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Nov, 1998       Click here to return to
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Be sure to check the dates of the festivals we’ve listed at the end of this article. And don’t forget to watch our calendar section to see what festivals are coming up near you during the year.

Beer Buyer Beware

Things aren't as simple out there as they used to be and I'm afraid these complexities extend to something as simple as picking up a six pack. You need to view the advertising, packaging and labels for beer with the same jaundiced eye you use for every other product marketed to you. Hopefully we can give you some information that will help you get what you think you've paid for.

The American Brewing Industry is overseen by the U.S. Treasury Department's, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Some of the laws governing labeling pre-date Prohibition. Often important information about the product in the can or bottle your about to drink, isn't printed on the packaging. This includes nutritional information and/or alcoholic content.

Required Label information

The label information required by law is minimal at best. It includes; 1) the name and address of the bottler or packager of the beer, who, by the way, isn't necessarily the same company that brewed the product, 2) the "class" of beer (ale or lager etc.) must be indicated but the "style" (porter or bock etc.) of beer isn't required, and it's the style of beer that tells you more about the beer than the class, 3) the government determines which beers can and cannot be termed an ale, porter or stout. Unfortunately, the government often gets it wrong. When that happens, you don't know what you're buying.

Prohibited Label Information

There are a number of statements that the law has decided you, the consumer, doesn't need to know to the extent that breweries are prohibited from including them on their labels. These include; any statements relating to nutritional analysis, product standards or tests.

Alcoholic Content by Any Other Name is Still as Potent

Throughout most of the world, a beer's alcoholic content is indicated by actual percentage of volume. In the U.S., alcohol is noted by weight. Go figure. Indeed, go figure. A pint of beer weighs just over 1 lb. and a pint of alcohol weighs 0.79 lb. Consequently, beer that is 4% by weight, is actually 5% by volume. To accomplish this bit of beer barrel gymnastics, use these formulas (formulae?). To convert alcohol-by-weight to alcohol-by-volume, multiply the alcoholic percentage by 1.25. To convert alcohol-by-volume to alcohol-by-weight, multiply the percentage by .80. Nothing to it, but why are they making us do the math? Since you buy beer by volume (12 oz., 24 oz.), it's much easier to figure the alcoholic content when measured by volume.

U.S. Beer Labels, Just A Pretty Face

With all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that led to the addition of ingredient list to all edible products from chicken soup to mouthwash, it's amazing that the brewing industry in the U.S. somehow dodged that bullet. Not only does the law not require them to list ingredients but there's a list of allowable additives and preservatives that just won't quit. The beer you're drinking may be made from "only the finest grains and hops available" but the other stuff that might be swimming around in there would scare you to death. Among the additives and preservatives the law allows are; foam enhancers, coloring, flavorings, about 50 antioxidants, enzymes like aspergillus oryzae, ethyl acetate, propylene glycol and sodium bisulfite.

The tradition of craft-brewed beers is that they are made with absolutely no chemical additives or preservatives. Unfortunately, the beers produced by the big corporate breweries don't always follow those high standards. Bad enough is their "fiscally responsible" use of cheaper grains and other ingredients in the brewing process but better living through chemicals should only apply to maintenance of soybean fields.

It's All In How You Say It

The big corporate brewers use words like "smooth" and "mellow" as descripters for their beers. Just what do those terms mean in reference to the taste of beer? Ingredients aren't just blended, it's a "unique blend", it's "pure spring" water and "premium" hops. Does it matter to you that a particular brewery uses hops grown in the mountains of Utah? Do you pass on the Rice Krispies if the rice came from Texas instead of Louisiana? Most of the giants advertise their beers on attributes other than taste or quality. You see a lot of borrowed interest like, Swedish volleyball teams, tag football in the Rockies or talking lizards in the swamp. Yeah, that tells me a lot about why I should run right out and buy their beer.

Sometimes They're More Crafty Than Craft

Over the last decade, true craft beers have been getting more popular and plentiful. This hasn't been lost on the corporate breweries. Not only are the craft brew considered to be of superior quality and therefore command a premium pricebut they are also cutting into the megabrewers sales. So the big guys have addressed that problem by buying out or going into partnership with microbreweries (less than 15,000 barrels a year) and in many cases, simply marketing there own "crafted" beers under new names. Tread lightly, some of these brews are very good beers, exceptional in fact but as many or more are just the same tired stuff in a new bottle.

Be aware also, that sometimes what you think is a beer, hand crafted by a small group of guys, several barrels at a time, is actually contract brewed. Contract brewers hire regional breweries with large capacities to brew their beers using their recipe and ingredients. You might be surprised at some of the beers that are actually contract brewed. Pete's Whicked Ales, Sam Adams and Oregon Ales are examples of well known beers that are thought of as Micro products. With a little detective work you can unmask contract beers. There is normally some fine printing along the side of the label indicating that it's "Brewed by ABC Brewery by special agreement with XYZ Brewery".

The best way to really get the low down on any particular beer, is to do some research in beer magazines or guidebooks. Ultimately, it all comes down to taste, your taste.

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North American
Beer Festivals 1999

FEBRUARY
Feb. 6 FebFest '99
Libertyville, Illinois
Location: Libertyville Civic Center, 135 Church Street
Contact: (847) 234-5809
E-mail: clubbob@andinator.com
Feb. 6 Dominican College Winterfest
San Rafael, California
Location: Dominican College
Contact Phone: (415)-257-0135
Feb. 12 - 13 Parade of Beers
Woodstock, Ontario, Canada
Location: Oxford Auditorium
Contact: Larry Longfield, (519) 637-8450
E-mail: blue.rhinollsl@sympatico.ca
Feb. 13 Savor the Flavor of Hillsboro
Hillsboro, Oregon
Location: Savor the Flavor
Contact Name: Jamie Kilbe
Contact Phone: (503) 648-1102
Contact Email: jamie@hilchamber.org
Feb. 20 Kichener Beer Wine & Food Fair
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
Contact Phone: (519) 579-2476
Contact Email: frazldad@home.com
Feb. 27 "At The Hops" MicroBrewery & Leisure Festival
Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada
Contact Name: Sandra Layh
Contact Phone: (250) 374-5555
Contact Email: onsite@bc.sympatico.ca
Feb. 27 CBN 11th Anniversary Party
Berkeley, California
Location: Pyramid Brewery: 901 Gilman St.
Contact Phone: (800) 430-2337
MARCH
Mar 13 Fourth Annual York County Micro-brew Fest
York, Pennsylvania
Contact Name: James Galliera
Contact Phone: (717) 244-5355
Contact Email: jgalliera@blazenet.net
Mar 13 St. Patrick's Day Brewfest
Novato, California
Contact Phone: (415)-453-5928
Mar 20 - 21 6th Annual Great Arizona Beer Festival
Phoenix, Arizona
Contact Name: Louis Stanley
Contact Phone: (602) 231-0500
Contact Email: stanley@rio.maricopa.edu
Mar 20 Whale & Microbrew Festival
Ft. Bragg, California
Contact Phone: (707) 961-6300
Mar 27 Mendocino County Bus Trip
Oakland, California
Location: Rockridge Bart Station
Contact Phone: (800) 430-2337
 
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