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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Numbers Show Solid Craft Beer Growth for 2011

If you spend any time in stores or pubs, you probably know the craft beer market is healthy and growing steadily. Recent figures from the Colorado-based Brewers Association, the trade association representing small and independent brewers, are eye opening.

There's a lot of information compressed into a short press release. No need to go through all of it here. If you'd like to delve into the detail, be my guest. You'll find it here.

Upfront numbers
One of the trends craft gurus watch is volume share. This is the portion of the overall U.S. beer market occupied by craft beer. Craft's share has been increasing steadily over the last few years. In 2011, it surpassed 5 percent for the first time, eventually hitting 5.68 percent. That's up from 4.97 in 2010. Production volume increased to 11.5 million barrels, a 13.2 percent increase. Not bad.

Perhaps most importantly, craft's volume and share of the market increased at a time when volume as a whole declined...by 1.32 percent. Why is it important? It means craft is in growth mode while large brewers like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors are losing market share.

The retail bump
The BA estimates craft retail sales of $8.7 billion in 2011, up 15 percent from 2010. This is a substantial increase, but you have to look at what's happening in stores to see the full picture.

Have you noticed that craft brands are taking up more shelf space in your neighborhood grocery store? It's happening. Craft is the fastest growing beverage segment in supermarkets nationally and it earned 10.8 share for 2011. The number is expected to hit 12 percent in 2012.

Some of the growth is being fueled by the increasing popularity of large format (22 oz) bottles, which generated $44 million in revenue, up 35 percent from 2010. 6-packs still dominate (to the tune of $470 million in 2011 sales), but large format bottles are selling well in grocery stores, bottleshops and smaller stores, which I'll get to shortly.

Craft cans are on a shocking growth trajectory
Another area of big growth is cans. Indeed, canned craft beer is catching on. Can sales generated $11.5 million last year. That's a 35 percent increase over 2010. Sales of large format (16 oz) 4-packs increased by a jaw-dropping 97 percent. Cans, which accounted for just 40,000 cases sold in 2008, reached 358,000 cases in 2011. That is scary growth.

Craft canned sales growth is ominous. Cans are far more convenient than bottles and actually do a better job of preserving beer than bottles. Until recently, cans were the haven of the big boy brands. People headed on an outdoor excursion would settle for lousy beer because convenience was more important. That's no longer true. You can take good beer with you. This is bad news for the biggies.

Finally, retail growth is spreading itself around. Besides supermarkets, craft beer is invading drug and convenience stores. For the first six weeks of 2012, craft beer sales were up 20 percent in drugstores and 25 percent in convenience stores. Supermarkets showed a 10 percent increase. Wow!

Larger picture
If you're in the beer business today, one of the places you don't want to be is working for a large brewer. MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch are desperately trying to come up with new marketing schemes to stem the rising tide of craft beer. And they keep rolling snake eyes.

If you want a comical take on how the big brands operate, read Silver Bullets: A Soldier's Story of How Coors Bombed in the Beer Wars, by Robert Burgess. Burgess, a market research analyst at Coors in the mid-1980s, details how the company botched new product launches and wasted millions of dollars trying to market crappy beer and coolers. Great reading.

A convenience store bomber selection
The typical big boy response to market challenges has been to create shoddy new products and support them with expensive marketing campaigns. It once worked, but no more. You wonder what would happen if they simply decided to make good beer. Not much chance of that happening.

The increasing momentum of craft sales in stores of all kinds is a significant force of change. You don't have to visit a pub to enjoy a good beer. Consumers are demanding craft choices and stores are delivering, thus taking shelf space away from the big boy brands.

Trickle down
The craft theme is extending beyond just stores. Restaurants and other places where people gather to socialize are jumping on the craft bandwagon. They can't afford to stay on the sidelines any longer. It's embarrassing and bad business when customers want something more than macrobrew.

Small restaurants are a good example. When I go into a small restaurant and see an antiquated beer list, I'm amazed. A place I know has bottles only and serves beers that were really popular 10 years ago. The owner is leaving money on the table and annoying customers who want decent beer. He knows it.

Another great example is my athletic club. For years and years, they offered Bud and Bud Light, along with a couple of (typically) Widmer beers. Now they are getting pressure to remove at least one of the Budweiser taps and add a third craft beer...probably a second IPA.

