Who Brewed This?

Generic Beer

It's become harder to identify which beers are craft and conglomerates want it that way.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, one of the big chain grocery stores used to sell generic beer. It was in cans with blue stripes and it literally just said BEER on it. If you looked at the fine print you got some idea where it was made but who looked at labels back then? Certainly not me.

Beer labels are trickier now. Big industrial brewers are trying to cash in on the growing craft beer market by conspicuously NOT using their name on some beers. You may have seen a beer called Shock Top. Looks like a craft beer but it is 100% Anheuser-Busch. Another familiar example is Blue Moon. Decent well made beer by the people of MillerCoors. How would you know that? It’s served in Coors Park, home of the Colorado Rockies.

Let’s leave those purely marketing examples behind for much better beer. Let’s say that you are at Trader Joe’s. Do you get the Trader Joes Vintage Ale 2009, the Joseph’s Brau Winterfest or the Stockyard Oatmeal Stout? That depends on if you are a fan of Unibroue, Gordon Biersch or Goose Island.

Confused? There is a low tech and high tech way to figure out who brewed what. Starting with the low. Pick up a bottle of Fat Weasel lager. Look for where it is brewed. Paso Robles. What brewery is in Paso Robles? That would be Firestone-Walker.

On the high tech side, break out the smart phone and go to www.ratebeer.com. Type in the beer name in the search field and after your 3G does its magic, you will see the location Paso Robles and the brewer, Firestone-Walker.

Trader Joe’s has contracted these breweries to make private label beer for their stores. Once you know this, you can make better choices and you can save some money. But there is a reason why Trader Joe’s is selling Mission Street IPA for cheaper than a six-pack of Firestone-Walker IPA. It’s a different recipe made with sometimes different ingredients. And there is a reason why the brewer doesn’t put their name on it. This doesn’t mean they are bad. I really enjoy the Mission Street Pale Ale. And not just because it is $5.99 per six-pack.

Contract brewing, like many things in life, can be used for good or for bad. It can be a great way for a talented brewer to get his recipes made. A recent example of this is Gentlemen Scholar’s Espresso Stout. It is a great chocolate and coffee version of the stout. It is brewed locally by Skyscraper in El Monte. On a worldwide level, Mikkeller makes great beers but doesn’t have his own brewery. He travels nomadically from one brewery to the next. From Greece to Italy to America.

So stay informed, keep reading those labels.

My beer choice of the week is a canned beer. Caldera IPA out of
Ashland, Oregon is an uber-hoppy brew that should satisfy any fan of the hop. It has a great piney aroma and just the right amount of bitterness for the palate.

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.


Sean Inman

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

Blog Comments

The Vintage Ale is great and it ages well. Pick up two and this time next year compare the taste of 2009 to 2010.

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very interesting. i need to pick up that trader joe’s vintage ale, i hear it’s very good

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