What’s In a Name?

The Craft Beer Industry’s Obsession with Styles

beer bottles in style

By: Erik Myers

When Kevin Davey, the brewer at Wayfinder Brewing Company in Portland, OR spoke on record about what his new style of “Cold IPA” meant from a process and ingredients standpoint, the craft beer industry erupted with contention. Soon, like Brut IPA before it, it was the buzz of online brewer forums. Some brewers were eager to make their own version, some ranted in angry indignation about a new sullying of a classic style, already much maligned.

  If you’re unfamiliar with the “style”, I’ll catch you up now. A Cold IPA is made with lager yeast and fermented at around 65F – much like a Steam Beer. It is dry-hopped during active fermentation to take advantage of yeast’s ability to biotransform hop oils. One could almost consider it a cross between an Italian Pilsner and a Hazy IPA. Almost.

  Somewhere on the Internet, the debate still rages. If it’s made with lager yeast, how can you possibly call it an IPA? After all A stands for “Ale.” And if you’re fermenting with lager yeast at a warm temperature, doesn’t that stylistically make it a California Common? If you’re hopping during active fermentation, it’ll certainly pick up some haze. Does that make it New England Style? We may never know.

  It’s not an unfamiliar debate. A decade or more ago, beer industry veterans will remember a similar debate around Black IPA. How could you possibly call it an IPA? After all the P stands for “Pale.” We’ve had Brown IPAs, Red IPAs, Belgian IPAs, Brut IPAs, Session IPAs, Hazy IPAs, Juicy IPAs, and even IPLs. “India” is one of the most over-used meaningless words found in beer styles, yet the industry is happy to pedantically argue about every word that happens to land anywhere near it.

  The industry is both obsessed with style classifications and their definitions and crippled by its hyper-focus on them. At the largest beer competitions in the world – The Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup – beers are judged as “best” by how closely they adhere to style guidelines written and maintained by the all-holy gatekeepers of beer, the Brewers Association. The US-based organization essentially functions as the worldwide arbiter of what makes a beer “authentic”.

  Here’s the problem. Brewing “to style” is not a measure of quality, and customers would rarely recognize it if it were.

  The arcane and specific definition of beer styles emerged at around the same time as the country’s first craft breweries with the 1985 founding of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) by Pat Baker of the Home and Beer Trade Association along with support from the author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, and veritable Godfather of Craft Beer, Charlie Papazian. From its originators, it seems quite clear that the purpose of defining beer styles was to further interest in homebrewing.

  Using styles as an educational tool created a common language for homebrewers to learn how beer differed around the world. It created a framework for writing about historic origins and context. It gave homebrewers a language for their dreams of recreating that beer they had when they were traveling right in their own kitchen. It gave them the ability to share recipes with other homebrewing enthusiasts in a shorthand that they could all recognize, to save the countless hours that would otherwise be needed to explain over and again the nuanced differences between an American Brown Ale and a Robust Porter.

  The vast majority of the craft breweries in this country were built by homebrewers which amplifies these definitions on a commercial level and gives them an outsized importance, particularly to the people within the industry itself.

  According to the Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB), there are 5 classifications allowed on a label: beer, ale, lager, porter, and stout. Well-style-versed brewers scoff at this list for the same reason that they roll their eyes at Cold IPA. Porter and stout are both ales, and both ales and lagers are beers. It’s not so much a list of styles as it is a Venn diagram.

  By contrast, the 2020 GABF Style Guidelines listed 91 different styles, with 127 subcategories. The style guideline document itself I     s 61 pages long and is updated every year. Somehow, though, brewers still think that when they put the words “Czech Pilsener” on the can, that their customers can accurately determine that, of course this isn’t a “German Pilsener” and obviously it’s not an “American Pilsener” or an “International Pilsener.”

  Styles are great tools. They’re good communicators. In a short description, they can communicate to the drinker exactly what they should be able to expect inside the package, assuming, that is, that they know what the words in that description are referring to.

  Unfortunately, craft beer consumers don’t have this level of education. Their knowledge of beer styles has been imparted to them through one reality television show hosted by the irreverent Scottish founders of Brew Dog and another focused on the weird antics of the country’s “extreme” brewery, Dogfish Head. They’ve learned styles from airport menus and that one brewery tour they went on a few years back when they got a Groupon, and they’re pretty sure they learned something at that beer festival that they went to on their birthday when they tried to have one of every single beer there and passed out in the parking lot.

  The fact is that styles are industry jargon. They are not marketing materials, or a meaningful form of communication to customers. They don’t really describe what’s inside a glass, so much as they describe what’s inside a recipe. Every brewer in the country has a story about a customer walking into their bar, looking blankly at the list of beers and asking, “Do you have any ales or lagers?” That’s because the meaningful differences between an ale vs. a lager can be summed up by describing what a beer tastes like, rather than referencing the species of the fungus that digested the barley sugar.

  Sure, because of the growing popularity of the industry, some of those terms have made it into modern beer-drinking vernacular, but only on a limited basis. In fact, the reason IPA has worked so well as a moniker for craft beer is that it is short, easy to remember, and is attached to a bold flavor profile. Consider, though, that the term IPA has been on a centuries long journey. What currently constitutes an IPA today would be completely unrecognizable to the people who originally made them. Consider, too, that many customers do not know that IPA is an acronym. Nor do they associate it with a particular color or the species of yeast, and they would be hard pressed to tell you why the word “India” is involved at all. It probably involves boats.

  Calling Davey’s iteration of a style a “Cold IPA” is fine, even though it’s not really cold, nor an ale, nor Indian, because it’s created a term in which industry members can communicate the techniques he’s using in order to iterate upon the idea at another brewery. Like the homebrewers that created this classification system, he’s using familiar points of the naming system to communicate to others how they should take a stab at their own version of this creation – and that, ultimately, is the soul of what the craft brewing industry is about – and what will insure it moves on into the future: experimentation, innovation, and creativity, and then, iteration. Style guidelines are merely the framework with which that is communicated, and nothing more. They are not a holy book of information and to most of the rest of the world, the words used within them are largely meaningless.

  Style guidelines are excellent tools for internal communication. They’re great for recipe development. They’re even okay when used to classify beer for competition. But that’s where they stop being useful. When you’re selling beer in packaging or across a bar, it’s important to meet people where they are. Communicate with your customers in their vernacular, not your jargon.

Barrels & Racking:

Modern Systems, Historic Preservation and Refurbished Options Producing Optimal Results

rows of barrel

By: Cheryl Gray

In 1879, distiller Frederick Stitzel patented a revolutionary method that put a new spin on how barrels for spirits and other crafted drinks are stored.

  Some 150 years later, the practice of racking barrels, also known as ricking, is an industry-standard. Placing barrels on their sides, rather than upright, and supporting them underneath with either timber or metal, increases air circulation and space.  Racking keeps pressure off barrel staves, a problem that Stitzel and other early distillers learned could result in losing a barrel’s precious contents through leakage.

Space to Breathe

  Western Square Industries, headquartered in Stockton, California, has been in business for 43 years and is among the global leaders in its field. The company originally catered to the agriculture and livestock industries, specializing in two main products, steel gates and corrals. Western Square Industries now manufactures a broad range of barrel racking systems for distillers, breweries, wineries, meaderies and cideries. It serves clients across the United States, with a significant client base in California, Texas and the Eastern U.S.  

  President and CEO Trygve Mikkelsen took over the company in 1993 and quickly recognized its potential in manufacturing barrel racks. Mikkelsen told Beverage Master Magazine about one of the company’s most popular barrel systems for distillers expanding their operations.

  “The Barrel Master is our most popular model for distilleries in growth since the user can mix and match sizes of barrels in a safe forklift-able stacking system. The Barrel Master can also be bought with the barrels sitting on wheels for easy rotation if desired. This is possible because there is no weight on each barrel.”

  The Barrel Master 30/53 allows barrels ranging in size from 30 to 53 gallons to be stored on the same rack. The rack-on-rack design allows barrels to be more visible and accessible. There is also the opportunity to stack barrels higher without compromising stability. An optional wheel design provides 180-degree barrel rotation in either direction. Unlike other systems, which are more like pallets between barrels and require a uniform barrel shape and size, Mikkelson said Barrel Master’s rack-on-rack function eliminates any barrel putting pressure on another below. The rack also features a storage-saving design in that it can be nested into a stack when empty.  The racking system is manufactured from stainless steel and is available in several color and coating options.

  Mikkelsen said breweries and distilleries also use his company’s seven-inch two-barrel racks and another product known as Big Foot. Sometimes, Mikkelsen said, full access is less important than space.  In that case, clients choose the company’s low-profile rack, known as two-barrel four-inch racks.

Tradition and Preservation

  While newly established distilleries may look to modern-day solutions for ricking, the name Brown-Forman evokes a history like no other, including that it is the only distillery company in the world to make its own barrels, which are stored in a range of distilleries, some with warehouses and barrel ricking systems dating back to the late 1800s.

