Link to article on

“Most won’t say it,” [Harry Schuhmacher, publisher of trade journal Beer Business Daily] explained, “but water is a major reason craft beer behemoths such as Sierra Nevada and New Belgium opened plants in Asheville,” on the western edge of North Carolina. “It’s no coincidence that big brewers are congregating around the Smoky Mountains’ substantial water supply.”

I was JUST talking about natural resource availability and growth in craft beer.  Here is a more official-sounding point of view in a major publication to make the issue seem more important.


The first in a new series for Ferret the Beer. It’s continuing mission to explore strange new beer terms, to seek out new concepts and new stylizations, to boldly go where no beer person has gone before.

[I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek lately…]

[Etching of the Bass Union system. Via]

The Burton Union system is a system of wooden fermentation vessels used predominantly by the brewers in and around Burton-on-Trent, England in the mid to late 1800s.  This network usually consists of 24-60 large wooden barrel casks (about 150 gallons/ea) laid on their side in rows, suspended off the floor. These barrels are linked together so that wort/beer can be evenly dispersed throughout the Union. At the top of the barrels is a swan neck pipe that connects to a trough suspended over the barrels. This trough, being slightly pitched to one end, is connected to another feeder trough so that the wort/beer can be re-circulated into the barrels.

Actively fermenting wort (usually 12-24 hours after adding the yeast) is fed into the Union, via gravity, from the primary fermentation vessels. As the yeast continues consuming the sugars, it is forced out of the top of the barrels through the swan necks in foamy bursts. The beer runs down the trough, into the feeder vessel and back into the casks to continue its fermentation, all the while leaving behind a large amount of its healthy, viable yeast. This yeast is collected and the beer subsequently becomes steadily brighter and brighter. After about 6 days in the Union, the beer is drained from the barrels and moved to a finishing vessel whereby it’s blended with other beer or packaged.

The most notable users of the Burton Union System were the Bass Brewery and Marston’s Brewery. Unfortunately, it is a labor and capital-intensive process, requiring constant maintenance and, thus, all but one British brewery has abandoned this approach. Marston’s still uses their Union largely for the production of their flagship beer, Pedigree Bitter.


[Modernized Burton Union system seen in Burton-on-Trent at the National Brewery Centre, formerly the Bass Brewery museum and Coors Visitor Centre. Bass has been owned by Molson Coors since 2002. Image via]

Firestone Walker in Paso Robles, CA, operates a modified Burton Union System, calling it Firestone Union. Besides Marston’s, they are recognized as being the only other brewery using a Union Set today. Where Marston’s chooses to use barrels that are more neutral in character, Firestone uses heavy or medium toast American oak barrels to impart a wood flavor to the beer. According to the brewery, this process “improves the fullness of the palate, enhances hop maturity and lends a clean briskness to the finish. The influence of the toasted oak also imparts unique hints of smokiness and vanilla, as well as a subtle fruitiness to the flavor profile.” The beer that most benefits from this effect is their flagship, DBA (Double Barrel Ale). They choose not to collect the yeast or foam that comes out of the fermenting vessels for re-use.

Additional links:

  1. Michael Jackson’s 1992 article on Marston Brewery’s Burton Union System that was going through an expansion at the time
  2. Firestone Walker’s webpage on their Firestone Union System
  3. A video from 2009 where then-head brewer (now-brew master), Matthew Brynildson, discusses the Union process (specifically starts at about 2:20) (via


  1. The Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Garret Oliver, 2011. “Burton Union system” article by Matthew Brynildson

Do you have any ideas or requests for the BREW LEXICON series? Let me know in the Comments!

This is all available in a few different places but it’s still a pretty handy online tool.

…it appears that language may actually interfere with the encoding process relative to aromas. While it is important to become familiar with the vocabulary words, there is evidence to suggest that these verbal constructs may overly dominate the way we perceive the actual aromas, especially when we are new to the game. We rely on the meaning of the words, forcing us to try to find those concepts among the richer sensations produced by any aroma…

So despite my earlier efforts to dispel the notion that the number of breweries in this country represents some sort of bubble, “are we at the saturation point?” or “is this a beer bubble?” continues to be the most popular media question I field. While I’m a bit hurt that the mass media doesn’t read the blog, here goes round two in dispelling the notion that reaching 3,000 breweries means the country simply can’t take any more. It all stems from a simple concept:


Recommended article to check out.

Watson certainly makes a compelling argument and with the data shown, understanding his view is pretty much a no-brainer.

