Beer Competitions

September 22nd, 2014 by CCBA

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Everyone loves a good contest and the more dramatic the competition the better. Many of those in the industry believe that competition breeds better beer and thus can only elevate the craft beer scene.

As we look back at the great summer beer competitions and their corresponding beer festivals we also look forward to the Great American Beer Festival and the Beer Competition that complements it. We begin to recognize how beer judging becomes an important focus and how judges can become a hot commodity in the industry.

Beer Judging Certification Program
Tasting and judging beer is more than just donating your liver and taste buds for a couple of days of sipping. What does it take to become an official beer taster and competition judge? Put down that pint and pick up a tasting glass. The American Homebrewers Association recognized the BJCP (Beer Judging Certification Program) as the program they recommend for AHA members that want to become “official” beer judges.

The BJCP offers a three-examination process that starts with an online candidate screening and finishes with a written proficiency exam that includes essay questions to “test skills and knowledge necessary for higher ranks.” The first exam cost $10 for the 200 question multi-choice and true/false screening exam. The second exam called the Judging Exam ($40) takes approximately 90 minutes to complete and exam takers are expected to complete six beer score sheets served at fifteen minute intervals. The third exam, called the Written Exam, cost $25 and is designed for those wishing to advance to National Judge or a higher rank.

CA State Fair Commercial Beer Competition
At the California State Fair Commercial Beer Competition, sponsored by the Northern California Brewer Build, over 850 beers from California are judged in a blind tasting by official beer judges and industry professionals. Beer gets judged in June prior to the opening of the State Fair. Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are awarded to the winning beers from each category and a Best of Show is awarded to the top beer of the competition. The awards are presented toward the end of the State Fair at the Commercial Craft Beer Awards Ceremony in late July at Cal Expo.

SD International Beer Competition
The San Diego International Beer Competition coincides with the festival of the same name and happens in late June. Winning beers are awarded in gold, silver and bronze categories with a Best of Show and a Grand Champion (most total points received by a brewery in the competition).

GABF Competition
With ninety different styles of beer and an inordinate amount of sub-categories it takes five three-hour judging sessions, held over three days, to judge all of the beers entered into the GABF competition. The ultimate goal? To best represent each beer-style category as described and adopted by the GABF. Beers are awarded gold, silver or bronze medals that make up some of the most coveted awards in the industry. The GABF is usually held in late September or early October and this year the beer competition will be held on Saturday, October 4th this year.

World Beer Cup
Once every two years the World Beer Cup, presented by the Brewers Association, is held in the spring immediately following the Craft Brewers Conference. This competition started in 1996 and was developed to “celebrate the art and science of brewing by recognizing outstanding achievement.” 91 categories are judged with gold, silver and bronze awards presented within each category. Judges for this completion will be chosen from a variety of “internationally recognized brewers, consultants, industry suppliers and writers.” Judges will only award each of these medals if they feel that “excellent examples of the style” are represented. Judges may choose not to designate any awards in a category if they feel that none of the beers entered in that category actually represent that style. Also, judges may grant an award in any one or more of the three award places (gold, silver, and bronze) without granting awards in all three places.  

Each participant will pay $160 to register their first beer and $160 for each additional brand that is registered. The registration process typically starts six months prior to the competition. The BA capped registration at 500 beers for the 2014 competition.

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The Brewers Association (the national trade association representing the craft brewing industry) holds a monthly educational webinar called “Power Hour” for the BA membership. This month’s Power Hour was a look at the mid-year trends and statistics in the craft beer industry, led by Dan Wandel, Senior Vice President of the Beverage Alcohol Market Insights Group at IRI.  Dan laid out some impressive year-to-date craft beer category numbers that on one hand are not surprising given the steady and consistent rise of craft beer in recent years. But on the other hand, these trends are yet again a strong affirmation that craft beer continues to transform the brewing industry both here in the US and globally.

We have seen year after year of strong craft beer growth both in California and nationally, but what is somewhat surprising is that it appears to be accelerating. As Dan pointed out, 2014 could be the strongest year of growth for craft beer ever!

IRI tracks checkout counter scan data at multiple off-premise retail “channels” such as grocery/supermarket, big-box, convenience stores, drug chains, etc. All numbers are YTD through July 13th.