  When a young Jack Daniel first learned the art of making whiskey under the tutelage of a soon-to-be ex-slave-turned-master-distiller, Nathan Nearest Green, neither could have imagined that the whiskey created would become synonymous with the tradition and preservation of some of the most historic distilleries in the world. Brown-Forman is the keeper of that tradition, in the form of four distilleries, three in Kentucky and, of course, the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Tennessee. 

  With some 130 years of warehouses spread across four distilleries, the barrel ricking found in any given Brown-Forman warehouse depends upon many variables. Chris Morris, Woodford Reserve Master Distiller for Brown-Forman, explained that while a modern distillery can install all one type of ricking, the historical distilleries of Brown-Forman have operated on a different premise.

  “The date of construction for the numerous warehouses at our distilleries ranges from 1890 through 2020.  Needless to say, this means we have many types of barrel rick material, from wood to metal. Within those two groups, we find different types of wood and metal in use over the years. That depends on the era an individual warehouse was constructed and who built it. We also have some palletized storage as well as floor dunnage. The Woodford Reserve Distillery, for example, has warehouses with wooden ricks and others with heavy iron rails. Woodford also has some palletized space and floor dunnage. 

  “While our ricks are made of various materials, they are all using the same design that was patented in 1879: the ‘open rick’ design. Now, this again will vary in length and height, based on the size of the warehouse. Some wide houses will have a rick that holds 31 barrels, while others may only hold 11 due to the narrow width of the house. Most of our warehouses have ricks that are ‘three high’ or have three tiers of ricks.  However, we do have one house that has ‘six high’ ricks. Still, the design doesn’t change.  When our cooperage makes a barrel for a distillery, like a Woodford Reserve specific barrel, it doesn’t know which warehouse it is going to be entered into, so that barrel has to fit in every warehouse’s ricks.”

  When it comes to proper storage, Morris said, some things never change. “The proper storage for a barrel in the rick is simple. Rick it with the bung in the 12 o’clock position to minimize leakage. If a barrel already has a leak, rick it with the leak point at 12 o’clock. Otherwise, it is the condition of the warehouse that is important, rather than how the barrel sits in the rick.  We want clean, dry conditions in the warehouse.”

  Morris also said that there is no need to rotate barrels if there is good inventory control, along with batching barrels together to make a consistent flavor profile. A barrel matures based upon warehouse temperatures and the length of time the barrel spends in the warehouse, not by how it sits.

  “There has been a tremendous amount of study conducted on the impact temperature has on the maturation process,” he said. “Brown-Forman has research papers that date back to the 1920’s – we operated during Prohibition under medicinal permit KY—3. Based on these many studies, we never allow our Kentucky warehouses to drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. This requires that each of our warehouses be constructed with thick masonry walls so they can be heated as necessary. They will get as hot as they will in the summer because they can’t be cooled. Jack Daniels has ‘iron clad’ warehouses, so they can’t be heated and will, therefore, get cold in the winter. So, Brown-Forman matures its whiskies across a variety of maturation styles.”

Reusing Resources

  Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, is home to The Barrel Broker, co-owned by John and Kathleen Gill, who started the business 11 years ago in California. The company sources and supplies used barrels and racks for breweries, wineries and distilleries. While its clients are primarily in the Midwest, The Barrel Broker also has business overseas.  The company’s customer base prefers barrels freshly emptied and slightly wet. A lot of that barrel stock comes from bourbon distilleries which, by law, can only use a barrel once for bourbon.

  Accordingly, The Barrel Broker has some insight to share on how to store barrels and what its customers prefer when selecting used racks. John Gill, who has a background in the wine tourism industry and heads quality control for the company, said that for his clients, choosing a racking system really comes down to need, preference and budget.

  “Racks are designed to safely store barrels two wide and up to five stacks high while being able to be moved with a pallet jack or forklift. The seven-inch racks allow ample space to access the bungs while stacked for pulling samples or topping off.  We suggest used, refurbished or new two-barrel racks in three-to-seven-inch sizes.  We sell them all for barrels, 15 to 60 gallons.” 

  Gill agrees with other experts, such as Morris, who say that barrels don’t need to be rotated. He told Beverage Master Magazine that he also believes that keeping the proper temperature in a warehouse is key to a successful product outcome from any barrel.

  “Ideal for breweries is high humidity, 60% to 70%, and cool temperatures to minimize evaporation loss. Ideal for distilleries is a continuous change of temperatures and humidity to achieve complex flavors and complexity in barrel-aged spirits.”

  Price and preference dictate what racking systems a brewery or distillery may choose. However, experts agree that controlling warehouse temperature, avoiding undue pressure on barrels, and keeping tabs on inventory control produce the best results.  Whether wood or metal, racking is a matter of knowing what will stack up as the best outcome for the product inside a barrel.

Breweries: How to Price your Beer

Receive a special $50 discount off of the Craft Brewery Financial Training annual subscription. Visit http://www.craftbreweryfinance.com – Use the discount code beveragemaster at checkout to claim savings.

I recently bought a book called Priceless, The Myth of Fair Value. The book is 300+ pages long and provides great information about pricing and the role of human psychology in how purchasing decisions are made.

While the book contains a lot of interesting stories, studies, and research, it doesn’t do much to help with the fundamental question: How should you price your products?

Ideally, to price your beer, you would determine the costs, add a healthy markup, and sell it to your wholesaler (or retailer) at a fat profit. Unfortunately, the market forces and your competitors have some influence here.

So, how do you price your products?

You can look at what everyone else is charging and follow suit. You can take a wild guess and hope it will work out profitably in the end. Or you can go along with what your beer wholesaler suggests for pricing.

Regardless of how you may have priced your beer in the past, today we’re going to talk about how you can price your products profitably for the future. To make the concepts easier to understand, we’ll use hypothetical pricing numbers and examples. And we’ll walk through a template you can use to make pricing easy. Best of all, you don’t have to read a 300-page book to find the answers.

Disclaimer: Since we are talking pricing, all examples listed are hypothetical only and used for illustrative and informational purposes. Prices, costs, and margins will vary widely based on market conditions and other factors.

How to Price Your Products

  • Pricing Terms: PTC, PTR, PTW
  • How Pricing Works in the Real World: Margin needed by the brewery, wholesaler, and retailer
  • Use the Pricing Model: Plug n’ play Pricing tool for your Beer

Pricing Terms

The typical beer sales cycle looks like this: the brewery sells to the wholesaler, who then sells to the retailer, who then sells to the end consumer.

At each stage in the sales cycle, there are different prices and markups that are charged. The Price to Wholesaler, or PTW, is the amount the brewery charges to the wholesaler. The Price to Retailer, or PTR, is the price the wholesaler charges to the retailer. Lastly, the Price to Consumer, or PTC, is the amount charged to the consumer. This is the amount listed on the store shelf for your beer.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the price the consumer pays for your beer is significantly higher than what you sold it to the wholesaler for. The reason, of course, is that each stakeholder in the sales cycle needs to make money. The brewery, the wholesaler and the retailer all have margins that they need on the sale of the beer in order to run their business profitably.

Those terms again…

  • PTW = Price to wholesaler
  • PTR = Price to retailer
  • PTC = Price to consumer

How Prices Work in the Real World

To properly price your beer, it may be useful to work backwards from the Price to Consumer. This is the price of the beer on the shelf at the retail account. If your competitor’s brand is selling for a hypothetical $12.99 a six-pack, you may want to price your beer accordingly.

The challenge is to figure out how much to charge your wholesaler, who then will charge the retailer, who then will price the beer at the $12.99 price point. How does all that math work? We’ll take this in small steps.

Here’s a hypothetical example. Let’s say you charge the wholesaler $25 for a case of beer. The wholesaler needs to make, for example, a 30% margin when they sell it to the retailer. To get a 30% margin, the wholesaler then charges the retailer $36 for the beer.

The math: $36 minus $25 = $11 Margin for the wholesaler. $11 divided by $36 = 30.5% Margin percentage.

Continuing the example, let’s say the retailer also needs to make 30% on the beer. Since they will sell it in six-packs, they markup the beer and charge the customer $12.99 per six-pack.

The math: 4 six-packs times $12.99 = $51.96 total sales to consumer for the case of beer. $51.96 minus $36 cost of beer = $15.96 margin.  $15.96 margin divided by $51.96 sales price = 30.7% margin percentage.

Each stakeholder needs to make their margins at each point in the sales cycle. This is what keeps the world going round, and the beer being sold. The numbers can get confusing fast. Thank goodness we have a Pricing Model that will do the math for you.

Use the Pricing Model: Plug n’ play Pricing for your Beer

There are many variables to consider when pricing your beer. You can break out the calculator, pen, and pencil, or you can use this Pricing Model spreadsheet. Below is a snapshot:

The first step is to determine what your beer costs to make. These costs include direct labor, direct material, and overhead. Next, determine the margin that your brewery needs to cover operating costs and realize a net profit.

