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Cheers Weekly
What’s Behind the Rise of Heavy Beers?

Back in the days when mainstream lager owned the beer market, a persistent urban myth held that Canadian beer—if you could get it—wasn’t like ours. It was really strong. Turns out it wasn’t: their national brands were pretty much indistinguishable from ours, but the method of measuring alcohol content gave Canadian brands a higher number.
When Americans became aware that certain traditional European styles truly were appreciably stronger than our usual selections, it sparked curiosity. Those lucky enough to actually taste these beers learned about three things more important than their alcohol content: the beers were generally meant for special occasions, not daily quaffing; they could be quite expensive; and many were delicious. In other words, they were nothing like the fabled “strong” beers of Canada or the cheap malt liquors on our own shelves, the high-impact versions of pale lager. Rather, they were sophisticated beverages that delivered unusual flavors.
American craft brewers began playing with these unfamiliar styles: old ales and barley wines, Belgian dubbels and tripels, Baltic stouts. The strength was clearly part of their novelty, with some approaching double the alcohol content of standard 4.5% lagers. And the styles expanded American drinkers’ tastes.
But there was, it seems, a technical ceiling to the strength of beer. Smashing that ceiling became a challenge; doing so with panache, even more so. Today, beer in the range of 12-18% ABV, once impossible, is available (though still uncommon). And even more potent beers with alcohol levels that test credibility have launched a new war of the strongest. Why do brewers choose to put the extra time and expense into these beers, and who’s buying them?

A Short History of the World’s Strongest Beers
Brewing strong beer is a matter of the careful management of yeast. Under normal brewing conditions, the increasing concentration of alcohol in a beer creates a hostile environment where fermentation slows, then stops, and the yeast die. To exceed previous alcohol contents, brewers turned to new techniques.
The first was essentially backwards distillation, using low temperatures to freeze a portion of the water in the beer, leaving behind more alcohol. German eisbock was created in this way (accidentally, it is said) at the Reichel brewery in 1905, giving rise to a new style.
A rival cross-town brewery, Erste Kulmbacher Union (EKU) was determined to go one better, without using the freezing technique. Following conventional fermentation, a second fermentation was launched through a manipulation of the yeast that the brewery kept secret. EKU 28, “das stärkste bier der Welt” (the strongest beer in the world) was released in 1953, with 11% alcohol and delicious flavor.
This set the terms, as it were, of the unofficial brewing arms race: beer had to be brewed without distillation techniques or the addition of distilled spirits, and it had to taste good.
In England, Thomas Hardy’s Ale, over 12%, appeared in the late sixties. This was followed by Samichlaus (14%) from Switzerland, a December special named for Santa Claus that required a year to ferment and mature.
In the 1990s, Jim Koch of Boston Beer launched a seven-year project to explore the boundaries of beer, producing Tripel Bock (17.5%, 1994). Upstart brewery Dogfish Head in Delaware briefly held the title with World Wide Stout (18.1%, 1999), before Boston Beer’s Millennium appeared (20%, 1999).
Koch, like most brewers of very-strong beer, didn’t discuss the specific technical breakthroughs. In general terms, however, the technique amounted to finding a series of increasingly alcohol-tolerant yeast strains to be used in succession, a process he likened to “climbing Everest.”.
In an article in 2000, he explained “If you were helicoptered to Everest base camp, you’d be dead of pulmonary edema in 12 hours. But if you start at Kathmandu and walk up over the course of two weeks, you gradually get used to the change.”
Two years later, Boston Beer released Utopias, a barrel-aged, blended beer that in recent vintages weighs in near 30%. It is expensive, rare, and has defeated fine cognacs in blind competition.
Recently a new round of strongest-beer battles has broken out, but the competitors seem to have disregarded the unwritten rules that the beer be a) conventionally brewed and b) exceptional to drink. By the time Brewdog released the harsh-tasting, boozy End of History (55%), limited to 11 wildly expensive bottles that were encased in taxadermied squirrels wearing Highland garb, the competition had crossed over into farce.


single vineyard
Are Single Vineyard and Estate Wines Better?
What’s in a wine label?
Loads of information. There’s a brand name or producer, of course, and a geographic description of origin. A year, if the wine is vintage-dated, and perhaps the name of a grape. And the percentage of alcohol by volume – often in type so small that mere mortals can barely read it.
Then there are the optional terms, like “estate bottled” or the name of a specific vineyard. These give consumers additional information about what’s in the bottle, but do those buyers even understand or care?
First, some definitions. “Estate bottled,” according to federal regulations, means that the winery grew all the grapes on land it owns or controls and that the winery crushed, fermented, aged and bottled the wine in a continuous process on its premises. Both the winery and the vineyard must be in the viticultural area (such as “Napa Valley”) stated on the label. (The term “estate grown” has the same definition, according to a government spokesman).
When a label includes the name of a vineyard, federal regulations require that at least 95 percent of the grapes used be grown in the named vineyard. Such wines are often called “single vineyard” or “vineyard designate” wines.

Table wine sales in the U.S. grew 2.2% in 2016, to more than 309 million cases sold.
–Beverage Information & Insight Group’s Wine Handbook

District Manager
Wholesaler: Empire Distributors
Location: Denver, CO
Responsibilities: Manages the daily sales activities of the Sales Department and oversees assigned Sales Representatives, Merchandisers, and Wine Consultants.

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