Tag Archives: Boulevard

Craft Beer at Time’s Precipice: Cellaring Tips

To age, or not to age?

This temporal variation of a timeless existential question is one that’s being asked with growing frequency in the craft beer world.IMG_2369But even if cellaring beer has become an increasingly popular topic of conversation of late, it’s still relative terra incognita for the craft beer community writ large.

Beer and Time. To age, or not to age? You’d be forgiven for considering the question absurd, for we’ve been conditioned to think that old beer is bad beer. And in most cases, beer doesn’t fight a winning battle with time.

IMG_4459That said, not all beers are brewed equally – and I don’t mean this in a normative sense. Many beers are meant to be enjoyed fresh. But some beers are destined for the longue durée: in plain English, the cellar.

Before we descend too many steps into the cobwebbed darkness, let me state categorically that there’s no reason why a beer shouldn’t be consumed fresh, even if it’s a candidate for aging. A bottle of just-released Boulevard Saison-Brett is every bit as good as one that has battled with the spiders in your cellar for a year or more. And time will transform the perfectly drinkable Sierra Nevada Bigfoot barley wines destined to hit the shelves in the coming months into something all together different. Therein lies the fun of experimenting. But don’t take my word for it. Try for yourself!

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What follows are tips and basic rules of thumb to get you started. Even if you don’t have the most ideal conditions, start by laying down a few age-worthy beers for six months to a year.

  1. Friends and foes.

Beer prefers cool, dark places. Light –– especially sunlight –– will skunk your beer in no time. Heat isn’t kind to beer either. Prolonged periods of storage north of 70F (21C) will accelerate oxidation, and leave your beer resembling cardboard. You might already be acquainted with the stale taste of those unfortunate yet otherwise stellar Central European beers that have arrived in North American bars and bottle shops in tatters.

If you’re planning on getting serious about long-term cellaring, temperature control is key. It can mean the difference between a stellar imperial stout five years down the road, or a long, melancholy walk to the sink to pour it all down the drain.IMG_1893 Not only does beer like darkness and coolness, it’s also a bit like Goldilocks –– not too hot, not too cold, and happiest at a constant temperature between about 50F (10C) and 60F (15C). If your conditions are too warm, bacteria that are less active at lower temperatures come out to play. What’s more, the yeast that contribute to that slow, magical transformation in bottle-conditioned beers won’t live to tell about their journey at high temperatures. Too cold, and all these gradual changes are slowed down to a snail’s pace, or arrested altogether. (Better too cold than too warm, though.)

Actual cellars or basements are best, should you have access to a cellar or basement. Your fridge will work in a pinch. And if you have a wine fridge, you’re set. That’s where I hide away all my gueuzes, Belgian quads, barley wines, imperial stouts barrel-aged or otherwise, and any other beers boasting a best-before date years from now.

  1. Tried-and-True.

Cellaring beer involves a certain amount of experimentation, but you can start off on the right track with styles like barley wines, imperial stouts, Baltic porters, Scotch ales, Belgian quads, barrel-aged beers, and Doppelbocks like Samichlaus. You may have noticed a pattern here. These beers usually clock in well above 7% ABV, with the high amount of alcohol acting as a preservative. These styles also typically contain plenty of malt, leaving enough residual sugar for the yeast to slowly convert into caramel, chocolate, or dark fruit flavours –– flavours that meld well with oxidative notes such as nuts and sherry.

The malt plus high ABV equation isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Highly acidic beers and/or those fermented with wild yeast strains also tend to develop in pleasantly surprising ways over the long haul.IMG_3458 Lambics, gueuzes, Flemish reds (the vintage-dated Rodenbach is stellar), and many American sours and Brett beers are worth the wait. Saisons are finicky, but I’ve had great luck with higher-ABV offerings such as those from Funkwerks in Fort Collins, and have found that both batches of high-ABV saison I brewed had mellowed and evolved more complex tropical fruit notes by the time they had hit one year.

