The Art of Beer Pt 8 – Brewery Strategies

Back when the Craft Beer movement was in its infancy and the possibilities endless, there were many folks who dreamed of making their love of beer into a business. Luckily, for us, a lot of them succeeded.

There are currently more breweries in the United States then there have ever been. That is actually no small feat. Almost 100 years ago evil-doers succeeded in banning beer production (along with all other alcoholic beverages) in the United States. For 3 long sober years, legal brewing was banned. Eventually the consequences of the mistake made became evident and Prohibition was repealed in 1923. But by then the damage had been done and where we had once over 4000 breweries only a handful were able to recover and start producing again.

Those breweries survived by changing their production to something that was legal. They adapted to their environment by changing their business strategy.

When Craft Beer started booming around the beginning of the 21st Century, the business strategies that were employed were as varied as the number of breweries. A lot of Craft Brewers started out as Home Brewers. They learned the basics of brewing in their garages and sheds and tried perfecting their recipes there. As their skills improved they would get feedback from folks, usually friends that their creations were good enough to put on the market. So they ventured out and began breweries.

Some started small at the microbrewery/brew pub level, some started in the mid-range at a small production level (kegs only), and others started at a more robust level (bottling along with kegs). Not all of them succeeded. A common factor for all of those who failed was using a bad business strategy, or having no strategy at all.

So the need for a business strategy for any brewery, no matter the size, is evident. But as you can see from what happened with Prohibition, the need to be able to adapt that strategy to changing circumstances is also necessary. While it is unlikely that Prohibition will come again, at least in our life-time, it is quite possible that some other event that is capable of disrupting the business could occur. And you need to be able to adjust any business strategy to account for growth and expansion. Any strategy you develop needs to be able to address or adapt to changes that can and likely will occur.

The following are simple points that need to be addressed with any brewery business, as well as many other businesses, in order to be successful.

1. Capital – No matter what level of brewing you are going to start out at you are going to need funding. You’re not making five gallon batches in your garage anymore. And your friends are no longer your only patrons. You need to be able to produce enough product to serve to patrons. You will need equipment to make that product as well as staffing to not only produce and package it, but also to serve it depending on your business plan. You will need a new location, whether you purchase the property or lease it and that will definitely require some renovation if not brand new construction. You need to establish a supply chain with Vendors who can guarantee a reliable supply of the grains, yeasts, and hops you need to make your product. All of that is going to require funding to purchase. And you need to be able to sustain your business through at least the first year. Until you can garner a regular customer base and have a steady income from that.

2. Location – Since you aren’t in your garage anymore, you need to think about what kind of plan you are going to establish and use that to determine a location. Do you want to stay small or do you plan to expand in the future? If you are a production brewery you need to think about truck access. You also need to take into account the water supply to your new facility. Beer is approximately 95% water. You need to have a clean reliable source of water to make your product. Will it be piped in from a municipality or utility or will you dig your own well? And if you have a serving room or are going the microbrewery/pub route what is a good location for your business? Will it have good exposure in a high traffic setting? Do you have enough parking for your patrons?

3. Economies of Scale – As I said earlier, you are no longer making five gallon batches in your garage. You are going to be making larger batches which will require increasing the quantities of your ingredients. But changing the size of your batches can affect the flavor. You should allow for some initial test batches once you have equipment in place. Then you can tweak it as needed to achieve the flavor profile you are expecting. And while I mentioned water above, another aspect to take into account is the quality of water you are receiving. The pipes or well that you are receiving the water from now will be different. Do you have the water processing equipment in place to treat the water to achieve the formula you need for the style you are brewing?

4. Market – So you can brew good beer. So what? So can a lot of other people who may already be established in your area. What will differentiate your brand from theirs? Is the area you want to establish your business in already saturated? Are you going to specialize in certain types of beers or have flagships ales with specialty beers based on the season? Will you have guest taps for selling other breweries offerings? If you establish a pub or tasting room, will you serve food as well? What will the menu be? Who will cook it? What will be your hours of operation? All of this needs to be thought of and prepared for before you begin building/renovating.