In the example above, the total costs of the package are $14.80. The PTW, price to wholesaler is $25, and the brewery margin is 40.8%.

The next step is to understand the required margins for the wholesaler and retailer and expected price to consumer.

In the example above, the wholesaler sells to the retailer at $36 per case. The retailer then sells the case in four units (four six-packs) at $12.99 each. This is the price to consumer. 

The pricing model takes all the variables involved in setting the price and combines them into an easy-to-use spreadsheet. Simply enter a few numbers and you’ll have the information to get your beer on the shelf at a competitive price.

Wrap Up + Action Items
Read and understand the pricing terms – Price to Wholesaler (PTD), Price to Retailer (PTR) and Price to Consumer (PTC). Know that everyone needs to make money at each step in the sales cycle. The wholesaler needs to make their margin, and so does the retailer. Most importantly, so do you, the brewery owner.

Don’t guess or follow the herd when it comes to pricing. Use the pricing model to properly price your beer and achieve profitability. Your income statement will thank you.

You can download a copy of the pricing model at www.CraftBreweryFinancialTraining.com.


Mixology Mishaps:

How To Turn Negative Online Reviews into Successful Sales

woman reading on a tablet

By: Chris Mulvaney, President (CMDS)

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never …hurt us? Wait, never mind.  In the craft beverage industry, words can do damage, especially online where your reputation is always one Google search away.

  Facebook, Yelp, and Google are the three most-trusted review sources for local searches.  Reviews on these sites matter.  The way that your business treats a negative review can tell your customers a lot about you.  So, if you do happen to receive one, you need to act fast.

And while you are no doubt used to handling the difficult customer in person, social review channels are open for all to see, and negative comments can reflect poorly on your craft brand and, ultimately, cost you sales — right?  Well, yes and no.

  Yes, if you don’t manage your negative comments properly, then it could be bad news for your revenue stream. However, there are ways to offset negative reviews. And, if you respond the right way, you can turn those negative comments around and avoid having a damaging social media mishap.

  In fact, you can leverage them to actually improve your conversion rates, “boost” your sales, and ultimately create success for your craft beverage brand.

Create a Game Plan

  Before you take any action on a review, you should always have a game plan in place. That way, your social media presence remains consistent across all review platforms.

  Look at it this way: think of each negative review as an opportunity to show your customers that you care.

  Here are some game plan directives to put into place:

1.  Don’t Ignore Them or Be Defensive:  Hearing someone criticize your business hurts. It can be tempting to close your browser every time you read a bad review, or, even worse, to respond with a cutting retort, but burying your head in the sand or exhibiting online “road rage” isn’t going to solve anything. Instead, come up with the right response. Address them by name. Humanizing your approach will demonstrate your brand ethics. Make sure that you remain genuine. Don’t answer with an auto-reply. Take the time to actually investigate each issue. Don’t debate the validity of their statements, argue, or respond in an aggressive or combative way, even if you don’t agree. Arguing with a dissatisfied client online makes their original complaint seem more valid, and worse, it never makes you look good.

       Instead, thank the reviewer for their feedback and offer a sincere apology for their experience. You don’t have to take responsibility, but do show empathy.

2.  Respond as Quickly as Possible: It is vital to respond to negative comments as quickly as you can.  Doing this will give you a better chance to salvage those bad reviews. Each minute matters on social media because everyone has real-time access to it.

       To help you manage your social media responses in a timely manner, it’s best to hire an agency. They can assist with implementing tools so you are alerted in real-time whenever you receive a comment on one of your channels. You can quickly resolve any issues and prevent significant customer loss.

3.  Really Make the Effort to Solve the Problem: Making something right will also show potential customers that you are completely committed to ensuring satisfaction.

       In addition, many reviewers will go back and post their experience if it turns into a positive one, and every positive review takes the sting out of a negative one. Highlight these experiences so customers see that you care about the outcome.

4. Keep it Real:  An imperfect, but pretty strong rating appears much more believable to customers than having a perfect record. Unblemished reviews can look “fake” and more untrustworthy than their blemished counterparts. In a nutshell, negative reviews provide some honest feedback on your craft beverage product or service and can mix in nicely with the positive commentary.

Leverage Other Business’s Negative Experiences

  As the saying goes, a person who learns from other people’s mistakes is a wise person. And leveraging other people’s negative experiences can offer many benefits.

  Learning from others by doing your research helps you avoid the same obstacles.

  For instance, here are some top online customer complaints about various craft beverage establishments swirling around social media right now:

●    Place not open as advertised/Website not updated/Hours not listed.

●    Want a bigger pour for the price.

●    Employees are rude/non-compliant with safety.

●    Tour was longer than it stated.

●    Not clear about rules (kids, food, etc).

●    Not enough offerings/limited selection.

●    No Flight Layout (for breweries).

  All of these comments boil down to the same two issues: Online presence and customer communication.

  You know what takes to manage your business and your inventory. And, with the popularity of craft beverage businesses, there is a steady stream of new customers. Some patrons, used to a different type of establishment, or ones who are simply impatient when it comes to being served at a busy place, offer a different level of frustration.

  To counteract this, make sure you take notice of negative reviews from similar businesses to limit having the same thing happen to you.

  Here are some counter-acting responses to the above examples:

●   Always keep your website and hours of operation updated. Do you require reservations or are you first come, first serve? Do your hours change with the seasons? Close for private parties? Planning these updates in advance and keeping your business information up to date ensures you do not get disgruntled customers who are more likely to chalk up their “bad” experience through a negative review.

●   Be CLEAR with your pricing, online and in person. Be transparent about promotions and their start/end dates. State whether sales tax is or is not included. Be open about the size of your pour. Being transparent can avoid any unwelcome surprises.

●   Train your employees in the art of customer service. While you know there will be times when it will get busy and your staff may get pulled in different directions, the customer should always be treated in kind.  Consider security cameras to give peace of mind to both the customer and the staff so that any situation can have an objective eye.

●   Be aware of the most up-to-date safety and cleanliness measures. Make sure your business adheres to them to keep everyone as safe as possible all round.

●   If you provide tours, state when your tours begin and finish. If they can be more lax, state that too. Make sure this is stated online and in person.

●   Let your customer be prepared before they come to your business on what your rules are by posting them and in your place of business. Do you have a food menu or do you use a trusted vendor? Are kids allowed? Is there an “Adults-Only” area? Tasting rules? Your menu and offerings should be clearly stated online and in person. Make sure to keep this updated. Are you a brewery with a flight menu? Let them know either way. Some things cannot be avoided (such as running out of a flavor or not being able to offer growlers) … try to keep up on this as much as possible. Mention it on social or display it on a board at your business.

  You will always have to take the good with the bad, but the more you know, the more you can prepare for.

  It’s True: Those Bad reviews Can Actually Improve Your Sales. Believe it or not, bad reviews have the power to improve your sales and conversion rates, too.

  As previously mentioned, if your business gets only positive reviews, consumers might question whether those reviews are legitimate.

  Since nobody is perfect, having a healthy mix of both positive and negative reviews will help customers view your business as more trustworthy. Most customers actually expect negative reviews on your site, and if they don’t see them, they think your reviews are fabricated.

  And, when there are negative reviews mixed in with the positive ones, that reduced skepticism will add to your brand’s authenticity.

  For that reason, it’s important not to delete your negative comments on your social channels because they can actually work in your favor by making the positive comments that much more credible.

The Last Gulp

To recap:

●   Create a uniformed GAMEPLAN.

●   Use other competitors’ negative review experiences to improve your brand strategy.

●   Leverage negative comments to drive beverage sales and conversion rates.

  That’s why it’s important to hire the right agency to manage your online presence with these initiatives and more. Doing so ensures that you uphold a valuable asset – your business’s reputation, without taking away from your valuable time.

  All in all, your social media strategy in how you respond to negative comments can flip the unsatisfactory customer experience on its head, turning them into positive sentiments and increased sales, resulting in the happy sound of clinking glasses.

  Chris Mulvaney is a business developer, entrepreneur, and an award-winning creative marketing strategist. His extensive professional background includes working with some of the world’s leading brands – and personally helping clients refine their corporate vision and generate the kind of eye-popping results that too many companies only dream about. Visit… cmdsonline.com

Houston Cider Company

Putting Cider on the Map in Texas  

beer can cider

By: Nan McCreary

Keep in the heart of Texas, far from the apple orchards of upstate New York or the Pacific Northwest, a Houston urban cidery is introducing locals to one of the joys of that age-old beverage that many consider the drink of the future: hard cider.

  Houston Cider Company, founded as a brewery in 2015 by two young scientists, geologist Steve Macalello and chemist Justin Engle, offered Houstonians their first locally produced cider in 2017.  Today, the cidery, located in the trendy Houston Heights neighborhood, is the only just-cider facility in the city and a hot spot for regulars who live in the area, as well as those who travel miles “because I heard I have to try your cider.”

  “We aren’t even scratching the surface of what Houston can consume,” Macalello told Beverage Master Magazine.