  1. Good Housekeeping.

Get a sense of which beers do well within certain windows of time. Some beers you can deep-six and forget about; others may improve with some age, but decline rapidly after a certain point. Keep track, because as your cellar grows, you will lose track. I note down the following:

  • Name of beer and brewery.
  • Vintage date, if any.
  • Date purchased.
  • Place purchased. (At the brewery? At a bottle shop? This may affect your decision about how long you’d like to age a beer. Unless you know the folks at your bottle shop well, you may not have the best sense of how the bottles have been handled before arriving on a particular shelf.)
  • Number of bottles purchased.
  • Style. (Some styles hold up better than others.)
  • Ballpark estimate of the “best before” date, unless indicated on the label. (Low-ball this one: better to drink too early than too late).
  • Tasting notes –– the fun part! (In addition to the usual tasting notes, I add details such as date consumed, how well the beer held up, speculations on whether the beer could have aged longer, and the like.)
  1. Go Vertical.

Arranging a vertical tasting is an excellent way to see how beers evolve. A vertical tasting is comprised of a selection of the same beer or wine but from different vintages –– say, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Not all beers are released with vintage dates, but an increasing number are. If you’re lucky, your bottle shop might offer verticals of the same beer for a reasonable price. If not, simply seek out some cellar-worthy beer. Widely available and relatively inexpensive beers like North Coast’s Old Stock Ale or Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot make excellent building blocks for your future vertical tastings. Lay down about three bottles of the same beer per year and then invite some regular drinking compadres over for a treat a few years hence. Open up three or four different vintages, starting with the most recent vintage and working your way back. Doing this only once in your life will drive home how much of a difference time can make.

  1. You Never Step in the Same River Twice.

IMG_4476Even if the vast majority of the biochemical reactions have long since taken place before the beer ends up in the bottle, beer components like oxygen, proteins, tannins, and esters continue their pas-de-deux well into the wee hours of the ensuing months and years.

*Bitterness mellows, and the jagged edges of alcoholic heat become more rounded.

*Oxidized characteristics start to emerge. Some of these enhance the beer, while others indicate that the beer may be becoming more fit for malt vinegar. A few descriptors for your tasting notes: straw, leather, sherry, nuts, port-like, earthy, woody. In some Belgian sours, you might even notice beguiling notes of high-end balsamic vinegar.

*Hop character fades, while malt notes intensify, especially in melanoidin-rich beers like Scotch ales or barleywines.

*Sweetness can also become more pronounced –– due, in no small part, to the decrease in hop intensity. Expect more dark honey and toffee.

*Stale, vinegar, cardboard. Damn. If any of these characteristics predominate, your gamble didn’t pay off, or you left the beer in the cellar for too long.

The Faustian Bargain.

Cellaring is a gamble. You’ll have some sublime tasting experiences, but be prepared for the occasional disappointment of diabolical proportions. This is not an exact science, and most of us are still learning which styles benefit from some age, and which don’t. But that’s the fun of it.

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As an idea, aging beer has barely hit adolescence. As a body of knowledge, it’s still very much a collaborative project. I’ve shared some pointers above, and have listed Tempest articles below that touch upon aging beer. Do you have experiences with cellaring beer as well? Share them in the comments!

Further Reading

A Twist of Sour: New Belgium’s 2013 La Folie and Verhaeghe’s Duchesse de Bourgogne

Three Vintages of Goose Island’s Sofie

A Rodenbach Grand Cru in the Fridge, or a Six-Pack of Lesser Beer in the Fridge?

Marking Time with a Brett-Saison from Boulevard

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie’s Pirate Bomb, Goose Island’s Bourbon County, Victory’s Dark Intrigue

Andy Sparhawk, “Cellaring Craft Beer,” Craft Beer (August 2015).

Alistair Bland, “Vintage Beer?The Salt, NPR (January 2015).

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Your Saturday 6-Pack, Vol.5): Saison

Said Theseus to Philostrate: “Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments. / Awake the pert and nimble spirits of mirth.”

