Best beer dispenser ever?

That's the opinion of a blogger who brought this device to our attention.

I don't know that I'd go that far in my praise, but the beer vending machine in a Japanese airport certainly is a novel way of pouring the perfect head.

Getting a handle on beer sales

Adult beverage equipment is becoming an ever-growing part of the collectibles market.

Wine paraphernalia, cocktail shakers from the Art deco period, beer mugs and coasters ... All have had their collectors and sellers over the years. Now, beer tap handle art is taking its turn in the spotlight.

Just as spirits distillers have learned that the shape of, and the artwork on, their bottles helps their product stand out, tap beer providers are using both mass-produced artsy tap handles or even having them made to order for their establishments, their beers, their sports teams or whatever.

Specialty brews made in small regional or local breweries, a niche that industry analysts say grew 11% in the first six months of this year, seem to be particularly interested in artsy handles. One reason is that with meager advertising budgets, they need to find other ways to catch the eye of potential buyers. Not a bad idea, since about 10% of all beer sold in the U.S. is on draft, including kegs sold retail.

Several companies specialize in custom handle art, including Tap Handles Inc., Mark Supik & Co. and Gemelli Ceramics.

A sure sign this is becoming a national trend is that the mainstream media has picked up on the topic, witness this Associated Press report recently published in numerous newspapers and on numerous Web sites across the country.

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Beer sellers shaking their Bootie

The beleaguered beer industry, afflicted with soft sales as wine and spirits numbers continue to rise, seems intent on trying anything that comes to mind in its search for better ways to market its products both to the hospitality industry and individual consumers.

For example, Schlitz, once a giant among brewers, is trying to recapture some of its past by reviving some of its past.

“The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous,” as its marketing tagline went, is going the retro route to reestablish itself, dredging up images from its 1950s sales campaigns to grab consumer attention as well as reinstituting its gilded bottle that carried the beer in those days.

Schlitz, which has been in business for 157 years, has been hurt in its price category by rival Anheuser-Busch price reductions.

Says Advertising Age magazine, “Distributors say renewed marketing efforts are sorely needed for much of the low-priced portfolio of Schlitz's marketer, San Antonio-based Pabst Brewing Co., which has suffered disproportionately from price cuts instituted by A-B's Natural Light and Busch that rendered them cheaper than Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon.”

Schlitz ranked as high as No. 3 among domestic brewers before, as Advertising Age puts it, “its profile dramatically faded under a succession of owners that emphasized other brands before it.”

The Schlitz brewery in Milwaukee closed in the 1990s. The beer then was brewed in Milwaukee and elsewhere under contracts.

Blue Moon beer, on the other hand, is trying to nudge its sales up by not advertising the product.

Since American craft brewers as a whole saw sales increase by 9% last year, the niche is getting special attention in the highly-competitive industry that has been experiencing a general downturn.

Molson Coors Brewing Co. is seizing the opportunity to shore up its sales figures by launching a national rollout campaign for its Belgian-style wheat beer, but doing it by word-of-mouth rather than through a traditional advertising campaign. The theory is that because Blue Moon, a 10-year-old brand, has seen three straight years of
double-digit sales growth without advertising, why bother now?

The gimmicks aren’t stopping there.

The words “sophistication” and “beer ads” are, for the most part, mutually exclusive. The average beer commercial shows crowds of people screaming at some sporting event, leering at scantily-clad girls, or helping a couple of loser-types get through another dateless evening in their apartment.

There's a new beer, brewed in Orlando, FL, whose creators are looking to sell their product a different way. “Unlike other beers, there's no women cat-fighting in our ads, no sexy twins or cheesy underwear,” says Andy Teubner, sales vice president for the company.

I guess you don't have to do a lot with the visuals when the name of your product is Bootie Beer. It sort of sells the cheesy idea all by itself.

The radio ads say things like “Bootie and beer, one great combination,” and “Hey bootie, bootie.” Clever stuff, huh?

