CVIndependent

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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Erin Peters

What’s just as important as making good craft beer? Making sure it is available to the people who want to enjoy it.

Ever since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, there has been a three-tier system of distribution for alcoholic products in the United States, overseen by the U.S. government.

The first tier is the supplier or producer—in the case of beer, a brewery. The second tier is the distributor or wholesaler, which purchases the product from the supplier, and then sells it to those in the third tier: the retailer—bars, restaurants and stores that sell the delicious products to consumers.

However, a new company is looking to disrupt this 80-plus-year-old distribution paradigm.

Liberation Distribution, aka LibDib, is offering what it calls the first three-tier web-based distribution platform. LibDib creates an opportunity for makers and retailers to work together directly—thus giving restaurants, bars and stores access to a larger variety of boutique craft libations.

Launched on March 22, the San Jose-based company has more than 250 accounts in California thus far, and has moved on to New York.

I spoke with Cheryl Murphy, LibDib’s founder and CEO.

What prompted you to start LibDib?

It’s really crazy, all of the industry consolidation that’s happening. … I spent 20 years in the wine business, managing wholesalers. … Every year, I would make numbers, but a distributor of mine would go out of business, or they’d get acquired, and then we would be at the bottom of the wrung at a giant distributor. It was like pulling teeth.

I had a little too much to drink one night when I was with my dad, who was my boss at the time. I was working at our family’s winery, and I said, “Ya know, you can’t do this based on the industry’s conditions. How can we be successful?”

When you take control of your own destiny, as a sales person, as a brand—that is when you can be successful. When you have a distributor in between that is beholden to larger companies … (you’re) not going to be top of mind.

My whole goal is to learn how we can facilitate legal three-tier sales. That’s really important: We are part of the three-tier system. But how can we enable small breweries, wineries and distilleries to do business with other small businesses—grocery stores, bars and restaurants—where there are thousands and thousands of them, without a giant company in between?

We built a two-sided web platform. For the maker, what we call our supplier, they can go in and put of all their materials online. … As a distributor, we collect the money. We pay the maker. We pay the taxes. We do all the things we have to do as a distributor. We take half the margin—that’s anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of whatever product you’re talking about. The maker is responsible for delivery.

It’s been really interesting so far. A couple of the breweries that we have, they were self-distributing. But now we’ve kind of brought them back into the three-tier system, because we’re taking care of a lot of the things that they don’t want to do: They want to go out and sell their brand. They want to make their beer. But they don’t want to collect. They don’t want to invoice. … We’re trying to make it easier for those guys, and we’re making it easier for the account side, because the accounts like to carry small-production craft products. But they don’t want to write 100 checks every month.

Small craft products don’t necessarily fit with the current model of distributors. (Distributors) are not going to make enough money on your brand, so why would they care? In working with us, you can have that direct fulfillment, but then still have the backend of the distributor—with one invoice and one check.

So, in essence, brewers are saving money and are able to get into more locations, without having to do the self-distribution work.

Exactly. A lot of breweries want to fulfill, because they want to have that complete control—over the temperature, over everything. But they don’t necessarily want to do all the other stuff the distributor does.

What’s your biggest group so far? Would it be restaurants, or bars, or retailers?

So far, it’s bars and bottle shops. We’re working on a couple of big deals. There’s a stadium that’s interested in working with us and having us get 15 or 20 taps—just totally unique, small-craft-beer stuff.

Have distribution companies taken notice yet?

Yes! I was very nervous about the wine and spirits folks, that they may not be happy about this. But for the most part, they’ve been pretty accepting. They recognize that with this consolidation, their bread and butter is their bigger suppliers. … Some of the little guys take away their time and effort from where they really make their money, so they like the idea.

How do you think you may ultimately affect the big beer buyouts? (Many small brewery owners are citing distribution struggles in their decisions to sell.)

There are so many small companies that need help with their distribution. I’m going after what I call the long tail of the industry—the (breweries) that couldn’t get distribution, even if they wanted it.

This is a totally different vertical, but do you consider yourself to be in any way similar to Airbnb?

In terms of posting your things once, and having people from all over the world able to see it, yes. It’s definitely like the Airbnb of alcohol distribution. It’s funny: (Venture capitalists) around here will tell us, “Don’t tell us you’re the Airbnb of anything.” But it gives people an idea. You can go in; you post your product; and buyers can see it and purchase it legally.

While it’s always a great time for a delicious craft beer, it’s also fun to celebrate beer with others—and the upcoming months bring an array of awesome beer festivals where people celebrate in style.

Beer weeks and festivals celebrate the culture and community of craft beer and give fans options to enjoy new and special brews. Here are just a few beer events to put on your calendar:

San Marcos: Stone 21st Anniversary Celebration and Invitational Beer Festival, Aug. 19: Hailed as one of the godfathers of craft-beer events, this is not your average beer festival. It’s not only the largest craft-beer festival in Southern California; the beers are carefully selected to include some of the finest and rarest beers around.

Seattle: Washington Beer Collaboration Festival, Aug. 19: Washington celebrates collaboration and creativity by featuring 25 unique collaboration beers from 50 different Washington breweries. Stay tuned for the pairings. The second annual two-day outdoor event is presented by the Washington Beer Commission.

Philadelphia: Labor Day Volksfest, Sept. 2-4: Willkommen bei freunden! Every Labor Day Weekend, the Cannstatter Volksfest Verein hosts a lively three-day party. Celebrating German heritage since 1873, this is the oldest Volksfest in the United States.

Sacramento: California Craft Beer Summit and Summit Beer Festival, Sept. 7-9: Experience two full days of beer education, networking and tradeshows for brewers, retailers, distributors and craft-beer lovers at the convention center on Sept. 7 and 8. On Saturday, Sept. 9, enjoy a plethora of California craft beers at the largest beer festival on the West Coast, with more than 160 California craft breweries.