And said a more contemporary Jane to Dick: “Get thee hither and fire up that damn lawnmower, for it has been more than a fortnight since you’ve put your sickle to a blade of grass!”

Back by popular demand, and just in time for the dog days of summer, Your Saturday Six-Pack. Let us raise a few glasses of suitable ale in honour of those days that occasion dreamy hallucinations. Bring on something crisp, dry, effervescent, fruity, and spicy!

Saison it is.

Depending on whom you read or talk to, the Walloons in the French-speaking part of Belgium brewed a low-alcohol seasonal beer that was meant to quench the thirst of farmhands during the summer. Others claim that Saison beers were, like the Märzens of Bavaria, brewed to a higher gravity in late spring to outlast the summer months. As with so much pertaining to beer and history, myth and fact go hand-in-hand, and I have no intention of cutting through the thicket of fact and fiction for the time being. Suffice it to say, we have enough extant interpretations –– the quaffable Saison de table, the more robust Saison de provision –– to suggest that this is anything but a settled style. Add to this the terminological slippage between “Farmhouse ale” and “Saison,” and you have a perfect midsummer night’s storm that’ll keep the beer geeks debating into the wee hours.

In lieu of a BJCP-like description of the style, I propose a few drinks. Many of these beers are widely available in sizeable North American beverage markets, some less so. One is an absolute classic. All come highly recommended by yours truly. Diversity is the only thread that unifies my selection.

Cellar Door (Stillwater Artisan Ales, Maryland)

StillwaterArtisinal - cellardoor_crop2Stillwater bills its Cellar Door as an American farmhouse ale “gently finished …. with a touch of white sage.” German wheat and pale malts overlaid with Sterling and Citra hops lie at this complex beer’s foundation. The dominant aromas that make their way past the towering foam cap crowning this hazy golden blond beer are nothing if not herbal, with a dash of lavender and citrus (tangerine) taming the sage. Add some honey, clove-spiked peach, and white pepper to this basil-sage keynote, and you might think you’ve landed in the fields of Provence. Lime zest-infused honey links up with freshly mown hay and an echo of tropical fruit before being cut through with an effervescent carbonation and a refreshing minerality. A crisp, sage-brush dryness near the finish raises the curtain on a lingering light brown sugar and dried apricot aftertaste. Note: This aromatic beer is excellent fresh, but a bit of age lends the beer even more depth and a subtle roundness. One Tankard.

Tropic King Imperial Saison (Funkwerks, Colorado)

Fort Collins’ Funkwerks brews more than one Saison/farmhouse ale, but the Tropic King laden with Rakau hops from New Zealand is one of those passion fruit-mango-peach explosions that makes you sit up and take notice.Funkwerks - TropicKing With its orange and amber hues, the beer is sunshine in a glass, and the candy floss-like foam cap lingers long enough to bring you right back to the amusement parks of your childhood. A whiff of old hay and henna mingle with an intense tropical fruit character that gives the Brettanomyces an elegant touch. Passion fruit and mango dance with honeyed malt on the spritzy palate, but pepper and zesty ginger notes keep the beer refreshingly dry. In a word, Brett-and-spice bitterness and dryness balanced by a malt richness and intense tropical fruit. At 8% ABV, you’ll want to resist the urge to quaff this one on a hot day. Two Tankards.

Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (Boulevard Brewing Company, Missouri)

Like the Tropic King, this eminently drinkable beer from Boulevard’s Smokestack Series is no wall flower in the ABV department. It’s also the base beer for their delicious Saison-Brett, which I wrote about in May. As the story at Boulevard goes, “most breweries have a piece of equipment that’s just a bit persnickety.” Tank Seven was the proverbial black sheep at Boulevard.Boulevard Tank 7 Turns out, though, that the vessel did wonders for their Belgian-style farmhouse ale, and this delicious beer was born. Hazy honey-gold with a vigorous collar of foam, this richly textured marriage of Belgian yeast and North American hops brings apricot-accented tropical fruit to the fore, followed by waves of orange-grapefruit citrus, an earthy spice note that mingles white pepper and coriander together with a hint of pine. Big and bold, the unobtrusive malt backdrop of honeyed light brown sugar lets the mango-pineapple and muscat grape flavours shine through. Tank 7 manages to be luscious yet light-bodied and dry at the same time, with the malted wheat giving the beer a zesty lift near the finish. Two Tankards.

