The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), as brewers well know, is responsible for approving all the beer labels that decorate retailers’ shelves across the country. The sexually charged double entendres, the gargoyles, they all need to be reviewed by the TTB before hitting the market.
Or, more specifically, they need to be reviewed by Ken “Battle” Martin.
Martin, who adamantly goes by “Battle,” owns the sole set of eyes tasked with reviewing these labels. This year alone, according to a profile in The Daily Beast, Battle “has singlehandedly approved over 29,500 beer labels.”
A large number to be sure, but it doesn’t even include how many Battle has put the kibosh on and some believe this power has gone to his head.
“He’s just amazingly finicky on stupid things that don’t really achieve any government purpose,” one brewer told the site. “He’s implementing rules that are totally antiquated. If you do something like 30,000 [label approvals], [perhaps] it makes you feel like you are the law.”
One of the challenges facing craft beer companies that own multiple brewing facilities in different parts of the country is product consistency. In North Carolina, where both Oskar Blues and Sierra Nevada operate second breweries, that means manipulating the water source, according to a report from NPR.
In Brevard, N.C., Oskar Blues brews with local municipal water, treated with a bit more chlorine than the mountain runoff it’s accustomed to using in Colorado.
“And so we’ve had to put in a charcoal filtration to remove the chlorine,” Eric Baumann, director of fermentation and quality control, told the website.
Sierra Nevada, the Chico, Calif.-based brewery that just opened its second facility in Asheville, N.C., also analyzes the different qualities in its water supply. After testing samples from all over the state, Sierra “realized it needed to essentially add salt and prepare for fermentation.”
Sam Calagione Predicts Bloodbath
As the craft beer market continues to crowd, the sentiment that the more than 3,000 operational breweries in the country are allies has prevailed. A disclaimer clarifying that most competition is friendly generally precedes any talk of sharpened elbows.
But Sam Calagione, owner of Dogfish Head, and one of the more recognizable figures in craft, sees something else on the horizon.
“We’re heading into an incredibly competitive era of craft brewing,” he told Bon Appetit. “There’s a bloodbath coming.”
The story, which claims the sheer number of American breweries is “not necessarily great for beer drinkers,” explores the familiar narratives: more brewers are fighting it out for limited shelf space and confused customers are unsure of how to navigate such a cluttered space.
On a related note, new data from the TTB shows the brewery permit count is now up over 4,500. As the NBWA notes, this count “represent all the individuals and businesses that are either currently brewing or actively seeking to start brewing beer.”
Baseball’s Best for Beer
The Washington Post published a quasi-interactive story exploring which ballparks have the best craft beer selection as measured by locality, quality and uniqueness.
The Seattle Mariners topped the list. Safeco Field outdid every other stadium in Major League Baseball in terms of locality and uniqueness, and came in 4th for quality, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering its location in the craft-crazed northwest.
At the bottom was the New York Yankees, ranking dead last in locality, 29th in quality, and 27th in uniqueness.
“I can’t hear you over our 27 championships,” said the ghost of George Steinbrenner when reached for comment.
A recent study conducted by the American Association of Wine Economists found that most consumers struggle to distinguish between mass-market lagers when the brand name is hidden, suggesting the market is driven by advertising and packaging rather than taste.
“Whether from the label on a bottle, the logo on a can, or the tap medallion at a bar, consumers usually know what brand of beer they’re drinking before they take the first sip, and top-down cues thus shape the sensor experience of consumption on a fundamental level,” wrote the study’s authors.
Stripped of those cues, however, the difference between Bud Light and Coors Light becomes a bit nebulous.