According to a survey by the Brewers Association, which represents America’s craft beer industry, less than 1% of US craft brewers are Black. “I’ve been sitting in the brewmaster’s chair for more than 30 years, and I’ve never seen a single African-American applicant for a brewing job,” said Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery. To help change that, Mr. Oliver started the Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling, named after the influential beer and whiskey writer who died in 2007. The foundation has already received $97,000 in GoFundMe donations and will use the funds to create brewing and distilling scholarships for people of color. The Brewers Association itself has also changed its policies and created a new position to bring more Black people into the industry. Kevin Blodger, chairman of the Association’s diversity committee and founder of Union Craft Brewing, announced the hiring of the Association’s first diversity ambassador, Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham. The Association also announced a new code of conduct aimed at curbing discrimination, racism, and bias in the workplace.
Can manufacturers are ramping up production as demand for canned beverages continues to increase throughout the pandemic. When restaurants, sports stadiums and other venues closed, brewers switched their packaging from kegs to cans. As a result, U.S. sales of aluminum cans for beverages rose 24% by volume in March, according to the research firm IRI. Cans’ share of the beer and hard-seltzer market in the U.S. shot up to 67% from 60% in the first quarter, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association. Molson Coors Beverage Co., which owns Miller Lite, said they had to suspend production after struggling to find enough tall 16-ounce cans, and they expect a shortage in 12 ounce cans as well. “Every company that makes anything in the 12-ounce can has been challenged to some degree by the global can shortage,” said Molson Coors Chief Executive Gavin Hattersley. According to Timothy Donahue, CEO of major U.S. can manufacturer Crown Holdings, “From now until the end of the year, and in almost every market where we produce, cans will be in short supply.”
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States forecasts that the nation’s craft distillers will lose 41% of anticipated sales this year, totaling about $700 million. Nearly a third of the industry’s workers have been furloughed during pandemic, and shuttered restaurants, bars, and tasting rooms have decimated sales. A study by the Council surveyed 300 distillers in 50 states, finding that on-site sales fell 25% or more since the start of the pandemic and over 15% of tasting rooms had closed entirely. Last year, tasting rooms brought in the majority of sales for 40% of U.S. craft distillers. Wholesale revenue to retailers and distributors also decreased by 25% or more for at least 40% of the distillers surveyed, and 11% of them said sales had completely stopped. .
Nomisma Wine Monitor, using data from industry sources Sinab, Eurostat and Fibl, found that Italy now leads the world in total acreage used for growing organic wine grapes. As of 2018, 16.6% of Italy’s vineyards were organically cultivated, making up 26% of the world’s organically farmed vineyards. According a recent report from Nomisma’s, the country’s organic vineyard area grew 57% from 2013 through 2018. Europe’s green organic wine logo requires certified wineries to follow regulations, including bans on GMOs and on synthetic chemicals in vineyards. In the U.S., wines with under 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfites naturally developed through fermentation can be considered organic; however, according to European standards, there may be up to 100 ppm for reds and 150 ppm for whites added as a preservative. Many Italian wineries assert that they have low carbon and water footprints, although no international industry guidelines exist to determine and regulate sustainability. Michele Minelli, co-owner of Salcheto in Tuscany, says, “Equalitas is working tirelessly with international institutions to create standards to officially define and regulate sustainability in the industry.” Salcheto was one of the first nine wineries to get a sustainable certification in 2018 by the trade organization Equalitas.
American oak barrels are typically charred before being filled with whiskey for aging. Charring the inside of a barrel doesn’t necessarily create a smoky taste in whiskey. But it does change the chemistry of the oak, which greatly enhances the flavors and aromas in the spirit. Compounds in oak wood that are affected by charring include cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, tannins, and oak lactones. When charred, hemicellulose breaks down into wood sugars, which effectively caramelize, imparting notes of brown sugar, caramel, and toffee to the whiskey. Charring lignin creates the compound vanillin, which gives whiskey the aromas of vanilla. The more a barrel is charred, the more vanilla aroma the whiskey will have. A higher char level also reduces tannins in the barrel, making the whiskey taste less bitter and astringent. American oak is particularly high in oak lactones, which lend woody and coconut flavors to many bourbons. The higher the char level, the lower the oak lactones and its associated flavors.
While char levels vary among distillers and brands, most American oak barrels are charred for less than a minute and the char is only about 1/8″ to 1/4″ deep. Official char designations range from #1 to #4. In a #1 char, the barrel interior is burned for 15 seconds, #2 for 30 seconds, #3 for 35 seconds, and #4 for 55 seconds. A #4 char is also known as “alligator char” because the intense burning roughs up the wood’s texture, causing it resemble alligator skin. Char levels #3 and #4 are most common among American bourbons and whiskeys, giving a spicy, smoky flavor profile. Charring also helps filter out unwanted compounds from whiskey. When wood is charred, it leaves behind carbon, one of the most widely used substances in filtration systems. Inside a charred bourbon barrel, the carbon filters away unwanted sulfur and other compounds, creating a softer and mellower flavor profile in the whiskey.
