There has been a rash of recalls recently. At the half point of 2010, we’ve already seen 4 recalls or cancelations of brews from major breweries. Three recalls (Goose Island, Bell’s and Avery) were due to spoilage while Deschutes recently canceled the release of their anniversary beer Black Butte XXII. What’s causing all of this, and from major breweries no less? Poor quality control? Reckless experimentation? Or is it simply bad luck?
Before jumping to conclusions and pointing fingers at the brewers, we should first look back at a time when spoilage was a common occurrence in the craft beer world. Anyone who drank “microbrews” in the 90’s knows that quality control wasn’t so controlled. While I came into good beer towards the tail end of the decade, I can remember playing microbrew roulette, not knowing the quality of the liquid inside the bottle. Spoiled batches were pushed onto shelves and whether the brewery knew about it or not, they definitely weren’t part of a public recall. So first things first, let’s applaud these breweries in 2010 for doing the right thing and assuring the beer we buy is of the best quality.
With the most recent news coming from Deschutes, the Black Butte XXII release was canceled. While a press release let beer lovers know that cocoa butter was coming out of solution, rumors have begun to make their way back to Bend that the beer was actually rancid. Larry Sidor, brewer with Deschutes, assured me this is not the case and that “the beer is fantastic.”
“The problem is, people drink with their eyes,” Larry told me. The problem stems from an experimental technique where chocolate was added to the brite tanks. While this had been done for 4 previous years on smaller test batches, after bottling, a distinct buttery white layer was forming on top of the stark black liquid. The brewery felt that many would excuse this visual flaw, but among casual beer drinkers and those who truly examine beer (RateBeerians?) the problem would be catastrophic. The decision was made to not release any of the beer.
With the previous recalls from Avery, Goose Island and Bell’s, the issue wasn’t visual, but one that affected the taste of the beer. While Avery’s recall was brought about by customer complaints, Goose Island and Bell’s recalls were initiated internally, presumably thanks to good lab work in identifying the presence of souring bugs.
I posed the questions I started the article with to a handful of brewers and got pretty much the same answer from all of them. Brewers take their sanitation processes seriously. Even with the high level of sanitation, sometimes something can slip through.
Another common sentiment was that despite recalls and canceled releases, craft brewers are not deterred in continuing to push the envelope. Whether it’s a large brewer with worldwide distribution or a small local brewpub, there is a commitment to brewing interesting beer and trying new things.
All of the news is reassuring in the end. It shows a difference in the craft beer market that was sorely lacking 15 years ago. While a soured beer isn’t enjoyable, it beats one tainted with shards of glass.
For those who read this and thought “I’d still like to try the Black Butte XXII,” don’t worry. At Deschutes brewpubs, the beer will be available on draft with a disclaimer provided by the bartender. No bottles will be going out for sampling though, so this would be your only chance to try the beer.
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