Rhonda Kallman on FDA’s Caffeine Warning: “It’s not over until it’s over.”

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In light of the Food and Drug Administration’s recent warning to a handful of beverage producers, and the quick ban of their products from the marketplace in several states, one of the overlooked parts of the story was the inclusion of New Century Brewing Company alongside producers such as Drink Four Brewing, makers of the controversial Four Loko product. New Century, which is run by longtime beer industry player Rhonda Kallman, produces a beer called Moonshot, which has 69 milligrams of caffeine and weighs in at a modest 4 percent alcohol by volume. Compared to the Four Loko product, which has caffeine, taurine, and guarana, boasts 6 to 12 percent alcohol, and is often served in a 23.5 ounce can, Moonshot seems to be in some odd company here. “I really am shocked that Moonshot is being put in the same category as high alcohol, neon colored energy drinks in 23.5 ounce servings,” Kallman said in an email. The company has “no plans to reformulate yet as “it’s not over until it’s over.”

The loss of one of the only two products New Century produces would be a definite body blow to a company that has experienced some very difficult times in its nine years of business. The film Beer Wars chronicles a lot of the hardships her company has experienced.

The company’s press release appears below.


New Century Brewing Company Supports Clarification on Caffeine from the Food and Drug Administration

BOSTON (November 19, 2010): Rhonda Kallman, founder of the fledgling New Century Brewing Company, said she was surprised to learn that her craft beer, Moonshot, was labeled by the FDA as a “public health concern” due to its 69 milligrams of caffeine. Moonshot, at a modest 4% alcohol and about as much caffeine as less than half cup of Starbucks in each 12-ounce bottle, seemed an unlikely target. The craft-brewed pilsner-style beer is sold in bars and restaurants in only three states.

Kallman, a craft beer industry pioneer and co-founder of the Boston Beer Company, has years of experience selling and marketing premium beers in a responsible way. She introduced Moonshot in 2004, after its formula was approved by the federal agency responsible for monitoring alcoholic beverage formulas.

But in the wake of recent high profile incidents involving underage drinking and the controversial Four Loko, a high-energy drink with 12% alcohol and as much caffeine as four cups of coffee in each 23.5 ounce serving, the FDA has concluded that caffeinated beverages violate safety rules, and it issued warning letters to four companies, including New Century Brewing. Kallman has been ordered to reformulate Moonshot without caffeine or face a ban of its sales. She has been given 15 days to comply.

Kallman had worked closely with the FDA for more than a year, providing the agency with clear and factual information on Moonshot’s safety. Kallman said she expected that the result of the year-long FDA inquiry would result in the regulation of caffeinated beverages — not their prohibition. “Without clear standards — acceptable levels of caffeine to percentage alcohol, or the regulation of serving sizes — it is difficult to understand an outright ban of Moonshot Beer,” said Kallman. “Caffeinated alcoholic beverages have been around for decades. Moonshot Beer is a new twist on an established idea.

“Moonshot is a beer with character, integrity, and a pedigree,” said Kallman. “It is responsibly marketed and simply offers beer lovers a choice — a beer with caffeine. It is not marketed as an energy drink, stimulant or alcoholic alternative of any type. It clearly stands apart from the other caffeinated alcoholic energy beverages that are on the market today.”

About New Century Brewing Company
New Century Brewing Company was founded in April 2001 by beer industry veteran, Rhonda Kallman, to bring innovative American beer styles to market. The company’s two products, Moonshot and Edison Light beer were formulated by Dr. Joseph Owades (1919-2005), a world-renowned brewing expert credited with the invention of light beer in the 1960’s.

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Discussing The Alcohol Arms Race On NPR’s ‘The Splendid Table’

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A few weeks back, I taped a segment on session and high alcohol beers for American Public Media’s radio program, The Splendid Table, hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. It’s a program that I have enjoyed for many years and it was a pleasure to be invited to discuss this topic while promoting my book, Great American Craft Beer. I’ve done a fair number of radio interviews over the years and even majored in radio and television production for a while in college before moving over to the magazine world for my degree. Despite this, hearing myself talk about the topic while sitting in a car was an unusual yet fun experience. If you missed the broadcast and haven’t picked up the podcast, I’ll embed the interview here. Thanks to Alan at A Good Beer Blog, from whom I’ve essentially stolen this setup. The interview starts at about the 24th minute and goes for about six minutes. Thanks to the show’s staff and host for having me on. Hope to be back in the future.

