Brand names like Pliny The Elder, Heady Topper, and Zombie Dust all stand tall in the pantheon of craft beer. They’re among the crown jewel check-ins of any Untappd profile. Simply put, they are preceded by their reputations. Determining whether the hype surrounding these — or any other high profile craft brands — is warranted is subjective in nature. Descriptors like “best,” “greatest,” or “unsurpassed” stem from opinion, of which even the most educated are still just learned persuasions.
Nevertheless, a blue ribbon pinned to the lapel of a brewer carries with it tangible value.
The Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. is now learning that first hand. Recently, RateBeer.com named the company, out of Gilbert, Ariz., the top new brewery in the world. Lend to that whatever credence you so choose, but bear in mind the palpable growth the company has experienced since the designation.
How exactly? A recent article in Esquire described how the brewery, which was facing the prospect of bankruptcy just eight months ago, was suddenly fielding (and turning down) offers from investors who were looking to help it expand and scale up in light of the award. In the month and a half following, the article adds, the brewery was able to more than double the size of its staff as well.
Beyond gaining the ability to grow its workforce and expand (should the company decide to grow out of its current facility, which sits within a strip mall), the award has brought with it the attention of other industry leaders, like Michael Pollan, an author and “foodie intellectual,” who sought to interview Buford with regards to some of his specific recipes for a documentary.
Buford told Esquire:
“Well that first month we got nailed to say the least. We were having a lot of fun and then, boom!, it hit us. Every single staff member worked doubles five days in a row. Our overtime was fifteen grand. We had 17 employees before the award. Today we have 39. That’s six weeks later. We had a four-hour wait on Fridays. Four hours to get into our place! We had million-dollar men coming in this door left and right: I want to have a meeting with you boys! You just want to reach across the table and slap ‘em real fast and say, You’re not doing us a favor. We built this on our own.”
But while debating which beer is “best” can be fun, there is a far more serious debate ongoing in Colorado over the regulation of hard cider. Specifically, the question at hand is about “whether hard cider should be regulated as beer for distribution purposes,” according to the Denver Business Journal.
The long and short of it goes something like this: cider is made with juice rather than malt, which means it is both classified and regulated as a wine product in the state. This means beer distribution companies cannot directly import cider from out of state to then sell to retailers, notes the Business Journal.
“This is particularly vexing for Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, which own cider companies located outside of Colorado and own distribution companies in Colorado,” the article adds. “They must send their ciders through a Wyoming-based wine wholesaler, which then can sell it to a Colorado distributor, which then sells it to stores and bars.”
So it’s not hard to follow why A-B and MillerCoors would be in favor of House Bill 1346, which would regulate cider as beer, rather than wine. But not all cider companies share the same enthusiasm of the global beer conglomerates, out of fear that chain stores will start selling big name brands exclusively.
“The cider industry is poised to take off nationwide,” Brad Page, owner of Colorado Cider Co., told the publication. “And if they can do this, they’ll kill the small cider industry. If these guys start getting a big reduction in price, there’s no illusion that we can compete with them.”
Meanwhile, in the Southeast, there is yet another legislative battle moving east to the Sunshine State, where clouds unbefitting of Florida’s nickname loom still over the craft industry. Senate Bill 1714, which cleared the states’ Senate Community Affairs Committee last week, would require craft brewers to “sell their own bottled beer to a distributor and then buy it back if they want to sell on their premises,” according to The Ledger.
The bill, which cleared the Senate Community Affairs Committee last week, would require brewers pay a distributor for all bottled or canned beer sold on site, including what they brew themselves.
State Rep. Ben Albritton argued the bill isn’t a ploy to prevent craft brewers from competing with bigger companies, but instead is just meant to strengthen and distinguish the roles of each layer of the three-tier system.
“The craft brewers are fighting the three-tiered system set up after Prohibition ended that has kept the industry functioning without the corruption and uncontrolled regulations,” Albritton told the website. “Before Prohibition and during it, alcohol sales and manufacturing were all mixed up and there was no control.”
Sen. Kelli Stargel, who wrote the bill, noted that Busch Gardens, which manufactures beer at the point of sale, has been exempt from three-tier regulations due to the tourism factors involved. While noting that the craft industry itself is a burgeoning tourism sector, she added that small brewers will not receive similar exemptions.
“What we are doing is requiring all vendors to have a distributor. If a craft brewer wants to be a vendor then it requires a distributor,” she said.