It is the time of year when everyone takes stock of the last 12 months and reflects on what was good and what was not so good about the year. A lot can happen in a year, one can go from obscurity to the top of the charts or from the top of the hill to lost in the valley. Life keeps churning on and things change, as the saying goes that is the only constant.
The beer industry has had its ups and downs this year, too. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, craft beer sales jumped an incredible 14% in just the first half of 2011, that after rising 11% in 2010. In the meant time, the big macro brewers like Anheuser-Busch InBev saw the overall sales of beer fall 2%. Brewers such as Sweetwater, Dogfish Head, and Bell’s are expanding existing facilities to meet demand while craft innovators like Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are both close to choosing east coast sites to build new production facilities.
Locally 2011 brought the Jacksonville area several new breweries. Green Room Brewing at Jacksonville Beach opened its doors to great reviews and is now a thriving beer Mecca for the beach crowd. In St. Augustine, Mile Marker brewing began peddling their brews to the Ancient City and is making a name for itself in local beer halls and pubs. Brewer’s Pizza in Jacksonville’s next door neighbor, Orange Park began selling its own house-brewed beers this past year along with its awesome pizzas and is currently looking to expand to a larger location. And one of the Beaches’ other favorite beer joints, Engine 15 began brewing and selling their own beers as well as took over another store front to house its brewing operations.
Other big news of the year included the announcement by Steve Flores, owner of the uber-popular beer destination Kickback’s in Riverside/Avondale that he would expand his restaurant and bar. The expansion is to include an additional 100 beer taps, an enlarged kitchen, beer catacombs, and a Belgian beer cellar. Riverside also saw the development and end of the year opening of Pele’s Fire, a new Italian Restaurant focusing on wood-fired pizzas, pastas, and other dishes and 50 craft beer taps and 100 bottles.
Jacksonville also got its first guided beer tour when the Jax Brew Bus began making its rounds of four beer hotspots. For $50 per person thirsty patrons can climb on board and leave the driving to them. The bus makes stops at Intuition Ale Works, Bold City Brewery, Just Brew It, Engine 15, and Green Room Brewing.
The hottest beer styles of 2011 are, no surprise here, weighted heavily to full-flavored craft beers. In an article on beer mega-site Craftbeer.com, Julia Herz lists them by sales in million dollars:
Pale Ale. $56.96
Amber Ale $36.56
Amber Lager $31.27
As you can see Seasonals and IPAs are at the top of the pack. Judging from the popularity of local brews like Intuition’s I-10 IPA and Green Room’s Head High IPA as well as the success of Intuition’s recent IPA Fest, it is not hard to understand why IPAs rule the roost.
But, other styles have really taken off in the past year as well. Being a Belgian fanatic, I am very happy with the influx and popularity of Belgian styles like Saison and Belgian Strong Ales. Local brewers have paid attention to the trends and have offered such treats as Thai Saison, a spicy Saison brewed with lemongrass and Black Saison from Green Room and Equinox Saison from Intuition. Then there is the Intuition Saison that has inspired a cult following with its own wristbands which read “WWHBD Don’t Care” as well as custom-created t-shirts. This phenomenon is known as Honey Badger Saison or to the in-crowd, “The Badge.” Another huge new style is the style known as Fresh or Wet Hop beers that use fresh hops that have not been dried. Fresh hops produce a brew that is deliciously herbaceous in flavor and wholly refreshing to the palate.
This past year saw the three-year anniversary of the area’s pioneering craft brewery, Bold City Brewing and the beginning of their bottling operations. It saw the expansion of local beer brewing store Just Brew It to two locations. And it saw record-breaking attendance at the Craft and Import Beer Festival at Veterans Arena sponsored by Buzz Magazine. 2011 also saw the inaugural Jacksonville Magazine Beer Cup held at the Historic Florida Theater.
For the Springfield Brew Crew blog 2011 was a year of unbelievable growth. What started out as a way to write about beer and spread the good news about craft brews has turned into a true success story. In January of 2011 the blog received only 56 page loads. As of today the site has logged nearly 1,100 hits for the month of December and is on target for 1,250 before the month end. That is a traffic increase of over 2,000%! I also became a published author in Jacksonville Magazine, contributing articles to both the June and September issues about craft beer and local breweries. And I got my first monthly beer column in Buzz Magazine that reports about beer styles, history, and food pairings. The Springfield Brew Crew sponsored its first major event during the Florida-Georgia weekend – Party on The Patio 2011 as well.
The future of the Brew Crew holds more event sponsorships, beer dinners, beer education programs, and of course the parties you are all so fond of. Look for some exciting announcements in the very near future about all of these great happenings.
The year that was 2011 held many challenging moments for our nation, but what is apparent is that we are a country of survivors. We know how to ride out a storm and emerge on the other side scrapped and scuffed, but still kicking and ready to go. We do not back down from terrorists, we hunt them down and kill them. We can weather a financial storm and still hold our heads high as the leaders of the free world. And through it all, we have spoken and told the mega-producers of watered down beers, we want something better. We want fresh beer, made by people who are passionate about what they do and about their country. That, my friends, is what we deserve. What 2012 will hold is still a mystery, yet there are hints that it will be another year of great beer. And that is truly something to look forward to.
Until next time,
Long Live the Brewers!