Our Endangered Craft Beer

In the past few years, I’ve had a close relationship with food.  I’ve tasted some unique flavors attributed to foods that, I think, the normal everyday American wouldn’t bother to eat compared to the convenience of some other foods.  Smoked cheese, Brie, organic farm-raised steak, and snack foods outside of the norm are some examples.  These great foods probably wouldn’t ever have been introduced to me if it wasn’t one of my favorite unique flavors; the flavor of Craft Beer.

I used to be the typical college level domestic beer drinker.  “Mmm… Pabst Blue Ribbon!  They don’t give losers the blue ribbon,” I’d say with a smile on my face.  After a while though, my tolerance grew and my stomach couldn’t take all the beer I had to drink in order to get a buzz.  That’s when I tried one of my first India Pale Ales. Ninkasi IPA coated my tongue with its super hoppy flavor and light carbonation and I was surprised at how I didn’t have to tolerate a bad flavor for a change while gladly drinking it down.  After that, domestic beer just never tasted the same.  After convincing most of my close friends that paying the extra couple dollars at a bar for higher quality beer can go a long way, I started to take a bigger interest into the types of craft beer that is out there and how many other individuals are passionate about the same subject.  What I found was astounding.  I believe, craft beer is not only better for an individual compared to domestic beer but that it’s a drink worthy of any culture worldwide and has some cultural significance within our own culture here in the Pacific Northwest.

If you need any confirmation that craft beer has its fans, look no further than KLCC’s Brewfest in Eugene, Oregon.  In February this year, I went to the Lane County Fairgrounds with a couple friends to sample some of the 48 different breweries’ beers and wade through the expected 3,700 people (Bandolas) to get to the good stuff before it ran out.  I had a great time but was surprised when I talked about my experience in class later and only got replies from younger people bragging about how they drank over twenty cans of Natty Ice while playing beer-pong that weekend.  While I believe we both got intoxicated that weekend, he was hung over while I was feeling fine.  I’m sure there are many reasons why but I like to think it’s because I had to drink less beer to become intoxicated and the ingredients were better inside it.  Before I explain some of the reasons why I believe craft beer is good for someone, I think someone should gain some knowledge in some key points in the history of beer and what makes Craft Beer what it is.
Even in the beginnings of ancient history, ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia worshipped Ninkasi, the Goddess of Beer (Garrett Oliver 22).  In fact many people within many cultures drank beer over water because of risk of infection.  Much, much, much, later in the United States of America, beer and hard alcohol were being brewed.  Certain people thought that some current social problems stemmed from alcohol consumption making people become morally corrupt, thus the Prohibition Act was enacted in January 17, 1920 (Oliver 34).  Some recognizable breweries sustained within this dry period through other means, some of which are quite humorous (Oliver 34).  One key highlight is the fact that these companies created malt extracts for people to buy so that they could homebrew.  Finally on April 17, 1933, after 13 years have passed, the Prohibition Act was dropped.  The New York Times’ headline read, “Beer Flows in 19 States at Midnight.”  All isn’t fine and dandy though because a nation of soda drinkers had emerged onto the scene for the last 13 years and weren’t used to the intense flavors of beer nor were they too picky.  New laws were also placed to which the alcohol percentage had to be below 3.2% and there were pressure to keep beer at a cheap price since the Depression was in full swing (Oliver 36).  Some of these laws have created the soda-like domestic beers we have today in America which contain much less of the ingredients that make craft beers of today so great.

Most people have some knowledge that beer is made with hops, barley, and yeast.  That’s just the basic part of the whole process though.  You can have many different varieties of hops, barley, and yeast that all do different things in the process of brewing beer.  The temperature of what you boil the brew at, the temperature and length of time you roast your barley and the amount of hops you put in all adds its own flavors to a beer.  Did I mention the type of water used makes a difference as well?  The process is complicated but I believe it makes for a drink that everyone can enjoy with any type of food.  I mean, there has to be a reason why beer is the number one beverage in the world, right?

