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US. Craft beer is about going local, but it’s also about going creative

What The Faker said: You don't have to be a connoisseur to enjoy the cornucopia that is the craft beer "revolution." It's that time of year to hoist the horn of plenty and celebrate its diversity in offering something for just about every taste, leaving no excuse for those who may feel they just want to throw up their hands when the choices overwhelm.

Since the Brewers Association was in Washington in June and hosted a panel on "The American Craft Beer Revolution" at the National Press Club on June 3, we've been fascinated with the ingenuity of the sector. The Brewers Association is a trade group for small and independent U.S. beer brewers, which promotes craft beers and the craft beer community that imbibes. It says its members make more than 99 percent of the beer brewed in America.

The panel discussion was introduced with a rat-a-tat-tat of absorbing facts about craft beer (the growth of craft brewers is accelerating, the U.S. brewery count is the highest since the 19th century, large brewers' sales are declining but profits are at record levels, retailers are expanding shelf space for craft beers even as some of the small brewers are struggling to satisfy demand, beer drinkers have a PASSION for craft). Brew pubs are getting into packaging for off-premises sales, the BA said. Nano breweries (the craft of the craft?) are sprouting all over. Microbreweries are relying on tasting rooms to build sales (at the time, there were 56 microbreweries that sell more than 25 percent of their beer onsite that way).

More than 24 percent of the growth in craft breweries is happening in the Southeast.

And, importantly, millennials identify with craft beer.

That probably explains the creativity on display with the brewery names, not to mention what's on tap. And with a statistic like this one - according to one of the panelists - that is bound to come in handy someday: 13 percent of consumers walk into a liquor store NOT knowing the brand they are looking for.

Panelists represented Flying Dog Brewery of Frederick, Md., Dogfish Head Brewery of Milton, Del., Sierra Nevada Brewing of Chico, Calif., and Lost Abbey/Port Brewing of San Marcos, Calif. (whose website says the company was "imagined as part of a crusade in this ongoing story of Good vs. Evil beer."

What's not to love about just the company names, never mind some of the brews! For the season, Dogfish offers "Hellhound on My Ale," for instance.

If you don't have it bookmarked already, you might want to stash craftbeer.com in your favorites and check back for features and updates, along with calendar listings for beer weeks all over the country.

And now, what others have been saying about craft beer and some of their favorites.

From John Tanasychuk of the Sun Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.:

Blame Canada - where I spent the first three decades of my life - for my affinity for beer.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that some of my favorite brews - Steam Whistle Pilsner, anyone? - are near impossible to find in the U.S.

So I'm delighted that South Floridians have finally jumped on the beer wagon. Here are five of my favorite U.S. beers. Look for them in a beer hall near you.

MONK IN THE TRUNK: This organic amber ale is made by Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville, S.C., for the Inlet Brewing Company in Jupiter. As you'd expect, it's copper - almost orange - in color. I call it an American version of classic Belgian ale with a spicy touch.

BROOKLYN LAGER: My first taste of this lager from Brooklyn Brewery was more than a dozen years ago at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. The cold brown bottle and the striking Maxfield Parrish murals above the bar were a welcome respite from the summer heat. Smooth and refreshing, it's a great introduction to craft beer.

BELL'S OBERON ALE: I lived for 10 years in Michigan, and among the things made there that I fell in love with is this wheat ale. Its crisp clean taste and almost citrus finish makes it a great South Florida beer, where it's always summer.

BOCA BLONDE LAGER: You gotta love that Boca Raton's Brewzzi honors the blond women of Boca with what is its most popular creation. Brewzzi brew master Fran Adrewlevich says most brew pubs find lighter beers to be the most popular. This one is a light and refreshing, perfect Florida beer.

JAI ALAI IPA: Made by Tampa's Cigar City Brewing, a trip to the west coast isn't complete without a stop in the brewery's informal tasting room. Since Jai Alai is made with six different hops, it starts off a bit bitter and then turns smooth and citrusy. At 7.5 percent, it's also higher in alcohol than most beer.

From Barry Shlachter of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas:

If the "most interesting man in the world" in those Dos Equis ads really knew his suds, there's something right here in Texas that would knock his socks off.

Blanco, Texas' Real Ale Brewing, the little Hill Country brewery that could, produces a seasonal Belgian abbey-style triple ale called Devil's Backbone, which is made with Czech Saaz hops, Flemish yeast and in-house made brewing candy sugar. For my money, this is one of the most delicious beers crafted in North America.

Devil's Back Bone is the sort of ale to serve when you want to prove to wine snobs that a beer can be as sophisticated, complex and satisfying as most vintage reds.