An excerpt on session beers and picking the right glassware from Great American Craft Beer the book is available on The Splendid Table’s website.

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Chicago’s Craft Beer Pioneers: Goose Island’s John and Greg Hall

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Despite its name, the Goose Island Beer Company’s headquarters and main production brewery is not located on the miniscule, 160 acre artificial island splitting the Chicago River. Instead, the brewery’s Near West Side industrial location acts as a fitting tribute to the bare-knuckled nature of the city’s beer trade and to the dedicated family behind it.

Founder John Hall, of the paper packaging trade, opened Goose Island’s first brewpub on Clybourn Street in 1988, where the flagship Honker’s Ale eventually led to the opening of the Fulton Street production brewery and a Wrigleyville pub. Greg Hall, then a college student studying creative writing, joined his father’s team as a lowly brewer’s assistant, doing grunt work, before attending the Siebel brewing school and eventually becoming the brewmaster.

Together, the pioneering Hall’s make a formidable pair, balancing business acumen and a love of flavorful beer. Far removed from the days of Hex Nut Brown Ale, Goose Island now produces some of the most flavor-forward craft beers available in America. The brewery also runs one of the nation’s largest barrel aging programs, which sprawls out through warehouses on both sides of Fulton Street. In these wooden vessels sleep Bourbon County Stout and other rare treats.

Beyond building a solid portfolio of core brands, including President Obama’s favored 312, the Hall’s have focused much of their recent efforts on developing an eclectic line-up of Belgian-style ales. Devoted proponents of the joys of bringing beer and food back to its rightful place at the table, Goose Island hosts frequent beer dinners, cheese tastings, and has even brewed a beer for one of celebrity chef Rick Bayless’s restaurants.

Despite all of Goose Island’s successes, the city’s notoriously competitive distribution challenges in part led to the brewery’s decision in 2006 to enter into an equity agreement with the Widmer Brothers Brewery and the Craft Brewers Alliance, which has ties with Anheuser-Busch InBev. With their decision quickly came harsh words from self-appointed craft beer purists. Greg Hall quickly dismisses the criticism by noting that the big guys give them better access to market but “zero direction whatsoever” as to the beer. For others he jokes, “Can’t you taste the beechwood in there? Don’t you think it makes it taste better?” Simply put, “the beer is coming on a different truck now, but it’s the same beer from the same brewery and people.”

With such an enviable and bold line-up of top-notch beers, good luck convincing the happy patrons at the brewery’s pubs that they aren’t drinking craft beer. You’d get a better response rooting for the White Sox on the corner of Clark and Addison.

-Article appeared in Issue 49 of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

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Craft Beer, All Growed Up…

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All grown up and ready to don his crown, the prince busily makes plans for the future. All hail the new king of beer. If you read the beer press lately, you’d be forgiven for thinking that craft beer has conquered all. The Brewers Association’s recently released half-year numbers demonstrate that despite the economic downturn, craft beer sales continue to boom by double-digits, to the enduring shame of macro beer producers. Without question, no other brewing industry segment can touch craft’s fire.

But before we start the next round of mutual back-slapping and pint raising, America’s smaller brewers should stop and consider the decidedly unsettled course of American beer’s future. We have lived through the Age of Extreme and experienced the Era of Collaboration, reveling in years of unparalleled success. Yet the toughest times lie ahead as craft brewers move from the lighthearted teenage growing years to the increasingly responsible adult decades.

