Michigan Brewer Taps Into The Unexplored Market Of Non-Alcoholic Craft Beer

At a time when double-digit alcohol content beers receive top billing at bars, brewpubs and bottle shops across the country, a small west Michigan brewer is making its footprint brewing a non-alcoholic beer.

The idea started innocently enough at Schmohz Brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One of their mug club members wasn’t able to drink beer anymore. Well, beer with alcohol. After sampling what was available he went back to his beloved brewery and asked them to brew one. They obliged and the Schmohz 120 was born.

IMG_0594At first 120 was only available on draft at the tap room. But Schmohz eventually added it to their regular lineup and it, “went like wildfire,” according to Schmohz Beer Engineer Chas Thompson.

Let’s put that into context. A beer manager at a craft-centric beer store in Lansing, Michigan told GuysDrinkingBeer, during a visit two months ago, that he was going through six cases of 120 a month compared to two cases of Schmohz’s other offerings.

Essentially, any of his customers who had previously bought Sharps or O’doul’s were now buying the 120.

“It totally took us off guard,” said Thompson.

Why? Simple, it tastes good. Thompson calls it a, “very drinkable” beer. And for those of you who’ve tried just a sip of non-alcoholic beer you know that most are watery and flavorless.

The 120 actually has a bit of body to it and it’s aroma and flavors are in lock-step with what you’d expect from a craft brewed amber ale, with alcohol; sweet caramel on the nose with notes of figs and brown sugar on the palate and a touch of herbal hops in the finish.

The crew at Schmohz was able to keep up with demand for about six months before they were forced to suspend production last fall because, believe it or not, making non-alcoholic beer is expensive. And the unexpected popularity of the 120 was eating into time the brewers would have been spent on creating one-offs and seasonals.

In order to make a IMG_0597non-alcoholic beer, according to Thompson, you first must brew a beer with alcohol and then use a specialized – and expensive – machine to remove the alcohol. Those machines aren’t cheap, running anywhere from ten thousand dollars to well over 200-thousand dollars, depending on the size.

Couple the fact that this one expensive machine is used in the production of one of over a dozen beers with the fact that Schmohz didn’t charge more for the 120 and you had a brewery losing money on a beer that had barely a trace of alcohol in it.

Once the 120 stock began to dry up, the backlash from the beer community wasn’t pretty. Thompson says they were receiving what he called, “hate mail,” on a regular basis. “It’s amazing that people take it that seriously,” said Thompson.

And because 120 fans are taking the departure of the beer so seriously, Schmohz is doing the same in regards to getting it back onto store shelves. They’re looking into new, experimental and hopefully more cost-effective equipment to remove the alcohol from the beer.

Thompson tells GuysDrinkingBeer that he’s hoping to begin production again in the late spring or early summer of 2013.

The First Market To See Destihl’s Beers Outside Of Its Brewpubs Is…

photo courtesy the Bloomington Pantagraph

photo courtesy the Bloomington Pantagraph

Wisconsin.

And that’s not in the works, it’s already happened.

A number of Destihl’s beers have been on draft at bars like Maduro and Brasserie V in Madison and Sugar Creek and The Rumpus Room in Milwaukee since this summer, according to Destihl CEO Matt Potts.

Destihl inked a deal with Watertown, WI based River City Distributing in April and began sending beer there in July. Under the current agreement, Destihl produces and kegs beer at its Normal brewpub for distribution in Wisconsin. River City boasts nearly a dozen Destihl beers in its portfolio, including the brewery’s much sought after sours.

So why Madison and Milwaukee over Chicago, or Peoria or Springfield? Potts says it was easier to expand distribution to another state than it was to expand distribution in Illinois because of Illinois’ self-distribution laws, which require brewpubs to have a separate production facility in order to self-distribute. Essentially, he didn’t want to put those self-distribution rights in jeopardy before he had a chance to use them.

“For us to distribute beer in Illinois from the brewpub prior to the production brewery, we would have been required to assign wholesale rights to our beers to an Illinois distributor, but we wanted to preserve the wholesale rights to our beers for eventual self-distribution under the craft brewer law,” said Potts. ” If we had granted those rights away for minimal distribution from the brewpub, it would have been difficult to get those rights back for self-distribution from the craft brewery.”

In the end the distribution deal in Wisconsin came down to low risk, high reward. “We had no desire/ability to self-distribute in Wisconsin, so there was no risk signing on with a distributor there,” said Potts.