My only complaint is that Real Ale doesn't make it year-round.

It pours a slightly hazy amber hue - don't serve it too cold - with beautiful lacing left as you drain your snifter or chalice or tulip glass. Before you do, enjoy the honey sweet aroma. Then, the taste notes spell out cognac-marinated dried fruit, among other flavors. But it's relatively light beverage on the palate.

This seasonal shows up in hot weather. But this is a deceptively potent drink - at 8.1 percent alcohol by volume. So drink it slowly, savor every sip, and don't operate heavy machinery under the Texas sun afterward. It retails for about $10 a sixpack, a bargain for the artisanship.

(MCT note: Craftbeer.com is currently featuring a brewery on its site that is similarly named: Devils Backbone Brewing Co., which is based in Roseland, Va.)

From Rob Manker of the Chicago Tribune:

In what could be seen as an attempt to mimic the local marketing success of Goose Island's popular 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Anheuser-Busch InBev as of this summer had filed applications to trademark the signature area codes of 15 U.S. cities.

Chicago-based Goose Island parent Fulton Street Brewery LLC, acquired by Anheuser-Busch as part of a $38.8 million deal earlier this year, holds registered trademarks on "312 Urban Wheat" and "312 Urban Wheat Ale Goose Island Chicago." When the acquisition was announced, Anheuser-Busch pledged to pump $1.3 million into boosting Goose Island's brewing capacity.

Now, a search of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's online database shows that on May 20, Anheuser-Busch filed applications to trademark: "704" (Charlotte, N.C.), "216" (Cleveland), "214" (Dallas), "303" (Denver), "713" (Houston), "702" (Las Vegas), "305" (Miami), "615" (Nashville, Tenn.), "215" (Philadelphia), "602" (Phoenix), "412" (Pittsburgh), "619" (San Diego), "415" (San Francisco), "314" (St. Louis) and "202" (Washington).

Scott Slavick, who specializes in trademark law at Chicago-based intellectual property firm Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, says the intent of Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev appears clear.

"My guess is they want to come out with sort of local-sounding beer products," Slavick said. "People enjoy thinking that they're getting beer from a particular area."

And those products, Slavick said, could show up any time, trademark or no.

"If the patent and trademark office says you're OK and no third parties have a problem with it, then you get what's called a notice of allowance. Then you have three years from that date to demonstrate use of your mark in order to get it registered.

"The fact that they filed on an intent-to-use basis doesn't mean that they couldn't already be using these marks or intend to come out with them at any time."

News of the applications was first reported by Craft Business Daily, a beer industry publication.

Goose Island launched 312 in 2004, though founder and then-CEO John Hall disagreed with his brewmaster son, Greg, over the name. The father insisted the beer carry the Goose Island moniker, the Tribune later reported, while the younger Hall wanted a name that unmistakably linked the new brew to its home city. Hence, "312" was born and quickly went on to become the company's top seller. In 2009, it was listed as the No. 2-selling craft beer in Chicago behind only Samuel Adams Boston Lager, according to industry stats.

Anheuser-Busch confirmed the applications but would not say what it intends to do with the names.

From J.M. Brown of the Santa Cruz Sentinel in Santa Cruz, Calif., reporting this summer on the Hop N Barley Festival held July 2 in Scotts Valley, Calif.:

Michael Zaballos, a Santa Cruz County resident and area sales manager for Heineken USA, said beer festivals do indeed attract a younger set than wine-centered events. On Saturday, he was offering ice-cold Newcastle, a Heineken product from Scotland that makes four seasonal brews.

"When people enter the drinking age, they usually drink beer first," he said as one college-aged person after another lined up outside the festival to have their IDs checked and get a souvenir glass for the five-hour event.

In recent years, with the growing popularity of microbreweries, Zaballos said interest in beer making has taken off. Santa Cruz demonstrated that it is not just a wine-making region, with decidedly local companies, Corralitos Brewing Co. and Seabright Brewery, mixed in among nationally known brands such as Sierra Nevada and Anderson Valley Brewing.

"Beer drinkers know their beers like wine drinkers know their stuff," Zaballos said.

Amber Hughes of Santa Cruz is not a beer connoisseur but fell head over heels for the Raspberry Wheat from St. Louis-based Shock Top.

"That could make me a beer drinker," she said.

Friend Alex Keyser of Santa Cruz, one of a group of 10 buddies that came together, said he appreciated Saturday's relaxed atmosphere, compared to some wine events that carry an air of pretense. He brought his sons Josh, 4, and Liam, 3, to roll around in the warm sun.

"Everyone is out to have fun, not compare their wine knowledge," he said.

2 Nov. 2011

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