Let’s take a look at our home turf first. Sales of craft beer in California are up 20.7% and now account for a 16.8% market share. That is a strong showing. The national market share for craft is currently between 8-9%. Given a statewide market share of 16%, certain markets in California such as San Diego and San Francisco are sure to be in the 20-25% range at least.

Nationwide numbers are impressive too. Craft’s dollar sales in the grocery channel (IRI’s largest retail channel), are up 20.5%.

The high end beer segment (imports, super premium, cider, craft and others) now makes up over half (50.6%) of total beer dollar sales in the supermarket channel. That is a furthering of the mind-blowing shift going on in the overall beer category. The revolution clearly continues.

In the total beer category, domestic shipments are flat and imports are up ever-so-slightly at +0.5%,

And how about this? Total craft can sales are up 79% in IRI tracked supermarkets and now make up 7.2% market share of total craft sales.

Yes, it is a good year for craft beer (hey, that rhymes!)

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In what turned out to be an “interesting” turn of events the CCBA was able to fulfill a last minute request from the Governors office to supply California Craft Beer to Governor Jerry Brown’s luncheon for the President of Mexico. Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney’s B&L in Sacramento was the caterer for the event and demanded that craft beer be served at this special lunch in honor of President Enrique Peña Nieto at the Leland Stanford Mansion this afternoon. CCBA insiders infiltrated the event and captured these photos of craft beer being consumed by the 300+ guests. 

The CCBA would like to thank the following member breweries that were involved with this operation: Rubicon – Monkey Knife Fight, Track 7 – Panic IPA, Hoppy Brewing Company – Liquid Sunshine Blond Ale.

photo 151photo 20 photo35photo 21

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The 6.0 earthquake that slammed the Napa region early Sunday morning caused extensive damage to the wine industry but little if any damage to the region’s craft breweries.

While there are over 400 wineries and a similar number of vintners in the Napa region, there are only five breweries.

The quake was a “near miss’ for many in the beer industry. Just ten hours earlier, the Napa Downtown Association was hosting the Blues, Brews & BBQ beer festival with breweries set up and pouring beer in the exact spot where bricks came crashing down onto the street from the historic buildings in the downtown.

The CCBA was able to contact Napa Smith Brewery, the second closest brewery to the epicenter. They suffered no damage other than a few broken bottles in the tasting room.

Calistoga Brewing located in the far northern end of the valley did not sustain any damage at all.

The wine industry was a different story. Extensive damage to both infrastructure and inventory was being reported. Some wineries were reporting over half of their inventory being stored in barrels or tanks were destroyed according to various media outlets. 

Craft Continues Growth Spurt

July 28th, 2014 by CCBA

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Craft brewers (as defined by the Brewers Association) increased volume by 18 percent during the first half of the year.

That equates to approximately 10.6 million barrels of beer sold by craft brewers, up from 9.0 million barrels over the first half of 2013.

Keep in mind that the BA updated their definition of craft brewer in February of this year. According to the BA in their statement released today, “The 18 percent growth rate is based on the updated craft brewer definition1 and derived from comparable barrel total from the first half of 2013. Mid-year figures first reported in 2013 were based on the previous craft brewer definition.”

No matter how you slice it, craft beer, and full-flavored beer in general continues to take over the American beer culture. Yes, it’s true; the majority of beer consumed in the US is still light Pilsner-style lager. But that percentage continues to decrease year after year. I don’t see that trend reversing. Some markets, most notably Portland OR, Seattle and San Francisco have flirted with a 50% craft market share (depending on how you measure it) and some chain grocery stores are now reporting the majority of their sales as craft. And so, it is not far fetched at all to think that in a not-to-distant future, the majority of beer consumed in the U.S. will be full-flavored “craft” beer.

Another figure that continues to jump out is the number of operating breweries, and “breweries-in-planning” that now exist. According to BA figures, as of June 30, 2014, there were 3,040 breweries were operating in the U.S. and 1,929 breweries in planning.

So it is with no surprise, but never without some amazement, that craft beer continues to grow in very big leaps and bounds.

