Southern Brew News February/March 2011 : Page 1
By Owen Ogletree Much of Max Lager’s resilience and fortitude springs from brewer and managing partner John Roberts. PHOTO BY OWEN OGLETREE ILLUSTRATION: HANS GRANHEIM Do you have Good People in the can? Well, you better go let them out! You don’t have to be old enough to remember the old Prince Albert in the can phone gag to remember a time, not that long ago, that great beer and cans were simply not words you heard together. Many beer drinkers had turned to imported beers for something more to their liking, and bottles took hold in our minds as hous-ing better tasting beer. According to the Can Manufacturers Institute, over 30% of the world’s beers are pack-aged in cans, and we all know what that statistic looked like on shelves just a few years ago here in the South. Maybe it’s like screw caps and wine; while corks are no longer necessary and, indeed, not even desirable in some cases, consumers often still associate screw caps with cheap wine. So, with beer, bottling came to represent better beer, and See Can p.4 State by State News Tasting Notes ................... 6 Business of Beer .............. 8 Style Section .................... 9 Beer Wench's Kitchen ...... 10 Dr. Brewski ...................... 11 Tennessee ........16 Alabama/Mississippi ....17 Georgia ..........18 The Carolinas .......20 Florida ...........22 Louisiana ............23 Since opening in the As an avid home-heart of downtown Atlanta bre brewer, J.R. worked in in 1998, Max Lager’s the early ‘90s as manager Wood-Fired Grill & of a brew-on-premises Massachusetts. “I built Brewery has survived the in M craft beer slump of the and installed a small set late ‘90s, 9/11’s horrific of br brewing systems there and ran the operation,” impact on the urban center’s foot traffic, he says. “It was my favorite job ever — a fire and subsequent very low-key, relaxed closure of a sister brewpub, and the recent and focused on beer. I Great Recession. developed at least ten new recipes a week Due to dedica-tion, commitment and for the place and got to brew whatever and reinvestment on the part of co-owners Alan whenever I wanted.” PHOTO COURTESY OF MAX LAGER'S and Cindy LeBlanc Alan LeBlanc is J.R.’s uncle and holds a Cornell degree and brewmaster and managing partner John Roberts (better known as J.R.), business at in Hotel & Restaurant Management. Alan grew up in his family’s restaurants, but it Max Lager’s brewpub is now in high-gear, was J.R. who turned him on to brewpubs and diners and imbibers pack the place most every day for lunch and dinner. while living near Boston 18 years ago. The See Max p.3
Southern Micros Going For The Can
Do you have Good People in the can? Well, you better go let them out!<br /> <br /> You don’t have to be old enough to remember the old Prince Albert in the can phone gag to remember a time, not that long ago, that great beer and cans were simply not words you heard together. Many beer drinkers had turned to imported beers for something more to their liking, and bottles took hold in our minds as housing better tasting beer. According to the Can Manufacturers Institute, over 30% of the world’s beers are packaged in cans, and we all know what that statistic looked like on shelves just a few years ago here in the South. Maybe it’s like screw caps and wine; while corks are no longer necessary and, indeed, not even desirable in some cases, consumers often still associate screw caps with cheap wine. So, with beer, bottling came to represent better beer, and cans were associated with swill. So, what’s changed?<br /> <br /> Many credit Colorado’s Oskar Blues, brewer of Dale’s Pale Ale and Old Chub among others, for pioneering the move to cans for craft breweries. OB was the first craft brewery in the United States to can their beer, launching what founder Dale Katechis calls their “Can Beer Apocalypse” in 2002. (Dale, by the way, is originally from Alabama, but, alas, the South lost him.) OB’s move to the can has led to astounding success for the brewery with multiple years of 100% growth. The success of OB’s canned brews encouraged other craft breweries to give it a try.<br /> <br /> Oskar Blues’ trendsetting move wouldn’t have been possible without the development of a canning system made by Cask Brewing Systems out of Canada. Cask has developed a unique canning system, specifically designed for microbreweries. All of the Southern breweries featured here are using a system made by Cask which, in turn, uses cans made by the BALL Corporation.