Within the Pacific Northwest, I can say that people really do appreciate craft beer.  I’ve traveled to various cities in the U.S. such as Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Chicago, New York, and many other cities and I can tell anyone that the Pacific Northwest has many more craft beer lovers than in other regions of the United States.  Why does craft beer hold such an affinity to people in the Pacific Northwest though?  Chip & Christina, owners of The Bier Stein Bottle Shop and Pub, think that it’s because craft beer has integrated itself within our culture.  The demand for it has reached far into the grocery stores that also carry mass-produced domestic brands and imports.  They think because people have seen it so long, the name Deschutes is just as familiar of a brand name as Budweiser.  On top of that, they think that people within Oregon are more educated to the way they consume their products, especially since we’re in a town with a University, which accounts for whether or not a person would want to drink domestic or craft beer.  When they made their business plan, they had to take into account two major aspects in their target consumer market; Money and Education.  Would people be willing to pay the extra three dollars for a six-pack?  I think that in the Eugene area, where people are willing to bike than drive, mass transit by bus is available, and buying local is so popular, people are much more willing and have the extra money to spend on a higher quality alcoholic drink.  Chip & Christina as well as Nikos Ridge, a Business / Marketing employee at Ninkasi Brewery think that a person who’s well educated usually will want to drink a higher quality craft beer, whether it’s locally brewed or an import, rather than a mass-produced domestic beer.  Why would people really want to drink these time and time again and shell out a higher dollar?

Three years ago, I went to visit some friends in Illinois whom I’ve known for almost a decade.  My friend, Brianna, had a keg of an import beer called Hacker-Pschorr which imbued a smoky wood flavor that was quite unique compared to many beers I’ve consumed before that.  When I returned back to Eugene, I tried to relate the beer to friends around here and really couldn’t describe it especially when comparing it to other beers.  Then one day, I found a similar beer at the Bier Stein that tasted almost exactly like it but with higher alcohol content.  I knew I had to tell Brianna that I found a beer she would like if not more than Hacker-Pschorr.  Chip & Christina tell me that this is one of the many reasons why people would go out of their way and pay more for a higher quality of beer.  Generally, people who travel inside and outside of the country have an education and money to spare.  So, whether it’s a student going abroad, a business person traveling outside the country, or just the casual traveler seeing the sights of the world, coming back home and drinking a beer that you had in the country you visited can recreate the memories of places visited thus, I believe, food and drink can trigger memories that can last a lifetime.  What happens, though, when the tastes you come to associate with memories disappear?

At this moment in 2008, beer brewers and consumers alike are starting to see a trend in the raising of prices of craft beer.  The shortage of ingredients that contribute to the making of beer is one of the main reasons why this is happening.  Various storms in key areas that grow hops and barley ruined much of what would’ve helped the impending shortage (Brooks).  That along with fires, pest problems and an abundant oversupply has created the shortage (Southern Arizona…).  People also believe that with the introduction of alternative fuels, farmers are giving up their hop and barley crops for corn crops though this isn’t entirely true because hops and barley don’t grow in the same places and conditions as corn.  Rather, barley is being used to feed livestock since corn can be used as an alternative fuel source (Brooks).  The movement of where barley goes to make a consumer good is just one of the reasons why the cost of craft beer is rising.  If you need any evidence, just go to Safeway on 18th and Pearl.  A year ago, a six-pack of Rogue Dead Guy Ale was almost a dollar less than the now $10+ sticker price before deposit.  Chip & Christina say that they doubt we’ll ever see the $20 six-pack but we will see a price increase that they speculate eventually will level off.  Nikos agrees that is what will likely happen as time passes and crops grow healthy again.  In the meantime though, there are beers that are disappearing from our shelves and pubs in the Pacific Northwest purely because of the type of ingredients used in the recipe of certain beers.  Ninkasi’s Spank Dog is one of those beers (Nikos).  Originally, it was made in tribute to the Wild Duck in Eugene, Oregon because they knew the former owners and brewers but because of the increase in price of hops and the lack of production of it, it has been discontinued.  Imagine if a memory you had associated to a certain taste could never be appropriately reclaimed because of the discontinuation of the food or drink you love.  I’d imagine that a piece of you had been snatched away.  Now, all this information about craft beer has mainly been about the positive aspects of it but what about its negative effects attributed to the average human individual?