The breweries I mentioned previously that failed, didn’t take these and/or other factors into account when they tried to start. They leapt full force into making the beer because that is the part of the business they thought they knew, and forgot that at the end of the day, it still has to be a business that can sustain itself. And like a lot of American businesses that don’t have a good business strategy they failed to adapt.

A good business strategy will begin with knowing how much operating capital you will have. Then as your business becomes more established and you have your business practices in place, you need to evaluate how those will work if you expand. Will they work on a larger scale? Or do you need to change them so that you can adapt to growth?

Some breweries, even more now than before, start as simple microbreweries or brew pubs with no intentions of expanding. They are targeting a specific market or a niche in a market. Doing this will eliminate headaches that a larger brewery will encounter. They don’t have to deal with the stranglehold that the Big Beer makers have over the distribution system. They also are only worried about local competition, not Regional or National competitors.

The onslaught of new brewery openings has slowed over the last couple of years. While there is still growth, it has slowed to less than 5%, whereas only a few years ago the growth rate was into the 70 percentile range. And the number of production breweries has slowed even more. A larger number of the newer openings are microbreweries or brew pubs.

But the one thing that any craft brewery needs to succeed is true no matter the size…

Good quality product!

Enjoy!!

Papabear

The Art of beer Pt. 7 – Proper Glassware and Serving

Let’s talk about glasses ….

No… not those glasses… These glasses!

Half the battle of really getting the flavor out of your beer, no matter the style or brand, is serving it in the proper glass. Using a glass specifically designed for the liquid you are consuming has been a standard for wines, liquors and cocktails for almost a century.

It took the craft beer revolution for Americans to be awakened to the idea of proper glassware for beer. The reason for this, of course, is the inferior flavor of the current (and if I may add, waning) reigning American Light Lagers. That and the co-opting of American bars by the U.S. Beer Distributors.

For many years now, the Big Beer brewers have been pushing the beer logo -emblazoned pint glasses on to bars so that they can get their names out in front of the customers. The problem is that the glass they decided to use is, of course, the least expensive to produce. But it’s not even a proper beer glass. The pint glass (in America often called the “Shaker” and in the UK the “Nonic”) does nothing for any of the beers styles served in it. It often causes the beer to lose flavor and carbonation sooner than it should. The Shaker was originally a bar glass used for mixing cocktails (thus the name “Shaker”) and was repurposed for serving beers by many bars for the cost efficiency as well as the ability it has for easy stacking.

In the ‘70s and prior, most bars would serve beer in mugs, chalices or pilsner style glasses. But thanks to the commercialism of Big Beer and their associated Distributors, we now have an entire generation that is ignorant of proper beer serving techniques.

So, let us review the Do’s and Don’ts, the rules of proper beer serving and the correct glassware for your favorite craft beers. We’ll start with the Don’ts!

  1. Don’t drink it from the can or bottle whenever possible!
    a) Always try to serve in a glass, even if you have to use a plastic Dixie cup. Drinking from the bottle or can doesn’t give you two essential benefits of drinking good beer:
    i. If you don’t pour the beer you don’t create the head of the beer and therefore are missing out on the aromas that enhance a good beer.
    ii. If you don’t pour the beer the carbonation is still trapped in the liquid. This means you are swallowing carbon dioxide, which can lead to indigestion and affect the aftertaste of the beer.
  2. Don’t pour beer into a pitcher!!
    a) Pouring beer into a pitcher starts the process of it losing its effervescence and flavor. So, by the time you reach the bottom of the picture you have stale, flat beer. Then we abuse this poor liquid even further by adding a bag of ice or some other artificial cooling apparatus to it in hopes of keeping it cold. Which in turn adds the condensation of the cooling object into the beer further diluting it. In reality, this should be unnecessary as Good beer not only can stand a little warming but will even release other characteristics as it warms. This leads me to the next topic…
  3. No. No! NO chilled glasses!! Ever!!
    a) How many reasons can I point out why we shouldn’t chill a beer glass? Let’s count shall we…
    i. Chilling any liquid changes the flavor. More bitter and unpleasant notes and flavors become clearer as the liquid begins to warm. This is true of wines, liquors and beers. That is why brandy drinkers will swirl the brandy around in their snifter while letting the bowl rest in their palm. The heat from the hand warms the liquid releasing additional flavors and scents they can enjoy. If you prefer the beer to be just above freezing in order to drink it then you are likely masking unpleasant ingredients. Wouldn’t it be better just to start with a better beer?
    ii. Dipping a glass in water then sticking it in the freezer means you are coating the glass with water. When you pour the beer into the glass you are actually watering it down.
    iii. Chilling the beer not hampers the flavor but the scents of the beer, which in turn affects the overall tasting experience.
    iv. It only delays the inevitable. And if you have to have your beer ice cold then you need to drink it fast in order to avoid drinking it warm.
    v. It’s a trick! Bars and breweries that practice this do so to hide the real flavor of bad beer.
    b) If you read my last article then you read that while in Austin at the hotel bar I asked for a non-chilled glass so I could properly drink a breakfast stout. The look of shock on the bartender’s face was such that you would have thought I asked her to remove her clothes! Another victim of the Big Beer and Beer Distribution campaign against proper beer serving!