<br /> <br /> Industry-wide statistics report an average of 44% post-consumer recycled aluminum content per can. The BALL website also states, “Aluminum cans are 100 percent recyclable infinitely, and using recycled aluminum requires 95 percent less energy and generates 95 percent fewer emissions than producing can sheet material from bauxite ore.” So, cans get big points for sustainability; put that with better shelf life and a general dislike toward bottles in the outdoors, and it’s easy to see why many craft breweries in the South, and elsewhere, are going for the can.<br /> <br /> Alabama-canned<br /> <br /> Good People Brewing Company out of Birmingham, Alabama got started about 2 years ago, but they have already outgrown their original digs and moved to a new bigger facility this year. For Michael Sellers and brewer Jason Malone, packaging was needed to continue to experience the growth they wanted. Michael says, “We knew for growth, we were going to have to get into people’s refrigerators rather than making them come to us.” While researching bottles versus cans, the most important goal was maintaining the integrity of the beer. No light can permeate the can, and oxidation tends to be less. Furthermore, being in the Deep South, people are outdoors for many months of the year. Since glass is not welcome on the lake, beach, or golf course, cans were a better fit. Michael says they also wanted to make their beers available at outdoor festivals and venues, places where craft beer often hasn’t been allowed because of the restrictions on glass. Being based in Birmingham also gave GPBC a push toward the can on the recycling front because glass is not recycled curbside in Birmingham. Michael also points out the advantages from a retailer’s perspective since cans stack better and have less breakage. Now that their old oil can-inspired design is ready, they’ve ordered 155,000 cans (the BALL Corporation has a huge minimum order for printed cans) to house two of their brews, the GP Brown and the GP IPA. To keep supply up, they had to greatly expand their brewhouse again. GPBC has agreements with several local grocers, and canned Good People beer should be available in the Birmingham area by late January 2011, then expanding to Huntsville and Tuscaloosa, and eventually statewide. First, though, Michael says, “we’ve got to cut our teeth in our local market” and see how it goes.<br /> <br /> Canned Demand<br /> <br /> New South Brewing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina began canning their flagship beer, White Ale, in November 2009 in response to customer demand, says David Epstein. New South is twelve years old, and, for a time, they were enjoying those simpler days of “draft only.” David points out that many beer lovers simply don’t frequent bars but want to enjoy craft beer at home or elsewhere. When he started considering the choice between bottles and cans, the simplicity of the canning machine was the initial deciding factor because “there are a lot less moving parts, so there are a lot less things that can break.” Moreover, New South’s location was also important. Beaches are nearby, and David states, “There are 100 golf courses within 30 miles of New South.” Since glass bottles are not allowed on golf courses and beaches, cans were the way to go. For New South, other points in cans’ favor were packability, recyclability, and shelf life. They plan to can their Nut Brown Ale by next summer and eventually hope to can all their brews.<br /> <br /> Keg to Can<br /> <br /> In Western North Carolina, Scott Pyatt from Catawba Valley Brewing Company sees canning as a small part of an established brewery. Established in 1999, Catawba was draft only for almost ten years, but about two years ago, they started thinking about packaging “that you could open and just drink one.” In looking at choices, bottle shipping weight, both empty and full, stood out as a clear drawback. Then, Scott caught wind of a small brewery that was going out of business that had a small canning system and decided to purchase it. Since that time, he’s been tweaking the machine to his specifications and product-testing Catawba’s beers in the can. Scott, who comes from a science background, says they want to put their canned products “on a torturous path to make sure our product is biologically stable.” This includes conditions that consumers might drag their beers through: leaving them in a hot car then throwing them in the freezer to cool them