A couple points that came to mind…

  • New growth cannibalizing the existing craft beer drinker base that may not want to grow as fast (or steadily) as the number of breweries opening or beer brewed. I guess maintaining quality and innovation is the answer to this one. Oh, and craft beer fans not being judgmental/elitist towards macro fans and thus, turning them away forever, from the possibility of switching teams.
  • Distribution of natural resources. There’s only so much grain and hops available for brewing. The fact of “higher quality” in craft beer is that uses a dramatically higher amount of malt and hops than macro brews (who use additional adjuncts in place of a large percentage of barley and, in general, don’t try to achieve the same level of bitterness while also using more efficient, downstream hop products). Hop shortages of popular varieties are already beginning to happen. And I wonder about the same thing happening with grain in the future. This is to say nothing of water. Even the most efficient breweries I’ve heard of (Full Sail and Alaskan Brewing Co) use 2.5 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of finished beer. Macros are working on getting their ratio down to 3.5 gallons for 1 gallon of finished beer and the industry average is about 5 to 1 (meaning some are worse). This also doesn’t take into consideration the amount of water used to grow the grain and hops.

I don’t think there’s a bubble, per se, or that it will “burst.” Watson is much smarter than I am and he’s got the numbers to back up his assertion. But I do think there is a ceiling craft beer will come up against, in some form or fashion, at some point in the not too distant future.

*Source for figures on water usage:


For July 4th, my fiancé and I drove out to the Palm Springs for a weekend away. Somehow, she was convinced to drive me around to a couple breweries on my list to scout out…

La Quinta Brewing Company

Opened in November 2013, La Quinta Brewing Company sits in an unassuming business park in Palm Desert. They have 5 core beers: Poolside Blonde (available in cans), Heatwave Red Ale, One Eleven Pale Ale, Indian Canyon IPA (also available in cans) and Sand Storm Double IPA. Recently, they discontinued their American wheat, Windy Point Wheat. I was told that it couldn’t compete against the Blue Moons and Shock Tops that dominate that segment of their market.

If there’s one standout character from all their beers, it’s the use of hops. Their brewmaster is the former assistant brewmaster at Green Flash in San Diego. That should pretty much explain their philosophy to those who are familiar with Green Flash: West Coast to the bitter end.

Hardware-wise, they’ve got a fifteen bbl brewhouse with enough capacity for five thousand barrels per year. From what the bartender was saying, they’re a good percentage over that thus far. To help, they’ve just ordered two new 30 barrel fermenters and one 15 barrel fermenter. By year’s end, they hope to be canning all of their core beers and to have gotten their barrel-aging program underway. All of this to address one of their biggest issues: the relationship with their distributor, Heimark. Heimark, being the main distributor of AB in the valley, has a substantial network but their size dictates a certain amount of difficulty in dealing with the little guys. They keep asking for more but LQBC just can’t deliver, at the moment. Seeing as they have only one brewer with no assistants, the growth that is planned (and needs to happen) sounds like a tall order. But, we’ll hope for the best.

Not being much of a serious hops enthusiast, their Heatwave Red Ale, Indian Canyon and Sand Storm Double IPA were not my cup of tea, though I did appreciate their resolute point of view. Rather, Poolside Blonde and One Eleven Pale Ale were more in my wheelhouse. Balanced, crisp and refreshing – well-suited for the desert sun.

Coachella Valley Brewing Company

Despite a grand opening on August 30, 2013, only 3 months before La Quinta,Coachella Valley Brewing Company, located in another unassuming business park in Thousand Palms, gives off a much more established feeling. This isn’t to say that La Quinta is amateur, it’s clear though, that they are the scrappier of the two. Perhaps, CVB had a bigger bank roll when they started.

Unfortunately, the tap room staff weren’t as willing (or able) to discuss the details of the brewery. Suffice it to say, they have have a 40 bbl brewhouse. The annual capacity was unknown. CVB bottles several of their beers and I was unsure of what their core was, nor their flagship. I sampled: Big Cat Brew (a saison brewed with spices grown at one of the local zoos), Dubbel Date, Desert Swarm (honey double wit), Momentous IPA, Kölschella, Oasis Apple Ale (a blend), Luke Rye Walker (Belgian Rye IPA), and Black & White IPA (another blend). My chosen few were Kölschella, Luke Rye and Black & White. Also bottled but not available on draft are a barrel-aged Quad and a barrel-aged Milk Chocolate Stout.

Babe’s Bar-B-Que & Brewhouse

Our day was too short to visit Babe’s Bar-B-Que & Brewhouse but the following day, I did get the chance to grab a pint of their American schwarzbier, Blackfin Lager, for brunch. Looking at the listings on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence. But I also believe BeerAdvocate and RateBeer to be full of crap, sometimes. Like in this case. To my taste buds, it was the preferred beer of all that I tasted over the weekend. This brisk lager sported some rich (but not too rich) caramel and roasty accents with just enough hop character to keep it all in check. If it’s any consolation, this beer has several medals to its name. So…to hell with internet ratings.