The slang word “bootie” has its own connotations that were arrived at well before it became a brand name.

“To one person, it means having sex,” says Bootie President Tania Torruella. “To another, it means going to the club and getting loose. To a third, it's having a sophisticated dinner with dad.”

I think she's kidding us with that last definition. Nevertheless, she and her partners are spending several million on regional ad campaigns for their product. How are they doing so far? Targeting 21- to 29-year-old male buyers who make a “grab and go” purchase before a party or a sporting event, Bootie Beer sold out its entire production run in its first 10 days.

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Chocolate + beer = competitive edge

Fans of unusually flavored beers are largely limited to small craft products. Now, however, the big boys are increasingly getting into the act.

The latest is a chocolate beer from Miller Brewing Co., being brewed up in time for the holiday sales season but with distribution limited to Midwest markets.

Anheuser-Busch already has introduced such flavored beers as Michelob Honey Lager and Michelob Amber Bock plus several seasonal beers.

Industry analysts say the increase in the offbeat brews comes in response to competition from energy drinks, flavored vodkas and rums, and specialty cocktails that offer a wide range of flavors beyond the basic.

Frederick Miller Classic Chocolate Lager is being brewed with six different malts and will be available from October through December. The beer won the gold medal at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival in the "herb and spice" category under the name Temptation Bock. It will be sold in a four-pack of 12-ounce bottles with a suggested retail price of $5.99.

Pete Marino, Miller spokesman, said in a statement, "It's about demonstrating what beer can be all about. Today there's a lot of expectation from beer drinkers for variety, and we can create a lot of different flavors and options outside of traditional beer."

It should be noted that Miller isn't the inventor of chocolate beer. Other brewers got there first with such products as Samuel Adams' Chocolate Bock, the Brooklyn Brewery's Black Chocolate Stout and a variety of craft-brewed chocolate stouts.

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Best places for a beer

If you're on the road and looking for outstanding places to have a beer, Beer Advocate.com has drawn up a list of what it says are the best "50 Places to Have a Beer in America."

The list is a result of site users' comments on BeerFly. It includes both brewpubs and beer bars. Here's the top 15, with the whole list available here:

1. The Moan and Dove, Amherst, MA

2. The Publick House, Brookline, MA

3. Spuyten Duyvil, Brooklyn, NY

4. Toronado, San Francisco, CA

5. The Map Room, Chicago, IL

6. Cock & Bull Pub, Sarasota, FL

7. Papago Brewing, Scottsdale, AZ

8. O'Brien's Pub, San Diego, CA

9. Stuffed Sandwich, San Gabriel, CA

10. Capital Ale House, Richmond, VA

11. Six Pax & Dogz, Swissvale, PA

12. Mahar's, Albany, NY

13. Selin's Grove Brewing Co., Selinsgrove, PA

14. Capital Ale House At Innsbrook, Glen Allen, VA

15. Brick Store Pub, Decatur, GA

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Hops fire shouldn't brew up price hikes

The bad news: A warehouse fire in Yakima, WA, wiped out 4% of the nation's total yield of hops.

The good news: The nation produces so much hops industry analysts don't think the consumer beer price will be affected.

The fire earlier this week is estimated to have caused $450,000 damage to the building and $5 million to its contents. Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is investigating the cause.

Gary Mayfield, the ATF's resident agent in charge, said, "It may be a few weeks before we can draw our conclusion. There's an enormous amount of hops to dig through and get to the origin of the fire and dig out all the evidence."

It is possible the fire was from spontaneous combustion caused by intense heat that builds up in 200-pound bales of compressed hops which contain 15 to 20% of resins and oils.

Want to read a bit more about hops? Try here.

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Michelob sampler gets new additions

For the 10th year, Anheuser-Busch is producing a limited edition sampler collection of its specialty Michelob beers.