Charleston: Charleston Beer Week, Sept. 9-16: The fifth annual Charleston Beer Week celebrates the South Carolina’s city’s craft beer community, from brewer to bartender and keg to glass. The city now boasts 19 production breweries, four brewpubs and numerous craft beer-focused pubs and restaurants. Keep a look out on the website for a list of 48 sudsy events across the city.

Big Bear: Big Bear Oktoberfest, September-October: Held among pine trees, mountains and Big Bear Lake, this is one of the longest running Oktoberfests in the country. Guests are treated to authentic German entertainment, brats, knockwursts and German beers in a beautiful alpine setting.

Denver: Great American Beer Festival, Oct. 5-7: The Great American Beer Festival is the premier U.S. beer festival and competition. In its 30th year, the 2016 GABF competition awarded 286 medals to some of the best commercial breweries in the U.S. Want another reason to visit? With more than 3,500 different beers from over 700 of the nation’s finest breweries, the event is listed as one of the top 1,000 “places” in the U.S. to visit before you die.

San Diego, San Diego Beer Week, Nov. 3-12: From “Bikes, Brews and Brats With Green Flash” and a “Beer Train Trolley Tour” to “Hops on the Harbor With Flagship Cruises and Belching Beaver Brewery” and a “Rare Beer Breakfast,” this 10-day craft-beer celebration features events like no other.

Greater Palm Springs: Coachella Valley Beer Week, Nov. 10-19: Established in 2015 by yours truly, CVBW is a craft-beer celebration featuring festivals, dinners, tours, tastings and meet-the-brewer nights in and around Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indio and La Quinta.

During Coachella, I tasted a lot of delicious craft beer, both in the Craft Beer Barn and at the Rare Beer Bar, the latter headed by Jimmy Han, owner of Los Angeles’ Beer Belly. One of my favorite discoveries: Wicked Weed Marina, a blonde sour ale that is aged in wine barrels—with more than one pound per gallon of peaches and apricots.

Just days later came the announcement that Anheuser-Busch InBev had bought the Asheville, N.C.-based Wicked Weed. It became the latest of 20-plus former craft breweries that are now owned by corporate brewers. I say “former,” because the Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as small, independent and traditional—with less than 25 percent ownership by a non-craft brewer.

What does this all mean? I spoke to Julia Herz, the Brewers Association’s Craft Beer Program director, and Mitch Steele, the former brewmaster of Stone Brewing who is now the founder, brewmaster and COO of New Realm Brewing, coming soon to Atlanta.

There are a lot of feelings on both sides as far as craft breweries “selling out.” What are your thoughts?

JH: … It’s not happening in mass, right? Ninety nine percent of the 5,300-plus breweries are still independent and small. But as the purchases continue to happen … the Department of Justice issued a consent degree over (AB InBev’s) purchases in 2015 and 2016—Devil’s Backbone being a key one, which was approved, with some changes made, by the DOJ. … The more that the large, global brewers become a one-stop shop for brands and beer styles, the harder it is to make the marketplace fair, and for beer lovers to really get the choices that many beer-lovers desire.

MS: I think it’s really dangerous what’s going on right now, honestly. The problem is that the majority of the beer-drinking public doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the business practices of large brewers, and how it impacts small brewers. … When a brewery is buying tap space, which is technically illegal, small breweries can’t. Most small breweries won’t do it because they don’t want to do something that’s against the law, and they can’t afford to play that game, either. … When somebody who’s kind of a casual craft-beer fan walks into a bar, and sees all these beers that are “craft,” yet they’re all brewed at Anheuser-Busch, most of the time, (customers are) not going to register it’s not a small, independent brewer. When these brewers can potentially come in and sell a keg of beer for 50 to 60 percent of what a small craft brewer can, it really is damaging the ability of the craft brewers to sell their beer.

Were you surprised by the Wicked Weed buyout?

JH: … (In some respects), I am not surprised, because they (AB InBev) continue to make regional purchases in key beer markets of the country: Four Peaks in Arizona, Blue Point in New York, Los Angeles for Golden Road. These are very geographically, strategically made procurements. … Also, (as of now, the Wicked Weed) deal has not gone through. It’s an announcement from AB InBev that they are moving to make a partnership and bringing Wicked Weed into their brand portfolio. It’s still subject to review.

MS: Well, that surprised me. I’d go so far as to say that it shocked me. I thought they were in it for the long haul. I know (co-owners) Luke and Walt (Dickinson) pretty well, and I’ve brewed with them before, and we’ve hung out a lot. … I know Luke and Walt are part owners, but I don’t know what percentage they own. I know they had some big-time investors in that brewery, and it could have been mostly their decision, but who knows? But, yeah, it shocked me and disappointed me. Some of these are not a big surprise: You hear through the grapevine that some of these newer breweries are building themselves to sell … and they’re just trying to get their business to a point to where they’re attractive to a large brewer. … You know, when somebody comes and offers you a ridiculous amount of money, who’s to say you’re wrong for taking that and setting up your family for generations? You can’t really fault it. I just wish it didn’t happen.

Do you sympathize with any of these craft breweries after they explain themselves on social media? They say: “We had to do this because of distribution. The beer will stay the same.”

MS: Yeah. I worked with Budweiser for 14 years. This was back in the 1990s. People looked at Budweiser as the evil empire, but I dealt with the reaction from craft brewers all the time: “It’s lousy beer.” I’d get on my soap box and say, “Ya know, you may not like it, but don’t ever talk negative about the quality, because the people who brew this beer are as passionate about it as you are about yours.” But it’s a different company now. I certainly understand the backlash. I can relate to it because I dealt with it for a long time myself. … I think it’s a very uncomfortable feeling for most of them, because the craft-brewing business is so built on community and comradery. Now, all of sudden, you’re not in the club anymore. That’s a hard thing to swallow, especially when you’ve got so many friends in the business. … People who don’t have ownership in the brewery, and have no say in it—they’re just kind of there when it happens. Those are the people who I feel really bad for, because they had no say.