  Macalello’s cider is increasingly popular due to the demand for gluten-free drinks and low-alcohol beverages. “Cider is strongly associated with beer — they’re packaged similarly, as opposed to wine — and people are looking for a beer alternative. And the fact that our cidery is made locally really appeals to people.”

  Macalello and Engle began their operation as Town in City Brewery. “When we started, there were fewer than a dozen breweries in Houston,” Engle said. “Now there are 80-some. In the beginning, we designed our facility so we could have add-ons, and when we saw a lot of customers wanting something other than beer, we decided to add cider.” 

  By 2018, the two were splitting production between beer and cider, but as they saw the demand for cider growing, they pulled the plug on beer. The decision appears to be a good one. Today, the Houston Cider Company services over 300 accounts in Southeast Texas, including Spec’s Wine, Spirits & Finer Foods, Total Wine & More, Whole Foods Market and H-E-B. The cidery has also won multiple national awards for its products.

  As an urban cidery, Houston Cider Company can’t juice on-site, so they rely on suppliers from the Pacific Northwest to provide high-quality fruit for on-site fermentation. Their ciders are a blend of culinary apples for sugar content and cider apples for flavor. Botanicals, herbs and spices — added either during or post-fermentation — are all-natural and, as much as possible, sourced locally.

  While Macalello works behind the scenes managing marketing and social media, Engle and assistant cidermaker and archeologist/geologist Olivia Fry are on the front lines, actually making the cider. Their philosophies are similar. “Our ciders are very traditional,” Engle said.  “We make them as clean and crisp as possible. We take a wine-making approach. We play with the yeast, but we choose yeast that doesn’t have the esters and phenols that some people are looking for.”

  Fry agreed. “We want our cider to be flavorful but all-natural. When we came out with our Houston 75 — based on the classic French 75 — we tried to do something different by using different yeasts and adding fresh lemon peel instead of processed sugars to get the flavors we wanted.”

  With their backgrounds, the cidermakers are very science-driven. “We like data,” Engle said.  “We’re always looking at data and methods of improvement. The more data we can collect, the better we’re able to predict fermentation timelines based on pH. We can measure down to the millimeter. Sometimes one additional peppercorn can make or break the cider.”

  At the top of Houston Cider Company’s product line is the Core Four: ciders based on high-quality apple juice from the Pacific Northwest. The Core Four starts with Dry Cider, a 2019 U.S. Cup Cider Bronze award-winner, with flavors similar to a white wine with green apple. Next is the Cherry Cider, made with Montmorency cherry juice from Michigan, and a 2019 Cider Craft Double Gold award winner. Rosé Cider, featuring organic rose buds and Jamaican hibiscus flowers, won the 2019 Cider Craft Silver award. Finally, Pineapple Ginger is made with pineapple juice from Hawaii and freshly cut ginger. All are 6% alcohol by volume with no sugars added.

  Additionally, the cidery releases a new small-batch cider every week through the taproom and on the website. “These are more fun flavors that incorporate botanicals or herbs or off-the-wall stuff,” Macalello told Beverage Master Magazine. “This allows us creative latitude to have fun with ingredients and see what they can do. If the customers like them, then we will put them on the market.”

  These ciders include unique combinations such as Tea for Victory, fermented with an Earl Grey Black Tea blend and back-sweetened with organic agave nectar from Jalisco, Mexico, and Passion Fruit Hibiscus Cider, made with hibiscus from Jamaica and passion fruit from Mexico. Most recently, the cidery released South Coast Hopped Cider, a big, bold cider with assertive hop flavors and subdued bitterness. “This is a great cider for people who love beer but are sensitive to gluten,” Fry said. “It’s the next best thing to a beer.”

  In 2019, the Houston Cider Company produced between 875 and 1,000 barrels of cider. To meet the increasing demand for their product, Engle and Macalello added new 4,500 gallon tanks and a canning line capable of filling 40 cans per minute. But then Covid-19 hit, and the company had to cut back on production and close the taproom. Not to be deterred, and looking ahead to the post-Covid world, they’re gearing up for a major expansion. “Right now, all of our product stays in Houston because we don’t have the capacity to expand,” Macalello said. “But 2021 will be a good year. We just installed two 120-barrel tanks and plan to add another one. There are dozens of stores that need products, so we hope to triple our growth this year.”

  In the meantime, the cidery is selling their cider to-go and taking their products to farmer’s markets. Soon, they hope to reopen their taproom, which can accommodate 30 people, and their pet-friendly patio and garden area. They also hope to bring back events, which they used to hold quarterly. In the past, they’ve hosted a crawfish boil and a tiki night with tiki-inspired ciders accompanied by a pig roast. They’ve also participated in White Linen Night in the Heights, an annual street festival originating from a centuries-old New Orleans tradition where people wore all white to lessen the effects of the sun.

  Last year, the Houston Cider Company formed a partnership with Bee2Bee Honey Collective, where the cidery made honey sourced from six different Houston neighborhood apiaries, each yielding different flavors of honey. Customers could vote for their favorite honey cider, with the cidery giving the winner a $500 donation to distribute to organizations in that neighborhood working on bee-friendly projects. “We hope to do this every year,” Engle said.  “We really enjoyed partnering with Bee2Bee and educating our neighborhoods.”

  As Houston Cider Company looks to the future, they will continue to create modern American craft ciders with a focus on fresh ingredients, but expect some surprises. “Our approach to cidermaking is traditional, but in terms of flavor, the sky’s the limit,” Engle told Beverage Master Magazine. “I like to cook at home and have all these flavors in my head, so I make ciders that have more flavor components than just apples.”

  Their game plan also includes using more local ingredients, whether buying herbs from local farmers or even growing their own. Fry, for example, started a garden in her backyard and may produce some herbs in bulk for the cidery.

  As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, research indicates that we can expect to see more and more innovation from cideries like the Houston Cider Company. Cider is one of the fastest-growing segments of the liquor industry, and today there are over 900 cideries spread across the country.

  As Houston Cider Company says on their website, “We believe cider is for everyone, and that it is best enjoyed with good friends, great food, and high spirits.” That pretty much says it all.

  To learn more about Houston Cider Company, or to buy its products, visit https://www.houstoncidertx.com.

Exploring Brewing & Astronomy with John Harris of Ecliptic Brewing

customers waiting on their order

By: Becky Garrison

Upon meeting John Harris, one might not realize that this soft-spoken man is, in fact, a legend in the world of craft beer – not to mention a seasoned astronomer. Chris Crabb, Director and Or-ganizer of the Oregon Brewers Festival, calls him “a warm, wonderful soul” and says she is “honored to call him a friend.”

  Harris has been a seminal figure in the Oregon craft brewing scene for over thirty years. “He’s the only brewer that has brewed a beer for every single Oregon Brewers Festival, representing three different breweries during its 32-year run,” says Crabb. “The festival often coincides with John’s birthday, so he has one of the largest birthday parties thrown in his honor every year.”

  Steven Shomler, author and culinary storyteller, reflects on Harris’ stellar course. “John has gone from home brewing and following Fred Eckhardt’s book ‘A Treatise on Lager Beers,’ to apply-ing for his first professional brewing job at the Hillsdale Brewpub, to being the very first profes-sional brewer in Bend, Oregon, to running his own successful venture: Ecliptic Brewing.”

  Harris’ interest in home brewing began in the early 1980s, just as microbreweries started popping up in Washington State and Oregon. For over thirty years, he worked as a professional brewer, working with some of the Pacific Northwest’s biggest brands. While working with the McMenamins brothers, he was the first brewer to make Hammerhead in its all-grain formulation. His accomplishments at Deschutes Brewery include devising the recipes for their Black Butte Porter, Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Obsidian Stout beers. During his 20- years at Full Sail Brewery, he ran their Brewer’s Reserve program, where his formulations included Slipknot, Hop Pur-suit and the Sunspot Series. After the brewery eliminated Brewer’s Reserve in 2012, Harris felt the need to move on.

  So, he found a former body shop located at 825 North Cook Street in the Mississippi district of  Portland near Widmer Brothers Brewery. He oversaw the shop’s transformation into a 15-barrel brewery, replete with a taproom featuring a 145-seat restaurant and a patio in the parking lot. In October 2012, Ecliptic Brewing was incorporated, and then, on October 20, 2013, it opened for business.

  Harris knew that his brewery needed to have an astronomy name and theme. His interest in as-tronomy was rekindled when he saw a Sky and Telescope magazine on an airport newsstand while traveling for work. He bought a copy, and the astronomy bug was back.

  When asked what prompted his interest in astronomy, Harris points to his uncle, who gave him a telescope when he was a child. From there, astronomy became a hobby that he got in and out of over the years. A year after spotting this magazine at the airport, Harris bought a new and bigger telescope and began going to star parties.

