Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Montana Beer Laws 103: The Success of HB400

Continuing with our examination of Montana's beer laws,* today we take a look at § 16-1-106, MCA, the definition of "beer." Why? Because an important change to this definition took effect in October 2009** after the Legislature approved an increase in the legal percentage of alcohol.  The legislation introduced to make that change was known as House Bill 400 and defined beer as:
(5) (a) "Beer" means:
     (i) a malt beverage containing not more than 8.75% of alcohol by volume; or
     (ii) an alcoholic beverage containing not more than 14% alcohol by volume:
     (A) that is made by the alcoholic fermentation of an infusion or decoction, or a combination of both, in potable brewing water, of malted cereal grain; and
     (B) in which the sugars used for fermentation of the alcoholic beverage are at least 75% derived from malted cereal grain measured as a percentage of the total dry weight of the fermentable ingredients.
     (b) The term does not include a caffeinated or stimulant-enhanced malt beverage.
The subsections pertaining to infusion and decoction, sugars, and caffeinated beverages weren't in the original draft of the bill.  After concerns surfaced over unintentionally allowing beverages with artificially enhanced alcohol levels, brewers and other industry participants worked together to craft this language.  The intent all along was to allow higher gravity traditional beers, not the so called "blackout in a can."  

HB 400 is a nice success story in a variety of ways.  First, it made its way through the legislature with relative ease, thanks to a lot of hard work by many.  It's an example of how an industry with occasionally large internal squabbles can put aside its differences and promote something positive.

"Sometimes people forget about how a good bill like HB400 has helped in Montana to make our brewing industry stronger and more vibrant," says Tony Herbert, Executive Director of the Montana Brewers Association. "This and even small bills like the growler bill, which clarified that taverns can fill growlers, have helped along the way, and the MBA hopes to continue to promote good legislation that helps our craft brewers at large."

Higher alcohol limits also mean a greater variety of beer styles for craft beer fans.  Blackfoot River Brewing Co. in Helena has been able to make more "big" beers and to make them true to style, according to Brian Smith, co-owner and brewer.  "We are now doing four to five bottle conditioned brewers reserve releases per year, whereas before we were doing only one," Brian says. "We have produced some beers for draught that go beyond the 'old' 8.75% ABV, but generally just slightly above, like our Winter Warmer (9.3% ABV)."

Brian's favorite Blackfoot River "big" beers to date include the Double Citra IPA (tank & barrel aged versions) and the Belgian Tripel that Blackfoot aged on French oak.

HB 400 also modified the State's policy on the sale of beer.  Surprised we have one?  We do:  
16-1-102. Policy as to sale of beer. It is the policy of the state of Montana that the manufacture, transportation, distribution, sale, and possession of "beer", as that term is defined in this code, must be controlled and regulated as provided under this code. Unless defined as beer in 16-1-106(5)(a)(ii), beer, porter, ale, stout, and malt liquors containing more than 8.75% alcohol by volume and that are defined as "liquor" are subject to the regulations and controls provided for liquor. 
It's curious to see the statute referencing "porter," "ale," and "stout" as if those are something separate and distinct from "beer."  (Don't get me started on the rules of statutory construction.  That will have you snoozing in no time.)  Since some version of the statute dates back to 1933, I'll chalk it up to some holdover language from days gone by.  If you'd like to trace the legislative history, have at it.

Finally, in case you're wondering, a "malt beverage" is defined in § 16-1-106, MCA, as:
(15) "Malt beverage" means an alcoholic beverage made by the fermentation of an infusion or decoction, or a combination of both, in potable brewing water, of malted barley with or without hops or their parts or their products and with or without other malted cereals and with or without the addition of unmalted or prepared cereals, other carbohydrates, or products prepared from carbohydrates and with or without other wholesome products suitable for human food consumption.
Gotta love the phrase "suitable for human food consumption."  Mmmm . . . .

What's your favorite Montana "big" beer so far?  
* The others are Montana Beer Laws 101 and Montana Beer Laws 102.