down, leaving them in sunlight, dropping them, etc. Meanwhile, Catawba has been working on labels as it was a challenge to convert a tap handle logo to cans. They are also in the process of buying more tanks to ramp up production as growth in 2010 was better than expected. They hope to have canned beer available by spring, and while the final decision is yet to be made, Scott says it will likely be their Firewater IPA first, then maybe the White Zombie Belgian White and Farmer Ted’s Cream Ale. Since they’ll be doing their own labels, they weren’t saddled with the investment of the huge minimum order and have just ordered plain cans, giving them flexibility. Scott says, “This will be a small part of our business, but a fun one.”<br /> <br /> Trying it in the Triangle<br /> <br /> Triangle Brewing Company in Durham, North Carolina put in a canning line in September 2010 and began canning their Golden Ale and White Ale. For Triangle partners Andy Miller and Rick Tufts, the decision to go with cans was not a quick one, but it was a decision to which they credit their recent tremendous growth. Triangle also started as draft only; then, about a year into production, they began bottling 22 ounce bombers, by hand. Even if you don’t homebrew, you can easily get an idea of how that just couldn’t last long commercially. But, increased demand showed a market for packaging. Andy and Rick flip-flopped for about a year between cans and bottles and finally decided on cans mainly because, “cans actually protect the beer better than the bottle does.” Since UV rays and oxygen, the prime enemies of fresh beer, can’t infiltrate cans, canned beer will stay fresher longer. Here too, geography played a critical role; Andy proudly boasts that North Carolina is blessed with both beaches and mountains, neither of which allow for bottles. While many thought they were “crazy” with their initial order of 200,000 cans, the brewery expansion before they put in the line is now not enough, and Triangle is growing again to service the canning line. Easier recyclability and general sustainability were also important to Andy and Rick. With a BALL manufacturing facility in nearby Reidsville, and their new ability to fulfill more demand within their local distribution area, Andy says, “in six to eight months, we’ll double production but keep the same footprint” in terms of their delivery area.<br /> <br /> Want a delicious cold one on the river or in the woods? Can do!
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The Maximum Resilience Of Max Lager's
Since opening in the heart of downtown Atlanta in 1998, Max Lager’s Wood-Fired Grill & Brewery has survived the craft beer slump of the late ‘90s, 9/11’s horrific impact on the urban center’s foot traffic, a fire and subsequent closure of a sister brewpub, and the recent Great Recession.<br /> <br /> Due to dedication, commitment and reinvestment on the part of co-owners Alan and Cindy LeBlanc and brewmaster and managing partner John Roberts (better known as J.R.), business at Max Lager’s brewpub is now in high-gear, and diners and imbibers pack the place most every day for lunch and dinner.<br /> <br /> As an avid homebrewer, J.R. worked in the early ‘90s as manager of a brew-on-premises in Massachusetts. “I built and installed a small set of brewing systems there and ran the operation,” he says. “It was my favorite job ever — very low-key, relaxed and focused on beer. I developed at least ten new recipes a week for the place and got to brew whatever and whenever I wanted.” <br /> <br /> Alan LeBlanc is J.R.’s uncle and holds a Cornell degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management. Alan grew up in his family’s restaurants, but it was J.R. who turned him on to brewpubs while living near Boston 18 years ago. The family entrepreneurs looked to downtown Atlanta as a prime, untapped market for their new brewery restaurant. “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into,” remarks J.R. “The urban downtown market is very different than we anticipated — we don’t get a lot of locals. Conventions, tourism and lunch business from local offices keep us going. It hasn’t been easy.”