What the European Central Bank has done to beer

In order to boost the Eurozone economy, the European Central Bank finally announced its plan for quantitative easing (QE), much to the chagrin of the Germans. Between now and September 2016, the ECB is to print some €1.14 trillion in new money to buy government bonds from banks and other investors. So what has all of this to got to do with beer?

Well quite a lot actually, the value of the Euro against other currencies has taken a significant dive over recent weeks and is expected to remain weak during the course of the QE initiative. This will make exports from Ireland cheaper. There’s a real advantage for Irish breweries (and indeed those from other Eurozone countries) to export to the likes of the UK and the US at seriously competitive prices. The likes of O’Hara’s, the Porterhouse and recent exporters to the US like White Hag and Rye River could really extend their reach in the US. But our near neighbours in Britain will also be a market that Irish breweries can be competitive in terms of price to match the flavour. We just have to ensure that craft breweries get the support they need through access to credit and support from enterprise agencies to take advantage of this.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel not happy with the ECB and taking the glass-half-full approach Photo: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
German Chancellor Angela Merkel not happy with the ECB and taking the glass-half-full approach Photo: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

It’s not all sunshine and roses though. Ignore that fact that Britain, the US and non-Eurozone countries will be now more expensive for beer trips. Imports from these countries will also become pricier. This is also potentially bad news for those that like beers from Northern Ireland. It’ll be hard for the brewers to absorb the exchange rate differences so they’re not passed on to customers. Will they forget exporting to the rest of the island in favour of focusing on Ulster and Britain?

Separate to the import and export of beer, are there any other things we should be aware of that could affect the price of beer and the craft brewing industry generally? Well the cost of imported raw materials will increase. Ireland is a small market and generally sources a lot of raw materials through the larger suppliers in the UK and elsewhere. However, this could be a further fillip to the indigenous grain industry. On the other hand, fans of West Coast or other US hops could be in for a shock as some are expecting the dollar to reach parity with the Euro in a few short months. Will brewers absorb these increases into existing prices or will we even see changes to offerings in the form of producing more European-style offerings using German hops for instance?

Only time will tell what the effects of Mario Draghi’s efforts will be. One thing for sure is that it will give a boost to Ireland and other Eurozone economies. This will boost consumer demand at home and no doubt help the further growth of the craft beer sector.

Beers from Atlanta in honour of the city’s famous son

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the U.S. Whilst it takes place on the 3rd Monday of January, Dr. King’s actual birthday is 15 January but for the purposes of this post, I thought it prudent to feature two beers from a brewery in the city of his birth.

Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewery was founded back in 1997 by Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerny, roommates at University of Colorado in Boulder (obviously a place to discover craft beer). Firmly embracing the importance of “localism”, the brewery takes its name from Sweetwater Creek, which flows off from the brilliantly named – and easier to say after a couple of beers – Chattahoochee River (any Alan Jackson fans out there?). The brewery’s motto is “don’t float the mainstream”, and it features prominently on all the packaging for its brews.

Sweetwater was one of the craft brewing outliers in the South. When I first started going to Nashville almost ten years ago now, their beers were one of the few regional beers regularly available, with their 420 Extra Pale Ale becoming an early favourite of mine. At 5.7%, it had enough fresh hop bitterness to be pleasant on those hot southern summer days.

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The most recent beers I had from the brewery were Georgia Brown and LowRYEder IPA. Billed an “easy drinkin’ back porch ale”, Georgia Brown is “as smooth as a Bill Clinton apology”. According to the bottle, I was to “enjoy it some southern hospitality” so it was a bottle I cracked open during a trip to visit the in-laws. There’s chocolate and demerara sugar (or as they call it down there, sugar in the raw) on the nose. It’s colour can be best described as a fine amber syrup. It’s got what you’d expect from a brown ale – low bitterness (30 IBUs and is hopped with Columbus & Willamette) and some bready characteristics. There are also bold coffee notes on the finish, though, to keep you guessing.

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Next up is LowRYEder IPA, described as “a flame trowin’ IPA ignited by a 25% shot of rye malt and capped by a booty hoppin’ blast of Mt Hood and Centennial hops that make this IPA bounce”. Rye’s a common ingredient in beers across the South. It can be sourced easier than hops and can help give that desired spiciness. The beer pours orange with amber highlights topped by vibrant head of foam. The beer’s hopped with Columbus, Mt Hood and Centennial. Whilst there was initial fresh citrus notes on the noses, the rye bill (plenty of brewers find 10% rye creates the desired spicy backbone) resulted in an aroma of dried fruit. This beer’s balanced, though, and the dry, bitter finish is not over-powering. It belies its 6.2% abv and cries out for a good burger to have alongside it.