Friday, January 9, 2009

Maibock update/hop prices

Upon checking back with Cricket Hill Brewery on maibock for this spring ...

Owner Rick Reed says it's still up in the air, but odds are the crew there in Fairfield (Essex County) won't brew one for 2009. Just the way it is.

Meanwhile on another note, Rick mentioned the spike in hop prices is retreating. You'll recall we're paying more for beer in general these days because of the hop shortage/price jump that started working its way into the system in late 2007. (Surging barley prices had something to do with the higher beer prices, too.)

But Rick shared some figures from supplier Hop Union on Friday. He says contract prices for the 2008 crop range from $17-$19 per pound, dipping to $14-$17 per pound for the 2009 harvest. It gets better for 2010, $10 per pound.

Rick also noted availability of varieties looks better, too.

Price drops on anything are good to hear. But when you're in the throes of a recession like we are, well it usually points to some other things, too. It's hard to say exactly how it will play out for the consumer, but for now, take it at face value.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Animal magic

Here’s something to put on your radar: A spring craft beer festival at the Turtleback Zoo in West Orange.

This is very much still in planning stages, but a Friday evening in late May is being targeted, says pointman Bryan Flynn, a member of the Turtleback’s board of trustees and a former sales rep for Blue Point Brewing (Long Island).

A few things continue to be worked on and a brewery lineup still needs to be set. Bryan says organizers want to capitalize on the trend of paring beers/breweries with food/restaurants (think Savor, that food-and-craft brew event kicked off last year in Washington, D.C., by the Brewers Association, or closer to home, the annual Brewers Plate event in Philadelphia).

This is exactly the direction beer events in New Jersey need to go, especially when you consider the push to get the beer-drinking public to view craft beer and fine food as a natural combination. (Plus, there’s a reason Eric Asimov of the New York Times wrote a piece headlined “Overcoming a Frat Party Reputation.” That was two years ago, and it’s still on the Times Web site, not the paid, database archives.)

New Jersey sorely needs an event that can both showcase the finer points of craft beer and raise the bar for Jersey beer festivals in general. The dominant festival right now is not the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild event, but the Atlantic City beer fest, which has sadly, over the course of three years, turned into something akin to a drunkfest. (A harsh criticism, yes, but it's true.)

So a Brew at the Zoo event holds a lot of promise for the state's beer image. Organizers hope to draw brewers from six or seven states and potentially some brewing industry luminaries. Like the beer and food trend, an event at Turtleback Zoo would also capitalize on a wave that unites zoos and beer festivals as fundraisers or ways to boost attendance. (Zoos that have partnered with beer include Baltimore; Denver; Columbus, Ohio; and Louisville, Ky., to name a few.)

Cool Jerseyana item:
The Turtleback Zoo’s black bear exhibit simulates a living room with a view of the outdoors, which is pretty much the natural bear viewing experience for residents of northwest New Jersey who quite often glimpse bears ambling through their yards.

NOTE: The artwork above is something we created; it's not from the folks trying to put together this festival.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mulling maibock

Too soon to talk about spring beers?

Not if it’s a business decision, a brewery meeting topic.

We caught up to the folks at Cricket Hill Brewery on Monday, checking in to see what will follow their Paymaster Porter as the next seasonal. (FYI, Cricket Hill now bottles all their seasonals, putting them in 12-packs.)

Maybe maibock, says Rick Reed, but there are some points from the brewery’s distributors to consider before striking that mash.

Go west to Pennsylvania, and CH’s distributors there will make a funny face at the suggestion of pushing maibock; at the shore here in Jersey, the distributors are lukewarm to the idea, more concerned about summer beers than having spring brew on the shelf.

The best chance for Cricket Hill's reprising its maibock would come from a commitment from their northern distributor for 150 cases, which is possible. (FYI: Cricket Hill last brewed a maibock in 2007, and the beer, a helles, was among their offerings at the Guild festival on the battleship.)

Rick says the brewery will have a game plan nailed down by Friday. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Cricket Hill’s hitting the festival trail this month, Blue Point Brewery’s 5th Annual Cask Ale Festival on Jan. 24th. (Get details here.) Joining the Blue Point festival lineup comes as Cricket Hill cracks the Long Island market (Nassau and Suffolk counties).