Note; enter your email address in the field to the left and receive an email notice with each new blog post. We will be following the trends of the California craft beer industry on a regular basis.

Growlers – Q&A

July 9th, 2014 by CCBA

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Why is it that while some breweries sell growlers, others don’t? Why do some breweries refill used growlers while many breweries only sell beer filled in their own growlers? Why do some retail stores sell growlers but most do not?

To answer these questions, we must wade into the deep, dark confines of the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Act (ABC Act), which comprises the Business and Professions Code and the Code of Regulations. If you are looking for some nighttime reading to put you to sleep, you can find it on the ABC website. The ACB code is the legal statute by which manufacturers, distributors and retailers of alcoholic beverages must abide. The rules of the road, so to speak. And remember, that alcohol beverage regulations vary state to state. While some states allow just about anything (Oregon allows retailers to fill an empty mason jar if they choose), some states have very strict laws governing the sales of growlers. California lies somewhere in between. 

In the 1800′s pails were used to transport beer from the tavern to the home or the workplace.

A good starting point when contemplating all things growler is to note that the term doesn’t even exist in the California ABC code. The growler is considered a “container” by the ABC, just as a bottle or keg, and has no special meaning or separate set of rules.

To answer our first question, some beer manufactures simply choose not to sell growlers. They may be so small that they sell all of their beer in pints through the tasting room. Some craft breweries don’t have a tasting room or retail store and instead sell everything through a wholesaler. Some simply may not make enough beer. So although most craft breweries do sell growlers, some do not. This is by choice, not because of regulatory constraints.

Addressing the second question regarding the refilling of growlers is more complex. Prior to last year, the ABC did not allow breweries to refill a growler from another brewery. For a variety of reasons, the ABC recently reinterpreted the regulations and they now allow a beer manufacturer (holder of an ABC type 01 or type 23 license) to refill for sale any sealable container (such as growlers) as long as specific regulatory guidelines are met. AB 647 (Chesbro) which passed the legislature last year and was signed into law by the Governor affirms the right for a beer manufacturer to refill previously used growlers (as long as labeling requirements are met).

Just like a bottle of beer, all growlers must have an affixed label that has been approved by the ABC and meets all of the state’s labeling requirements. The container must also be sealable (screw top, cork, flip top, etc.) to distinguish it from a glass of beer or other open container. And most notably, any and all information pertaining to another beer manufacturer other than the one filling and selling the container must be removed or obscured. This last requirement is sometimes difficult to accomplish. When a consumer brings an empty growler that was previously filled and labeled by Brewery A into Brewery B to be refilled, Brewery B must completely remove or obscure any and all information from Brewery A. No easy task. This can be time-consuming for a bartender at a busy tasting room. It can also be very difficult to obscure etched or painted labels. Thus, brewers may not be able to comply with label requirements of refilling certain growlers.

Perhaps of greatest concern for many breweries is the cleanliness of the growler. Craft breweries take great pride in their products. It is of utmost importance that the quality and integrity of the beer they produce be maintained from the time it leaves the brewery until the moment it is consumed. The cleanliness, functionality and integrity of the growler are critical, and not all growlers are created equal. Cheaper growlers do not seal well the second time they are filled, and some growlers have thin glass that will not withstand certain filling methods. The cleanliness of the container when it is brought in for refill is also a big concern. It may not be practical for the filling brewery to take the time to ensure that each growler they refill is properly cleaned and sanitized.

Add up all of these issues and you have a lot of good reasons that many craft brewers choose not to refill growlers previously filled by another brewery. Refilling growlers is a great way for consumers to sample beers from different breweries in an affordable way and offers an environmentally favorable method of doing so. But in many situations it simply isn’t practical or may diminish the quality of the beer.

Our final question about retailers selling growlers is easy. Retailers are allowed to sell growlers, but they cannot fill growlers. Only a licensed beer manufacturer may fill a container with beer. Retailers can buy growlers either directly from a brewery or through a licensed wholesaler and more retailers will likely sell growlers as brewers develop better filling methods that will allow for a longer shelf life (similar to bottles).

For a more detailed explanation of refilling and other growler details, see the “Growler Clarification” on our web site here.