I understand that craft beer is not for everyone and some people are more susceptible to negative health side effects such as weight gain or alcoholism.  Overall though, I think that a moderate amount of craft beer can be healthier for you because of the better quality ingredients inside it.  Chip & Christina say that there are more vitamins in craft beer but there are also more alcohol and calories than your average American domestic.  If you look at it on a level of having just one beer, the difference can be grand but if you’re drinking to get intoxicated, I believe that craft beer is better for you in the long run because you don’t have to drink as much to get drunk thus less overall calories entering into the body.  Nikos explains that people who drink craft beer usually drink it because it has more nutrients and fewer additives.  It’s like comparing real food to fast food.  He also explains that the alcohol doesn’t normally create the alcoholic but rather it enables them.  We both agree that people who normally drink craft beer drink it for different reasons than the person who normally drinks well liquor or domestic beer.

Overall, the future holds much in store for craft beer and the people who make it as well as the people who consume it.  There are still many more things we will see in the Pacific Northwest and I think that Eugene has some great possibilities in store for it when it comes to craft beer and food.  Every year, KLCC has its Craft Brewfest and there’s that Sasquatch Brewfest that occurs in Eugene yearly where they pair craft beer with craft foods, which is something I believe, should never be missed.  Pairing beer with food is a trend that is catching on quickly within the Pacific Northwest and the owners of the Bier Stein are highly interested in starting food pairings at their restaurant though they have no time due to demand of their establishment currently.  In 2006, the Portland metro area had 38 breweries in its confines, which is more than any other metro area in the world.  In effect, that would almost make Portland beer capital of the world compared to its population.  I think we should be proud of that fact because in turn it means we are an educated people and spend our money smartly by buying local.

Annotated Bibliography

Brooks, Jay R. “No Hops, No Barley, No Beer!” Beer Northwest. Spring 2008.
This article explains the possible reason why craft beer is being endangered with the shift in climate change as well as change in demand of agriculture for commercial use.  Brooks also explains the fear of farmers growing corn over craft beer ingredients.

Gatza, Paul, Julia Herz, Cindy Jones.  “2007 Craft Beer Industry Statistics.” Beertown.org 17 Apr. 2008. 29 Apr. 2008 http://www.beertown.com/craftbrewing/statistics.html
This webpage offers some interesting statistics of get increase of craft beer microbreweries and brewpubs that occur within the U.S.  The comparison of 2007 to 2006 gives us a relation in the increase in almost all areas of craft beer making.  The use of a pie chart and bar graph also help the reader comprehend the statistics.

Hardy, Chip & Christina Hardy.  Pesonal Interview.  22 May 2008.
The interview conducted mainly focused on how their establishment has flourished in respects with the popularity of craft food and beer, how the ingredient shortage has effected their establishment, and any health effects they know of pertaining to craft beer.

Oliver, Garrett. The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer With Real Food. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2003.
Oliver celebrates craft beer in this book on a large scale while explaining how it’s made, the history of it, brewing traditions, and other bits of knowledge.  The history of beer within the U.S. and how Prohibition has shaped some of the mass market beers of today was of interest especially when there are so many independent brewpubs and microbreweries within the Pacific Northwest.

Ridge, Nikos.  Email Interview.  20 May 2008.
I mainly focused on how a brewery located within the local confines of Eugene, Oregon has grown to its current size, how the shortage of hops has effected their recipes for their beers, and the health pros and cons of craft beer.

“Southern Arizona Brewer Wins Cheap Hops.”  Beverage World.  29 Apr. 2008.  10 May 2008 <http://www.beverageworld.com/content/view/34721/92/&gt;.