Do distribution laws and better access have anything to do with why they are selling?

MS: The whole access-to-ingredients thing, I think, is a little bit overplayed. If you’re a growing craft brewer, there are enough suppliers out there. If you work it hard enough, you can get what you need, with a few exceptions. For example, Galaxy hops—nobody can get Galaxy hops right now. Can a big brewer go in and get Galaxy hops? I don’t know if they can. … I think really the big advantage for a small brewer joining forces with a big brewer is the access to the technical resources, so they can understand what’s happening in the brewing process—be it really complex lab equipment or whatever. And then distribution access is huge. … Those are the things that really matter.

JH: Yes. As soon as you sell, you get instant access to things that those 99 percent of the 5,300 breweries don’t have. You get into a system in the network for better economies of scale, for purchasing raw materials and ingredients. You get instant distribution that cannot be matched. … The number of distributors over time continues to wane. Even though we have 5,300-plus breweries today, there are only 1,000-plus active distributors, and 500-plus of those are controlled by AB InBev. MillerCoors has several hundred as well. Distributors are amazing partners to beer, but it’s a matter of priority. How do they decide what they’re going to sell? When you’re an AB house … their first priority is likely those AB brands.

The diverse and impressive musical lineup makes the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival one of the most popular events in the world—but it’s the food and drink lineup that rounds out the experience for many festival-goers.

Nic Adler, who also puts on Eat Drink Vegan in Pasadena, has been curating the food at Coachella for four years. I recently had the chance to interview him.

How has the food and drink morphed at Coachella since your first year working on it?

In many, many ways. … There are a lot of things that happen back-of-house to make restaurants and vendors successful front-of-house. For many years, the vendors that we used—and still use—at Coachella have been used to vending at high-volume events. However, a lot of the restaurants that I brought in were not used to being in front of 100,000 people. They might do a food festival with 4,000 or 5,000 people, but nothing on the level of what we’re doing at Coachella. So, there was a lot of work to do … for us to understand how vendors work, what their needs are, and how to deal with chefs. Chefs are artists, and they’re used to very specific things. They know their kitchen. They know where everything is. They know that everything’s working. That’s not always how it works when you come out to a large festival like Coachella.

Putting together the right team to support these chefs, restaurants, bartenders and mixologists took a little bit of time.

All of our restaurants (from) year one struggled a bit. It took us some understanding on what people wanted. It took them (a while to) understand how to put out food in a way that was pleasing to the festival audience. Both of those things have come together, and they’ve kind of met in the middle. It’s made for really interesting, great food that’s visually beautiful, and food that is portable—bowls, wraps and things like that. It just took a little bit of time.

What are some of the restaurants that have been there since the beginning, that were super-successful, and people loved?

It’s interesting: We don’t do a lot of returning restaurants, although the ones that have returned have been there from very early on. Beer Belly would be one that has been with us since the very beginning. KazuNori in the Rose Garden has been there from the very beginning.

We really try to keep the food program (like Goldenvoice President/CEO) Paul Tollett keeps the music lineup: There are some (acts) that return. Maybe they take a year off, and they come back again; they get bigger and go to a bigger stage. We kind of look at the food program in a similar way: We need to have these big names that people recognize, and then we’ve got to have a whole middle tier that people know. … And then we have a bunch of (vendors) that have never done anything like this before, and are kind of the new up-and-comers.

Are you actually the person who chooses the restaurants?

Yes, I do. I have a really solid team. I work closely with Lizzy Stadler, and between the two of us, we spend nine months searching out restaurants and chefs that we think would work well with the festival.

Where are most of the restaurants from? Do you have to stay kind-of local because of the equipment they bring?

Yeah. We do have a good amount from Southern California—but this is the first year that we’re really making a big transition to having Coachella be more of a national food program, so we have 2nd City from New York. In our Outstanding in the Field program, we have chefs from Miami, Chicago and New York. MatchaBar started in New York as well. We’re just trying to look around the country and see what’s happening and bring that to Coachella. We don’t do a lot of Coachella Valley restaurants—although we do have The Venue Sushi this year—only because this is also one of the busiest times of the year for those restaurants.

How many restaurants are at Coachella this year?

In total, in the food program, there are more than 150 restaurants and vendors. As far as our curated, featured restaurant lineup, there are more than 40.

I imagine you’re trying to cater to the organic and vegan crowd, too.

Yeah, being a passionate vegan myself. We have Ramen Hood doing ramen. We have Taqueria La Venganza. We have 118 Degrees. We have Strictly Vegan. I would say there are about 10 to 15 restaurants. Then you have a restaurant like Sumo Dog that is known for their crazy Japanese-style hot dogs, which has a separate grill (for making vegan food) inside of their restaurant. They have amazing vegan hot dogs. … Every vendor has to offer a vegetarian or vegan item on their menu.

How many craft breweries are there this year?

The Craft Beer Barn started four years ago. We’ve consistently had somewhere between 100 to 150 breweries as part of that program, and that includes the rare beer bar, which we introduced last year, where Jimmy (Han) from Beer Belly curates. He spends all year (curating); he’ll call me in September telling me how he got a keg of something, and that he’s hid it in the back of the cooler and wrapped it up. He gets these little gems all year long. … He’s really worked with the breweries to get special, unique kegs out there. That’s also because we invite so many of the breweries to come down: At any given time, there are 20 or 30 brewmasters or owners or technicians who are here onsite at the festival. When you’re walking through the Craft Beer Barn, and you look over and see the head brewer from one of your favorite breweries, that really makes a difference.

Last year, there was a big push for sours, and the IPAs are obviously always really big. This year, one my favorites has been the hazy IPA, the New England-style IPA. I can’t get enough of it. It’s got very little bite on it; it’s super-refreshing, but you still have all of that hop. It’s really exciting to learn about those beers.