  Initially, Harris had another working name for his brewery, but it was already taken. The Eclip-tic, the astronomical term for the plane of Earth’s orbit around the sun, kept popping up and eventually became the name for the brewery. A 25×25 foot mural of an Ecliptic plane, created by Loey Hargrove, graces the restaurant’s bar wall. Spaced themed label art, marketing catchphrases like “Pour some space in your face,” and signature beers such as Ecliptic Starburst IPA and Phaser Hazy IPA give the feel of a brewery founded by someone with their eyes clearly looking upward at the stars.

  “In hindsight, there is no better name than Ecliptic, as this ties into our seasonal beer and food we make here at our brewery and restaurant, as we go around the sun on planet earth,” Harris says.

Signature and Seasonal Beers

  Ecliptic’s beer names represent more of a marketing decision than coordinating a release follow-ing the seasons. For example, during the 2017 solar eclipse, they got some national press for hosting eclipse-themed events and releasing their Chromosphere Blonde Ale. This special release eclipse beer was made using Amarillo and Cascade Hops and had a citrus nose and flavors with a light yellow color that resembled the summer sun.

  For the 2019 Oregon Brewers Festival, they brewed LIGO Key Lime Gose. This beer, named after the world’s largest gravitational wave observatory, featured Ecliptic’s house lactobacillus strain and key lime purée. During this festival, Ecliptic was selected as the host for the 13th an-nual Oregon Brewer’s Brunch and Parade, and LIGO Key Lime Gose was the first official keg tapped at this event. OBF was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid 19 pandemic, with plans to resume the festival July 27-30, 2022.

  Their other Cosmic Collaborations included Blood of Jupiter, a Belgian-style Tripel. They teamed with Umpqua Valley’s TeSóAria Winery, with the base beer brewed by Ecliptic, and then aged in Sangiovese wine barrels furnished by TeSóAria.

  Customer demand for IPAs has led to their signature Ecliptic Starburst IPA, as well as Vega IPA and Phaser Hazy IPA. However, Harris’ creativity includes brewing darker beers and sour beers, which are appearing in greater frequency on their taproom menu.

  Most patrons frequent Ecliptic for the craft beers and space vibe. However, for those bent toward astronomy, Ecliptic hosts occasional star gazing events on their patio for amateur astronomers. Their menu also describes the meaning behind names like Capella (a bright star in the constella-tion Auriga), Phobos (the Martian moon that circles the red planet), and Oort (the mysterious re-gion of our solar system that breeds comets). In addition, they occasionally offer astronomy triv-ia via their social media channels.

Pairing Food and Beer According to the Seasons

  While pairing Oregon’s wines with locally sourced food has always been considered standard practice in the Portland dining scene, beer tends to be treated as a stand-alone beverage.

  “Portland is such a foodie town, and yet there was no brewery that was taking food seriously,” Harris says.

  From Ecliptic’s inception, Harris wanted to create a brewpub that could be on the list of Port-land’s 100 best restaurants. Their menu continues to play off Ecliptic’s name, emphasizing sea-sonal ingredients and beers.

  They continue to host occasional food and beer pairings, such as the Cosmic Brunch, held as part of their “5 Beers for 5 Years” series, commemorating the brewery’s fifth trip around the sun. At this brunch, held on February 3, 2019, Harris and Brooklyn Brewery’s Brewmaster, Garrett Oli-ver, released their Tangerine Farmhouse Ale collaboration along with a five-course meal and several beers from each brewery. They gave away signed bottles of the collaboration beer to each attendee. Other similar collaborative dinners include Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Hazy Double IPA), Breakside Brewery (Nectarine Sour Ale), Bell’s Brewery (Juicy IPA) and Russian River Brewing Company (Belgian-Style Hoppy Golden Ale).

Working at Ecliptic Brewing

  Harris’s history and reputation in the beer industry enabled him to bring on employees like sales manager Erin Grey Kemplin. She met Harris when she was the on-premise rep for Full Sail’s distributor. During that time, she got to know Harris.

  “I was able to not only drink John’s creations but also get to know him as a friend,” Kemplin says. After Ecliptic opened, she frequented the brewery nearly every week. “When he decided to build out a sales department and came to me about the role, I knew the answer had to be yes.”

  She stays at Ecliptic due to the delicious beer, the staff and a boss like Harris. “He is the kind of boss that will support you through thick and thin, but also help you figure out solutions when you are stuck without talking down to you.”

  Like Kemplin, Alisha Goddard, Ecliptic’s human resources and business manager, got to know Harris during his tenure at Full Sail, where she felt drawn to his friendly and fun energy. When she heard of an opportunity six months after Ecliptic opened, she jumped at it. “I had worked at a large operation for a while and wanted to be a part of something smaller that felt more tangible and community-oriented,” Goddard says.

Looking into the Future 

  During the global pandemic, Ecliptic Brewing, like other Portland food and drink establishments, found themselves at a crossroads. When possible, they would offer indoor seating, outdoor seat-ing on their large patio, with beer and food-to-go.

  Pre-pandemic, the brewery hosted a couple of events each month, usually celebrating the release of a new beer. On October 1, 2020, they hosted their first event since March 2020, when they teamed with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to offer a sold-out Star Party. OMSI set up a large telescope on a projector, showcased various celestial bodies on the screen and handed out different learning materials. This social distanced event took place outside with all tickets pre-sold. During the event, people could order food and beer from their regular menu along with a special dessert for all attendees.

  Moving forward, Shomler sees good things for Harris and Ecliptic Brewing. “John continues to sharpen his own skills set, and he has the foundational capabilities needed to have a successful brewery: the ability to brew great beer, lead a terrific team and successfully run his business. Many breweries fail due to deficiencies in one or more of these three mission-critical areas of expertise.”

  Currently, Ecliptic’s beers are available in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, North Caroli-na, Canada and Japan. To learn more about Ecliptic Brewing, go to http://eclipticbrewing.com/

2021 Beverage Trends

By: Tracey L. Kelley

No producer wants to feel like their business is simply dictated by trends and not backed by individual vision and a solid plan. However, if 2020 taught us anything, it’s to be strategic, targeted and, most of all, flexible.

  To understand what consumers want in 2021 and beyond, Beverage Master Magazine gathered some trend data and talked with Holly McHugh, marketing associate for Imbibe, a beverage development company focused on the formulation, customization and commercialization of cutting-edge beverage products that provide a “bolt-on R&D function” for companies without R&D or that need to expand in this area.

So—What’s New?

  Taking stock of the past year and establishing aspects of revision is still a personal and professional journey. Still, maybe some of these indicators will resonate as either extensions of current practices or sparks of innovation.

People are Eager for To-go and Online Options

  “The pandemic changed the way we shop, socialize, entertain and more,” McHugh said. “This created a need for CPG (consumer packaged goods) brands to offer products that provide an escape from the mundane but can be enjoyed at home.”

  In December 2020, Forbes reported that “total eCommerce penetration experienced 10 years of growth March through May 2020.” It cited research from IWSR that stressed “online sales of alcohol in the U.S. alone are expected to grow by more than 80%” in 2021. The IWSR analysis indicated that “beverage alcohol eCommerce value grew by 42% in 2020,” and the forecast is that the U.S. will overtake China “as the world’s largest beverage alcohol e-Commerce market by the end of 2021.”

  Quite simply, customers are fond of the convenience and expanse of options online ordering provides. In major and secondary market areas, consumers use platforms like Drizly to browse various selections and receive their purchases within 60 minutes. Many local producers also have access to DoorDash and other delivery services, regulations permitting. “Ghost bars” — extensions of virtual or cloud bars or restaurants often accessed only through third-party delivery services — also saw an increase in consumer interest as producers found new ways to lower overhead but expand product offerings and brand awareness.

  Do-it-yourself kits, mixology classes, premium bar selections, unusual or over-the-top experimental selections and other experienced-based offerings continue to drive consumer interest in 2021. They also still desire personal connections with makers.

Non-standard Products Continue to Rise

  Hard seltzer, cider, tea, kombucha and beer tap into consumers’ desire to balance healthy libations with beverage-driven exploration.

  For example, pandemic purchases of hard seltzer, in particular, rose significantly in 2020, moving beyond previous limitations of seasonality, and there’s no stopping point yet. Nielsen reported that “Hard seltzer-correlated ready-to-drink cocktails drove $120 million in U.S. off-premise sales in the 52-week period ending June 2020, while growing at a 127% rate compared with the previous year.” That growth, Nielsen states, “opened the doors to an even broader array of new and bolder flavor options accompanying the base liquid, and it’s allowing manufacturers to expand the limits of what ‘hard seltzer’ means.”

  Zero-proof spirits, especially those enhanced with adaptogens – herbal substances that promote wellness – botanicals and CBD also have growth potential.

  As regulations shift, CBD- and even THC-infused products are positioned for a meteoric rise, according to a 2020 report by Grant View Research. “The global cannabis beverages market size is expected to reach USD 2.8 Billion by 2025 at a CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of 17.8 percent.” While some consumers might opt for THC’s “therapeutic effects along with the euphoria it provides,” Grant View Research indicated, people consider CBD products differently.

