Sunday, November 25, 2007

Beer News: Hop Price Increases and Georgia Blue Laws

I've had these articles in my inbox for so long that one of them now 404s. But, while I'm on vacation and away from my beer, I decided to post them here and start a little discussion.

First up is from October 26th:

Forget Gas Prices: Beer is Going Up

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. (AP) -- Fans of Snipes Mountain Brewery's cloudy Hefeweizen relish the subtle wheat flavor of the bright, summery brew, and like beer drinkers everywhere, they know when their favorite brew tastes a little too hoppy or bitter.

Connoisseurs could be in for a surprise this year, and they may not be alone.

Small brewers from Australia to Oregon face the daunting prospect of tweaking their recipes or experimenting less with new brews thanks to a worldwide shortage of one key beer ingredient and rising prices for others.

Oh, and one other thing: Beer prices are likely to climb. How high is anybody's guess. Craft brewers don't have the means to hedge against rising prices, like their industrial rivals.

"I'm guessing, at a minimum, at least a 10 percent jump in beer prices for the average consumer before the end of the year," said Terry Butler, brewmaster at central Washington's Snipes Mountain. (Google Cache of Full Article)
What killed me was the next line: "Sales have been relatively flat in recent years among the country's big three brewers - Anheuser-Busch Cos., Molson Coors Brewing Co. and SABMiller PLC. unit Miller Brewing Co - while small, independent brewers have experienced tremendous growth." I guess it just goes to show that if you brew pisswater "beer" with rice adjuncts, people are going to get sick of it. The only beer I badmouth are macrobrews for this reason.

But anyway, this was surprising to me. I guess it makes sense that in the race to find growable, renewable energy, many farmers are now switching to growing corn for ethanol. The drought in many states this year isn't helping, as farmers struggle to cultivate any decent-sized crop. My solution: we apparently pay farmers in this country to grow nothing, right? Why not have them grow hops and barley instead of nothing? I think of it as a Depression-era approach for beer growth; put people to work growing the stuff that makes American beer great.

If there's one flaw in my plan (aside from the "farmers growing nothing" bit), it's that the fundies will probably never let it happen. The baptists and pentecostals and the what-have-you will complain about the evils of alcohol and that the devil's in the drink, and the idea will get scrapped because some spineless congressmen will capitulate to their demands. Much like what my other story, from September 7, is about:

Georgia breweries dry up

Local laws that limit beer tastings hurt independents.

By Mina Kimes, Forbes Small Business Contributor

Georgia, with twice the population, has only three, down from eight a decade ago.

New rules governing brewery tours could reduce that number to zero, says Fred Bensch, owner of Sweetwater Brewing ( in Atlanta, by driving away thirsty crowds and eliminating the brewers' best marketing tool.

"This would totally cripple us," he says. The dispute has been fermenting since May, when the Georgia Department of Revenue proposed limiting tastings to two ounces per brew. Under pressure, the revenuers raised the limit to 24 ounces, but with stipulations: Breweries can't serve samples until tours are over, they can't pour any beer if they charge admission (Sweetwater charges $8), and Sunday tastings are verboten.

DOR spokesman Charles Willey says the rules are for "public safety."

Bensch, who has operated Sweetwater since 1997, says it's part of a pattern of regulatory harassment. "Five breweries have gone out of business since we've started," he says. "This is an inhospitable place to brew beer." (Full Article)

"Public safety." What a cop-out. What difference does it make if a brewery charges admission for its tastings or not? People are still going to drink that beer. Why force patrons to wait until the end? Wouldn't it be safer to spread that beer tasting over an hour's time? Also, why forbid Sunday tastings? Beer doesn't get you more drunk on a Sunday. (The last one was more rhetorical than the others...I'm pretty sure Georgia's position in the Bible Belt is a prime reason.)

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not anti-religion. I just feel that religious laws have no place in American legislature. Georgia's Blue Laws consist of religion imposing on people's freedoms, and I am pro-freedom. If you don't want to go to a store or a brewery on a Sunday, don't. It's your right. Just don't prevent me from doing the same, because I will do everything in my power to defy you.

This is all part of a larger rant I'm planning to write involving Blue Laws, dry counties, Prohibition, and freedom.

What do you think about either one of these stories? Raise a glass and let me know.


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