Malt Liquor’s One-Off Return to ‘High Class’ Status

This week, Founders announced the arrival of a new beer in their barrel-aged series, DKML. A rather innocuous announcement, as these things happen all the time. There are entire websites dedicated to beer releases, after all. But from a historical perspective, it was a little different. DKML stands for – if internet circles are to be believed – Dick Kicker Malt Liquor.

For $12 a 750 mL bottle or $15 a four-pack, this latest offering provides an on-the-nose joke to its buyers not originating from the first half of its name, but its second.

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How to Sell Beer in 2017


It’s a tough time to be a “big” brewer.

AB InBev and MillerCoors continue to watch as flagship brands slowly decline in sales, but some legacy craft breweries are suffering as well. Sales of Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale (2.8 percent) and Torpedo IPA (2.3 percent) are down. Sam Adams continues to face a free fall for Boston Lager, declining nearly 12 percent in 2016.

Diagnosing the problem points to a host of symptoms, from longtime brands going stale among consumers who always want something new to the rise in importance of what’s “local.”

“If [consumers] have two [beers] they feel are equal, and one’s local and one’s not local, that’s an important part to the decision for two-thirds of craft purchasers,” Brewers Association economist Bart Watson recently mentioned at a Brewbound Session in San Diego.

So what are these Big Boys of beer to do? Follow the lead of their smaller, more nimble competition.

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Do All Session IPAs Taste the Same?

same glass of beer

Session IPA, the hottest sub-category of beer’s hottest style, has me thinking.

A question runs through my mind nearly every time I sip on one of the low ABV, highly hopped brews and like deja vu, a wave of reactions are signaled from my nose and taste buds: doesn’t this taste familiar?

(Tongue somewhat planted in cheek)

The creation and purpose of these beers is simply an extension of trends we see with hop-forward brews. As aroma hops continue to take up more acreage on farms across the country and drinkers favor certain flavor characteristics, the session IPA is a perfect storm of raw ingredients and expectations.

But do these beers often taste the same (to me, at least) because they’re using the same hops? Or, at least, how the hops are used? Typical brewing practice for these beers relies on “hop bursting,” adding a large quantity at the end or after boiling in order to maximize aromatic oils and minimize bitterness.

Across the most widely distributed session IPAs (so we’ll also assume some of the highest selling ones) four hops lead the way: Amarillo, Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe. Why might these beers share a similar profile? Here’s a breakdown of eight session IPAs and hops that appear in their recipe:

Amarillo Citra Mosaic Simcoe
21st Amendment Down to Earth Y
Oskar Blues Pinner Y Y
Saranac Gen IV Y Y
New Belgium Slow Ride Y Y Y Y
Harpoon Take 5 Y Y
Founders All Day IPA Y Y
Stone Go To IPA Y Y
Firestone Walker Easy Jack Y

If you caught my post on current trends in hop usage, the chart probably makes sense, especially when it’s led by five beers featuring Mosaic, 2015’s “Hop of the Year.” Not surprisingly, Easy Jack – cited as a “best beer” in both 2014 and 2015 by my own analysis – uses Mosaic along with two of the more “exotic” varieties found in these recipes, Bavarian Mandarina and Hallertau Melon.

Of note, Oskar Blues doesn’t list the “six to eight” hops used in their boil of Pinner, but highlight Citra and Mosaic as the pivotal pieces of their dry hopping, which makes sense as drinkers definitely want the brewery to milk as much out of those two hops as possible.

Looking at this bunch, arguably my favorite of the lot is Harpoon’s Take 5. While the taste may offer a recognized experience, the “New England” take of a stronger balance between hops and malt is nice. But the biggest difference is what separates Take 5 from being hop water.

Brewers at Harpoon mash their grain for Take 5 at higher temperatures (160 to 161 degrees F) which leaves more unfermentable sugars that contribute to a fuller body. In a category that’s constantly expanding – 161 entries in GABF’s session IPA category in 2015! – small changes like that can certainly help a beer stand out from the pack.