  “Lack of psychoactive effect in the CBD drinks is widening its scope for usage of the drinks in medical purposes. Many consumers are considering CBD drinks as a wellness and anti-inflammatory products, such as kombucha, a probiotic drink. This drink can potentially be used for treating chronic pain, anxiety, substance use disorders and central nervous system diseases. These factors are expected to boost the adoption of the product, resulting in the growth of the segment,” the report outlined.

Health is Front and Center

  “Since the onset of the pandemic, improving physical and mental health has become a top priority for consumers,” McHugh said. Imbibe’s trendspotting indicated a sharp uptick in non-alcoholic wellness beverages and other forms of “permissible indulgence.” While this doesn’t seem to align with alcohol initially, it presents opportunities to consider communications and branding that acknowledge aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

  Spirit-forward classics, which celebrated resurgence in 2020, aren’t slowing down in the new year and might provide another way to acknowledge the balance of responsible consumption that focuses on taste and experience.

  Combating stress with beverages, otherwise known as mood boosters, that allow for clarity, relaxation and sleep is another trend for 2021, similarly to non-traditional offerings.

There’s a Greater Awareness of Ethical Practices and Cultural Appropriation

  In addition to a greater interest in immunity and mood-boosting beverages, McHugh said there’s an increased demand for global products and flavors — with a caveat.

  While culinary tourism is at a high, panelists at Bar Convent Brooklyn last fall stressed that consumers would continue to share dollars and social media influence with businesses that are more progressive when addressing workplace inequalities, sexism, racism and other societal concerns. They want inclusion and diversity, but from the originators. For example, tiki bars are replaced with nautical or tropical themes; an introduction to popular new tequila includes cultural history from someone in the Latinx community; and a closer examination of whether the producers’ table includes people of color and women, especially when it involves other rising spirit trends such as sake, soju, South American spirits and Japanese whiskey.

Value and Safety Still Prevail

  While this really isn’t a surprise, it’s simply a reminder that we can’t move into what was once normal just yet.

  “Economic uncertainty created demand for value, which we anticipate will be evident through increased sales in multi-use and multi-pack products and private label innovation,” McHugh said. “Safety is something we always think about in the industry in the sense that we don’t want to sell a product that could be dangerous to the consumer, but concern about safety has been heightened by the pandemic. Consumers are purchasing groceries online now more than ever, paying closer attention to product packaging and checking what safety precautions food service establishments are taking before eating out or ordering in.”

Tank Supplies for Modern Distilleries

brewing and distillery equipment

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

In a distillery setting, tanks are used for various purposes, including blending, fermenting, storing, distilling and filtering. But in addition to the actual tanks, several tank-related products and accessories help distillers do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.

  When choosing tank wraps, insulation, meters and stands, it is essential to consider these products’ functionality, cost, maintenance and ease of cleaning and sanitation. Meanwhile, there are unique tank-related considerations for distilleries that other types of beverage producers may not need to address. Fortunately, many specialized suppliers serve the distillery market to meet these needs and solve common issues that arise while making craft spirits. 

Essential Distillery Tank Supplies

  Craft spirit distilleries use tank wraps to provide fluid temperature control and help fluids circulate properly inside the tanks. Wraps, such as glycol-styles on the sides and bottoms of tanks, also reduce condensation and moisture loss.

  Similarly, tank insulation ensures that temperatures stay as hot or as cold as necessary. Insulation on tanks prevents freezing pipes, corrosion and mold while also controlling humidity levels and saving energy. For example, Syneffex insulation is a popular option among distilleries to reduce energy usage and emissions for more environmentally sustainable operations. Distilleries can find storage and fermentation tanks that have optional heating and cooling jackets to maintain optimal temperatures.

  Distillers use tank meters to gauge pressure levels in their tanks and monitor the liquids’ temperature inside them. Meters also help distillers monitor the flow to minimize product loss over time. Pressure-relieving and venting devices are optional features on some distillery tanks. Also, tank stands are important in the distillery to hold and secure tanks in a safe way. Frames built for this purpose come in various sizes to fit different levels of production.

  Distilleries also use CIP spray balls, hydrators, valves and racking arms. Cooling coils, air compressors, aging barrels, clamps and condensers are other accessories that craft distilleries may need to replace or upgrade over time.

Choosing the Right Tank Supplies

  Distillers should choose tank wraps that are flexible and easy to put on and adjust as necessary. Tank insulation should have a good track record for energy efficiency so the distillery can save money in the long run. It’s in a distillery’s best interest to work with a supplier that can build storage tanks with as much insulation needed for the operation.

  One good option for insulating beverage tanks is the Flextank FlexChill system in a temperature-controlled room. FlexChill is an exterior wrap chilling system with glycol chillers. Useful for cylindrical tanks in sizes from 50- to 300-gallons, this system is designed for maximum insulation performance. With distribution outlets in Washington, Australia, South Africa, Chile and France, Flextank products are used to produce wine, mead, cider and specialty spirits. For heating and cooling, distilleries can also find dimple jackets, open jackets, half-pipe coils and internal pipe coils from Stainless Fabrication, Inc., in Springfield, Missouri.

  Distillers should look for meters with hygienic process fittings to maintain clean and sanitized tanks that don’t compromise the quality of the product. The measurement range and temperature compensation capabilities are features to look for when choosing a new meter. Some companies that supply these meters will offer information security standards and even loaner units while servicing an existing product.

  Bellevue, Washington-based ATAGO U.S.A., Inc. manufactures refractometers, viscometers, polarimeters, pH meters, saccharimeters, and others. The company’s In-Line Refractometer PRM series is commonly used for craft beverage tank monitoring and equipped with an alarm that signals when valves exceed high and low limit values.

  For tank stands, distillers should consider portable products in case there’s a need to move them due to space confines or a potential future expansion. YoLong Distillery Equipment offers support frames that provide standard column support and can be customized to provide additional functions.

  It is in a distillery’s best interest to choose reliable suppliers that can provide ongoing support and replacement parts, no matter the equipment.

Maintenance & Cleaning Considerations

  Keeping equipment clean is critical in preserving the product’s integrity, keeping customers safe and staying in business. The basics needed for tank cleaning include a pump, clean water, heat, citric acid, dilute sodium hydroxide, hydrogen peroxide solution, ethyl alcohol and safety gear. Check tank supplies for any oil, grime, dirt or dust collected during the distilling process or in storage. It is common for residue to accumulate around a tank meter’s surface and make it difficult to read, for example. While cleaning distillery tanks, rubber gloves and safety glasses should be on-hand for protection, and workers should dress in long sleeves, pants, and boots.

Why Distillery Tank Supplies are Unique

  Beyond craft distilleries, several industries use tanks, such as manufacturers of chemicals, oil and plastics. However, distillers have unique considerations when choosing tank supplies.

  Distillery tank supplies must be food-grade equipment since they are involved in making consumable products. Tanks and supplies must also withstand hot and cold temperatures and perhaps serve multiple purposes in the distillery. Since tanks are large and many distilleries operate in small spaces, multi-functional tanks are a significant asset to maximize square footage. Therefore, it may be necessary to update tank supplies when using an existing tank for a new purpose.

Tank Supply Companies

  In addition to the companies already mentioned throughout this article, other reputable suppliers specialize in the craft spirits market and offer high-quality supplies and accessories for tanks.

•   Affordable Distillery Equipment, LLC has a wide range of accessories for distillery purposes, including hydrometers, thermometers, cooling coils, air compressors and ingredient kits. Whether your distillery equipment budget is $5,000 or $500,000, their website, Distillery-Equipment.com, offers used equipment for sale in addition to its brand-new water and spirit storage tanks, fittings, tubing, thermometers and pumps.


•   Global Stainless Systems, based in Portland, Oregon company supplies distilleries with various types of equipment in addition to tanks, including glycol chillers, valves, fittings and hoses.


•   Mile Hi Distilling based in Wheatridge, Colorado,  offers distilling supplies specific for fermentation, including several meter options.

  Of course, these are just a few of the many U.S. companies serving distilleries’ needs, but it provides a starting point for sourcing tank accessories. Distillers should choose a supplier that regularly works with distillery tanks rather than general tanks for other industries and provides a warranty on the products they sell. While these distillery supplies may seem fairly straightforward on the surface, having ongoing support is a huge help if something goes wrong or during any future expansions.

Up Your Consistency and Repeatability Game With Quality Testers and Meters

By: Gerald Dlubala

Testers, meters, monitors and probes make it possible for craft alcohol producers to raise their standards and improve their craft. The overall move from older, unreliable, visual-based testing to greater process control with more accurate and precise analysis means repeatable sample measurements and more product consistency for reporting purposes.

Quality Control and Analysis at Your Fingertips

  “Measurement and meter use within the distillery are critical for quality analysis and quality control,” said David Zavich, Applications and Technical Support Manager for Mettler Toledo. Mettler Toledo is a leading provider of precision instruments and research and development-related services, quality control and production across numerous industries.