Part of the problem for owners and club managers is they cannot keep up with changes in craft beer. The number of breweries and styles is growing like crazy. Those of us who follow things know it's tough to keep up. My message to business owners: Ask someone who understands your business and knows craft beer for help. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

When Sales Decline, It's Miller Time

It's quite comical to watch as the beer conglomerates struggle to address what's happening to their brands. As a whole, category (macro) beer has seen flat growth for the last two years. Some brand segments within that grouping have experienced free fall for the last several years.

I don't necessarily like to quote myself, but it's appropriate to do so in this case. Back in September, I wrote a post that looked at the collapse of the popular brands in recent years. The numbers are fairly shocking, if not all that surprising. Find them here

Pure marketing genius
What's essentially happened is this: the big guys are being squeezed out of the premium market. Budweiser sales dropped 30 percent between 2006 and 2010. Miller Genuine Draft lost 51 percent. Michelob lost 72 percent. You get the idea.These segments are in virtual free fall.

Why has this happened? Well, craft beer has seen double digit growth in each of the last four years. Craft still represents only about five percent of the market, but it is growing quickly and driving consumers away from beers that were once considered premium. People who once reached for Michelob are now reaching for something a lot better. And I don't mean a PBR.

The one brand segment that's done well for the conglomerates is light beer. Yep. Light beer has proven to be fairly resistant to the invasion of craft brands. You hate to guess, but that may have something to do with the fact that craft beers actually do have some taste. And substance. Light beer has neither and some people like it that way, it seems.

There's also the fact that the giant beer companies spend about a billion dollars a year on advertising light segments. You see their names associated with professional sports and you see a lot of TV ads. They essentially con consumers into believing their product is tasty, refreshing and just as exciting as mud wresting. Money changes everything!

Nonetheless, some brands simply aren't competing well even in the light beer market. MillerCoors just announced that Miller Lite, the first nationally distributed, low calorie beer when it was introduced in 1975, saw declining sales in each quarter of 2011. It also said the segment has underperformed for several years. That's bad revenue news for MillerCoors.

How will they respond? In a terrific stroke of genius, MillerCoors will reintroduce the old "It's Miller Time" tagline that was attached to Miller High Life in the 1970s and to Miller Lite from 1997 to 2002. You'll be seeing this recycled approach used in Miller Lite TV ads and probably on new retail packaging in coming months. I can't wait.

That's not all. MillerCoors is also addressing the revenue issue in other ways. First, they are charging more for the beer they are selling, thus recouping some lost profit. That's pure genius. Second, the company is pushing its beer in emerging countries like China...the operative theory being the people there won't know any better.

Thank goodness for smart marketing.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lompoc Updates Artwork for Popular Beers

Fans of Lompoc beers will soon be seeing an updated look on store shelves and in bottle shops. Several of Lompoc's most popular beers are getting new labels. The common theme is that the Lompoc logo is taking a backseat to the beer's identify. I think it's a good change.

The old and the new
The first of the updates is to Kick Axe, the unofficial beer of the Portland Timbers. Kick Axe was launched about a year ago. It's a dry-hopped pale ale with many fans. The new label softens up the presentation while maintaining the basic notions of the original. Note the smaller Lompoc logo.

Proletariat Red and C-Note Imperial Pale Ale are also getting face-lifts. Proletariat Red is full-bodied with a rich red color. It's built a following on it's malty flavor and smooth finish. The new label projects the working class aspect of this beer. C-Note is a hoppy pale brewed with seven "C" hops. It packs IBUs to the limit at 100. Hopheads love it.

The new and the new
New Proletariat Red and C-Note bottles will start appearing on store shelves in a few weeks. Bottles of the new-look Kick Axe are already out there.

Although I consider these changes to be fairly dramatic, there is apparently no plan to extend the revised look to the company as a whole.

"When we decided to design a new label for Kick Axe, it seemed like this would be a perfect time [to update other labels], " Lompoc owner, Jerry Fechter, said. "We wanted to create a little bit of excitement in the Lompoc Brewing family. We will also be changing the LSD (Lompoc Special Draft) label in the fall. We feel these new labels help convey what each beer is about and what it represnts as a beer style."

I approve of the new look. The retail bottle market is heating up dramatically and you need to have appealing labels to compete. I think the new Lompoc labels will help with that.

Monday, March 19, 2012

McMenamin's Story Keeps Chugging Along

A business trip unrelated to beer took me out to the Hillsdale area the other day. There aren't many important beer destinations on the west side, but McMenamin's Hillsdale Brewpub is on the list. Perfect chance for a stopover, I figured.