**  I originally started writing this post in early 2010.  What can I say. Some procrastinations are worse than others.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Beer Run at Kettlehouse to Support Run Wild Missoula

Run Wild Missoula's next beer run takes place on Wednesday, June 27, at 6:00 p.m. and it's a special one.  Not only is that my birthday, but it's the yearly Kettlehouse U-Nite fundraiser in support of Run Wild Missoula.  

For many years, Kettlehouse Brewing Co. has been giving back to the community by hosting a different non-profit organization every Wednesday night.  Fifty cents of every pint sold is donated to that organization.

Last year Run Wild Missoula's members, friends and the totally unsuspecting ventured out to set a record for the number of pints sold for a U-Nite session.  I believe the total came to about 450 pints.  Since then many other community groups have tried to knock Run Wild off its lofty perch.  No word on whether they were successful, but Wednesday is your chance to move the mark further out. 

For the runners, you know the routine.  Meet at Kettlehouse North (313 N. 1st St. W., Missoula)  at 6:00 p.m. for a five mile run at the pace of your choosing.  I'll add the map here once it's posted.  Members of the Marathon Training Group may be meeting earlier since many need to run further. 

For the non-runners, show up anyway and support a great cause.  The preponderance of technical clothing and faint smell of hard-earned sweat may just tempt you into taking it up.

Here's the map for the run.  Looks like some nice riverfront running for a warm June evening.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Montana Ties Bring Dick's Beer to Missoula, Bozeman

As you might imagine, I'm always on the lookout for new beers to try and keep a close eye on the beer aisles in Missoula and beyond.  When a new line of beers shows up I'm often curious to learn the story behind the brewery's decision to make in-roads in Montana. Yeah, I'm beer-geeky that way.

One of the latest arrivals is Dick's Brewing Co. in Centralia, WA, where their slogan is "We drink what we can and sell the rest."  Sixers of Dick's Danger Ale, Dick's IPA, Dick's Mountain Amber, and Dick's Hefeweizen began showing up in Missoula and Bozeman in the past couple of weeks.  The question I posed to Dick's was . . . well . . . . why?

Sure, it wasn't a surprise to see Ninkasi Brewing Co. make a big splash across Montana back in March, given their rapid, exponential expansion process toward Total Domination.  But Dick's is a much smaller endeavor, carefully expanding from 200 barrels in 1995 to around 3,500 barrels in 2010. 

It turns out head brewer Dave Pendleton is a native Montanan who grew up in Bozeman.  Thanks to his ties to the state, he pushed hard for distribution.  After much cold calling and establishing some good relationships with Missoula's Summit Beverage and Bozeman's Bronkin's Dstributing, Dick's beer started hitting the shelves.

Dave tells us they plan to add seasonals and variety packs to the distribution in the near future and eventually send over some draft products as well. They brew 20 different varieties and I'm putting in a vote for Dick's Imperial Stout and Dick's Double Danger. 
Have you had a chance to try some of Dick's beer?  What do you think?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Protecting the Intellectual Property of Beer

You probably don't think about it much when enjoying the hops in your favorite IPA or the roasted malts of a robust stout, but there's a lot of intellectual property* in beer. It's the curse nature of my day job that often leads me to such thoughts even when I should be blissfully kicking back with beer in hand. Recipes contain it.  An innovative brewing setup contains it. The brands definitely contain it.  Brewery names, beer names, beer logos and label art are perhaps the most important of all, and certainly the most fiercely protected.

These issues crossed my mind recently when coming across two stories about trademarks and beer.  One noted that AB-InBev recently filed applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to trademark 42 airport codes as beer names (well, beer as a class of goods).  Think beers named ATL, SEA, JFK and IAD coming to an airport near you. AB-InBev also filed applications for 14 area codes last year and are working their way through the registration process.

The other story is a bit of a dust-up between Grey Sail Brewing Co. in Westerly, R.I. and Full Sail Brewing Co. in Hood River, OR. It seems Full Sail called up Grey Sail in April to discuss possible violations of Full Sail's trademark rights.  Grey Sail's owners claim they got the impression they would be sued if they didn't change their name.  Rather than waiting around to be sued, Grey Sail took the offensive, suing Full Sail in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island.