That’s enough for the “Don’ts”… Let’s talk about some “Do’s”!

Tucker likes good craft beer too. Don’t worry I know hops are bad for dogs. This is a Hefeweizen and he only licked the empty glass.
  1. Make sure any glass you serve in has been properly cleaned. And when I say clean I also mean properly rinsed. Soap on the glass can be just as detrimental, maybe more so than any previous liquid contaminants. Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to tell how clean a glass may be is to look at how the suds slide down the glass. If you have a fairly even recline in the way they slide down the glass wall then the glass is clean. But if you see suds clinging more so to one area than another, it is likely there is at the least some residue, whether it is soap or something else.
  2. When pouring a beer, whether out of a can, bottle or keg, tilt the glass slightly so the beer pours down the side of the glass until the glass is about half full. Then straighten the glass and let the beer pour into the center. This will begin releasing some carbonation and help to form a good foamy head without it being too big.
  3. And lastly, please select the glass that best fits the beer style you are serving. Below is a list of the some of those glass types and the beer styles that are best served in them. We have already discussed and discredited the pint glass and though it is the most utilized glass style we will not include that in the discussion.

a. Flute – This glass, similar to a champagne glass, helps to show off and retain carbonation but also help to release aromatics which lambics and fruit beers are known for, which is what you would ideally serve it this. You can serve the beer styles listed below:
• American Wild Ale
• Bière de Champagne / Bière Brut
• Bock
• Czech Pilsener
• Dortmunder / Export Lager
• Eisbock
• Euro Strong Lager
• Faro
• Flanders Oud Bruin
• Flanders Red Ale
• German Pilsener
• Gueuze
• Lambic – Fruit
• Lambic – Unblended
• Maibock / Helles Bock
• Munich Dunkel Lager
• Munich Helles Lager
• Schwarzbier
• Vienna Lager
• Weizenbock

b. Goblet or Chalice – This style allows for head retention and allows for big sips. It is intended for beers with a higher ABV.
• Belgian IPA
• Belgian Strong Dark Ale
• Berliner Weisse
• Dubbel
• Quadrupel
• Trippel

c. Mug – This came to live in German to replace the Stein. It featured thick glassware for both durability and assistance in keeping a beer cool. Serve with mostly lagers and other German style beers:
• American Ales
• American Lagers
• German Ales
• German Lagers
• Pilsners

d. Stein – Originally made of glass, clay or wood. During the middle ages they began to feature a lid to help keep pests out of the beer.
• American Ales
• American Lagers
• German Ales
• German Lagers
• Pilsners

e. Pilsner Glass – Intended for use with it’s namesake this glass feature a conical shape with no curvature to the sides. It is intended to showcase the color of the beer and help to retain the head.
• American Pilsner
• Baltic Pilsner
• Czech Pilsner
• German Pilsner
• Light Lagers

f. Snifter – This wide bowl shaped glass allows aromatics and volatiles to be released and like it’s cousin used for brandy will allow the heat from the users hand to warm the beer. This is primarily intended for beers with a higher ABV.
• Barleywine
• Belgian Triples
• Belgian Quads
• Bocks
• Double Bocks
• Imperial Ales
• Imperial Stouts
• Strong Ales
• Scotch Ales (substitute for thistle glass)
• Most beers with over 7% abv.