For one, succession issues will continue to pose challenges for brewers small and big. As brewers continue to merge or purchase their craft brethren (and competitors), brands and brewing histories may become diluted or lost. In the wake of the recent transitions of Anchor, Magic Hat, Old Dominion, and others, consumers are learning the painful truth that beer is a business and craft brewing is not some fun hobbyist project. Your favorite beer of today may become a fond memory tomorrow in someone else’s brand portfolio.

Growth also brings its own challenges and has already contributed to some serious identity crises in the industry. After years of predicting the event, the Boston Beer Company appears poised (if not already there) to exceed the magic two million barrel mark that the Brewers Association uses to define the size limits for craft brewers. While many recoil at the suggestion of disinviting Sam Adams from the craft beer party, the truth is that many craft brewers are far from small operations. How the industry defines itself, while caring for its pioneering elders will continue as a rolling boil.

Beyond trying to define “craft”, the industry’s success also challenges the consumer’s understanding of what the whole industry stands for. As growing pains set in, brewers find themselves stretched increasingly thin. Due to demand and quick sales, brewers send beer to markets thousands of miles from home, sometimes while their local patrons can’t find their favorites. To date, only a handful of brewers (craft or not) have chosen to brew their beers in distant breweries to satisfy new markets, but this trend will rise. But if Goose Island brews its Honker’s Ale or 312 in New Hampshire, is it really still Goose Island? Many consumers don’t think so.

Craft brewers also have to contend with the increasing interest of macro brewers in their profitable and growing market segment. As I predicted several years ago, Blue Moon has become the nation’s best selling craft/faux-craft beer. It’s a sales juggernaut that shows no signs of slowing, especially with MillerCoors’ creation of the new Tenth and Blake Beer Company spinoff. Expect the big guys to be more aggressive as they spend more time playing in the craft beer sandbox.

Finally, craft brewers need to get their own houses in order. In the very first issue of BeerAdvocate Magazine, I took craft brewers to task for refusing to put bottling or brewing dates on their packaging. While we have seen some progress in recent years, freshness dating continues to be a problem that many of the industry’s biggest players refuse to adequately address. While I personally love Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and included it in Great American Craft Beer, I shouldn’t have to go to the brewery’s website and enter a batch code to find out when it was made. A few stale bottles have caused me to rethink buying this longtime favorite and many others from craft brewers that should know better.

–Article appeared in Issue 48 of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

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The Beer Blogging Brouhaha, Part 2: A Beer Bloggers Conference? #bbc10

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It has been an unexpectedly busy day here at BeerScribe.com in the wake of last night’s piece on the state of beer blogging. I can imagine few topics more geeky than the present one but I’ll indulge it for one more post. The first ever Beer Bloggers Conference is ready to get underway in Boulder, Colorado. It is put on by the same folks who run a supposedly popular Wine Bloggers Conference and it is pretty close to sold out with more than 100 attendees.

Despite a brief mention in my earlier piece, I hadn’t given too much thought to the conference but have just taken a closer look at the agenda and I must admit to being a bit puzzled by it. Aside from beer blogging in general, I am left wondering, at its core, what does the Beer Bloggers Conference actually offer attendees? Is it just an excuse to get together with other like-minded beer folks and enjoy a few rounds (which is a perfectly enviable vacation)? Or is it professionally (in the broadest sense here) helpful in some tangible or meaningful way?

Putting aside those who just want a vacation and to drink some beers, what does the conference actually offer? A lot of the seminars/speeches seem to be pretty rah-rah in nature, and that’s great, just not something I’d pay money to attend. For people who all seem to agree there is no real money to be made here, a lot of the conference’s remaining content seems to be related to making money on the web. And I’d be pretty skeptical if I was attending those particular seminars. Frankly, sharing “$10,000 worth of SEO advice” sounds like a load of bullshit to me, not too different from the dozens of spam marketing/SEO emails I receive every day for both of my businesses. So beyond the rah-rah from the usual industry cheerleaders, I’m curious to hear from the organizers, promoters, speakers, and attendees what the content actually offers.

Brewery visits and beer dinners are great and all, but is that the real reason for the conference? I imagine the conference organizers aren’t doing this for free so I think the inquiry is worth making.

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