For the unknowing, the Hillsdale Brewery and Public House opened in 1985. It was then the first brewpub in Oregon, the result of a law that allowed pubs to brew beer and sell it on premise. The law, which has been revised in various ways since 1985, launched a revolution in Oregon that continues to this day.

McMenamin's artwork is always delightful.
Today, Mike and Brian McMenamin operate more than 50 pubs, breweries and hotels in Oregon and Washington. They have received considerable and well-deserved recognition for their role in transforming historic buildings into pubs, theaters, hotels, etc. It is an amazing story.

Simply put, beer is not the most important aspect of McMenamin's business. They have a drinkable collection of standards like Hammerhead, Terminator, Crystal and Ruby, along with revolving seasonals that are decent. But they have not pushed the brewing envelope like many of the other breweries around Portland. 

On my visit the other day, they were pouring a seasonal called Black Ops CDA. Everyone has a CDA these days.  Some aren't good. But Black Ops is very nice. Full bodied and tasty, yet smooth. I was impressed. I had a Hammerhead with my lunch because I've always liked it. But the Black Ops would have gone nicely with my curried tuna sandwich. Enough said.

The big board at Hillsdale the other day.
The thing is, McMenamin's occupies an seminal place in the history of Portland's craft beer culture. While they may not be especially well-known for their beers, their pubs were essential to the sustained growth of the craft beer movement. Why? Because they were everywhere...and you always knew you would find decent craft beer there.

Back in the early nineties, we often wanted to tip some pints after an evening of racquetball, an afternoon of softball or a day in the yard. When we did, the closest McMenamin's was usually the consensus choice. And it usually wasn't far away.

Things have changed today. There are many options out there, some of them flashy or fancy. For its part, McMenamin's keeps chugging along, doing essentially what they've always done. Good for them.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Experimental IPAs Reinforce Widmer Objectives

If you follow Widmer's Rotator IPA Series, you know they have released four beers during the past 15 or so months: X-114, Falconer, O'Ryely and Spiced. The Rotator Series is not about Widmer trying to find an identity. Far from it. These are short release, experimental beers. They are all about variety.

There will be another Rotator IPA in the near future, Captain Shaddock. An early rendition of Shaddock was poured at the 2010 Oregon Brewers Festival. It's an interesting beer. To create a unique citrus character common to some of the most popular IPAs, Widmer brewers use grapefruit peel. You can be the judge. And soon.

The experimental IPAs lean on the same base as this one
But the good folks at Widmer have a lot more going on than just the Rotator Series. They just announced the launch of four experimental IPAs: X-430, X-431, X-443 and X-467. These beers all use the same base recipe as the original Rotator IPA, X-114; but each new beer showcases the unique qualities of an experimental hop variety.

If you aren't aware, there's quite a bit of hop research being done at the moment, much of it at Oregon State University. Brewers are looking for hops that provide specific flavors and aromas. Researchers are developing new varieties that meet the bill. There are already some great designer hops out there, with more on the way.

With respect to the experimental IPAs, Widmer sent out a press release outlining the flavors present in each beer. I'm not going to delve into the details because expectations can be a dubious business. If you go down to the Gasthaus, which I intend to do in the next day or so, try ignoring the tasting guides. Taste the beers and come up with your own version of what you taste. Then compare notes with the table tent.

The IPAs will be available at the Gasthaus Pub through the end of the month, depending on demand. You'll be able to get a flight of the four or enjoy them by the pint.

Some perspective
If you want to understand why Widmer has embarked on an aggressive experimental program over the last couple of years, you need some perspective you won't find in the official press release announcing these experimental IPAs. You also won't find that perspective on many blogs. That's because it's all too easy to simply copy a press release and post it. But never mind.

The Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) annual report released this week shows what's driving change. The CBA is represented by the brands Widmer, Kona and Redhook. Overall sales were up from 2010 and net profits nearly doubled from $1.7 million to $3.2 million. There's a somewhat rosier picture in the gross numbers, which include a one-time profit of $6.5 million on the sale of Fulton Street (Goose Island Beer) Brewery.

The problem for the CBA is that Widmer's longtime core beer, Hefeweizen wheat beer, is losing market share. Widmer segment shipments declined by 6,000 barrels in 2011, while Redhook and (especially) Kona numbers increased. The decline of Hefeweizen has to be a concern. It is, in some sense, the beer that made Widmer famous. It's been around a long time with a good following. Until now.