Jon Abernathy at The Brew Site has an excellent summary of the issue along with comments from Full Sail. He's also worked up some comparison pictures between the logos to let you make your own judgment regarding possible infringement.

The world of craft beer is romanticized so much by us beer lovers that we're often shocked to read about a brewery suing another for trademark infringement. When a story like this hits the news wires, the issue is almost universally characterized as one of the "big boys" picking on the little guys who are just trying to make a go of it in the beer world.  Similarly, it is almost universally pointed out that the owner of a trademark has an obligation under federal trademark regulations to actively defend their trademark by seeking out and addressing potential infringements.

That's true.  The quirk in this case is that Full Sail - the supposed "big boy" in this matter, and the only one of the two to have a federally registered trademark - didn't sue.  Grey Sail did.  Why might they do that?  Venue, positioning and timing.  She who sues first gets to pick the venue for filing the lawsuit, assuming there are multiple proper places to file the suit.  Plaintiffs are often initially granted some benefit of the doubt in the court of public opinion as well as a jury.  By filing, Grey Sail also forces the issue, gaining some control of the timing of the litigation.

Grey Sail filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Providence, RI, less than an hour drive from the brewery and an area where they are "getting a lot of support" and have "been very well received” according to Jennifer Brinton, owner of Grey Sail.  It's a smart move if Grey Sail truly felt like Full Sail would ultimately file a lawsuit.

Grey Sail started production in November 2011 while Full Sail dates back to 1987.  It's anyone guess whether Grey Sail checked the registered trademarks database, did a google search, or otherwise considered the uniqueness of their name and logo before launching production.  Full Sail has two registered trademarks, one for their original logo design which incorporates the words "Full Sail Ales" and their long used sail graphic and the other for the "Full Sail Brewing Company" name.  Grey Sail has no registered trademarks, but did file applications with the USPTO in May, 2012, after receiving the call from Full Sail.  Full Sail had already filed applications for additional trademarks in October, 2011. All of those applications are still pending.

Registration with the USPTO is not necessary to have legal rights/protections for a trademark, but it does provide significant benefits, not the least of which is having public notice of your claim to the trademark and a legal presumption of ownership and the exclusive right to use it.

During the application/registration process, the USPTO considers whether the requested trademark is merely descriptive or whether it is likely to cause confusion with another trademark.  If either case is true, registration is rejected.  Take a look again at the logos in Jon's post and ask whether there is a likelihood of confusion.

It's not only an important issue for breweries and their beers.  I've had my content cut and pasted, without attribution, into press releases and other news articles (a violation of copyright).  I've had my pictures used in advertising, again without attribution (another copyright violation).  When I got word that someone was thinking of creating a beer site called "Growler Fills" - well after I had already started this one - I filed an application to register "Growler Fills" as my trademark for an online publication pertaining to beer.** 

The USPTO initially rejected my application on the basis that the name was merely descriptive - that is, they alleged the name merely describes exactly what the site does, providing a directory of places that fill growlers.

If you've been reading Growler Fills for a while, you know this is not the case.  After demonstrating a mere 3% of my entries at that time even mentioned the word "growler," the USPTO reversed course and published my application for opposition. When no opposition was received, the USPTO approved my application and registered my trademark.

Why did I do it? This stuff takes time and effort. Lots of it. Money, too. Building a brand and the credibility and value that go with it is a long process.

I've enjoyed Full Sail's brews for years and regularly seek out some of their seasonals. Their logo and branding is readily identifiable. Did Grey Sail set out to co-opt some of the goodwill, value, and brand power that Full Sail has built up from 1987?  I doubt it.

Still, Full Sail distributes to 29 states, including Rhode Island.  Given the time, effort and cost of building their brand, there is little question Full Sail had to make that call.

* Intellectual property for this purpose is the creation of something that enjoys legal protections such as trademarks, service marks, copyright, trade secrets, patents, etc.

**  No I don't own a trademark for a "growler fill" as the act of filling a growler with beer at your favorite brewery.  This post is already long enough, so an explanation of the distinction is a story for another day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Does It Mean to "Keep It Local" in Beer?