<br /> <br /> Trial by Fire J.R. remembers several occasions when he and the LeBlancs feared closure. Popularity of craft beers and imports in the mid-’90s bottomed out shortly after Max Lager’s opened their spacious, urban warehouse brewpub at 320 Peachtree Street. J.R. adds, “Then 9/11 made everything worse. No one was traveling, and the downtown conventions and events dried up for a long time. We were lucky to do $900 dollars a day, and I took over as cook, manager and host — anything to keep the place going — all while still making the beer.” The team then made the decision to open a second Max Lager’s in the hot new Mall of Georgia in Buford. “We thought that a satellite location in an Atlanta suburb would draw regulars and consistent business and might be Max Lager’s savior,” J.R. recalls. “The first six months worked, but then business at the mall fell off, and the second location started to become a drain on the original brewpub. Then came the small fire in the Buford location’s grill hood — this wouldn’t have been a big deal, except for the fact that the local fire department dumped in a ton of water and did major damage to the building.”<br /> <br /> J.R. and the LeBlancs thought about reopening the second Max Lager’s, but soon decided to close shop at Buford and redouble their efforts at the original location. Max Lager’s hired new staff, completed a major remodel downstairs, revamped the food menu, took on a talented new chef, and allowed J.R. to focus on the beer.<br /> <br /> Longevity and Revitalization<br /> <br /> Business started taking off in 2006 and grew around 17% in 2009. 2010 looks even better. What’s been the catalyst for recent successes? J.R. credits many factors. “Longevity is important — people now know us. We have what we call ‘annual regulars’ — conventioneers and business people who come to Atlanta once or twice a year and always look forward to visiting Max Lager’s. Downtown Atlanta also now has the World of Coke, Georgia Aquarium and a load of new businesses and offices.”<br /> <br /> Max Lager’s new menu sprang from the mind and experience of chef Tim Magee, who got his start at Redstone American Grill in Philadelphia and has since worked for Atlanta’s Concentrics Restaurant Group. J.R. adds, “I think Tim’s made our new menu consistent and imaginative . He assures the service is stepped up, too.”<br /> <br /> Along with new food items, Max Lager’s line of house brews are selling at a record pace. J.R. says, “I recently put a full batch of Max Red Ale in the tank and left town for three days. When I got back and saw the tank was almost empty, I panicked and started looking for a leak.”<br /> <br /> Of course, the beer was simply disappearing down the throats of grateful customers. The current strength of craft beer seems responsible for a dramatic shift in customer attitudes at Max Lager’s. In the late 1990s only beer geeks and foreign tourists drank the more intense, flavorful brews at Max Lager’s. “I doubt I could have sold very much of my Hopsplosion IPA back in 1998, but now it’s one of my most popular,” notes J.R.<br /> <br /> J.R. concocted Hopsplosion shortly after the end of the global hop shortage a couple of years ago. “I was so busy trying to keep the business up and running, I ran out of hops. Jim Koch of Sam Adams sent me some lovely Tettnang hops and saved our beer and maybe our business. I was able to use these hops in several batches and trade for Cascade and other varieties with other breweries.”<br /> <br /> Traditonal Brews<br /> <br /> Brewing ranks as J.R.’s favorite part of running Max Lager’s. Although he sees brewing as a creative outlet, he admits that he’s not the most adventurous brewer in the world.<br /> <br /> In fact, J.R. won second place at the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting two years ago for a balanced and immensely drinkable red ale he simply called This Beer. His favorite new beer at the pub is his Resurgens Rye — a hoppy ale with pleasing, spicy notes of rye. “But my perennial choice is Max Gold — a European-style pilsner with a fair amount of hops — not a light beer at all,” J.R. says. “Our best seller is typically Max Red.”<br /> <br /> In February, customers should keep an eye out for J.R.’s second batch of mahogany-colored, malty Gimme Shelter Bock. Part of the pub’s “Drink Beer, Do Good” program, 50 cents of each pint goes to various Atlanta charities, such as the Union Mission. Other beers in his late winter lineup include St. Mungo 90 Shilling Scotch Ale (a caramely, rich, 9% ABV brew), Old 320 Barleywine and the popular IMOS Imperial Mocha Oatmeal Stout.<br /> <br /> “These are all great beers for cold weather,” says J.R. “With as much beer as we’ve been selling lately, it’s a difficult juggling act to brew and long-term condition these high gravity beers, but I think it’s worth it.”