Big growth in 2011
Why is Hefeweizen slumping? I suspect it has a lot to do with changing pallets and the rising popularity of the IPA style, now the most popular craft style in the country. Competition is apparently also a factor, as there are light craft beers, some of them wheat beers, competing in the same space as Hefeweizen. Too many fresh, interesting beers can be a problem.

The solution for Widmer is clear enough. If your core beer is being attacked by the popularity of hoppier beers, go on the offensive and start turning out those kinds of beers yourself. Create buzz with experimental beers and rotating special releases. Lead the way in creative brewing and marketing. This is what they're doing and it is driving a renewed awareness of the Widmer brand. Pretty cool.

Update: As part of pushing its renewed identity, the CBA has changed it's Nasdaq ticker symbol from HOOK to BREW. This completes the rebranding effort that began in January when the company name changed from Craft Brewers Alliance to Craft Brew Alliance. Just more evidence that they are on the move. There's more here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dragging Mississippi out of the Dark Ages

Given the seemingly endless number of beer choices we have in Oregon and most other states, you may be surprised to learn that Mississippi is giving Saudi Arabia a run for its money when it comes to antiquated beer laws. We're talking dark ages.

Under current state law, the alcohol content of beer produced or sold in Mississippi cannot be greater than 5 percent. That effectively means craft breweries can't brew. It also means Bubba can't buy craft beer at the Piggy Wiggly. Nor can he brew his own beer in his mobile home. It's a sad situation.
All kidding about Bubba and the Piggy Wiggly aside, the situation is Mississippi is a joke. If you want to fully understand the problem, take a gander at the map showing wet and dry counties in the state. Half the damned state is dry! Once you see that, you begin to understand why beer laws are comparable to those in Saudi Arabia.

Fortunately, there is a move afoot to fix this mess. A grassroots organization known as Raise Your Pints is working to raise the alcohol limit to 8 percent. Thanks largely to that work, there are currently bills in the state House and Senate that would change the law.
It isn't all hunky dory. House Bill 1422 was passed on March 1, but has since stalled on a motion to reconsider. If it clears that hurdle, the bill moves on to the Senate for approval. Senate Bill 2878 is a backup. It was passed out of committee a week or so ago and is awaiting action in the full Senate. Whichever bill is approved by both houses would go to the gov's desk for signature, veto or tabling. If the latter, the bill would automatically become law after the deadline for approval passes.

Raise Your Pints is also working to make home brewing legal in Mississippi. You read that right: home brewing ain't legal in Mississippi today. And maybe not anytime soon. House and Senate bills that would make home brewing legal have failed to make it out of committee. Go figure.

What's going to happen? It seems likely the beer law will change. Eventually. That well-known stalwart of great beer, Anheuser-Busch, has thrown its support behind the effort to modernize Mississippi. Don't bother questioning why a company whose primary market is light beer would support changing this law. Just be glad they're supporting the change. They have deep pockets.

Much of what's driving the willingness to change these medieval laws is that the state is losing money. People are going outside Mississippi to purchase craft beer and the craft brewing industry is having a tough time due to the alcohol limit. Calmer, wiser heads in government realize the need to change. It hasn't been particularly easy because these laws are entrenched.

For most of the folks who read this blog, just be glad you live where you do. Changes to beer laws in Oregon, Washington and California made the brewpub concept possible long ago. An entire industry was established and flourishes largely as a result of those changes. A small group of people pushed for those laws and we owe them a big thanks.

Honestly, Raise Your Pints is merely trying to drag Mississippi into the 20th century. The 21st century will have to wait.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pyramid, Laurelwood brew up nice CDAs

If follow this blog at all, you know I am not fond of the black IPA name. Why so? Because I think it's an insult to the English language. IPA nominally stands for India PALE Ale. Pale typically means light in color. How can you have a black pale ale? The answer is simple: You can't. It doesn't make sense.

So why are some breweries creating black IPAs? I suspect there are many reasons. But the most logical explanation is they wish to capitalize on the popularity of IPA while producing a darker beer. This is especially true during the winter months, when patrons are accustomed to drinking darker brews.

Get them now...they don't grow on trees
Of course, some brewers recognized the fallacy of the black IPA name long ago. They have steered away from it. That doesn't mean they're steering away from the style. But the beers in this segment are increasingly known as Cascadian Dark Ales (CDA) or Dark IPAs. Makes more sense.

Readers unfamiliar with this style can find a fairly compact discussion here. Matt Van Wyk, brewmaster at Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, talks about the confusing nature of the naming nomenclature and also looks at the characteristics of the style. Worthwhile reading, for sure.