Last weekend was the grand opening for MacLeod Ale Brewing Co. in Van Nuys (San Fernando Valley). I was slacking a bit and didn’t want to carry my Canon around so I grabbed the wide angle adapter for my phone and snapped a few pics here and there.

I don’t think I could have predicted how popular this new brewery seems to be. I’ve been looking forward to it for months but I would have thought I’d be in the minority. Their specialty being British-insprired, cask-conditioned ales better known for their subtlety doesn’t feel compatible with the West Coast IPA’s and BA stouts, etc, that Los Angeles apparently loves. But, I think that’s where the genius of this place lies. Maybe we’re ready for a change. In any case, it was quite the scene. We got there for the 4:00-6:00 block, which was definitely busy but in talking to the food vendors who’d been there all day, it was practically wall to wall for the first 2-3 hours.

I tried The King’s Taxes (Scottish 60/-), The Little Spree (Yorkshire Pale Ale) and Jackie Tar (Brown Stout). My personal favorite was The King’s Taxes but that Jackie Tar (pictured above) certainly had something going for it, as well.

I didn’t really set out to make a variation of Modern Times’ Fortunate Islands. I pegged it more as “being inspired.” But after thinking about it, I realized I was just making a clone with some tweaks. I mean, I started from the original recipe, so I was basically lying to myself. What’s wrong with that, though? Nothing!

For this Homebrew Review, I decided to put the My Hoppy American Wheat next to Fortunate Islands, Mano A Mano, stripped to the waist, skin on skin. Ferret the Beer vs. Modern Times. And I didn’t so bad in my (biased) opinion.

Here is The Mad Fermentationist recipe I (and Modern Times) started from:

Batch Size: 5.25 gal


  • 5.75 lbs. Wheat Malt 
  • 4.00 lbs. American 2-row (38.1%)
  • 0.75 lbs. CaraVienna


  • 5 ml – HopShot (Extract) @ 65 min.
  • 2.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ 0 min.
  • 1.00 oz. Amarillo (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ 0 min.
  • 2.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Hop-Back
1.00 oz.
  • Amarillo (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Hop-Back
  • 4.00 oz. Citra (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Dry Hop
1.00 oz.
  • Amarillo (Whole, 10.00% AA) @ Dry Hop


  • White Labs WLP001 California Ale

Anticipated OG: 1.048 
Anticipated SRM: 5.5
Anticipated IBU: 47.8

Here’s where I ended up:

Batch size = 5.25 gal


  • Wheat malt = 5lbs. 4 oz. (47.5%)
  • American 2-Row = 4 lbs. (36.2%)
  • Caravienne = 12 oz. (6.8%)
  • Acid malt = 8.8 oz. (5 %)
  • Rice hulls = 8 oz. (4.5%)


  • .5 oz. Amarillo (8.8% AA) @ 20 min (8.7 IBU’s)
  • .5 oz. Citra (12.5% AA) @ 15 min (10.2 IBU’s)
  • .5 oz. Amarill0 (8.8% AA) @ 10 min (5.2 IBU’s)
  • .5 oz. Citra (12.5% AA) @ 5 min (3.9 IBU’s)
  • Dry-hop 1 oz. whole leaf Cascade (≈7 days)


  • WLP320 American Hefeweizen with 1800 ml starter

Anticipated OG: 1.046 
Anticipated SRM: 5.2
Anticipated IBU: 28

Here’s Modern Times’ recipe once they scaled up to industrial scale and then scaled back down for home brewers (which I found on Beer Smith after my brew day)

Batch = 5 gal


  • American 2-Row = 4 lbs (49.4%)
  • White wheat = 3 lbs. 10 oz. (44.8%)
  • Caravienne = 5 oz. (3.9%)
  • Acid Malt = 2.5 oz. (1.9%)


  • .17 oz. Hop Extract @ 60 min (30 IBU’s)
  • .65 oz. Citra (12 % AA) @ Whirlpool
  • .32 oz. Amarillo (8.5% AA) @ Whirlpool


  • Not listed. I would guess they went with California Ale or something similar.

Anticipated OG: 1.046 
Anticipated SRM: 3.9 Anticipated IBU: 44.6

Appearance: Similar hue of rich gold but mine is a notch lighter. Neither are clear but my beer is straight up hazy. The head on Fortunate Islands doesn’t linger as much. The head on my Wheat is fluffy and mousse-like.  Ferret wins this round.

Aroma: Both beers used the same family of hops though in different amounts and on a different schedule. They have similar notes of grapefruit, tropical fruit, citrus (I get orange/lemon peel), Maybe some passion fruit. Fortunate Islands is “juicier”, stronger and more prominent. Mine was dry-hopped to a lesser degree. I register some cracker-y notes – leaning towards water crackers or unsalted Saltines. FI takes this category. As stated on the can, they “dry hop the bejesus of it.” I did not. So, they should win, I would think.

