Dear reader and beer drinker, I would like to ask you a question.
In fact, with your permission, I would like to ask you more than one. If you continue reading, then I'll assume you have agreed to participate in my queries. If you cease reading at this moment, then it really doesn't matter what my response is because you stopped reading at that moment back there. But for those still reading and curious what I might say to those no longer reading if in fact those non-readers were still reading, I would have said something full of compassion and understanding because I know what it is like to live a full and busy life as a captain of industry.
Question 1: Do you have an opinion regarding “gypsy” brewers and/or contract breweries?
Full disclosure, I do not have an opinion, which is to say that it does not impact my beer decisions. For those unfamiliar with those terms, from what I understand, a gypsy brewer is a brewer that does not operate an actual brewery but rather uses another brewery's facilities to make beers. There can be varying degrees of involvement during the process, from being present and participating in the brewing process from start to finish to handing over a recipe and letting the production facility handle everything from there.
Some gypsy brewers that come to mind immediately are Mikkeller, Evil Twin, and Stillwater. I'm sure there many more and perhaps some of them are currently working on building a brewery of there own – the specifics of which are not really the point here, assuming that there is a point, which is doubtful. But does knowing a brewer is a “gypsy” brewer impact your opinion of them? Is there a stigma attached to such a label in the craft beer community?
It was not until recently, while conducting a bit of research on Against The Grain Brewery, that I became aware such questions were even worth asking. On the second episode of the Drinking With Shirt podcast, we opened a bottle of Against The Grain's Rico Sauvin as our end of episode “surprise beer”. I had not had it before and was intrigued by the label and the prospect of an IPA with Nelson Sauvin hops. It was unique, at least to my experiences, and quite enjoyable.
As I read the label during the podcast, I mistakenly said the Against the Grain was a brewery out of Maryland (because that is what it said on the label). Unfortunately, that was incorrect. Against The Grain Brewery (and Smokehouse) is located in Louisville, Kentucky. The 15-barrel, three-story brewhouse is part of Louisville Slugger Field, the home of the Louisville Bats, the Triple-A Minor League affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. However, the beer we drank in the Shirt Studios was brewed in Maryland by Pub Dog Brewery, a contract brewery.
I would never have uncovered any of this if it weren't for a bottle of Against The Grain's Citra Ass Down that I found behind the counter at my local bottle shop. I enjoyed the Rico Sauvin quite a bit and was interested in AtG's take on a Citra forward double IPA. There was even brief consideration of an episode of the podcast where we put Citra Ass Down against Three Floyd's Zombie Dust, perhaps the the king of Citra, for a round of Beersport.
In an effort to see if this beer was widely distributed (so that Drinking w/ Shirt listeners, while probably unable to obtain Zombie Dust, could at least enjoy a bottle of Citra Ass Down while they listened) I came across several less than pleasant comments regarding the brewery and its contract brewing status. Digging a little deeper, I also discovered that the contract brewing situation for Against the Grain appears to be a temporary one as they are currently expanding with a new production and packaging facility that will allow them to increase production in 2015 by over 400%.
What I found interesting is that while Against The Grain is having some of their beer brewed via contract brewing, they have, unlike most gypsy brewers that come to mind, a physical brewing location. Their contract brewing endeavors seem to be a stop gap between their currently beyond-maxxed-out brewhouse capabilities and ever-increasing demand. Does that put them in some sort of gypsy middle ground? Are there other brewers in a similar situation? Why the craft beer consumer angst toward such a scenario? Perhaps I should just stop reading angry beer forums.
Question #2: Do you think that these contract/gypsy brews are overpriced?
Some of the vitriol I read in forum comments – not just about Against The Grain, but other brewers being lumped into the “gypsy” category – was related to price. I paid $17 for a 22 oz bottle of Rico Sauvin. At the time, I thought the price was a bit much, but not terrible. In the end, I enjoyed the beer and would buy and drink it it again. Either way, $0.77 per ounce is a bit steep. It equates to a six pack that would cost approximately $56. The crazy thing is that this is by no means the high end of the price for a big bottle. And while I realize there other costs to the consumer inherent with getting to the singular location of the Three Floyd Brewpub, a case of Zombie Dust, at the brewpub, is only $40, or around $0.14 per ounce.
This brings up a whole other idea that was first brought to my attention by Ben Sammis, of Backyard Beer Garden fame, in the comments section of Alex Fossi's article “Less Beer, Please.” Ben pointed out that consumers are generally willing to pay more for beer in a big bottle, for several potential reasons, citing a $5 price tag for a large bottle of Lagunitas IPA, approximately $0.23 per ounce, versus a $10 six pack of the same at approximately $0.13 an ounce.
If we take this a step further and look at BAR per dollar, or a rough idea of such by simply taking a beer's current BAR, dividing that number by 12 (using 12 ounces as the standard bottle/can volume) to determine BAR per ounce and then dividing that by the price paid per ounce, Zombie Dust comes in around 10 BAR per dollar. That's a lot of bang for your buck. In another example, one that only required me to drive 30 minutes to a nearby beer distributor, I paid $70 for a case of Bell's Hopslam Ale the last time it came out. That comes out to around $0.24 per ounce and 5 BAR per dollar.
While a more in depth look at BAR/$ and how it should be calculated is perhaps better suited for another time, the difference in value between the BAR/$ for two beers that are separated by less than three positions on our Leaderboards is pretty interesting.
Citra Ass Down, Against The Grain Brewery (3.57 BAR, 115 Style+)
Appearance = 4.5/5
Poured a hazy, pale, golden orange color. White foam, about a finger on the pour, settle to a thin layer with a decent ring around the glass. Some lacing, nothing crazy.
Smell = 4/5
Citrus , grapefruit rind, tropical fruit, and peach.
Taste = 4.25
Stronger bite than the nose presented. Juicy tropical citrus at first but overpowered by a pine and citrus rind bitterness the comes on strong toward the end. Hop forward all the way with a lighter malt presence. Pretty delicious. Would like the juicy aspect on the front end to last a bit longer.
Feel = 4.25/5
Feels light for a DIPA but it worked well with the flavors. The bitterness and carbonation play nice together. The feel is dry and sticky but overall a smooth drink. Gets a touch watery as it warms.
Overall = 4.25/5
Tasty and sticky and dry. If you want to compare to Zombie Dust, this has more tropical fruit notes, more of juicy quality, where Zombie Dust is more resinous and dank citrus with caramel notes from the malt backbone. I'm not sure if the comparison is even worthwhile as they have little in common beyond the hops, but both are Citra forward beers that until today were residing side by side in my refrigerator.
Follow J. R. Shirt on Twitter and Untapped @beeronmyshirt. Listen to the Drinking With Shirt podcast here.