Briefly, Cascadian Dark Ale or Black Ale or Dark Ale is a moderately hoppy beer with a medium malt backbone and a dark complexion. Significantly, the style does not possess the strong roasted malt character of a stout or strong ale. CDA leans heavily on hop aroma and flavor, with mild bitterness (50-70 IBU).

The style is an expanding segment. Here in Oregon, it is well-represented by Deschutes (Hop in the Dark) Widmer (Pitch Black IPA), Hopworks (Secession CDA), Bridgeport (Black Rain), Oakshire (CDA), Full Sail (Bump in the Night) and many others. I took some time to taste a couple of CDAs this week.

Pyramid Discord 
One of Pyramid's newer seasonal beers is Discord, which has been around for a couple of years. I made the mistake of assuming it must be mediocre because it's inexpensive and made by a brewery whose beers I have largely ignored in recent times. Wrong! You cannot judge a book by its cover

Let me back up. Pyramid Brewing has taken a beating for what I would describe as "off branding" in recent years. No need to go into significant detail, as the shortcomings of the rebranding that took place in 2009 have been well-documented. If you want to know more, Jeff Alworth (Beervana) does a nice job here.

Look for this label on store shelves!
The basic premise going forward is that Pyramid has returned to its roots with its beers and branding. You'll notice the packaging has returned from oblivion by dumping the neon colors and what Jeff describes as "cringe-inducing names." You'll now see more traditional artwork, retro even. Same goes for the beer names.

Anyway, Discord is a very nice beer. It may not be a big as some of the tweaked versions of the style, but it's quite good. The Pyramid brewers use four hops for bittering and flavor, three more for dry-hopping. Discord comes in at 6.5% ABV and 69 IBU.

The bad news is this beer will only be available through the end of March. My advice is to go forth and find it. Even if you are only a middling fan of the style, you will love this beer. It's a great beer and a great value. On a quick trip to Freddy Meyer and I found Discord bombers for $2.47; six packs were on sale for $7.99.

Laurelwood Ink Heart
Laurelwood, which is in my hood, hasn't had branding challenges like Pyramid. They've got a rather earthy brand presence, as suggested by apparel that features chickens, trees and a lot of organic messaging. They have also built a solid portfolio of standard beers, including Workhorse IPA, Free Range Red, Tree Hugger Porter and Space Stout.

If you're keeping track at home, you can add Ink Heart CDA to the Laurelwood beer line. This is one of their seasonal offerings, and should be available now through the end of May. Ink Heart is a well-balanced beer. It's deep brown in color, but really has none of the harsh roasted flavor you might expect. Hops are present in the nose and flavor; bitterness is restrained.

Another one to look for while it's out there
Laurelwood brewmaster, Vasili Gletsoes, says they used Midnight Wheat malt in Ink Heart. Midnight Wheat has no husk, and it is the husk that often produces harsh bitterness in darker beers. Indeed, Midnight Wheat was designed specifically for the CDA style. It adds color and head retention, without imparting harsh flavors. Can you say smooth beer?

As for the hops, they used a combination of English and American hops to create an earthy, citrus profile. The actual hops used: Columbus, Northern Brewer, Kent Golding, Simcoe and Amarillo. Ink Heart stats: 7.3% ABV, 60 IBU.

Ink Heart will be available on draft here and there around town. Baileys tapped a Firkin on Thursday evening, Vasili told me. You'll be able to find it in bottleshops, as well as New Seasons and Whole Foods. Some Freddy Meyer locations will also have it, depending on what kind of beer selection they have.

Find these beers. They won't disappoint.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Not the Same Ole Couv These Days

Although I worked across the Columbia River in Vancouver for many years, I don't get up there all that often these days. The beer culture there isn't nearly as wealthy as it is in Portland. However, things are changing. The Couv is moving on up.

An evening meeting with a guy I once worked with gave me an opening to check out By the Bottle, a shop in downtown Vancouver. This place has been in business as a bottle shop for something like six years. They added a taproom more recently and it fits in well with the mission here.

The tasters
First, the taproom. It's situated up a small flight of stairs and behind the main shop. There are nine taps. Eight of those taps pour a rotating selection of fine beers, including some that are not available across the river in Portland. One tap (big pink elephant) is dedicated to a Belgian beer. The taproom is cash only.