Mouthfeel: Fortunate Islands is slippier, a little flatter, but there is a small bit of wheat-based crispness. My Hoppy American Wheat is definitely sharper with its carbonic bite and acidity, bordering on tartness. I’m going to say mine is better but I’ll need to tone it down in any future iterations.

Flavor: Similar hop flavor characteristics but Fortunate Islands is more bitter (probably from the use of hop extracts) while Ferret has more hop flavor (I did all hop bursting). Here the Hoppy American Wheat is a bit juicier, brighter, more lively with the tartness from above. The malt character in FI is toastier while mine is paler, breadier, cracker-ish. Ferret finishes slightly drier and more citric. FI wins. I prefer their malt character over mine. Maybe it’s the smaller amount of Acid malt.

Overall: I think there’s things to like about both. In an ideal world, I would be able to blend the two.

Fortunate Islands remains one of my favorite go-to’s and my Hoppy American Wheat recipe will live on (with a few more tweaks). Thanks to Modern Times and The Mad Fermentationist for their transparency. I wish more breweries would do this kind of thing.

Craft or Crap?: The Beer That Brad Pitt Tossed to Matthew McConaughey in New Orleans

via Craft or Crap?: The Beer That Brad Pitt Tossed to Matthew McConaughey in New Orleans.

(image from

I avoided work, today, by watching the webcast of the James Beard Awards. Basically, these medals are the Oscars for food world. Really this is all you need to know about them but I’ll go on anyways.

The host is the James Beard Foundation (JBF) whose mission is “to celebrate, nurture, and honor America’s diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire.” James Beard, the man, was a highly influential chef, writer, and teacher from 1937 up to his death in 1985.

The awards break into 5 classes, so to speak:

  1. Books
  2. Broadcast and New Media
  3. Journalism
  4. Outstanding Restaurant Design
  5. Restaurant and Chef (the big deal)

Overall, the awards skew more towards the food world, however, the beverages still have a place at the table through categories like Outstanding Wine, Spirts, or Beer Professional, Best Bar Program, Best Wine Program and Journalism in Wine, Spirits and Other Beverages.

Looking through the list of winners since the awards’ inception in 1991, I’ve counted over 50 opportunities where a beer professional or beer writer could have been nominated, let alone wine. Wine is without a doubt, the heavy hitter. It took 5 years for beer to even get a point on the board; in 1996, Benjamin Meyers piece, “It Must Be Spring – Bock Is Back” won for Newspaper Writing on Spirits, Wine and Beer. Four years later, we scored one more with Michaeul Skube’s article,”Experiments with Hops, a Welcome Development.” Beer’s first big win came with Fritz Maytag’s 2003 award for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional and the next time we got one was for his Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. Tonight, I drink a Liberty Ale, which seems appropriate to celebrate the Mexican army’s win over the invading French at Puebla.

It should be noted that Beer Folk have gotten into the Semi-Finalist and Finalist rounds. For instance, this is not Oliver’s first nomination and Sam Calagione, of Dogfish Head, has been nominated 3 times. So far as as I can tell though, those listed above are the only wins up to this year. For the mathematicians, that’s less than six percent not of the total awards given, but rather, just the awards for which brewers, beer professionals, and/or beer writers could have been nominated. Draw your own conclusions. And somebody else do the math for how many medals Our People have won relative to the total amount of medals given. SPOILER ALERT: it will be a slightly deflating.

(image from

I know Brooklyn Brewery, of which Garret Oliver is the brewmaster, is not the highest rated brewery on Beer Advocate and RateBeer. To my knowledge, they don’t have any highly-sought after beers with a cult following. But is the beer badFar from it. If anything, it seems as though they suffer from lack of flash in the current craft beer market. That’s just conjecture; Stockholm sees more of Brooklyn Brewery than I do in L.A. Anybody who has read Oliver’s The Oxford Companion to Beer, hell, anybody who has picked up the 920 page tome does not question his knowledge of, and passion for, our favorite grain-based beverage (to say nothing of The Brewmaster’s Table, one of my favorite beer books). He is by far one of the most thoughtful and well-spoken beer professionals that comes to my mind. I may only be a guy writing on his dinky Tumblr page at 10:53 PM on Cinco de Mayo 2014 but I think the award is well-deserved. And, if that’s not enough for you, he walked up on stage in a green velvet blazer. Somehow, it looked natural. No small feat.

Here’s to more in the future.

While I’m here, though, the biggest slight I see in regards to the James Beard Award winners lists, besides that whole less than six percent thing: Michael “The Beer Hunter” Jackson.

Here’s a link to a .pdf with the full list of this year’s winners.