We also have a tiki bar that’s something that’s new for the festival this year. I’m really excited to be working on that with the guys from PDT in New York … which stands for Please Don’t Tell. They really ushered in revival of the speakeasy. They’re known to be some of the best bartenders in the world there, and they’ve come out to Indio to be part of this tiki bar. It’s not on any map. We don’t tell anybody where it is. When you find it, you know it.

Whether you’re new to craft beer or are already familiar with some of the best and brightest brewers across our 50 states, this non-comprehensive and unofficial list of 25 great craft beers is a good start.

Keep in mind there are now more than 5,000 breweries nationwide, so this is just a taste of all the amazing beers available. In no particular order:

1. AleSmith Old Numbskull: American Barleywine (11 percent ABV)

This barleywine has won three Great American Beer Festival awards and two World Beer Cup medals. It’s extremely well-balanced and full-bodied, and can be paired with anything from roasted meats and stews to a variety of pungent cheeses.

2. Allagash White: Witbier (5 percent ABV)

Spiced with a special blend of coriander and Curaçao orange peel, this Belgian-style wheat beer has won numerous awards, including gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2015, and gold at the World Beer Cup in 1998, 2010 and 2012. Clove, banana and orange notes dominate the taste, but in a deliciously balanced and subtle way.

3. Allagash Black Ale: Belgian-Style Stout (7.5 percent ABV)

Allagash brews some of the most delicious craft beers on the market. Technically, there is no such thing as a traditional Belgian stout, but the good folks at Allagash don’t always necessarily follow the rules. This beer is a little easier to drink than some regular stouts and finishes clean.

4. Bell’s Expedition Stout: Russian Imperial Stout (10.5 percent ABV)

Chocolate, dark fruits, coffee and molasses come together in this warming, super-smooth and complex beer. This is one of the best Russian imperial stouts on the market, and one that gets even better with age.

5. Brauerei Aying Ayinger Celebrator: Dark Doppelbock (6.7 percent ABV)

This is a full-bodied beer showing off notes of caramel and toasted malts, and mild notes of dark fruit. Touches of alcohol warmth give it a gorgeous, long finish.

6. Cigar City Guava Grove: Farmhouse Ale (8 percent ABV)

This award-winning brewery brews Guava Grove in tribute to Tampa, Fla.’s fruity nickname. It’s made with a French strain of Saison yeast, with a secondary fermentation with pink guava puree. With this beer, experience barnyard flavors, carbonation, guava (of course), pepper, citrus, watermelon, clove and wheat.

7. Deschutes The Abyss: American Double/Imperial Stout (11 percent ABV)

You’ll want to dive into The Abyss at least once, thanks to its nearly immeasurable depth and complexity. This is barrel-aged for 12 months in bourbon, Oregon oak and pinot noir barrels.

8. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA: India Pale Ale (9 percent ABV)

It’s named after the amount of time it’s continuously hopped, providing smack-you-in-the-face hop bitterness, while a good amount of malt sweetness provides balance. Notes of pine, pineapple and honey lend to its drinkability.

9. Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA: American IPA (7.5 percent ABV)

This is pretty darn close to a perfect beer, in my book. The bouquet is crammed with Pacific Northwest hops. Notes of lemon, pineapple, papaya and pine give it a juicy and resinous quality.

10. Founders KBS: Imperial Stout (12.4 percent ABV)

This world-class beer is available starting this month (April), so mark your calendars. Take your time to fully taste all of the layers: coffee, brown sugar, chocolate, vanilla, licorice, charred nuttiness and bourbon. After sitting in oak bourbon barrels for a year, KBS emerges with a boozy sweet bourbon profile.

11. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout: Imperial Stout (13.8 percent ABV)

From the bottle: “The original bourbon barrel aged Stout”; “Since 1992”; “Stout aged in bourbon barrels.” It smells like a bourbon dessert with sweet caramel up front. The complex notes include plums, figs and milk chocolate. This is decadence in a glass.

12. Green Flash Palate Wrecker: Double IPA (9.5 percent ABV)

The appropriately named Imperial IPA has thick, sticky, chunky lacing and pistol-blazing intense bitterness. The pineapple, mango and grapefruit sweetness perfectly balance with the insanely high number of IBUs.

13. Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela: Pumpkin Ale (5.9 percent ABV)

This is a perfect fall beer (that’s also good now!) with notes of pumpkin, cinnamon, brown sugar, chocolate, caramel, lemon zest, sour cherries and toast. This isn’t your average pumpkin ale, as it finishes with a refreshing tart sourness.

14. Kern River Brewing Citra: Imperial IPA (8 percent ABV)

This citrus-forward beer is almost faultless. There are lingering notes of lemon cake, candied mango and chocolate-covered strawberries. Citra is bright and fresh with a creamy mouth-feel.

15. Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale: Pale Ale (7.5 percent ABV)

The balance between malt and hop makes this wheat ale outstanding. With grapefruit, pine, mandarin and a hint of wheat malt sweetness, the flavor is bright and clean, with an excellent harmony of citrus hops and sweet malts.

16. Pizza Port/Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme: American Wild Ale (11 percent ABV)

The brewery made famous for brewing amazing Belgian-style beers decided to brew an unconventional sour brown ale in 1999. Made from four fermentable sugars, it is fully fermented before being placed in bourbon barrels, where it ages for one year with sour cherries. Think cherry, oak, vanilla, bourbon and brown sugar.

17. Russian River Pliny the Elder: Double IPA (8 percent ABV)

Beer-drinkers have been known to stand in line to enjoy this limited-supply double IPA. This is the easiest IPA to imbibe. It’s powerful, fragrant and amazingly complex, yet very smooth and clean. It’s worth the hype.

18. Saison Dupont: Saison (6.5 percent ABV)

This must-try beer is a top fermentation beer, with re-fermentation in the bottle. Since 1844, this beer has been brewed at La Brasserie Dupont’s farm-brewery. Hints of banana, pineapple, tropical fruit, pear and black pepperfinish with a German hop flavor. In the background hangs a light screen of barnyard funk.

19. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: American Pale Ale (5.6 percent ABV)

This is a homebrewer’s dream that turned into one of the most iconic beers in the craft-beer world. A generous amount of premium Cascade hops give the pale ale its fragrant bouquet and spicy flavor. Its piny and citrus-hop aroma comes with a slightly dry finish.

20. Stone Brewing: Imperial Russian Stout (10.6 percent ABV)

Go ahead and enjoy this decadent, black-as-night beer now, or age at cellar temperature. Or buy two and do both! This is heavy on dark fruits, molasses, chocolate, coffee and licorice, with a hint of alcohol burn.

21. The Alchemist Heady Topper: Double IPA (8 percent ABV)

Brewed out of Vermont, this is a world-class beer. The scent is a burst of tropical hops like pineapple, mango, grapefruit and peach. A hoppy start flexes and finishes into a malty finish, while staying incredibly smooth.

22. The Bruery Black Tuesday: Imperial Stout (19.2 percent ABV)

Released on the final Tuesday of October every year, this beer is The Bruery’s take on a bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout. The nose is typically all dark chocolate, roasted coffee, toasted oak and bourbon. Despite its decadence and booziness, it’s wonderfully smooth.

23. 3 Floyds Zombie Dust: Pale Ale (6.2 percent ABV)

This intensely hopped undead pale ale pours peachy gold and gives off big aromas of citrus and tropical fruits. The taste is toasty buttered breadiness, and ripe tropical fruitiness. This is an exceptional beer.

24. 3 Floyds Dark Lord: Russian Imperial Stout (15 percent AB)

This RIS is brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla and Indian sugar. Not for the faint of heart, Dark Lord is among the most opaque and black stouts on the market. What you smell is delivered in the taste—dark chocolate, cherries, plums, caramel, roasted malt and burnt sugar.

25. Victory Prima Pils: German Pilsner (5.3 percent ABV)

This signature pils is brewed with heaps of whole flower European hops and fine German malts. You may notice grass, cracker and pepper notes on the nose, and pear, white grape and hoppy bitterness in the taste. Enjoy it alone or with seafood or burgers.

There was a time not too long ago when I cringed at the sight of a raspberry wheat or berry blonde beer. I thought these beers were too dainty, too affected—and frankly, not worth my money.

However, I’ve changed my tune in recent years—and I am not alone.

Let’s look at just one beer category, flavored IPAs, for evidence. In 2015, sales of “tropical-flavored” IPA increased by 250 percent, according information presented to the Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia in May 2016. According to market-research firm Mintel, in 2010, 15 percent of new beers introduced were flavored. In 2015, 27 percent of beers to come onto the market were flavored.

But fruit has not been relegated to just IPAs. Brewers are also infusing pale ales, saisons and even stouts with fruit from the farm—grapefruits, oranges, lemons, limes and so on.

Take San Diego brewer Ballast Point’s Pineapple Sculpin, for example. Since Ballast Point’s purchase by Constellation, this beer and its relatives—Habanero Sculpin and Grapefruit Sculpin, introduced in 2014—are more widely available. This is a very good thing.

Some of these juicy new beers have come about thanks to experimental hops with aromatic qualities, which pair better with fruits. Brewers are also developing styles that are better able to carry the fruit flavors. As fruit beers have gotten better, they’ve not only won over some hard-core beer-drinkers like me; they’ve brought more non-traditional beer-drinkers into the craft-beer world.

Take New Belgium’s Citradelic Tangerine IPA, launched in January 2016, as another example of a popular, widely available fruit-forward beer. The sweet, tangy orange character intertwines nicely with the hops—including Citra, citrusy Mandarina Bavaria, tropical Azzaca and fruity Galaxy hops. On top of all this, the brewers add tangerine-infused orange peel to the brew.

Coachella Valley Brewing Co. is the local brewer that’s been using fruits in its beers the most. CVB’s Chris Anderson is not only an award-winning brewer; he knows his way around a kitchen. He served as executive chef at Moose’s Tooth and Café Europa in Anchorage, and headed culinary operations for the Tatitlek Corporation for seven years.

“I’ve seen more and more brewers using locally grown fruits, and fruits indigenous to their local areas,” Anderson said. “Fruit beer is certainly becoming more popular. It used to be said that it was a ‘chick beer.’ At CVB, we sell a ton of fruit beers and fruited sours to men.”

Anderson said he’s definitely seen fruit beers bring newbies into the craft-beer world.

“Customers are continually looking for variety; brand loyalty is a thing of the past,” Anderson said. “Fruit beers are in the footbridge realm for many non-craft-beer people. These folks might find a banana hefeweizen or passion-fruit farmhouse ale more inviting than a fresh double IPA.”

Hopped-up IPAs often work well with fruit additions, thanks to complementary hops like the lemony Sorachi Ace and the grapefruit-hinted Cascade—but it’s not just IPAs that Anderson likes when it comes to fruit.

“I think just about any beer can work fruited as long as it marries and doesn’t conflict,” he said.

Of course, there is an art to brewing and noting the citrus qualities within hops. Yes, fruit is good, and fruit in beer can be awesome—but adding too much or not understanding thresholds or blending could lead to an awful brew. No fruit, however delicious, can turn an ordinary beer into something super-tasty. But when you start with a great beer, fruit can make it even better—creating perfect sippers for warmer days.

“There is good living, where there is good beer.”

Since I started writing about beer, this has been my mantra—and, of course, good food is part of good living, too.

There’s more synergy between the beer and food worlds than ever before. Brewers have produced a range of delicious beers to suit nearly every kind of food. The Brewers Association reports that the number of breweries in the U.S. just passed 5,000—a record high. That means there’s a ton of beer-and-food-pairing potential! Therefore, it’s no surprise that restaurateurs are increasingly recognizing the versatility of craft beers—and their various complex favors—when it comes to food pairing.