"Drink Local" is a phrase heard and seen often around the craft beer world.   It's not only a common catch phrase in support of local businesses, but a not so subtle dig at the macro-American-adjunct-lagers of the world.  Drink fresh, locally made beer and you'll enjoy a higher quality product while supporting your neighbors, so the theory goes.

But what does it really mean?  The question popped into my head while reading a Spokesman-Review article on the new Iron Goat Brewing Co. in Spokane.  Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho have been experiencing the kind of craft beer boom seen throughout Montana over the past few years. It's transformed what was largely a craft beer wasteland 10 years ago into quite a burgeoning scene with plenty of opportunities to "drink local."

The article included this quote from Heather Brandt, one of Iron Goat's owners, in discussing plans to create an imperial stout brewed with locally roasted coffee: “A shared priority for all of us is keeping things as local as possible.” That's a good priority and one I've heard uttered many times by brewers.  But how likely it is with beer, really?  

The more likely answer is revealed in the article's description of Iron Goat's initial two IPA offerings:
The final occupancy permit from the city arrived the day before the rich, amber-hued Impaler (8.5 percent alcohol by volume, 72 International Bitterness Units) was unleashed at Jones, followed shortly by the golden, creamy-yet-crisp Head Butt (6.7, 90).

Both get a biscuity character from Munich malt, and fruity flavors and aromas from Southern Hemisphere hops: Australia’s passionfruit-scented Galaxy in the Impaler, and New Zealand’s lemon/lime Motueka in the Head Butt.
 Hmm . . . it's hard to get less local than Australia and New Zealand.

This is by no means a knock on Iron Goat Brewing Co. I'm merely using them as an example.  The three breweries within a ten minute walk (or run) from my office do the very same thing.

On the production side, it's very difficult to stay local when it comes to beer.  Some of craft beer's big boys like Sierra Nevada grow their own hops and barley near the brewery, but only for a select, few beers.  More than half of Montana's barley crop malted at the Malteurope facility in Great Falls, MT, is used by Montana's brewers.  Again, a very good thing.  Yet, to brew specific styles of beers, or to obtain a particular taste profile it's impossible to stay local.

Yes, there's a difference between staying local for ingredients and drinking local.  There's also an obvious difference between drinking locally and eating locally, another popular catch phrase.  When I eat locally, I'm usually enjoying meat from a ranch in the next county over and greens and vegetables from the Missoula farmers' markets prepared by restaurants owned and operated by friends and neighbors.  It's a triple whammy of support.

My local breweries are fun to support, but what IS local in Montana?  In a state where there's a 10.5+ hour drive between it's two farthest flung breweries, the term takes on a different connotation.  I can't even get past Bozeman (three hours east of Missoula) in the same amount of time I can drive to Spokane, WA (three hours west of Missoula), two states over. 

Is picking up a six pack of Bozeman Brewing Co.'s Bozone Amber (brewed three hours away) in my local grocery store the same thing as picking up a six pack of Bayern Brewing Co.'s Face Plant (brewed right here) in the same store?  Ever get bored with your local selection?  Does your local brewery (*gasp*) not make very good beer?  What then?

It's important to support great beer, period.  When it's brewed in my town I'll happily drink it.  When I travel, the local breweries are always a great source of something new-to-me and I'll happily drink it. 

What does "drink local" mean to you?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Taking Fermentation In a Whole New Direction

Photo Credit:
We've all worn a little beer or wine after committing a clumsy beer foul, but researchers in Australia have figured out how to ferment beer and wine into a "fabric" they believe will provide the low-cost, environmentally friendly textile of the future.