As we told you in November, Destihl’s production brewery in Bloomington is under construction and should be operational by early next year.

The brewery is working its way through the craft brewer application process, in order to self-distribute, as we speak.

Draftmark: We Tried It, We Liked It

Draftmark, Anheuser-Busch’s answer to home draft systems rolled out by Miller and Heineken, recently became available in the Chicago market.

According to a press release we received, Draftmark is being called a, “intuitive, high-end device that fits neatly on refrigerator shelves, making a true draught beer experience possible in a few easy steps.”

So does it live up to those expectations?

Well, we had a chance to take the product for a spin, complete with a gallon of Bass Pale Ale, and can report that it is pretty easy to use and it does what it’s supposed to – gives you cold beer from a tap.

Now, before we get to the beer, let’s talk about the Draftmark itself ($49.99 – $59.99). The unit is sturdy enough and isn’t very heavy, which makes for easy fridge maneuvering.

behold, the Draftmark

Its setup is fairly simple with very few moving parts. Once out of the box the first thing you have to do is charge the battery that comes with it (not pictured).

Wait, a battery? Yup. The battery essentially runs the pump in the Draftmark. No CO2 used here, just air. (Edit: It’s worth noting that the air never comes in contact with the beer. At least not until you pour it. Draftmark’s technology is patented and they’re rather tight-lipped on how it works. But trust us, it does.)

Charging only takes a few hours – which should give you plenty of time to start cooling your gallon of beer.

Once the battery is done charging (indicated by a green light) you simply pop it into the back of the unit and open up the front.

Insert the spout, which comes with your gallon refill, and place the gallon refill into the unit – rotating clockwise to lock it into place.

Close the lid and voila.

Battery charging aside, setup for the Draftmark takes just a few minutes.

And the unit is small enough to fit just about anywhere in the refrigerator.

We chose the top shelf because, at the time, the remaining shelves were occupied by Thanksgiving leftovers.

As you can see there’s still plenty of room to stack around it, if need be.

With the heavy lifting, or lack thereof done – it’s time to pour a beer.

The unit pours a tad heady, making it a two to three-step process of filling a glass, waiting for the head to recede, pouring some more, waiting some more. But that’s no different, really, from ordering a beer on tap at a bar.

Frothy pour aside the beer itself was good, nicely carbonated, although a touch creamy.

IMG_0593[1]Each refill is good for 30 days. But once it’s in, it’s in – you can’t swap out one refill for another one midway through a bottle.

For the frugal drinker, or for those of you into beer math, using a standard 16 ounce pint glass a gallon refill will pour you exactly eight beers. Not bad for $14.99.

Along with Bass the other options currently available include Shocktop Wheat IPA, Shocktop Belgian White, Michelob Amber Bock, Budweiser and Goose Island Honkers Ale. Overall that’s a fairly diverse selection of A-B products, although we’d like to see the number of Goose Island offerings expand. Adding Goose Island’s India Pale Ale, Harvest Ale and/or 312 would seriously boost Draftmark’s street cred in the craft community.

What we really like about this concept is the limited amount of waste. No cardboard boxes, six-pack holders, a dozen or so cans or bottles to throw away. Just one, one gallon jug.

Beer geekery and environmental friendliness aside, Draftmark delivers on the promise of cold, fresh beer from the comfort of your refrigerator.

Greenbush Barrel Aged Collaboration On Tap Tonight At Bangers & Lace

A barrel aged, rye porter – the brainchild of Wicker Park craft beer bar Bangers & Lace and southwest Michigan brewer Greenbush – will be on tap at B & L for a limited time beginning tonight.

The beer, It’s My Porter & I’ll Rye If I Want To, was first released during Chicago Craft Beer Week in May alongside a barrel aged version that had sat in a Journeyman Distillery Rye Whiskey barrel.

This time around the beer has spent nine months in a Templeton Rye Barrel.

The release is part of a five course Greenbush beer & food pairing tonight.

bangers&laceTickets are no longer on sale for the beer & food pairing, which will shut down Bangers & Lace to the general public from 5pm to 10pm tonight. So if you don’t have a ticket you can swing by after 10pm and grab a pour.

The bar says it may still be pouring the barrel-aged It’s My Porter & I’ll Rye If I Want To tomorrow, and into the weekend, but isn’t making any guarantees.