“Dr.” Bill Sysak is respected around the world for his encyclopedic knowledge of beer styles and flavor profiles. Dr. Bill, as he’s known in the craft-beer community, is the co-founder and CEO at Wild Barrel Brewing Company and the former craft beer ambassador at Stone Brewing Co. He suggests matching strength with strength: Strong-flavored foods demand assertive beers. And for crying out loud, taste things first!

“I’ve always been a proponent whenever possible of knowing the flavor profiles of both the beer and the food, personally, versus just reading about it,” says Dr. Bill.

Grains like wild rice or polenta pair well with clean and crisp Bohemian-style pilsners or American amber lagers. The complementary grain flavors balance hops while staying light on the palate.

Love sour and funky beers? Try them with rich meats and root vegetables. Combining these flavors brings out umami.

While filet mignon is classically paired with pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon, a rich stout has the potential of bringing out flavors that one won’t taste with wine. Brown ales are also bold enough to complement roasted meat.

That said … breaking the rules is totally OK—and even encouraged! Discover what works together on your palate.

Wes Lieberher, the executive chef at Beer Belly in Los Angeles, is a rule-breaker, as well as a food and beer lover. You must try his beer-braised octopus. He’s putting his own twist on what’s popular; for example, he created a French dip with duck and duck au jus. When it comes to pairing, he tends to experiment with what’s available.

“I leave it open,” Lieberher says. “We switch our taps so much, so there’s always a different beer, so there could always be a slightly different flavor to it, which is kinda cool.”

As for breaking rules: He pairs his beer-battered fish and chips, a lighter dish, with a hoppier IPA, rather than the lighter pilsner used in the dish.

“A lot of people will say, ‘This goes with this,’” Lieberher says. “I won’t cook with an IPA, but IPAs will go great with something I’m using a lighter beer with.”

More and more, brewers, restaurateurs and chefs are using what’s available to them locally. This tends to lead to better natural pairings.

“I was one of the first major people at my level—beer-and-food pairers—to talk about regionality,” says Dr. Bill. “Back when water was bad for you, people had to have whatever (alcohol was available in the) area of the world they lived. … In the Grape Belt, they drank wine with their meals, or diluted wine for their children. In the Grain Belt, everybody drank beer or mead or cider.

“If you had to eat the same kind of food sources every day, and the only beverage you had to wash it down with made you say ‘yuck’ every time, those styles wouldn’t survive, right? You would find the styles that work well.”

Julia Herz wrote the book on beer pairing. No, really: She co-authored Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide From the Pairing Pros with Gwen Conley. Herz is the Craft Beer Program director at the Brewers Association and a certified cicerone.

“The localization movement isn’t just isolated to food,” she says. “That’s where we became aware of it—from the slow-food movement, farm to table—and now it’s farm to keg to tap! We’ve got brewers thinking like chefs.”

While beer has reclaimed its place at the dinner table in some places, many restaurants still put only wine in the spotlight. Herz believes it’s time that more of the 115,000 people in the U.S. craft-brewing community speak up with a simple request: “Dear restaurateurs: It’s time to have your menu present beer in the same manner as food and wine.”

Herz suggests trusting the waiter or beer-server if you’re at a restaurant that has a respectable-looking beer menu

“Go to establishments that hang their hat on pairings. Have them be your guide,” she says. “If they have wine pairings, it’s a good place to push them and ask them about beer pairings.”

But to repeat: The one definitive source for what beer works well with what food is your own palate. Experiment and embrace your inner anarchist.

“We all aren’t the same tasting type, and we’re not all going to perceive what we taste as the same,” Herz says. “So it’s all about the journey—experimenting and being able to articulate to yourself or to others what you did and didn’t like.”

Thankfully, people are taking her advice. As of March 2016, nearly half of craft-beer drinkers surveyed said they drink craft with food more now than they did a couple of years ago.

Make no mistake: Beer is king and should have a place at the dinner table. When combined, the sales of wine ($37.5 billion) and spirits ($69 billion estimated) in the United States barely surpass the sales of beer ($101.5 billion—$19.6 billion from small and independent U.S. craft brewers). This tells us there is unmistakable potential.

Cheers, and bon appétit!

I would like to shove the year 2016 into the anals of time—I mean right up into the bowels of the space-time continuum.

Not only did we lose Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Prince, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, George Michael and Carrie Fisher (I’m weeping again); record temperatures are taking hold as climate change accelerates. And then there’s the fact that a minority of Americans elected a climate-denying, misogynist, racist, egotistical guy who’s clearly not qualified for the job.

On the upside … 2016 did give us some amazing new beers.

Behold—some of the year’s best winter beers.

Bell’s Winter White Ale: This is a lovely wheat alternative to your normally heavy and dark winter beers. It’s low in alcohol at 5 percent and has some of those delicious clove and fruity aromas that are reminiscent of the holidays. Try it with eggs Benedict, omelets or cranberry-apple cobbler. It is available through the end of January.

Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper: This “winter warmer” appeals to those who just want a dark, strong Russian imperial stout without barrel-aging or added spices or fruit. This is one seriously naughty but nice beer. Flavors of heavily roasted grain, espresso, molasses, roasted malt and light bourbon make this beer the real deal.

Pyramid Snow Cap: A rich, full-bodied winter warmer crafted in the British tradition of holiday beers. This deep mahogany-colored brew balances complex fruit flavors with a refreshingly smooth texture, making Snow Cap a highly drinkable and desirable cooler-weather drink.

Samuel Adams Winter Classics Mix Pack: This is a nice starter for beer-lovers who are just discovering craft beer. Though it can change from year to year, the pack often contains Boston lager, Old Fezziwig ale, winter lager, holiday porter, black lager and cranberry lambic.

