brewery. They are currently looking for avenues of distribution. First on the list is to simply start having bottles of favorites for sale inside the brewery. Next, they’ll have to look at expanding their space in order to bottle or can for mass markets. It seems a logical next step considering how busy this brewery gets, and one a lot of KC consumers are waiting for.


Homebrewing since 2006, Eric and Border Brewing’s success has been a long time coming. He received a degree in chemical engineering from K State but found a love in the science of brewing. With his wife, Tracy, they opened the doors of Border in February of 2015. Now they have their main brewmaster, Kelly Wing, and together they continue to push the boundaries of beer making. Many fans are aware of Border’s #Webrewforyou campaign which happens 3 or 4 times a year and takes a survey from their fans on which beer they should make next. Eric chuckled when he recollected past winners.


“Sometimes I’m really surprised at the concoctions we come up with that people love and vote for. We’ve had some interesting beers.”


Their next “Brew For You” campaign will begin again this fall, either in September or October. It only takes roughly 4 to 6 weeks for a beer to go from vote to tap, and the quick turn-around definitely cultivates brand loyalty.





Beyond the chosen beer, Border is planning on releasing their Rye IPA this fall and their Imperial Coffee Stout this winter. The Imperial Coffee Stout is Border’s beer made in partnership with Blip Roasters in the West bottoms, and this year will be the first year it is bottled. When I asked about the likelihood that Border could experiment with a sour beer, Eric agreed that it was in the works. “It’s hard,” he said, “maintaining the line between catering to craft beer drinkers and also to the casual beer drinker.” However, if you’re a sour beer aficionado, just be patient and you shall be rewarded.

So come on over to Border one of these evenings for a cool beer on their new patio. Eric admitted he probably won’t be the one behind the bar anymore since they’ve gotten busier, but they employ some excellent staff who’ll help you pick out which beer would suit your pallet. In the future, this blog will post upcoming events from keg tappings to Milk Stout Float nights. Keep an eye out for the best that this brewery has to offer!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Macro Beers Suck...Revisited

The fact that macro beers suck and why they suck is something I've talked about in depth before on the blog. But I've been hearing a new thing from a few craft beer drinkers lately when I bash macros (which I do at every chance possible). They say, "Macro brews aren't bad beer, you just don't like the flavor."

This seems to be the new "enlightened" craft brewer viewpoint these days. However, this idea that macro beer is good beer (and it's just not my "thing") is just plain wrong. And legitimizing the macro brewer's operations in this way is bad for the craft beer business. Because of market changes, macro brewers will do anything they can to squash independent craft brewers. Craft beer drinkers need to push back against the macro brewers at every turn if we want our favorite craft brewers to stay in business. The absolute wrong thing to do is to write off macro beer as fundamentally good because of faulty logic.

The Consistency = Quality Fallacy


The argument saying that macro brewers' beer is good is what I call the Consistency = Quality Fallacy. The argument goes like this:
  • There is no way to objectively measure whether a flavor of beer is good or bad. All measures of quality of flavor are subjective and thus cannot ever be fairly ranked from good to bad. 
  • Because there is no way to objectively measure the quality of the flavor of a beer, the only way to measure the quality of a beer is by it's consistency from batch to batch.
  • Macro brewers have amazingly consistent products. 
  • Thus, macro beers are high quality, good beers.

But what about Twinkies and 40s? 


Twinkies and OE 800--a
match made in heaven. 
This argument, on the surface seems to make perfect logical sense. But here's another way to think about this argument: consider the Twinkie. If our only measure of quality is consistency, then Twinkies surely must be the best cakes ever made. And yet, I don't think I've ever heard anyone in my life refer to a Twinkie as a high quality cake (not even sure if I've ever heard someone actually refer to them as "cakes" at all).

More to the point, I commonly hear this argument applied to Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light. But no one seems to ever apply the argument to Natural Light, Busch Light, Keystone Light, or any other number of 2rd Tier macro brews. Certainly no one is applying this logic to Olde English 800 or other 40s. Yet these beers are all brewed by the exact same brewers at the macro breweries with the same amazing consistency from batch to batch. So they must also be good beers according to the argument, right?

If we can all agree that OE 800 is not good beer and Twinkies are not good cakes, then the pure logical argument that Consistency = Quality just doesn't work. Even though the argument makes sense, you have to accept the assumption that humans have no way of determining what tastes good and bad. This really is a silly assumption. While we may have our differences in taste (and there are some definite outliers), the vast majority of people can agree pretty broadly on what tastes or smells "good" or "bad."

So if macro brews are bad beer, why do so many people drink them? 


If you hadn't noticed, in America we're primarily driven as consumers by marketing and price. The macro brewers have spent literally trillions of dollars over the last 100 years convincing you that their products are good (and lately that craft beers are bad) and that you should buy them. This is especially evident during the annual macro brewer marketing circle jerk known as the Super Bowl.