One of the researchers go started on the project after noticing a skin-like layer covering a vat of wine that had been contaminated with bacteria. The bacteria causing the spoilage was Acetobacter, which converts wine into vinegar, but also forms cellulose, "a slimy, rubbery, soft, skin like substance" that is "chemically similar to cotton."  They've into a living, fermented form of clothing.  To their credit, they are upfront about a few challenges:
One major problem with the Micro’be’ fermented fabric is that it lacks flexibility, which in turn reduces wearability. 
Ya think? The color of the fabric changes based on the alcohol used to create it with red wine producing red fabric while white wine and beer create translucent fabric. Translucent?  And that's not all:
Also the material has a distinctive smell, smelling like a hangover or a kind of morning-after-the-night-before smell; a kind of stale alcohol aroma. It is strongly believed that this later problem will be resolved with the chemical treatments used to fix the flexibility issue.
Hmmm . . . . I'm vaguely familiar with that odor.   Something tells me those chemical treatments are going to put a damper on the environmentally friendly claims.

If you'd like to read more about this slimy, rubbery, soft, skin-like, fermented clothing that lacks flexibility and smells like a hangover, you can check out the details here.  No word on whether the clothing will hit stores in time for the fall fashion rush.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Is Blueberry Beer the Next Super Food?

The running related magazines and blogs I enjoy are frequently touting the latest studies on super foods for athletic performance.  If it tastes good and provides a few benefits, I just might bite.  Despite being four weeks out from marathon No. 2, my diet resembles something closer to that of a couch potato than your stereotypical long-distance runner.  At this point in the training, I'm constantly hungry and I'm not craving vegetables.

"Blueberries and Beer" is the title of  an email I got this morning from Runner's World. Like most of these emails, it's a rehash of an article that ran in a previous magazine issue, but I'd somehow missed this one.  Citing to five different studies, the article made these points:
  • Blueberries protect you on long runs.  It seems anthocyanidins in blueberries are responsible for the protective benefits resulting in less inflammation and oxidative damage.  Whatever that is.
  • A pint of beer helps prevent colds.  News we can use! Well, then again, the Munich University study involved nonalcoholic beer (one to one and a half liters per day for three weeks per runner.) 
  • Ice baths hinder muscle refueling.  This is frickin' GREAT news! Try just one ice-bath and you'll be searching for any reason to never do it again.  Interestingly, this study was done at the University of Montana, a frequent destination for my noon-time runs. 
  • Chocolate milk helps you lose body fat.  I've read for years that chocolate milk was a great post run drink thanks to a good dose of useful proteins in the milk and other benefits from the chocolate.  I keep a stock on hand at all times. Who doesn't love permission to drink some chocolate milk? 
  • Many athletes are vitamin D deficient.  This, too, was a study done by the University of Montana which found eighty-five percent of athletes at the U have sub-optimal vitamin D levels during the winter.  No shit.  Anyone who has spent the winter in Missoula, MT  is not the least bit shocked by this news (going on 13 years for me).  The sun disappears somewhere near the end of October and doesn't reappear until March. That's almost an exaggeration. Almost. 
What do we take from this?  Researchers are afraid to give us news that would be useful when it comes to beer. Come on, one and a half liters of nonalcoholic beer per day will reduce the chance of a cold!?! Who drinks one and a half liters of nonalcoholic beer on any day?

I'm assuming the beer study is the same one that said nonalcoholic wheat beer improves your run time.  (Articles referencing studies without providing citations frustrate the heck out of me.) The author of that article conveniently extrapolated the results to include beer with alcohol despite no participant in the study actually drinking such beer.

What about blueberry beer?  The real stuff. Dark Horse Brewing Co. makes a pretty tasty Blueberry Stout.  Would that work?  Speaking of stouts, what about a milk stout? Milk stouts are typically brewed with lactose.  Any protein in there?  Could we brew up a special chocolate imperial milk stout?  

Mmm . . . . I'd better go for a run.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Plenty of Montana Winners at North American Beer Awards

The Mountain Brewers Beer Fest, held this past Saturday in Idaho Falls, ID, is one of the biggest and best in the West with more than 80 breweries serving hundreds of beers.  Even more breweries enter the associated brewing competition.  The competition is sanctioned by the North American Brewers Association and consists of a blind format judging with judges comprised of brew masters, beer journalists and certified judges. 