The Adventures of Abrasive Bear: Spiteful GFY Stout Review

Spiteful says:

GFY STOUT attacks your nose with a healthy dose of ROASTED BARLEY. The assault continues to your taste buds as you pick up bitterness not only from the barley, but from FUGGLES and a hint of CASCADE HOPS. Our ABRASIVE BEAR is there to remind you that sometimes the best thing to say is GFY! And if you don’t know what GFY means, then…GFY!

A few years ago, I had a plan to write a series of children’s novels for high-language-skill toddlers about a character named Respectable Bear and his playful nemesis, Incorrigible Bear. It occurs to me that Spiteful’s “Abrasive Bear” would fit right into a more PG-13 version of the series, with more four letter words and expressive finger gestures. All of this is slightly germane to the fact that not only has Spiteful created probably the most fun beer “mascot” in Chicago, but also a damn fine introductory beer.

When I grabbed this off the shelf at Binny’s last week, I was pleased to see that it was one of the last two or three available (and this at about 6:30 or 7pm at night). After taking it home and sampling it, I’m happy to report that it doesn’t have to be first-day hype selling this beer; it’s definitely a quality offering straight out of the gate.

They promise abrasion, and they deliver, with huge roasted bitterness up front that slides into the hoppy finish that they mention above, making a fun and interesting (and complex) stout that isn’t just a one-note barley bomb. A lot of stouts find themselves without much of a finish to speak of, whereas the GFY has a pleasant long finish that makes this beer a definite sipper regardless of the 8% ABV.

Notes of peanut butter dance around on the start while the finish sparkles with some nice carbonation; many might prefer a nitro-induced smoothness to their stouts whereas I do like the relatively rough quality of this one. There’s a certain sandpaper aspect to the body of this beer, hearty and, well…abrasive.

To be honest, this quite reminded me of a real favorite of mine – Founders Porter. It shares that same highly roasted heartiness with a balancing bitterness; I bet this would be awesome infused with some ancho chile or blended with a little bit of framboise or lambic. Anything else – bourbon would cover the roasty aspect too much for me and vanilla would smooth it out too much, I think – might be unnecessary. (If they really want to be Abrasive – how about a habanero stout, gents?)

All in all, quite a quality brew right from the beginning for Spiteful, and we’re glad to have them as part of the growing Ravenswood network of brewers and distillers.

I look forward to further adventures of Abrasive Bear – perhaps those promised packaging cartoons from Arcade could tell a 6-panel story someday. And if Spiteful ever needs a couple storylines and secondary characters, well…I know a guy who could help.

Now Brewing At Two Brothers; Coffee

twobros(Press Release)

Warrenville, IL – December 11, 2012 – This Friday, December 14th, Two Brothers Brewing Company is proud to announce their venture into specialty coffee. They will be serving free coffee samples to all guests at both Two Brothers Taphouse in Warrenville and Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora. The Roastmaster will be present to field questions and talk about all aspects of their coffee. Two Brothers have perfected two blends to be enjoyed in time for the holidays, their Brew House Blend and Holiday Blend. Both are made up of coffees from Indonesia, Central America, and East Africa, which highlight the particular nuances from each region.

They are also offering a limited release micro lot from Costa Rica. A silky, vibrant, and floral coffee, it will be offered in conjunction with their hand-crafted blends. “Our goal is to create dynamic and evolving coffee offerings, that will change based on each countries harvest season. Great coffee can only be achieved when it is freshly harvested, freshly roasted, freshly ground, and freshly brewed,” says Roastmster Mason Brown. “Then the potential of coffee as a culinary beverage can be realized.”

These coffees can be purchased in three-quarter pound bags at both restaurant locations beginning this Friday and through their online store at twobrothersbrewing.com shortly after.

The Two Brothers Brewery is owned by brothers Jim and Jason Ebel who developed a passion for flavorful specialty beers while living in France. After returning to the states, they had trouble finding craft beers in Chicago so they opened Two Brothers Brewing Company in 1996. The brewery resides in a 40,000 square foot facility 30 miles west of Chicago in Warrenville, IL. After 15 years of providing great craft beer to the Chicagoland area, they still seem to be continuously expanding. Their newest venture in 2011 was the opening of Two Brothers Roundhouse restaurant and brewery in Aurora, IL.