g. Stange – German meaning “Rod”this cylindrical glass shape is meant for lower capacity and lighter beers.
• Alts
• German Kolsch
• Gose
• Gueuze

h. Tulip – Bowl shaped at the bottom with a mouth that flares out this glass is great for strong aromatic beers with a lot of hops.
• Belgian Ales
• Biere de Garde
• India Pale Ales (IPAs)
• Pale Ales
• Scotch Ale AKA Wee Heavy (substitute for thistle glass)
• Strong Ales

i. Thistle – a Scottish cousin to the tulip is intended for
• Scotch Ale AKA Wee Heavy
• Barleywine

j. Weizen – sometimes confused as a pilsner glass this glass is actually much larger and has a curved shape to the upper glass that helps with head retention. Its a tapered glass with the narrow bottom that helps to trap yeast. It is intended strictly for wheat beer.
• All Wheat Beers
• Dunkelweizen
• Hefeweizen
• Kristalweizen
• Weizenbock
• White Ales
• Belgian Wit (substitution for tumbler)
• Gose
• Pilsner (substitution for pilsner glass or pokal glass)

k. Over-sized Wine Glass – It is a wine glass that is used for serving stronger flavored and higher ABV beers.
• Double IPA
• Barleywine
• Belgian Doubles
• Triples and Quads
• Strong Ales
• Most high gravity (ABV) or big beers

Boots – Called so for their familiar shape, this glass is more of a novelty because air can become trapped in the toe of the boot and when the air pocket releases it can cause a splash on the drinker. Thought to be of German origin and German style beers are typically served in it.

Yard – Another novelty glass, it is thought to have originated in England where stage coach drivers were not allowed to leave the carriage while their passengers patronized a road house. This long glass was invented so that the driver could refresh himself while the patrons were busy inside

And that brings to close the proper etiquette associated with beer glasses…

No! Not those kind of glasses!

Papabear

Art of Beer – Addendum: What’s All the Brew Ha Ha Over Beer Companies Buying Each Other Out??!!

The picture above is what a lot of Americans think that any activity related to beer is all about. Getting rowdy with your frat brothers at parties and smelling like stale beer. Sitting around watching sports and seeing who can belch the loudest and  longest, or seeing who pukes first from the results of a beer chugging game is one of the first pictures that comes to mind whenever the word “beer” is spoken aloud.

And to be fair, since the repeal of prohibition right up until the last decade or so that would not be an inaccurate depiction of most beer related activities in the U.S. Thanks mostly to marketing campaigns of a lot of the major brewing companies in America (Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Miller Brewing, Pabst, etc.) the light American Lager has become associated not only with those activities but others as well, most of which are usually pandering to the lesser qualities of mankind. These include lust, competitiveness, laziness, and a lack of propriety.

And that is the exact opposite of how a majority of the rest of the world views beer. For many other countries it is a beverage that can have as much prestige as some of the finest wines and liquors available. Especially if it is carefully and skillfully CRAFTED!

In America, thanks to industrialization, beer has had done to it what many other products have had done. Make the most economically feasible product, mass produce it and use advertising to shove it down the consumers throat. And since so few companies survived the dark years of prohibition only those that were mass producing other products were capable of coming back from the brink to begin producing beer again. And in the American business model the more you can make for a cheaper price the better your profits are.

But a little secret was revealed to many of us over the years. Some of us have had the opportunities to visit Europe or Asia or the Middle East and taste beers and other styles or the same style but in it’s original form. We were awakened to the fact that what we have had limited to by the corporate conglomerates was in fact crap! And when we came back to America from other countries and went to try out old reliable American staples we realized the truth… “My God!! This is shitty beer!!”

Luckily, in the late seventies, then President Jimmy Carter signed a bill making it legal for home brewing to begin again. Whatever else you may have thought of him as a president, this was one act that everyone can agree on was a good one.

With that act, the home brewing craze and the craft beer movement began. And for about 20 years that is exactly what it was, a fad or a craze that someone wanted to try. But eventually enough people not only stuck with it, but became very good at it and tried to do what many other American Entrepreneurs had done before them and turn a beloved hobby into a business they could make a living at. Some of these entrepreneurs are still at it today, Anchor Brewing, Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams, and many others who have seen the rise of a revolution in taste as well as quality in process.