Montana breweries fared very well in the competition and brought home plenty of medals.  Here, in alphabetical order, are the Montana winners:

Bitter Root Brewery (Hamilton)
Bronze: Belgian-Style Pale Ale for Bitter Root Belgian Gold

Bozeman Brewing Company (Bozeman, duh)
Gold: American Style Wild or Sour Ales for The Funky Virtue
Gold: Bohemian-Style Pilsner- Dortmunder/Export for Pinhead Pilsner
Bronze: Vienna Lager for Bozone Vienna Lager

Flathead Lake Brewing Company (Bigfork)
Bronze: Flanders-Style Red or Brown Ale for Montucky Sour Cherry Brown

Kettlehouse Brewing Company (Missoula)
Silver: Belgian-Style Dark Strong Ale for '09 Brick and Mortar Porter
Silver: Carbonated Soft Drinks for Ginseng Ginger Ale
Gold: English-Style India Pale Ale for Double Haul North
Bronze: English-Style India Pale Ale for Double Haul South

Madison River Brewing Company (Belgrade)
Gold: American-Style Barley Wine for Frostbite Barley Wine '09
Gold: Scottish-Style Light, Heavy and Export for Copper John Scotch Ale
Silver: Scottish-Style Light, Heavy and Export for MRBC 58 Schlling

Montana Brewing Company (Billings)
Bronze: Belgian-Style Pale (Golden) Strong Ale for Billing's Blonde Ale
Bronze: Baltic-Style Porter for White Eagle Baltic Porter
Bronze: English-Style Summer Ale for MBC Golden Ale
Gold: Hefeweizen, Dark Hefeweizen for MBC Wheat
Gold: American-Style Pale Ale for MBC Pale Ale
Silver: Double/Imperial India Pale Ale for Juice-Head Gorilla Imperial IPA
Gold: Ordinary Bitter for Happy Hour Hero
Gold: American-Style Amber Ale for Hooligan's Red Ale
Bronze: English-Style Mild Ale for MBC Amber

Red Lodge Ales (Red Lodge)
Gold: Kolsch for Reserve Ale
Silver: Hefeweizen, Dark Hefeweizen for Helio Hefeweizen
Bronze: Altbier for Glacier Ale
Silver: Robust Porter for Red Lodge Porter

The full list of winners is available at this link.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Flathead Lake Brewing Co. Unveils New Labels

Flathead Lake Brewing Company near Bigfork is one of many Montana brewery success stories.  A visit to the east shore of Flathead Lake isn't complete without a stop at FLBC's brewery in Woods Bay, south of Bigfork.  Their taproom in Missoula continues to be very popular and demand for their brews keeps going up.  Now, FLBC is marking a new chapter in the brewery's growth by unveiling new artwork for its bottles, tap handles and more.

The new artwork is designed by Missoula native and resident Anneke Ayers.  According to FLBC owner Greg Johnston, the brewery worked with Anneke to create "a bold look that is unique in the Montana market."

While the labels keep a version of the sailboat fans have come to recognize, they're definitely much more eye-catching, bold and should become immediately recognizable as FLBC beers. The five new labels also represent new names for their four flagship beers and a seasonal offering.  Here's the scoop:

The Imperial IPA label depicts “The Imperial”, a sailboat like those youʼd see on Flathead during the warmer months. That's the sailboat that shows up in all the new label art and is a reflection of the original label and brewery artwork.

The Centennial IPA was named in honor of Glacier National Parkʼs 100th year anniversary in 2010. The artwork was inspired by Glacier National Park's Lower Two Medicine Lake.

Bufflehead Brown is named after the small American sea duck that lives year-round on Flathead Lake. The label features a male Bufflehead with the vantage point looking west across Flathead Lake.

Two Rivers Pale is named in honor of the 2 rivers that feed into Flathead from the north, the Swan and the Flathead.

Wild Mile Wheat is a seasonal ale, but got a special label just for the fabled Wild Mile section of the Swan River that leads into downtown Bigfork. Every Memorial Day Weekend, the town of Bigfork turns out to see expert boaters from around the region face the class V rapids.

My only beef?  I don't see a label for my favorite FLBC beer, the Espresso Porter.  Guess I'll have to keep heading to the brewery for that one.