Saison Cazeau aux Fleurs de Sureau (Brasserie de Cazeau, Belgium)

CazeauFleurAnd now for something a little different. For those of you who don’t feel like pulling out your French dictionaries or googling “sureau,” it means elderflower. And the elderflower in this supple ale the colour of hay lends it an air of fragrant meadows and floral honey. But it’s not just the floral notes that make this beer unique. Along with the clove-pepper-spice calling card of Belgian yeast, you might just detect a jalapeno note reminiscent of Cabernet Franc grapes. An ample bed of wheat and bready malt keeps this dry, crisp, peppery, and subtly floral beer afloat. Clocking in at a mere 5% ABV, Saison Cazeau is yet more proof that you don’t need a tonne of alcohol to get stellar flavours in your beer. One Tankard.

Saison du Buff (Dogfish Head, Delaware)

I picked this beer up with no small amount of trepidation. An ale brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme has to be a train-wreck, right? But if anyone can awake the pert and nimble spirits of mirth, I thought, it’s the good folks at Dogfish Head.DogfishHead - saison-du-buff The beer starts playfully enough, with sunny golden saffron hues sounding the prelude for sage, rosemary, honeyed papaya, green apple skin, a slate-like minerality, and the slightest trace of parsley, probably because I was looking for it. (Alas, the power of suggestion!) I take a sip and smell again. Honeydew melon, a bit like mead, with thyme becoming slightly more prominent alongside the sage. The herbs reprise themselves subtly on the palate, balanced by a sweet graham cracker-like maltiness. Highly effervescent and enhanced by a mild green apple tartness and a coriander-clove spiciness, the beer is well-balanced and not at all gimmicky. Herbs play well with the mild Belgian yeast aromatics, the one complementing and gently amplifying the other. It all harmonizes well to provide a complex herbal presence that gestures slightly in the direction of savoury, yet with a softly sweet honeyed presence. One Tankard for this whimsical beer.

Saison Dupont (Brasserie Dupont, Belgium)

Though the venerable Saison Dupont hails from Europe’s more northerly reaches, its radiant golden yellow with orange hues hints at the French Riviera. And then there’s the towering, pillowy foam, like a snow-capped Alpine peak on a hot day.SaisonDupont The best of both worlds. The aromatics open with a salvo of herbal-floral hops, followed immediately by white pepper, clove-coriander, grains of paradise, and a slate-like minerality. Peach-pear yeast notes and hints of ripe banana in the depths add fruit, with whispers of lightly kilned Munich (lightly toasted bread laced with a hint of melanoidin) making a cameo appearance. Saison Dupont is deft on the palate, combining tangerine-peach and an orange blossom floral essence with an off-dry bready-wheat-oat flake malt character before finishing crisply. The musky hops lend mid-palate spice before dried apricot and almonds take over in a finish where Crème de Noyaux meets Bon Maman apricot jam. Bright. Playfully fruity. And appetizingly bitter. The standard bearer of the style. Two Tankards.

I hope you enjoy the range of flavours and aromas in these summery beers as much as I do. For a Three-Tankard **bonus addition** to your six-pack, check out my write-up on Black Raven and make your six-pack a lucky seven.

A brief note on serving: Use a glass that allows for plenty of head space, for many of these beers have epic foam caps. Brasserie Dupont suggests serving their Saison at 12C/54F (cellar temperature), but I’ve found that slightly cooler temperatures flatter many of the Saisons I’ve written about here.

Related Tempest Articles

The Sunday Sour Sessions: Jolly Pumpkin’s Baudelaire Saison

Marking Time with a Brett-Saison from Boulevard

This Bird’s For You: Black Raven’s Pour Les Oiseaux Saison

Sources and Further Reading

Garrett Oliver, The Brewmaster’s Table (New York: HarperCollins, 2003).