These companies which started out small have grown into larger companies by maintaining quality products and consistently trying to expand their skills in different styles of beer. Something the larger brewers have forgotten how to do.

With this industrious rise in Craft Brewing, there resulted the inevitable loss of market share to the big brewer’s. And how did the big brewers react? Did they rethink their brewing techniques and think about investing in higher quality products using better ingredients? Did they think about expanding the styles of beers that they brewed and trying to draw back some of the market share they lost through honest competition? I’m sure they thought about it.

But that isn’t what they did. Instead they came up with a two step approach:

Step 1 – Buy out the competition. Buy out successful craft brewers, learn how to produce their products for less money, and reproduce their beer labels under your brand. This method has been the Grim Reaper of many venues of American industry. The problem with this is that is doesn’t work well. Quite often quality suffers and the customers you hoped to win back can tell and find a new brewer to follow.

This has not helped the big brewers gain any more craft beer fans, but it has helped them to gain in other ways. Recently the founder of Sam Adams Brewing publicly stated that over 90% of the beer made in the world is owned by two companies both European Conglomerates who own not only most of the breweries on every continent but also a lot of the distribution companies. AB-InBev and Heineken N.V. own companies in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America. Leaving only Antarctica as unclaimed territory.

Step 2 – Strangle their supply chain. If they won’t sell out to you then make it difficult or impossible for them to get the ingredients to make beer and even harder to get their beers to market.

These two conglomerates have repeatedly tried buying out hops and grain markets in efforts to stifle the supplies for others to make beers. And when that didn’t work they put a stranglehold on the distribution by buying out a lot of the distributing companies, or giving monetary incentives for their products to get top billing. These companies have been reading the robber-baron’s handbook and instead of creating new games just gave a wink-wink nudge-nudge to the concerned lawmakers who failed to stop them.

So to answer the question in the article title – the “Brew Ha Ha” over the beer companies buying the others out has nothing to do with the beers they originally made. And really not even with the beers being made buy those that have sold out to them. No matter what happens there will still be folks who like all of those beers and will want to purchase and consume them. We are after all creatures of habit.

The problem is that if the trend keeps going as it is, eventually new craft breweries will no longer be built. The ability to choose from over 5000 breweries and tens of thousands of different beers will disappear. Craft beer is going to be changing, whether we like it or not. Craft breweries will have get even more inventive with their “Think outside the box” strategy to continue to exist.

The good news is this:

  1. Thinking outside the box is what craft brewers do best.
  2. The Genie is already out of the bottle. Home brewing is alive and well and will continue to be so. Larger Craft production breweries may not continue any growth, but the little guys who just want to brew and share with the locals will always find a way to do so.

Papabear

 

The Art of Beer Pt 5 – Brewing (Home, Craft and Production)

December 5th, 1933, the date the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was enacted, which repealed the 18th Amendment, (also known as Prohibition); and October 14, 1978, when then President Jimmy Carter signed H.R 1337 into law, which eventually led to the newest advent of Home Brewing in the US; both of these dates are probably the most important dates in the 20th Century in relation to beer.

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The truth of the matter is that beer and brewing have been around much longer than any known laws (beer was developed as far back as 7000 years ago and the earliest recorded laws date back less than 5000 years.) Samples of beers, meads and wines can be found from many ancient cultures from many different parts of the world. To say that the Prohibition Act was not only one of worst ideas ever would be an understatement. It not only forced hundreds of thousands to become law breakers but it was one of biggest reasons for the rise of organized crime. And up until that point in American history brewing your own beer at home was not only an everyday occurrence it was a large portion of the source of beer consumed at that time. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1800s that production beer brewing started really growing.

So I am going to describe and compare the three main types of beer brewing, where they have similarities and differences and the pros and cons of each type. I have broken them down by the main factor of what currently defines them and that is by amount of beer brewed.