  “At the very least, the distiller should possess a quality pH meter and density meter for help in making informed decisions throughout the production process, and know if and when to intervene and make any needed adjustments. The best way for a distiller to know when the mash is within the acceptable pH range – 5.2-5.8, 5.4 being optimal – for the enzymatic activity to convert starches to sugars is with a quality pH meter. It also helps monitor the critical fermentation activity of a distiller’s beer, when pH should decrease to 4.0-4.5 as yeast metabolize ammonium ions and excrete organic acids. A pH remaining above 5.0 indicates a lack of activity, and pH below 4.0 may indicate the presence of undesirable bacterial contamination.

  “Benchtop density meters are invaluable for determining the proof and quantity of distilled spirits for TTB reporting purposes,” said Zavich. “Handheld versions can determine mash extract efficiency before fermentation, measure distiller’s beer to ensure fermentation is complete, calculate alcohol by volume, and measure proof during the distilling process that aids in making cuts.

  “To measure density, the distiller has three available options,” said Luke Soposki, marketing specialist for Mettler Toledo’s Analytical Chemistry division. “They can use a hydrometer, which is inexpensive and offers several industry measurement scales, but they are fragile, dependent on the user for results and have longer measurement cycles. Pycnometers are also inexpensive and can achieve a level of accuracy, but they require a higher level of training and have limited measurement scales available. The best choice is a digital density meter. They are more expensive but easier to use, more consistent and reliable, and have a shorter measurement cycle. They cover a wide density range, have automatic temperature compensation, and are available in a variety of models to meet the specific needs of the distiller.”

  “Density meters are quite durable,” said Zavich. “Benchtop units are quite self-sufficient with a suggested yearly preventative maintenance. They have an expected lifespan of around 10 years, but we’ve seen operational units well beyond that mark. Handheld units have no specified terms of use but are equally self-sufficient and expected to last many years under normal use.”

  “The main thing is to ask questions before purchasing,” said Soposki. “Mettler Toledo offers a full suite of testing solutions that include density meters, refractometers, titrators, spectrophotometers and pH meters. We can also talk about automation and multi-parameter options when needed. Distillers’ needs are always evolving, and we know that they are still looking for an easier way to release product after testing, specifically with TTB approved handheld density meters. Ask specific questions about the instruments related to your process applications. Ask for a demo, either onsite, virtually, or even in a try-and-buy program when available. Look for manufacturers that can support you across your business needs and offer service and support beyond just the equipment purchase.”

All in for Peace of Mind

  Or, you could go all in and buy the Rudolph Research Densitometer, the same machine that the TTB uses to send off samples for auditing. That’s what Greg Pope, Master Distiller of Missouri Ridge Distillery, did when he opened his distillery in Branson, Missouri.

  “It was pricey for sure,” said Pope. “At the time, it was a huge investment, around $6,500, plus another couple of thousand in training costs. It easily outpaced the cost of other densitometers, but it’s the one piece of equipment I thought was worth it based on time value savings, and in our case specifically, the frequency of the breakage factor of common hydrometers. I use it every day for my spirits as well as my beers, so for me, it’s a quality investment.”

  Accuracy and repeatability are always priorities in the distillery, and Pope told Beverage Master Magazine that he’s tried all the gadgets, getting hands-on experience at American Distilling Institute conferences and conventions. With the Rudolph Research Densitometer, he proofs a barrel in 25 to 30 minutes versus the 24 to 36 hours needed using traditional proofing methods.

  “When I got audited, and the agents saw that we have the same equipment that the TTB uses, we were already in favorable standing for trying to do the right thing,” said Pope. “This one piece of equipment holds all of our historical data that is time-stamped, properly labeled as tester batches, bottling runs, etc. and is transferable to a thumb drive for easy auditing. It’s designed for upgrading rather than obsolescence, saving money in the long run. We added the refractometer package when it came available for true and corrective proofs on our line of cordials.”

  Pope said that the training was an intensely monitored, two-day affair, but by the end of those two days, he was comfortable using the equipment for all of his applications and performing all necessary tests independently.

  “The only hiccups I’ve had with this equipment has honestly been because of human error,” said Pope. “Our machine is set to give us a recalibration reminder every Monday at midnight, and we can’t do any further testing until that recalibration is completed. The process is easy, and then we’re good to go for another week. This densitometer also has international settings, and because we export our bourbon to the U.K., we can provide their required test results.”

  Pope said that he also helps other distillers by testing and auditing their samples, providing another way to grow and support the distilling community.

Quality H2O: Good Water Equals Good Beer

  “That’s what brewers will tell you, and it’s certainly a good rule to follow,” said Mike McBride, marketing, IT and social media manager for Industrial Test Systems, a leading American manufacturer of instruments and chemistries designed to test water quality parameters. “It’s just a fact because beer is over 90% water, so it follows that good water makes for good beer.”

  Industrial Test Systems offers their popular eXact iDip Smart Photometer and their eXact pH meter to help brewers stay on top of their water parameters.

  “Visual testing only gives the end user a baseline guide or range versus digital testing that is much more precise and provides exact, repeatable results,” said McBride. “Our meters bring those types of laboratory quality results to you, and that’s important because of the many different tests performed on the water within a craft brewery. One example is testing for water hardness because different beers require different levels. Dark beers require harder water, while lighter beers use softer water. You have to have an accurate, quality test to determine what type of water you’re using.”

Brix and pH Meters: A Brewer’s Best Friend

  “Measuring pH and Brix levels in brewing is essential,” said Jason Brown of Milwaukee Instruments. “Both units are a must because those measurements ultimately determine the type of beer you will brew, how the flavor will turn out, and what percentage of alcohol the brew possesses. To measure alcohol content with a meter like our MA871 digital Brix refractometer, you take an initial Brix reading of the unfermented wort and then a follow-up reading once fermentation is complete. Those values are plugged into a conversion chart to determine the percentage of alcohol in your final product. Taking pH readings on a meter like our MW102 within the brewing process takes place from the beginning of the brewing process to the end, using it for multiple applications and processes.”

  Brown told Beverage Master Magazine that brewmasters typically already have basic knowledge of pH testers and refractometers. Still, even if they are new to the game, Milwaukee Instruments provides user-friendly equipment, with complete YouTube tutorials instructing the user on the operation, maintenance, storage and calibration of the meters. Most units come with a two-year warranty on the base unit and six months on the electrodes. Their bench meters offer data logging that is an advantage over comparable handheld units.

  “It’s recommended that both types of meters be calibrated before each use to maintain accuracy across all samples tested,” said Brown. “Our units can be calibrated by the end-user with no issues.”

Steam & Water Flow Measurement: Going with the Flow

  “Given the need for accuracy, consistency and repeatability, brewers should always choose the highest quality meter they can afford,” said Marc Bennett, regional sales manager for McCrometer, Inc., worldwide providers of precision flow meters for liquid, steam and gas applications. “Flow metering is all about optimizing production to give the brewer consistent and reliable results through understanding the precise temperatures, pressures and flow being used.

  “The best way to measure steam is through equipment like our V-Cone Meter. It helps a brewer understand the precise temperature, flow and measurement of their team processes, allowing them to optimize their consistency,” said Bennett. “We know craft brewers are frequently tight on space, so our V-Cone Meters are designed for tight fit and retrofit applications while handling most operating environments. Some of the largest, most well-known breweries use V-Cone meters for steam measurement, but they are very applicable for smaller brewers as well.”

  McCrometer also offers a line of electromagnetic flowmeters (MAG) for accurate water flow measurement. Their pumps rely on velocity and pipe diameter information to determine flow over wide ranges with high precision accuracy. Their SPI MAG measures everything from in-flow water through wastewater, including industrial flow processes involving potable water, slurries, sludge, cooling water and pulp stock.

  “Whatever the choice, brewers should always choose U.S. manufactured meters,” said Bennett. “U.S. manufactured meters are often more readily available and more quickly shipped than the non-U.S. manufactured counterparts. If you choose a high-quality meter with a long lifespan and U.S.-based support, you’re getting a great return on your investment. The last thing you need or want is to have your brewing process impacted or even halted because of support issues.”

  Bennett told Beverage Master Magazine that McCrometer meters have great attributes, including the aforementioned long lifespan and support. Perhaps one of the best advantages of both their MAG flow meters and the V-Cone DP meters is the advantage of having no maintenance or repair schedules.

  “That’s a big load off of a brewer’s calendar and his mind,” said Bennett. “Our new ProComm converter on the MAG meters is available with built-in verification that uses stored data to check a meter’s operation against its baseline. That’s true peace of mind. Our V-Cone Meters have been around and studied in applications that are a lot more rugged than what the typical brewery would put them through and have shown no shift whatsoever in their calibration coefficient.”