A group of 13 U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle have asked that the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) remove the 25% tariffs made last year on E.U. food, wine and spirits, according to a letter seen by Reuters. In the letter to USTR last Friday, seven Republican and six Democratic senators said American “restaurants, retailers, grocers, importers and distributors” are experiencing “severe economic hardship due to the increased cost of goods.” Senators also said “demand for these goods has declined, leaving importers and distributors with months’ worth of product, much of it perishable, in storage and in transit with no clear end date for the COVID-19 pandemic.” The tariffs came as retaliation for E.U. subsidies on large aircraft, and they have hampered the market for French wine, Italian cheese, single-malt Scotch whisky, E.U.-produced cured sausages, and more.
Last year, the United States was granted authority by the World Trade Organization to impose tariffs on E.U. goods by up to $7.5 billion. But at this point, the U.S. Distilled Spirits Council has weighed in, urging the E.U. and U.S. to drop beverage tariffs, saying both sides “have suffered enough.” The council pointed out that Scotch Whisky imports by the United States decreased nearly 33% from October 2019 to May 2020, marking a $378 million decline over the same period a year earlier. U.S. whiskey exports to the E.U. have also fallen by 33% or $300 million according to the group, as a separate dispute caused the E.U. to impose 25% tariffs on all U.S. whiskey imports back in June 2018.
As the pandemic persists, demand for celebratory bottles of bubbly have taken a nosedive, crippling France’s Champagne region. Producers have millions of excess bottles in inventory, according to a recent Associated Press report. “We are experiencing a crisis that we evaluate to be even worse than the Great Depression” said Thibaut Le Mailloux of the Champagne Committee, known as CIVC, which represents around 16,000 winemakers. The committee estimates losses of $2 billion for this year with 100 million bottles of champagne throughout the region that will go unsold by 2020’s end. On August 18, CIVC will hold a meeting to look at strategies that minimize the economic fallout. The most likely option will be a substantial cap on future wine grape production to prevent the price of Champagne from plummeting in the wake of high supply and low demand. Subsequently, unprecedented amounts of grapes and alcohol will reportedly need to be destroyed or sold to distilleries at low prices. .
Social media and wine enthusiasts erupted last month when actress Cameron Diaz and fashion entrepreneur Katherine Power launched their new wine company, Avaline. The pair have marketed their wine as a transparently labeled product with no additives, using the term “clean wine.” It’s true that winemakers are not required to list ingredients on wine labels and additives such as sulfites are sometimes used. “No transparency, no labelling,” says Power. In the video posted to Instagram explaining their wine, Diaz and Power mention making their wine “clean.” The problem is, there is no definition of that term, just as there is no official definition of “natural” wine. “Most wine is, essentially, just fermented grapes,” says Dave McIntyre, The Washington Post’s weekly wine writer. “And, really? In Los Angeles, they couldn’t find sustainable, organic, biodynamic or natural wines?” Some experts say this isn’t the first time they’ve heard of “clean” wines. “I’ve been in the industry for close to 30 years and this comes up periodically, just under different names… [like] ‘minimal intervention,'” says Dr. Creina Stockley, former Manager of Health and Regulatory Information at The Australian Wine Research Institute. “It’s a marketing exercise,” she adds.
In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, hand sanitizer was flying off the shelves as hospitals, medical workers and profiteers bought out the supply. In response, the Food and Drug Administration temporarily eased regulations, allowing distillers and other companies to produce and sell the product. For distillers, making hand sanitizer made perfect sense, especially when sales of booze dropped as bars and restaurants closed. The equipment and proper licensing to handle ethanol were already acquired, leaving only the final steps of actually manufacturing and selling the product. To make hand sanitizer, Jonathan Eagan, a co-owner of the Arizona Distilling Company, spent $50,000 on alcohol this past spring. Shortly afterward, he says the company made enough money to cover two months of lost liquor sales. However, as panic-buying of the disinfectant subsided and larger companies stabilized production, “the business just kind of dried up” in the last few weeks, according to Eagan. Now, many distilleries that made the switch are going back to making booze. “It kept the lights on, it kept the guys working and employed when we were shut down for tours and tasting,” Barry Butler, owner of Tarpon Springs Distillery, said of producing sanitizer. But “as a long-term economic solution for a distillery, it’s not a way to make money,” he added.
To maintain social distancing between staff and passengers during the pandemic, airlines have minimized food and drink service and suspended the sale of alcohol on flights. Yet federal rules allow each passenger to bring a quart-size, zip-top bag full of 3.4 ounce containers of booze. Drinking that alcohol on board, however, is prohibited, and airlines have begun to crack down on passengers who do so. Southwest Airlines has seen such an increase in passengers drinking their own booze on board, it prompted the company to add a new line at the end of its in-flight safety announcements: “It is also prohibited to consume alcohol that you’ve brought.” American Airlines has experienced the same difficulties, according to Ross Feinstein, director of AA operations communications.
There is a loophole, however. Flight attendants are allowed to serve alcohol that passengers have carried on board, similar to wait staff uncorking and pouring a bottle of wine you have brought to a BYOB restaurant. While airlines are not required to serve you your own alcohol, standard in-flight practice varies among airlines. JetBlue allows BYOB, and American Airlines does not. Get the full story here at USA Today, or here at Business Insider.