Macro brewers have also used their massive political lobbying clout and various forms of legal and illegal market manipulation as a means to be the only beers you can buy. This peaked in the 1970's when we had fewer than 100 breweries in the US (as compared to over 4000 today). And even today, when you walk into a liquor store outside a major metropolitan area in the Midwest, you're lucky if you can find Boulevard Wheat or New Belgium Fat Tire hidden amongst the floor to ceiling stacks of Bud, Miller, and Coors products.

So not only has the public been brainwashed to believe macro brews are good and our options are limited on what you can buy, but also macro brews are cheap. Most people don't want to spend $2/bottle for actual good beer made from high quality ingredients and using traditional brewing methods. Macro beer is "good enough." This isn't a ringing endorsement for macro beers being good beers--it's just that they're not bad enough to dissuade most people from buying them.

Why does it matter anyways? 


Anheuser-Busch InBev is hurting. Global beer sales are dipping while craft beer sales are surging. This means that the macro brewer's market share is shrinking dramatically and has been for years. In the face of their shrinking market and shrinking market share, the macro brewers are desperate to keep turning a profit and to keep the shareholders happy. If the shareholders aren't happy, then top management heads roll. In the past 10 years the only play that ABI has had to boost it's profits is acquisitions. But with the merger of ABI and MillerCoors, there are no more major acquisitions to be had that regulators will approve.

Without any potential for future acquisitions and no reasonable outlook for an expanding overall beer market, macro brewers have to take back market from craft brewers. They will do this with whatever means they can. And with their economic and political might, they will certainly damage the craft beer market.

We lovers of craft beer can help stem the tide though. Don't ever buy macro beer. Explain why their beer sucks to those who don't understand. Promote craft beer whenever you can. Introduce macro drinkers to craft beer however you can. Give them a unique beer that's totally different from a macro light lager that could expand their understanding of beer. Maybe a sour beer, or a coffee or chocolate stout. Or hand them an easy drinking lager brewed by a craft brewer which are becoming much more common. Andy please don't give into faulty logic.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Brewery Spotlight: Stockyards Brewing


Located in the old Golden Ox lounge, the aesthetics of Stockyards Brewing will confuse anyone not familiar with the old steak place. Those of us who are from KC will marvel at how Stockyards Brewing was able to re-purpose a seemingly ancient motif. It may be strange in an industry that currently takes "Industrial Hip Interiors" as gospel, but it's nice to see a brewery that's warmer and full of character.


Stockyards Brewing officially began in 2012 by Greg Bland, who moved to KC in 2010. He brewed beer out of a small place he had in the West Bottoms while taking business management classes at Siebel Institute in Chicago. He met Micah Weichert, then head brewer for Gordon Biersch, and not too long after, the idea for Stockyards was born.


Today, Greg is affectionately known as the Trail Boss. He handed me his business card one warm afternoon day as we sat around the bar drinking beers. Sure enough, it had the name “Trail Boss” written just underneath his name. Each of the heads of this brewery take their names from the 1800's Cattle Trail. So, the Trail Boss is the head while Micah is the “Point Man,” or Second in Command. Melissa, their Bar Manager, is called the “Night Hawk” since this was the person back in the day who monitored the livestock while the other wranglers were sleeping. Their bartenders are called “Keg Wranglers.”


“We wanted something different,” he told me as we sipped our beer. “We wanted to encompass the spirit of this place.”


Spirit, indeed. The guys talked to Bill Haw, Jr. and Sr. and officially opened Stockyards Brewing on April 15, 2016. It was very important to them to keep the original motif intact. Greg stated emphatically that he didn’t want to tear up the historical building, but to keep the history alive, and it appears to be to their credit.  


Their beers range from a Cerveza to their West Bottoms IPA (a fan favorite) to their Brunch Stout. Micah said that he searched high and low for some new and different ingredients to make more interesting beers. Last November, Stockyards released a Smoked Imperial Pilsner, which was a huge hit. Their Anniversary Beer is one of their newest releases (as of this writing) and is also a favorite.





Coming soon, they have a collaboration with Kelly’s of Westport for Kelly’s 70th anniversary. The Irish Red will be named after County Clare, the ancestral home of Kelly’s founders, and will be released at Kelly’s afterparty of KC Irish Fest. Stockyards and Kelly’s have teamed up with the HALO Foundation, and proceeds from this beer will go to fight childhood homelessness. To learn more about this foundation, check it out here: https://haloworldwide.org/


On the horizon is Stocktoberfest, their “festival beer” this fall. That’ll be released the first Friday of September.

So come on down and enjoy some Stockyards beer. They also feature a Cider courtesy of nearby Cinder Block Brewery, for those with sweeter tastes. They even have a fabulous cocktail list. If you have a non-beer drinker in the group, have them order a Nitro Coffee. Very soon, they’ll be open for “all day happy hour” from 4-10 on Tuesdays which will include $4 drafts.

Go to their website and check out the calendar. Stockyards has a ton of live music including Blue Grass Thursdays, not to mention DJs and local acts. Every First Friday, they either have a new release or they tap a new keg. Their space is available for rent for groups 80-100, so keep that in mind for your next family reunion. Open until 10:00, this is one of the only places to grab a great drink in the evening in the West Bottoms, so come do yourself a favor and check out the atmosphere and flavor of this new local favorite.