Michael Jackson, The New World Guide to Beer (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988).

Stillwater Artisanal Ales’ “My Works” blog.

Boulevard Brewing Company, “Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale.”

Brasserie Dupont, “Saison Dupont.”

Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Mendelssohn’s incidental music of the same name isn’t half bad either. Give it a listen while you’re drinking these fine beverages.)

Images

Labels and images from the respective breweries’ sites.

©2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Marking Time with a 2013 Brett-Saison from Boulevard

Tempest is marking time in more ways than one these days.

  • Tempest recently turned eighteen months young.
  • It’s been far too long since I’ve been at my keyboard. April and May kept me busy with our local homebrew club, as did interview preparation for a new job. That latter effort paid off.
  • Tempest might take on a decidedly Euro flavour over the next few years, for in a little over three months I start a new position in Vienna.

Time to celebrate! For Tempest’s eighteen-month anniversary, I opened a 2013 Brett-Saison from Boulevard, and compared it with the notes I scribbled last November on a 2014 Brett-Saison a friend brought over for dinner. File these notes under cellaring –– another means of marking time.

Cheers to you for reading over these past eighteen months!

IMG_1917

Before we get into the Brett-Saison, here are a few highlights from the past six months.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3): Why? Because we really can’t drink too many lagers in one lifetime. For those who still need convincing, this 6-pack takes a few steps beyond the golden and the fizzy.

The MaltHead Manifesto: A tongue-in-cheek defense of malt over hops.IMG_1893

Five Ways to Become a Better Drinker in 2015: The take-away: glassware and serving temperatures.

New York’s Finger Lakes Region: A Back-Road Craft Beer Tour: Everything you need to know for your summer escape from the city.

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden: Summer’s on the horizon. Get ye to Munich. And read this before you go. Bonus: I was consulted for an article in The Atlantic on beer gardens.

A Taste of Oklahoma in Six Glasses: Who said there was nothing to drink in Oklahoma?

Spreading Good Cheer with a Tankard of Mulled Beer: ’Tis not quite the season, but tuck this recipe away for your winter entertaining. You won’t be disappointed.

Heading to Colorado this summer? Be sure to stop in at some of the breweries and brewpubs that I visited for my Northern Front Range series.

Striking Craft Beer Gold in Boulder

At the Foot of the Mountain: Boulder’s Brewpubs and Breweries 

Craft Beer in the Mile-High City: Colorado’s Northern Front Range Series

* * *

And now for that Saison-Brett that has been waiting patiently.

Boulevard’s Saison-Brett is part of this venerable Kansas City brewery’s Smokestack Series of beers. The Saison-Brett begins its life as the already-excellent Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale before the brewers save some of it for dry-hopping and inoculation with Brettanomyces at bottling. Boulevard allows the bottles to condition a subsequent three months before release. The result, if you drink it within the first six months of release, is a vivaciously fruity-spicy beer with the first murmurings of Brett.IMG_1875

The 2014 vintage (April release) that I had in November 2014 was an appealingly luminescent honey-gold beer that exuded bright pineapple and passion fruit notes limned with suggestions of tangerine zest. The nascent Brett character evoked memories of hiking through Alpine meadows on a hot summer afternoon, and a hint of honey sweetness on the palate added a beguiling roundness to the effervescent and peppery-dry palate.

If you have the patience and inclination, cellaring will greatly alter the character of Boulevard’s Brett-Saison. Notice I didn’t say improve or enhance, but nor am I suggesting that the beer doesn’t gain in complexity with time. What you decide to do with your newly-purchased bottle of Saison-Brett will depend on what kinds of sensory qualities you’re after –– one of the joys of experimenting with age-worthy beers!