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Home Brewing is exactly what it sounds like, beer being brewed at home. Before America existed as a nation and for about 150 years after it was born, home brewing was the original method of brewing. And because it was done in the kitchen it was considered cooking, so most brewers in those days were women, not men. But then looking back through the history of many ancient cultures, brewing has always been primarily associated with women.

german-beer-goddess-costume

In fact most of the ancient deities associated with beer brewing were goddesses:

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Siduri – Babylonian goddess of wine and beer

Siris – Mesopotamian goddess of beer

Ninkasi – Sumerian goddess of beer

Hathor – Egyptian goddess of brewing and enjoyment

Nepththys – Egyptian goddess of beer

Tenenet – Egyptian goddess of childbirth and beer

Dea Letis – Celtic goddess of waiter and beer

Nokhubulwane – Zulu goddess of rainbow, agriculture, rain and beer

These goddesses were also associated with agriculture, bread, water or childbirth depending on the culture, which means that the ancient world closely associated beer with life and good living.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “Beer is proof that God loves us!”

Today many people are getting back into home brewing as a hobby, including yours truly. Brewing beer at home means that batch sizes range anywhere from a gallon to 10 gallons being brewed at a time. And the 10 gallon size batch can be very difficult for some folks because now you’re having to handle liquids in containers weighing at least 100 pounds. Once you get out of the 10 gallon range then you need to invest in more commercial like equipment and you’re really stepping into the Craft Brewing category.

If you enjoy cooking then Home Brewing may be an option for you to try. You need the same discipline that cooking requires; measuring ingredients, prepping both your kitchen and your equipment, and a good sense of timing for when the product is ready’ and the patience to wait for the product to be ready for consuming. If you don’t have those skills then you may be better off finding a friend who does and drink their homebrew instead.

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While Home Brewing has been around for centuries, Craft brewing is a much more recent phenomenon and is really the next stage of evolution in the beer making industry after you graduate from being a hobbyist. A Craft Brewery is a business where much more experimentation is done on different varieties of beers, the goal being not to only create a good tasting product but to also create something unique using traditional ingredients and methods, something that the larger Production Breweries can’t or won’t do.

While most Craft Brewers started out as Home Brewers, they have now graduated from a hobbyist to an entrepreneur and need to keep in mind that they are running a business. They have to run a good business model and still maintain the higher quality of product than the large Production Breweries have. But if they do run the business well, they can often experiment more with varying styles of beer and ingredients.

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Production brewing exploded after the start of the industrial revolution. With the invention of new machines that could do the work of many men the production of beer became much cheaper. Before Prohibition there were over 4000 breweries in America. During prohinition that number became zero. And only a handful of those breweries were able to survive Prohibition by changing their products produced to something legal, like near beer, malts, syrups, or other non-alcoholic related products. After prohibition ended, those that survived started up brewing again but with a much more homogenized version of beer due to new laws governing beer. And in order for these breweries to start making profits quickly, they changed a lot of their ingredients from the traditional barley and malt, to a much cheaper ingredient list that now also included corn and rice starches.

Another reason for the rise of these mass-production beer companies was due to the abject consumerism of the 1950s, ‘60s. ‘70s, ‘80s & ‘90s in the United States. The rise of radio and then television brought commercialism to new highs. Marketing alone sold the American public on the need for a particular kind of beer. Miller “High Life” used the ideal of living the high life to appeal to its customers. Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer subliminally associated the blue ribbon with being a prize winning beer, where in reality the name came from the original packaging of the beer which had a silk blue ribbon tied around the neck of the bottle. The Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull, Coors Silver Bullet, and Miller Lite “tastes great vs less filling” commercials all used various forms of comedy and flashy props to sell their products.

Which brings us to the “King” of commercialism, Anheuser-Busch. Adolphus Busch and Carl Conrad developed their lager style after a Bohemian Beer from the town of Budweis in Bohemia. The beer they copied was founded by the then King Ottokar II. So they used a “Beer of Kings” and named it after the town and called it the “King of Beers”, a marketing scheme that has lasted for over 100 years. Then of course there are the other marketing ploys, like the Budweiser Clydesdales and the sponsorship of sports, which all of the big beer companies have participated in.

The production beer makers are all about the business. It is much more profitable to make an inferior beer, mass produce it and sell it to the masses with marketing schemes than it is to make a good product. And that is what big business has become in the world today.

Thank goodness for Home and Craft Brewing’s rise in the 80s. Without them, a lot of Americans would never have learned what good beer is actually supposed to taste like.

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Papabear