From The Cellar: Founders KBS 5 Year Vertical (2008-2012)

Founders says:

“What we’ve got here is an imperial stout brewed with a massive amount of coffee and chocolates, then cave-aged in oak bourbon barrels for an entire year to make sure wonderful bourbon undertones come through in the finish. Makes your taste buds squeal with delight.”

Founders KBS
Imperial Stout, 11.2% ABV

Ryan: To say this vertical has been a long time coming is an understatement. Those of you who have tried to scrounge up even one bottle of Founders elusive KBS in the last few years knows how hard it can be.

When we first began this endeavor, two years before we began this site, Founders KBS was still called Kentucky Breakfast Stout. It also wasn’t as impossible to find as it is now. Continue reading

No New Hearing In City Beverage Case

Documents recently released by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission show that Chairman Steve Schnorf would not grant a new hearing in the case, despite pleas to do so from lawmakers in both the Illinois House and Illinois Senate.

The documents include letters from state lawmakers and an email from Chairman Schnorf.

The letters are dated November 16th and November 20th. The email is dated November 20th as well.

All five documents were released by the Commission on December 5th and can be found below.

The letters from the lawmakers were sent to both the governor and the Commission’s chief legal counsel. In those letters lawmakers make an 11th hour plea for a rehearing in the case. “SB 754 (P.A. 97-0005), the bill passed by the General Assembly in direct response to this particular dispute, should have made it abundantly clear to the Commission that ABI’s ownership interest is not permitted,” the letter states. Continue reading

Revolution’s Penguin Hops Released Into The Wild

Revolution Brewing’s beer brewed with hops grown at Shedd Aquarium is now available at nine bars around Chicago, including the Whole Foods in Lincoln Park, which is holding a Penguin Hops tapping party tonight.

flyer courtesy Revolution Brewing

The hops used in brewing Penguin Hops were first planted at Shedd Aquarium about five years as a way to spruce up the grounds. A Shedd employee, who’s also a homebrewer, happened across them and suggested they be used to brew a beer.

Penguin Hops was first released a week-and-a-half ago at Revolution’s brewpub and tap room. And the brewery is giving back to the aquarium that provided the hops. $1 from each beer sold will be donated to Shedd.

According to the Sun Times, you can also find Penguin Hops on tap at the following bars:

  • Bad Apple – 4300 North Lincoln Ave, Chicago
  • Bavarian Lodge – 1800 Ogden Ave, Lisle
  • Farmhouse Tavern – 228 West Chicago Ave, Chicago
  • Hopleaf – 5148 North Clark St, Chicago
  • Long Room – 1612 West Irving Park Rd, Chicago
  • LUXBAR – 18 East Bellevue Place, Chicago
  • Sheffield’s – 3258 North Sheffield Ave, Chicago
  • Smallbar Logan Square – 2956 North Albany Ave, Chicago

Help The Hopleaf: Some Jerk Stole Their Art

Look, we have a pretty extensive collection of coasters and matchbooks, but those things are supposed to get taken. When people sneak out things like glassware and ashtrays and the like, that always kinda drove me nuts. So it was a huge bummer to wake up and see this on Facebook this morning:

We search constantly to find rare and interesting art and breweriana to decorate Hopleaf with. Lots of things are one of a kind and many are quite expensive. Most of you can imagine how sad it makes us when people steal these things from us. Tonight was one of those nights. A rare and one of a kind framed sign was stolen by a thoughtless person with no conscience. Instead of being on our wall for lots of people to enjoy, some selfish loser had to have it all to him or herself. It is sad to think that one of our customers would do such a mean-spirited thing. I am angry and depressed.

Apparently, the thief made off with a 1940′s-era sign advertising Fox Deluxe, “very rare” in the words of the Hopleaf. We are currently scouring the 1700+ photos tagged Hopleaf on Flickr to see if we can come up with an image of the piece.

In the meantime, if you are the jerk who ‘liberated’ this last night, bring it back. If you know someone who just ‘found’ a piece of brewerania, ask them to do the right thing.

The thing about good beer is that it gets you drunk. And when people get drunk they do dumb things. (We know something about that ourselves, it’s true.) So it’s possible there’s someone in Chicago right now waking up with a wicked headache wondering what the hell this beer ad is doing here, and feeling really terrible when they put 2 & 2 together.

It’s all right, shit happens.

But don’t be a jerk. Don’t mess with one of the city’s temples of beerdom. Let’s be cool, and let’s try to do the right thing, huh?

This has been a public service message from the gents of Guys Drinking Beer.