Fast-forward seven months. The Saison-Brett I have before me is a corked-and-caged 750mL bottling from March 2013, purchased in spring 2014 and cellared until now. Two-odd years removed from bottling, the vibrant fruit that marked the younger version has faded, replaced by predominant Brett notes of old hay, dusty blankets, farmyard, and a mixture of bandaid and allspice. Faint tropical fruit shimmers around the edges.

Age-worthy beers tend to open up and develop in the glass in ways similar to wine. After a few sips of this very dry beer that swirls together flavours of dried hay, dried flowers, and a slight echo of honey on a bracingly bitter palate that also offered up Seville orange marmalade on the finish, I turned my attention again to the aromas. And caught my breath after writing that sentence.IMG_2976

Orange zest. Dried flowers. Sagebrush. It’s as if the vivid tropical fruit of the younger version has given way to fields of herbs in dry Mediterranean climates. Head a bit north in Europe and you’ll find the muskiness of northern French apple cider alongside subdued coconut-citrus and lemongrass intertwined with hints of German Riesling (apricot and slate). Another round of sips reveals layers of white pepper and a nutty bitterness reminiscent of apricot kernels to match the flinty-dry minerality.

German Riesling meets Mediterranean summer fields and northern French apple cider? Why not.

(He’s making this stuff up, isn’t he?)

The verdict: The aged version of Boulevard’s Brett-Saison is nothing if not complex, but it’s a complexity marked less by the spirited fruitiness of younger versions than it is by a richly expressive Brett palette (meadows, hay, dried herbs and flowers, and nuanced fruit). For all the beer’s complexity, though, the bitterness of the aged version borders on distracting. That said, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from buying a bottle and forgetting about it for a year or two, especially if you’re a Brett aficionado and are willing to embrace the bitterness and dryness of the aged versions.

2014 Brett-Saison (consumed within six months of release): Two Tankards

2013 Brett-Saison (consumed two years and three months after release): One Tankard

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On the horizon: I’ll be setting out on a road trip from Oklahoma to Upstate New York in the next week or so, and will also head to Vancouver to visit family and friends before relocating to Vienna in mid-August. I’ll try to write two or three articles per month between now and early autumn. They’ll probably come out in short bursts whenever I can find the time to write, so check back periodically.

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Tempest has been on Instagram for the past six months. Check out Tempest on Facebook as well. I’ll be posting very short “photo essays” there over the summer and early autumn.

Related Tempest Articles

The Sunday Sour Sessions: Jolly Pumpkin’s Baudelaire Saison

The Curiosity Cabinet: Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée

Gose Gone Wild: Anderson Valley, Bayrischer Bahnhof, Choc, and Westbrook

Not Your Average Wheat Beer: Schneider’s Porter Weisse

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Beeronomics: An Interview with Trey Malone

I just got back to my desk with a bottle of smoked imperial porter from Tennessee to fortify me for the evening of writing. Looks and smells great, and reminds me of a welcoming fire in a log cabin on a snowy winter night.IMG_1884

As much as beer is sustenance on a frosty evening, and as much as the warming elixir in my glass is a rich tapestry of memories, craft beer also pulsates with an economic life intertwined with its socio-cultural life. The smoked imperial porter from Tennessee that reminds me of childhood visits to the Yukon involved a choice I made to purchase it on a drive between Kentucky and Oklahoma. Regardless of whether I agree entirely with what some economists think motivated my decision to purchase that particular beer distributed to that particular liquor shop, the economics of craft beer production and consumption is becoming an increasingly prominent and high-stakes game –– so much so that the Brewers’ Association has seen fit to employ a full-time economist, Bart Watson.

The economics of beer. Beeronomics.

Enter Trey Malone, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University and aspiring beer economist. Trey and I met several months ago when he started attending our local homebrew club meetings. Trey’s research in applied economics dovetails with a field of research about which we’ve been hearing a fair amount of late: behavioural economics. Why is it that we consume what we consume? (An NPR segment from October 2014 detailed how a group of foodies were tricked into praising a plate of hors d’oeuvres for their “fresh” and “pure” taste. The tasty morsels? Re-presented McDonald’s fare.)