Proper Filtration Finds the Sweet Spot Between Art and Science

filtration equipment

By: Gerald Dlubala

When the correct brewing process is paired with time and gravity, the result will generally be a great brew. When a brewer speeds up that process, corners get cut, and compensation has to occur. Proper filtration methods are one way to do this, but the methods depend not only on the type of beer brewed but how and when that beer is consumed. Brewery filtration is a carefully constructed combination of art and science that, when done correctly, results in a beer with all the intended flavor and aromas.

Process Should Fit Application: Aftek Filtration Technologies

  “Consistency with stability is the name of the game,” said Jim Russell, regional sales manager of Aftek Filtration Technologies, a provider of filtration systems and processes for many industries, including the craft beverage market. “Too many try to fit a certain process into an established application when they should be looking at the application first and then finding the right process to fit that application. With the proper filtration process, you’ll have usability with consistent and repeatable results without the chance of biological instability. If you’re a brewpub that mainly sold crowlers or used an in-house draft service, a different level of filtration may be necessary if, due to the ongoing COVID situation, you’re now canning or bottling most of your beer and getting it to market using a distributor. Packaging their beer has become one of those decisions forced upon breweries, with more now using mobile canning or co-packers to offer to-go products and widen their distribution. More attention has to be given to shelf life, distribution methods and spoilage awareness. As a brewer, you want your finished product to resemble your original brewpub pour and retain as much flavor as possible without allowing any sludge, unwanted haziness or off-taste entering the picture.”

  Russell told Beverage Master Magazine that a brewer must get started with an initial, informed filtration choice to set a quality benchmark, then make adjustments based on the results.

  “We at Aftek go in, assess the needs and then find the right filtration to fit the product needs with minimal effects,” said Russell. “Some filtration naturally adds taste-affecting properties to your beer, and we want to minimize that. Some of those properties are recoverable through adjustments and additional filtration, but upfront awareness is the key. You can save from 25 to 50% of your flavor and aromas by simply making the proper filtration choice. For example, Diatomaceous Earth filters are economical and efficient, but they can be aroma and flavor scavengers, ultimately changing a beer’s character.  Pad filters can be backwashed, regenerated and reused, but if there is any remaining minerality in the pads, the chance of biological contamination increases. Proper filtration starts with awareness of detail and remaining consistent in using quality filtration media rather than the cheapest, which can be wrongly classified. This consistent and constant attention to detail is the only way to make progress on and obtain the ultimate goal of balancing consistent flavor profiles with optimal shelf-life.”

  Types of filtration include depth and surface. Depth filtration is a primary form and can be the only type of filtration used for many smaller craft brewers. Depth filtration includes frame, plate and screen filters that trap particles for removal. Surface filtration traps smaller particles on the surface of the material while allowing clarified fluid to pass through. Lenticular filters work similar to plate and frame filters, but the modules are enclosed and purged with CO2, decreasing biological instability and oxygen exposure. Regular physical filtration only gets particles that are in suspension. Russell suggests cartridge and microfiltration for finishing and fine-tuning the beer just before packaging.

  Russell told Beverage Master Magazine that seltzers present a whole different situation because of regulations. Malt-based products must retain a minimal amount of malt percentages. Seltzer makers want to create a malt base with as light of a concentration as possible before flavor blending, and carbon absorption filters can neutralize the base. Russell said there are other products and ways to filter seltzers, but no matter the choice, brewers should neutralize before blending. Like beer, the end goal is drinkability with no aftertaste, which is unachievable if using improper filtration methods or processes.

  “The bottom line is that you want to preserve drinkability and bring your product to the consumer with no issues,” said Russell. “Within your brewery and specific situation, you have to consider capital costs versus consumable costs to help determine the type of filtration equipment needed and to make sure you don’t under or oversize your filtration systems.”

  Aftek Filtration Systems meets all filtration needs from start to finish, from incoming water supply to outgoing wastewater treatment. They work by building a comfort level with their clients, including warranties on their products and available inventories of filtration media to help keep costs down while producing the desired continuity throughout the entire brewing process.

  “We touch base and sit down with our clients every few months to discuss concerns relating to business growth and future needs, or to just see how things are going,” said Russell. “We educate the brewer when needed and cover available options when they are ready for the next level of filtration, for example, switching from pads to centrifuges.”

  Centrifuge technology has traditionally been out of reach for the craft brewer, but it is becoming more affordable and attractive. Brewers see the cost-effectiveness and user-friendliness along with the reports of higher yields, better flavor and aromas, and increased shelf life. Additionally, unlike filter pads, they won’t become clogged or bogged down, causing downtime. Instead, reports show centrifuges save time, recover man-hours, increase run times, and streamline the tank turnover and brewing process.

  “We’ve seen the size of the entry-level centrifuges drop into the $100,000 range, making them a little more affordable,” said Russell. “I see more and more brewers in the 20,000-30,000-barrel range getting into centrifuges, but making the jump has to be based on an informed decision. It’s one of the topics when discussing return on investment, including consumable savings, labor, quality, product savings versus loss and dissolved oxygen uptake.

  “The biggest bit of advice I can give to brewers is to put thought into and select the proper professionals to work with and advise you, and then get the proper equipment to reach your goals and specifications. Whether you’re talking about filtering through chemistry, pads or labor only, the whole process is a flavor versus filtration issue. There is no magic wand that can do it all. Talk to your business neighbors and see what they use and if they’re happy with it. Have they used it for at least a year? What about the service aspect? Filtration in the brewing process is finding what works the best at the best cost while retaining consistent results, preferred shelf life and optimal drinkability.”

Reliable Utilities Filtration for Reliable Outcomes: Donaldson Filtration Solutions

  “Admittedly, in any brewery, there are numerous points in the brewing and packaging process where filtration can be critical,” said Scott Grimes, technical training manager for Donaldson Filtration Solutions, a global provider of filtration solutions for food and beverage processing.  “By starting with proper filtration for your primary utilities like air, water, steam and gases, a brewery is on track to not only produce a great product but just as important, to be compliant under FDA and industry standards. Those standards include important topics including hygienic design, allergen-free environment, integrity testing, and BSE/TCE statements certifying that products used are safe and free from harmful materials.

  “For these reasons alone, breweries should be working with experts to assess and size their filtration needs,” said Grimes. “Product filtration, in its simplest form, is simply keeping the undesired brewing remnants out of your beer, especially when producing bright or lighter beers. You do that by understanding a brewery’s demands, identifying where the utilities come in contact with the process or beverage itself, and then setting up the right filtration to help mitigate any possible micro-contamination. Trap filters, for example, are commonly used as post-finning agent filters because they are very efficient at catching the remnants of agents like Diatomaceous Earth from entering the bright tank. They also guard against any powdery remnants traveling downstream in the brewing process. Trap filters are regenerative, inexpensive, long-lasting, and ensure stable, contaminant-free beer that retains its characteristics and flavor profile.”

  “The utilities are an important place to start in implementing the right filtration for any brewer, no matter the size or output. Sterile air, free of any oils and moisture, is used in everything from wort aeration through the finished product packaging. It’s critical to effective and consistent yeast propagation and the proper facilitation of the fermentation process. Particulate-free, quality water is equally critical for use as an ingredient, in steam applications, and for process water,” Grimes said. “Feedwater can contain contaminants like pipe scale, sludge, organic matter, sediment or other suspended solids. Clean and sterile culinary steam is used in multiple situations, including steam distribution services necessary to retain heating efficiency in boiler systems, cleaning and sanitizing equipment in between batches, and sterilizing kegs before reusing or filling. Protecting your investment means making sure that your finished product is packaged and distributed in clean, sterile vessels.”

  The same holds for gases and their filtration needs. When using CO2 to push out a product, clean and sterilize processing lines, deliver CO2 for pipe aeration systems or purge cans or bottles before filling, sterile CO2 ensures the finished product is delivered in clean, sterile containers.

  Grimes told Beverage Master Magazine that presently, more than anything, market shifts like the recent move to widespread seltzer production are what affects filtration needs. Filtration processes respond to increased seltzer production by moving towards flavor enhancement protection balanced with shelf-life expectations of anywhere between three weeks to three months. Because more products are packaged for distribution, held in warehouses and delivered under less than ideal conditions, seltzer producers must filter out spoiling agents adversely affected by temperature fluctuations. Cold stabilization, an alternative to pasteurization, helps reduce the carbon footprint and improve shelf life without sacrificing the product’s sensory qualities.

  “Brewers can help themselves by performing regular and preventative maintenance on any equipment that is filtration related,” said Grimes. “You should always adhere to a preventative maintenance schedule following best practices and recommendations by the equipment manufacturer. For compressed air, it’s usually on a six to 12-month schedule. Steam filtration should be inspected and cleaned every 12 months or as needed. Product filtration is affected by the media used and its ability to keep spoiling organisms away from the yeast pad and be successfully regenerated. Adhering to a strict regeneration policy and using properly sized equipment, quality filter media can last months, saving money and time. When filtration systems are sized properly and maintained according to schedule, they all work in conjunction with one another along the brewing process path to ensure process integrity and produce the beer that the brewer intended.”