A significantly important feature of the taproom on my visit was the barkeep, Angelo DeIeso. Angelo is the founder of Brewpublic, one of Portland's most active beer blogs. His knowledge of beer runs deep and he's good at sharing what he knows with patrons.

There's no point spending much time talking about the available beers because they are ever-changing. My favorite was Mongo Double IPA from Port Brewing in San Marcos, Calif. This beer apparently isn't available in Oregon. It's terrific. Most of the beers I tasted came from Washington and Oregon, but you never know what you'll find. There's a tap list section on the By the Bottle website...I'm not sure how often it gets updated.

Angelo pours for the crowd
As for the bottle shop, it's packed with great beer. Angelo said they have around 600 different beers in there. They come from all over the world. One of things they do at By the Bottle is keep the bulk of their inventory cold. They also do their best to protect beer from UV rays...light being one of the worst enemies of beer. All windows and lights in the store have UV filters. It's all about keeping the beer as fresh as possible.

By the Bottle is a great spot and a nice example of how the beer culture in Vancouver is evolving. Once considered a laughing stock and backwater, the Couv has made huge strides. Mt. Tabor Brewing and Salmon Creek Brewing, like By the Bottle, are both in the downtown area. That's not all.

There are more beer destinations not far from downtown. McMenamin's on the Columbia and Beaches come to mind. Yesterdays excursion took me to Lapellah, a restaurant and bar located in Grand Central Mall east of downtown. This place is operated by the same folks who run Roots Restaurant and Bar and 360 Pizzeria in Camas. These places are all marginally upscale.

The handle at the far left was a pleasant surprise
Lapellah isn't nominally a destination for craft beer fans. But it isn't bad. They've got six taps, as well as a selection of bottles. They had Widmer Hefeweizen, Oakshire Espresso Stout and Lompoc Proletariat Red on tap. The big surprise was finding Boneyard RPM IPA on the tap list. I know some people who feverishly search for this beer around town. Lapellah apparently has it on often. Who knew?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Widmer Ups the Ante with Series 924 Addition

The folks at Widmer have gotten serious about inventing new and appealing beers. That fact is fully proven by the latest addition to their Series 924, Oatmeal Porter. That beer joins earlier 924 offerings Pitch Black IPA and Nelson Imperial IPA. Setting aside my quarrel with the Pitch Black IPA name, these are all damn good beers.

In case you know nothing about Series 924, it's got nothing to do with that beat up Porsche Rob Widmer has stashed in his garage...whether it exists or not. Nope. 924 is the address of the brewery on Russell Street, the place where Kurt and Rob launched and are continuing to build their brand (along with the Kona and Redhook, at this point).

Tasting underway at Irving Street Kitchen the other night
Series 924 was launched in 2011 with (straight from the press release) "the intention of offering special, but accessible, high-end craft beers." I think they succeed on both counts. As noted, the Oatmeal Porter is the third in the series and will soon join Pitch Black IPA and Nelson Imperial IPA on store shelves (it's already in some stores).

Let's face it. Widmer's access to the Anheuser-Busch distribution network puts them in a great position to expand their brand presence via the Series 924 program. These beers are going to be available in mainstream grocery stores like Fred Meyer, Safeway, etc. Nationwide, they're saying. In four-packs of 12 oz bottles and bombers. That's huge.

Oatmeal Porter
The Oatmeal Porter is flat out excellent. It leans heavily on custom-toasted oats made specially for Widmer by Briess Malting of Chilton, Wis. Oats are typically used in stouts to soften harsh tannins, but they work especially well in this flavorful beer. Oatmeal Porter is a well-balanced beer with a velvety smooth mouth feel, nutty flavors and a mild sweetness. Let it warm up a bit and you'll smell the Cascade hops.

The glamour shot...
People may wonder why Widmer landed on a porter as the style for the Series. Why not just add an oatmeal stout to the lineup? A fair question. The answer is that the Oatmeal Porter will differentiate them from what other brewers are doing. There are plenty of oatmeal stouts out there, not so many oatmeal porters and probably none produced like this one. I give them a lot of credit for thinking this through.

My final thought is this: Something has happened at Widmer over the course of the last year. For years, the pace of innovation there was slow. Now they've got the Rotator IPA Series, Series 924 and you can often find unique and rare beers at the Gasthaus. They've also filled out the marketing team with folks who are aggressively pushing things forward.

If you happen to be on the list of beer fans who quit on Widmer in recent years because you saw it as a stale brand, it's time to give them another look. Things are looking up at 924 Russell Street. From my perspective, way up.