But studies emanating from the intersection of economics and psychology can also have implications that fuel unreflective consumption. Can’t decide between all those beers on that extensive tap list? Something hoppy, maybe? Or local?IMG_1881 Inquiries into consumer behaviour start with these and similar sets of assumptions about what consumers want or need. The resulting market research erects a hall of mirrors that subsequently confirms consumer desires, a simulacrum akin to the dystopian shopping mall reality of Don DeLillo’s White Noise. A retailer looking to build a tap list just has to look to all those sets of aggregate data to determine what the consumer apparently wants. (My guess: more IPAs, more sour beers.) The potential implication: a feedback loop that, through its intensification of the desire for particular products, is inimical to diversity.

Inasmuch as I have reservations about some aspects of contemporary economic thought, applied economics has been a boon to the craft beer industry. It has shone a light on the tangible benefits that breweries bring to communities, both in terms of employment and income generated through tourism and entertainment spending. This research helps shape policy regarding alcohol regulation and taxation. Applied economics can also help craft beer brewers and retailers discern what appeals most to the consumer, right down to the finer details of labeling and packaging.

For his part, Trey is hard at work figuring out what makes us beer drinkers tick.

* * *

Tell us about how your research relates to beer. What does your research involve on a day-to-day basis? Do breweries or retail outlets (bars, pubs, liquor stores, etc.) approach you to conduct research for them?

I focus on applied economics at OSU. Applied economics is sometimes said to be the study of unintended consequences, with any economic choice we make likely causing some level of fallout for someone else. For example, by trying to promote healthy lifestyles through limiting alcohol availability, policymakers might negatively affect total state revenue.

The majority of my dissertation research entails field experiments, and at this stage of my research I’m developing and expanding my network of contacts within the industry.Zannotti I am currently finishing a paper with my dissertation advisor using data from many state agencies as well as the Beer Institute in order to study the role of state-level legislation on growth in the craft beer market. I’m also in the process of conducting field experiments with various restaurants in the Stillwater area such as Zannotti’s Wine Bar, where we changed the number of beer options and the style of menu. My hypothesis is that consumers need different ways to mitigate the large number of beer options in the modern marketplace. I’m testing this reasoning by conducting an experiment where we doubled the number of beer options to see if people would be more or less likely to purchase a beer relative to another option on the menu.

What are some of the most exciting aspects of your personal research? Did you have any inkling when you first started your undergraduate studies that you’d be working toward an advanced degree relating to beer?

For me, the most exciting part about applied economics is the economic paradigm itself. Because the study of economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources, I feel like I see research questions everywhere.TreyMalone - Mtn

As an undergraduate, I fell in love with economics but had no idea what that really meant. My undergraduate advisor does beer research from an economic history perspective, so he was my first exposure to anything like what I do now. I can remember drinking a Boulevard Pale Ale with one of my good buddies when we were all deciding what to do for graduate school, and I told him I had no idea. He laughed and told me he thought I’d probably end up doing beer research exactly like my undergraduate advisor. I told him that was ridiculous… and here I am. My Master’s degree focused on the economic development potential for local food systems, so it was a natural transition back to craft beer for my doctoral work.

Do you have to be an expert on beer to conduct your research, or do you just have to have a certain degree of research acumen and know how to do math and statistics? Is sensory training relevant to your work? Beyond the numbers, how much of what you do involves interacting with consumers and producers of beer?

I would say you could do this kind of research with no sensory training at all. In fact, it might almost be easier to taste beer like a layperson if you are trying to understand consumer preferences. I think what is more important is understanding the marketplace: in other words, being an active participant in making decisions based on your preferences, and talking with other people who are making the same sensory decisions. I don’t think you have to be an expert on beer tasting; rather, you need to be an expert on beer buying.

TreyMalonePwrPt - DrinkPrefAgeTo truly understand how a market interacts, though, I think it is important to gain a level of understanding of all players in the marketplace. For example, it is important not only to understand the consumer of a given product, but also the producer, the distributor, and the retailer. Each participant operates with specific objectives in mind.