This year, the Michelob Specialty Sampler Collection includes marzen, pale ale and amber bock, all of which have been used in the past.

The new additions are porter, brewed using hops varieties that give it hints of coffee and chocolate, and Bavarian-style wheat, a cloudy beer brewed with wheat malt in the tradition of the Bavarian-style hefeweizens.

The sampler collection will be sold in grocery and convenience stores nationwide through early November in 20- and 12-packs.
The 20-pack includes four bottles of each style. The 12-pack includes the marzen, pale ale, porter and Bavarian-style wheat.

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Cider (and perry) pub honored

Not all brews are beers or ales. In the view of such organizations as Britain's Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), cider and perry are important, too.

Thus, when CAMRA picked its "Cider Pub of the Year," it was a legitimate honor, in this case going to the Old Poets’ Corner pub (seen here) in Ashover, Derbyshire.

Husband-wife Kim and Jackie Beresford bought the stone-built establishment in June 2004 and now offer up to five ciders and at least one perry. The honor was announced as a lead-in to Britain's National Cider Month and Cider Week that begin on Saturday, Oct. 14.

Three other cider pubs were honored -- the Penrhyn Arms in Penrynside, Conwy, Wales; the Banham Barrel in Banham, Norfolk, and the Square & Compass in Worth Matravers.

Cider in the UK is what in the U.S. is known as hard cider. It's an alcoholic drink made from crushed and then fermented apples. It is made from apples grated, mashed then pressed, then fermented in oak vats with natural or added yeasts. It usually has an alcohol content of more than 5%, stronger than most beers.

Perry is made from pear juice that has undergone two different kinds of fermentation. The first is created by natural or added yeasts. The second, the malo-lactic fermentation, is carried out by lactic acid bacteria present in the pear juice.

For details on both cider and perry, try this site.

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Britain's best once again

Brewers Gold, produced by Crouch Vale brewery in Essex, has been named Britain's best beer for the second straight year, beating out more than 50 other finalists in the opinion of a panel of beer writers, brewers and other journalists at the Great British Beer Festival in London.

The beer is produced by Crouch Vale brewery in Essex. The Good Beer Guide described it as a “honey-toned golden ale, with grapefruit sharpness offset by suggestions of melon and pineapple.”

The silver award went to Harveys brewery in Sussex for its Sussex Best Bitter. The bronze was awarded to Triple fff brewery in Hampshire for its Moondance.

U.S. beer competition includes a pro-am

Such sports as golf and tennis have long had their pro-am events in which professionals are teamed with talented amateurs.

The 25th annual Great American Beer Festival Competition has the same, and the award winners in the 39-entry field pairing professional brewmasters with American Homebrewers Association members were honored at the Oct. 1 awards event in Boulder, CO.

• Gold: Baltic Porter, Foothills Brewing, Winston-Salem, NC. Jamie Bartholomaus, brewmaster, Tom Nolan, American Homebrewers Association member.

• Silver: Hop Dog IPA, Papago Brewing Co., Scottsdale, AZ. Brewmaster Scott Yarosh, AHA member Barry Tingleff.

• Bronze: Whale’s Tail Pale Ale, Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins, CO. Brewmaster Doug Odell, AHA member Ryan Thomas.

Craft brewers selected award-winning recipes from amateur brewers, then scaled them up and brewed them at their own facilities.

Other commercial competition winners:

• Large Brewing Company and Large Brewing Company Brewer of the Year
Pabst Brewing Co., Woodridge, IL, Bob Newman

• Mid-Size Brewing Company and Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year
New Glarus Brewing Co., New Glarus, WI, Daniel J. Carey

• Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year

Bear Republic Brewing Co., Healdsburg, CA, Richard G. Norgrove

• Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Company Brewer of the Year
Pelican Pub & Brewery, Pacific City, OR, Darron R. S. Welch

• Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year
Flossmoor Station Brewing Co., Flossmoor, IL, Matt Van Wyk