Which leaves me pondering more about the style: if so many are ending up with interchangeable tastes, why aren’t more breweries taking another route?

As aroma hops continue to be thrown into more of our favorite IPAs and pale ales, would it make sense to counter the culture and (gasp) use more “traditional” hops as the basis for these beers? Would being a showcase for Cascade, Centennial or Chinook offer something new that people would want?

Because these beers are super easy to drink, and I could definitely go for something new.

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

‘Legacy’ Breweries and the Fight for Attention in 2016

beer aisle-2

A little yin and yang as we close out the year:

  • In 2015, Blue Moon, which popularized Belgian wheat beers in the U.S., saw its White IPA become a top-3 selling new beer brand.
  • Meanwhile, the fastest growing beer for Dogfish Head, known for its IPAs, was a Belgian white-style beer, Namaste.

It was that kind of year for the industry’s most “off-centered” brewer.

This past year was the slowest in growth for Dogfish in over a decade, although revenue and barrelage still increased. Founder Sam Calagione noted the reasons surrounded a refusal to discount beers and entering no new markets. All the same, changes are afoot for 2016, and it’s not just because of an influx of money from a private equity stake in the company.

Dogfish recently released its updated production calendar for 2016, which includes slight shifts in production for their 21st year that also reflects changes among their peers. When others are winning at Dogfish’s game – whether that’s with IPAs or extreme beers – it’s time to shake things up.

After all, Calagione is the guy, who just over a year ago, said the industry was heading into an incredibly competitive era of craft brewing.

Or rather, he so famously remarked, “There’s a bloodbath coming.”

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In Search of America’s ‘Most Loved’ Beer Label

blank beer labels

“I’ve never heard of the brewery before, but the logo is cute,” the woman mentioned to me as we stood in line at a local beer festival during a rainy April day in Raleigh, NC. She pointed at the front of a white tent. “I like dogs.”

So did other people, apparently, as we all waited several minutes to sample a bourbon vanilla porter, brown ale, cranberry-apple cider and more. There was more to like than the logo of Dingo Dog Brewery, however. Their beer was good, too.

But it was the logo that gave enough reason for Nice Line Woman #1 to wait for the beer even before she had her first taste. It was cute, after all, and the reaction shouldn’t be that surprising.

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RateBeer Ranked: A Historical Analysis of “Best Beers”

header ratebeer historical

After looking back at RateBeer user preferences for 2014 as all as a comparison of the last two years, it’s time to take a step even further back.

RateBeer’s “best beer” list goes back as far as 2002 – missing in 2004 and 2005 for some reason – so what I’ve done is taken the past 10 years of data from the annual rankings and selected the best of the “best” to try and gain some kind of insight.

What we have now is historical proof of our drunkenness. Or, at least, signs that demonstrate if we’re sipping on world-class beer, it better bring the heat.

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RateBeer Ranked: Comparing “Best Beer” of the Last Two Years

RateBeer-header 2013 vs 2014

In the first post analyzing RateBeer’s 2015 “best beer” list, which covers beers in 2014, a few things stood out:

The Expected

  • Imperial stouts, double IPAs and IPAs reigned supreme, making up 59 percent of the list.
  • The average ABV for the top-100 beers was well above average, clocking in at almost 10 percent.

The Unexpected

  • Decorah, Iowa-based Toppling Goliath produced beers that ranked #1 (Kentucky Brunch) and #5 (Mornin’ Delight) that tied or beat classic “best” beers like Westvleteren 12, Pliny the Elder and Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout.

One of the fun aspects of these lists is the ability to compare and contrast, so today we take a step back one year to see what 2014’s best beers looks like when compared to our tastes in 2013.

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The Definitive ‘Best Beer of 2014’ List. Really. Kind of.

2014 best beers header JPG

The flip of the calendar means many things: a fresh start, new resolutions and most important, an end to all those “best of 2014” lists.

But not quite.