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale: This is a true classic for hop-heads, having been on the market since 1981! Beyond a pretty significant bitterness at 62 IBUs, this beer is dry-hopped, which elevates the hops in the aroma and the flavor. When you’re drinking Celebration, you’re drinking a bit of history.

Great Divide Hibernation Ale: Great Divide cellars Hibernation until late October. A lengthy aging process gives Hibernation a malty richness, a complex hop profile and a hearty warming character. Hibernation is a lively treat that really beats the winter chill. This scrumptious, collectible and imminently cellar-able ale has won four Great American Beer Festival medals and is fantastic with grilled beef tenderloin.

Stone Xocoveza: This “Mexican hot chocolate” packs a delicious punch of bittersweet cocoa, cinnamon, Mostra coffee, pasilla peppers and vanilla. It was first brewed in 2014 with San Diego homebrewer Chris Banker after his recipe won Stone’s annual homebrew competition. Craft-beer drinkers clamored for more, and it quickly became a cross-country sensation. Drink it fresh or age it at cellar temperature. Try it with bacon-wrapped figs or tiramisu.

Avery Brewing Old Jubilation: We all need more feelings of jubilation in 2017. This winter strong ale has a gorgeous mahogany hue, a hint of hazelnuts, and aromas of mocha, toffee and darker cracker malts. It has chocolate flavors, with residual sugar notes of blackstrap molasses and fig, and a wisp of smokiness.

Scaldis Noel Premium: This is how the Belgians make a winter warmer. This beer is rich with lots of malt, and though malt dominates, the complexity from the wilder yeasts Belgians tend to use, plus the unusual practice of aging this beer with hops flowers, gives this brew unique flavor and character.

Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve: Rogue’s annual holiday offering is a variation on the classic Saint Rogue Red, with double the hops—including Chinook, Centennial and a mystery hop called Rudolph from head brewer John Maier. This holiday elixir is brewed with a variety of malts, coastal water and Maier’s proprietary top-fermenting Pacman yeast.

Brasserie d’Achouffe N’Ice Chouffe: This Belgian specialty ale is a 10 percent alcohol-by-volume slow-sipper. N’Ice Chouffe is brewed with thyme and Curaçao orange peel, and has a candy-sweet malty aroma with cherries and apples. It has a strong finish but is superbly well-balanced.

Telegraph Brewing Winter Ale: With hints of cinnamon, allspice, caramel, vanilla and sweet ancho chilies, this spiced dark ale is inspired by Mexican hot chocolate. It has a 7.7 percent ABV; make sure to let this warm up a bit to bring out the flavors.

Firestone Walker Anniversary XX 2016: It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since brothers-in-law Adam Firestone and David Walker established their brewery in a converted shed at the back of the family vineyard. This is a limited release, and here’s why: 17 winemakers convened in late August to help create the blend for XX, combining 250 oak barrels and five different beers including Parabola, Stickee Monkee, Velvet Merkin, Bravo and Helldorado. The resulting brew is silky-smooth, with molasses and rich brown sugar, and touches of cinnamon spice and brandy soaked cherries.

Enjoy now—or age for four years to celebrate a new president!

Someone once said that “history flows forward on rivers of beer.” It’s true: Beer has played a significant role in shaping the human experience.

This brings us to Nov. 3, when stout-lovers across the world celebrated the delicious, dark beer during the Sixth Annual International Stout Day. Hundreds of craft breweries and pubs hosted Stout Day events—and I was fortunate enough to be invited to fly to the Emerald Isle for events at that most famous and historic of all breweries, Guinness.

Arthur Guinness started brewing ales in 1759 at the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. On Dec. 31, 1759, he signed a 9,000-year lease at 45 pounds per year—quite possibly the smartest investment in history.

I was thrilled that the good folks at Guinness officially celebrated International Stout Day. Created by yours truly in 2011, the day symbolizes everything that is good about this iconic beer style, and the collaborative community that enjoys it. After Guinness invited me to the brewery, I felt like Charlie in Willy Wonka at times.

There has been an experimental brewery at St. James’s Gate for more than 100 years, but it is newly open to the public: In November 2015, The Open Gate Brewery opened with the intent of allowing people to sample new beers by Guinness brewers, who are given free rein to experiment and explore new beers.

At Open Gate, these brewers oversee all Guinness beer innovation globally—which is a tremendous responsibility, since Guinness is sold in more than 150 countries around the world. The brew system is manual, so they are able to replicate any of the beers at any Guinness brewery. It’s the size of a typical craft brewery—just inside the massive Guinness walls. It’s the perfect place to taste the wider variety of Guinness’ drink portfolio.

Head brewer Peter Simpson gave me a private tour before the celebration. These lucky brewers have everything a brewer could want—in order to brew just about anything they want. They have a mini-roaster, in order to experiment with different grains. Hearty English hops, like Northern Brewer, grow outside in the hops garden. And Guinness’ “Super Yeast” is used to brew all of the company’s styles of beer.

“Every new Guinness launch from now on will start in here—and will be on the tap here first,” Simpson said. “At the moment, we’re doing two new beers every month.”

The brewery made history again that very evening: On Stout Day, Guinness invited other breweries to the event. Ireland, like the United States, is experiencing its own craft-beer resurgence and revolution—and I was told this was the first time that brewers from Irish craft breweries were invited to enjoy pints together at an event held by Guinness, on Guinness property.

Joining Guinness at the Open Gate Brewery that evening were representatives of Kellys, 5 Lamps, Porterhouse Brewing Co., Dungarvan Brewing Co. and London’s 40ft Brewery.

Liam LaHart, the founder and brewer of Porterhouse, leaned into me after the event and whispered, “Erin, you realize this is unprecedented, right?”

I got goose bumps.