Generally, economists tend to be introverted and prefer office hours to field hours, but experimental economics demands a keen devotion to understanding people at a deeper level. I love to sit at a bar and observe how people make their orders. I’m fascinated by what drives them to make the selection they do. Is it because the offering is local, or is it because a friend recommended it?

Based on your research to date, what do you perceive to be some of the biggest challenges facing the craft beer industry in this period of rapid growth?

Increasing the number of participants in the market improves quality in the market through competition, but I would imagine that the increased competition might change what has historically been a “compatriot” culture in the marketplace. Oftentimes, craft brewers perceive the competition to be “Big Beer” and frequently work together on collaborations or help each other out as if they weren’t competing for the same consumer dollars.TreyMalonePwrPt - BreweryCapita 2012 I think once we reach a higher number of breweries in the marketplace, we might start to see some of that helpfulness in the marketplace deteriorate and turn into firm competition of the kind we see in other marketplaces.

Self-distribution legislation is a crucial step for states who would like to encourage local producers, along with tasting rooms and growler laws. Legislators need to remember that craft brewers are more interested in quality control and receiving compensation that is in line with the higher quality product they produce than they are interested in selling high volumes. That means they are far more interested in educating the consumer about why their beer is as good as it is, and why consumers should be willing to drink a higher-quality product but drink less of it.

What kind of advice would you give to craft beer enthusiasts who think that your line of work might be appealing?

The door is wide open for compelling beer research. Craft beer is a relatively new market, and most academic research lags behind this rapidly evolving industry. That said, doing what beer drinkers do on a regular basis is a great first step.

Formalizing the experimental drinking process that we all regularly participate in is the next step. In other words: data collection that minimizes experimental error. Obviously, chemists and brewers have labored for years minimizing experimental error, but there are a surprisingly small number of published sensory analyses of craft beer that actually discuss what the layperson perceives when he or she drinks a beer. I think the French expression, “à chacun son goût,” is misleading, as I believe there is accounting for taste. While we might not be able to justify why we might like something, people can generally order their preferences in a way that maximizes their happiness.CraftBeerInfographic Cost (huffpost sept 2014) That order might change with the weather or my mood, but at any specific point in time, I am just like any other person in that I can tell you what I want.

Given that I believe we as craft beer fans tend to be a little more experimental in our preferences than the general population, it would be wonderful to start understanding what we like and are willing to pay for. Craft- and home-brewers clearly understand how to make a quality product, but if the craft beer market intends to continue its steady growth, I think it is important to move the discussion into a more analytical framework. Numbers and statistics are what will ultimately earn the beer market credibility with policymakers, and the way we can grow those numbers is by being sure to bring a product to market that is not only high-quality, but also appealing to a large number of drinkers.

What’s your favorite Oklahoma beer? If stuck on a desert island and a genie appeared offering you one beer and one beer only, which one would it be?

My favorite Oklahoma beer right now is the Coop DNR. I love the complexity. If stuck on a desert island? As corny as this is, I would ask for a Boulevard Pale Ale. That has been (and probably will always be) my go-to beer. I’ve heard people talk about how songs transport them to different times and places. Boulevard’s Pale Ale does that for me. Just a sip takes me back to the first time I found out what beer could taste like.

Related Tempest Articles

How To Become a Beer Liaison: An Interview with Genesee’s Sean Coughlin

The Industry Series: Tasting Tips from Cornell Flavour Chemist, Gavin Sacks

Images

Winter flowers and Dark Horse aquarium: F.D. Hofer

With the exception of the Zannotti’s Wine Bar logo (www.zannottiswinebar.com) and the Craft Beer Cost Infographic (Huffington Post), all remaining images courtesy of Trey Malone.

The Craft Beer Cost Infographic is from Joe Satran’s “Here’s How a Six-Pack of Craft Beer Ends Up Costing $12,” Huffington Post, September 12, 2014.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer, Trey Malone, and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.