Surely you’ve now read about where your favorite movies, TV shows, books, podcasts and celebrities rank in order of something wonderful or awful in 2014. But for the subjectivity that is necessary to form each of these, is there any kind of (slightly) objective consensus that can offer a clearer view?

This is particularly difficult when it comes to “best beer” lists of 2014 for two reasons:

  1. While movies, TV shows and books are uniformly released across the country, beer is not. Everyone in the U.S. can see The LEGO Movie at the same time, if they wish, but as a product, beer doesn’t offer that opportunity.
  2. In addition to distribution restrictions, many best beer lists gear toward locally-produced brews. At a time of 3,000+ breweries, this certainly makes sense, especially for regional newspapers or other outlets.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to find 2014’s best beer or best brewery. In fact, it’s easier than you think.

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Six-Pack Project Guest Post: What to Drink in Michigan

six pack-beerThe Six-Pack Project rolls on today, as we have a new collection of beer choices from all over the country. The latest round offers a couple new efforts for the collaborative project, including our first guest post.

Curious what kind of great beer we’ve got selected for you? Let’s first start with a quick recap of what the rules of the Six-Pack Project are all about:

  1. Pick a six-pack of beers that best represents your state and/or state’s beer culture.
  2. Beer must be made in your state, but “gypsy” brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state.
  3. Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include.
  4. Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred.

As always, you can check the full archive on the Six-Pack Project page and read this round’s submissions here:

mark graves headshot

Guest poster and Michigan resident Mark Graves

Today’s post on This Is Why I’m Drunk comes from Michigander Mark Graves, a friend of the program who lives near Lake Michigan and began his craft beer convergence in 2009 when he traveled to the Founders Brewing taproom in Grand Rapids.

“I had a tall glass of Dirty Bastard and was blown away by the texture, flavor and ABV,” he said. “Since then, I’ve made it my beer-drinking mission to only drink craft beers, preferably those made in Michigan. I’m on a ‘buy local’ kick that’s lasted a few years so far.”

I’m happy to have Mark here represent Michigan and he’s got a really eclectic collection that covers the western part of the state. If you’re interested in helping out with central or eastern Michigan beer selections for the Six-Pack Project, let’s connect on Twitter.

You’ve come here for the beer recommendations, surely, but stick around for Mark’s great eye in capturing some incredible beertography.
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Founders Brewing Frangelic Mountain Brown


If I were to ever want a boozy coffee that wasn’t Irish, this would be it.

While not a straight coffee beer in the vein of Founders Breakfast Stout, Frangelic Mountain Brown encapsulates all the warming and tasty parts of a flavored cup o’ joe that even non-coffee drinkers might enjoy. This is thanks to the beer having been brewed with hazelnut coffee (their website says “coffees,” the bottle says flavoring) which imparts lots of pleasant aromas and tastes. It’s got an 89 on Beer Advocate.

The most impressive thing about this beer is how welcoming it is right out of the bottle. Despite a 9 percent ABV, alcohol isn’t easily detectible as it hides behind amazing chocolate and hazelnut coffee aromas. There is no bitterness you might find from coffee beans, as Frangelic rolls one sweet smell after another with heavy cream, vanilla and caramel wafting out of the glass. I’d dare say cinnamon also had a seat at the table, which could simply be residual from the hazelnut flavoring. Just a heavenly nose on this beer.

There’s a dairy smoothness to this beer’s mouthfeel, only intensified a general lack of carbonation. Tastes of cream and hazelnut sit on the forefront of each sip with a solid roasted coffee-like finish. Jabs of chocolate nip at the tongue. Any alcohol taste never even stops by.

41A malt-forward brew, Frangelic still manages a slight hop-driven, earthy bitterness that rested on my palate after each gulp. That was easily replaced by the wonderful, sweet characteristics of the brew on my next sip.

The biggest downside of this beer? It’s part of Founder’s Backstage Series, which typically consists of one-off brews that may never be brewed again. Hope is not lost, however, as adventurous beer lovers can try beer trade forums like Reddit to find a bottle.

Frangelic Mountain Brown stats:

+Bryan Roth