Each craft brewery brought two to four stouts beers each. Guinness offered a delicious list of varietals: Apple Stout at 6.2 percent alcohol by volume, Sea Salt and Burnt Sugar Stout at 6.3 percent ABV, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout at 7.5 percent ABV, Weisen Stout at 7.2 percent ABV, Antwerpen Export Stout at 8 percent ABV, Nitro Double Coffee Stout at 5.5 percent ABV, and Guinness Draught at 4.2 percent ABV. The eighth tap featured 40ft Brewery—the first-ever guest tap.

The brewers from 40ft had to board a ship and a train to bring their 40ft Deep stout over to Dublin for the event. It was a brilliant 5 percent ABV stout, with notes of coffee, dark chocolate and licorice. It’s hopped with Target (UK) and Bravo (U.S.), adding a touch of orange and spice to the aroma.

Guinness’ new Sea Salt and Burnt Sugar Stout was especially tasty. It offered a pleasing clash of flavors.

Simpson explained: “It’s very difficult to get the balance of salt and sugar right. The saltiness and the sweetness carry each other a lot better with the bitterness of a stout than they would in a lighter ale or beer. The Admiral hops give you a nice background bitterness with a slight green note. … You’re hit initially with a little bit of roast barley and sweetness from our burnt sugar, then leading into subtle saltiness and ending with a pleasant bitterness.”

Porterhouse brought four stouts, including the only oyster stout brewed in Ireland.

Simpson was grinning from ear to ear as he showed me Guinness’ barrel-aging stouts: Antwerpen Export Stout and West Indies Porter, both in rye bourbon barrels.

“Best job in the world,” Simpson said. “And the best part is seeing people enjoy it.”

Simpson and the other Open Gate brewers recently brewed a Kettle Sour—the first time Guinness has ever brewed a Sour style.

The beer app Untappd awarded a Stout Day badge for anyone logging in a stout beer on Nov. 3. In the U.S., there were 377,718 total check-ins. In the Netherlands, Stout Day saw 16,539 check-ins, and in the United Kingdom, there were 16,582, numbers followed by Canada, Sweden, Norway, Brazil, Germany, Australia and Finland.

The top-logged beers via Untappd were Guinness Draught, Stone Xocoveza (2016), Founders Breakfast Stout, and Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro. The top cities on Stout Day were Chicago, New York City, London, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, Washington, Denver and Austin.

International Stout Day brings stout-beer lovers around the world together and gives the variety of beer a day in the spotlight—which it so rightly deserves.

Start planning for next year at www.StoutDay.com.

Celebrate all things beer in November with both Coachella Valley Beer Week and the sixth annual International Stout Day!

Each year, beer weeks celebrate the culture and community of craft brewers across the United States—and Coachella Valley Beer Week, which I am organizing, will commence for the second time, on Nov. 11. Before I get into the details of what will be happening here in the desert, let’s get into the history of beer weeks, why they exist—and why they’re important.

Back in 2008 (the same year when I started The Beer Goddess website), Joe Gold, of Victory Brewing (who would become the founder of Baltimore Beer Week), traveled to Philadelphia to talk with some beer loving friends: Tom Peters, of Philly’s Monk’s Café, and Don Russell, the “Joe Sixpack” columnist. They discussed the possibility of a week-long celebration of beer.

Thus, Philly Beer Week was born. It started the “beer week” tradition in 2008 and today is the country’s largest, boasting more than 1,000 events. The area boasts more than 400 beer bars that feature craft beer and food.

In 2011, I spoke with Greg Koch, of Escondido, Calif.-based Stone Brewing, about beer weeks and how they help a community. (Side note: Stone just went through a massive layoff, perhaps because the brewing company grew too quickly—but that’s a topic for a whole other column.)

“I like it, because I think that the most important thing about beer weeks is that it moves the needle … among people in a region,” he said. “When you have all these events going on, and then it gets in the papers, and they’re even maybe mentioning on the evening news or something, and all the bars are promoting it, that causes not just beer fans, but just the more average beer consumer, to perk up and go, ‘Huh? I wonder what this is all about.’”

Since 2008, beer weeks across the nation have been popping up to celebrate the craft and the people behind the craft.

It should be repeated why these beer weeks exist: At its best, the craft brewer embodies not only an entrepreneurial spirit, but also a basic human kindness toward his or her fellow brewer, as well as an infatuation with the art of brewing, and a respect for its American consumers.

Beer weeks also show off the vitality of today’s American brewing community, which is using ridiculous amounts decadent ingredients and embracing radical beer styles. Breweries that celebrate beer weeks believe in collaboration and, generally, are incredibly welcoming and egalitarian.

This brings us to Coachella Valley Beer Week, a 10-day area celebration of local and original beer. This year, we are celebrating with festivals in Indio and Palm Springs, a brewmaster beer dinner at the Purple Room, an art-and-beer painting event at Coachella Valley Art Scene, a BBQ and Beer event at Stuft Pizza, an event at the Date Shed, and much more. See the complete and updated schedule at www.coachellavalleybeerweek.com.

Let’s talk a little more about the “Beer Craft” event at 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 17, at the Coachella Valley Art Scene in the Westfield shopping center in Palm Desert. CVAS is dedicated to advocating local art and culture at their Westfield pop-up art space, MAKE. Come check out the scene while listening to tunes and trying some tasty brews. Guests will get to decorate beer bottles and help make an interactive sculpture using them. It will be a night of fun with crafts, music and craft beer!

However, Coachella Valley Beer Week is not the only beer event worth celebrating in November: On Thursday, Nov. 3, pubs, breweries and restaurants around the world will once again celebrate that iconic beer style—the stout, with International Stout Day. Guinness itself will be hoisting a pint with a special celebration of their own at their new Open Gate Brewery in Dublin on Nov. 4.

Since 2011, Stout Day (which I helped create) has grown by leaps and bounds, with events held around the world, in Australia, Spain, Ontario, Nova Scotia, England, South Africa, Ireland, Croatia, Sweden and nearly every state across the United States. Celebrate Stout Day by collect the Untappd 2016 Stout Day badge, and be a part of a revolution that’s being embraced internationally.

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