The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

More news today

Though we'll probably talk about this week's news out of Mauna Loa for many years to come, other stories got to my inbox today:

And finally, the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild has a new Summer Passport program that entitles people to a free membership after getting stamps at 40 brewpubs and taprooms between now and August 10th. Forty breweries in 87 days? Challenge...accepted!

Stuff I didn't read because I was having lunch in the sun

We have actual spring weather today, so instead of reading things while eating lunch I was watching things, like this corgi:

I do have a few things to read while coordinating a rehearsal later tonight. To wit:

  • New York City declared a public health emergency because of measles. Measles. A childhood disease we almost eradicated before people started believing falsehoods about vaccination.
  • White House senior troll Stephen Miller has the president's ear, with predictable consequences.
  • Where did all of Chicago's taverns go? We used to have two to a block.
  • Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin admitted that the White House and the IRS have discussed releasing the president's tax forms, contrary to the statute meant to keep the White House from influencing the IRS.
  • Why is Canadian PM Justin Trudeau imploding so fast?
  • The UK Government has started preparing for EU elections next month, a sign that they expect to get an extension on the Brexit timeline from the EU. If not, then they will crash out of the union at 5pm Chicago time Thursday, scoring one of the worst own-goals in the history of world politics. (It's worth noting that losing the American colonies was another one.) I can't wait for PMQs tomorrow.

Today's weather, of course, is just a teaser. We even have snow flurries in the forecast for Friday. Welcome to Chicago.

The good and bad in Chicago this morning

Two good stories and a bad one.

First, a good story: Chicago now has more breweries than any other city in the US:

The metro region has surged past several longtime stalwarts to become home to more breweries than any other city in the nation — 167 — according to statistics published this week by the Brewers Association.

Behind it are the metro areas that for years Chicago beer drinkers could only envy: Denver (158), Seattle (153) and San Diego (150).

In fifth and sixth places are two other large cities whose brewing scenes have surged in recent years: Los Angeles (146) and New York (141).

Seems like I have some work to do over the next few months.

Now the bad story: Eddie Lampert can't save Sears. But we knew that:

If you believe Edward Lampert has finally figured out how to revive Sears, then you probably still believe in Santa Claus. The hedge fund mogul who oversaw the 125-year-old retailer’s long slide into bankruptcy is dangling the prospect of an 11th-hour buyout, casting his proposal as an altruistic effort to save the remaining 50,000 jobs at Sears.

My advice to those workers: Don’t expect a Christmas miracle.

First of all, there’s less to Lampert’s offer than initial appearances suggest. It’s been touted as a $4.6 billion bid to buy Sears out of bankruptcy, where it landed in October after losing $11 billion since 2011. But $1.8 billion of the offer would take the form of debt forgiveness by Lampert-affiliated entities, Sears’ largest lenders with about $2.6 billion in company debt. About $950 million would be cash, provided Lampert can find a lender willing to front the money. (As has been the pattern in recent years, Lampert isn’t putting more of his own cash into Sears.) Another $1 billion or so represents Sears liabilities to be assumed by a new company Lampert would form to acquire company assets including 500 stores, inventories, and the Kenmore and DieHard brands.

Oh, and Lampert also wants releases from claims related to his pre-bankruptcy transactions with Sears. Other creditors have commissioned an investigation into whether Lampert, Sears’ controlling shareholder since 2005 and CEO from 2013 until October’s Chapter 11 filing, gave himself favorable treatment in such deals as the spinoff of Lands End and the sale of Sears real estate to a newly formed company where he has a controlling stake.

And finally, another good story: the CTA will start modernizing the stretch of the El that goes by my neighborhood this fall, completing it just in time for the renovation of the Uptown Theater. Should all of this come together, it means I bought my apartment at exactly the right time:

The Red and Purple Line project will rebuild stations, bridges and track along a century-old corridor between Lawrence and Bryn Mawr avenues on the Red Line, the agency’s busiest line, CTA officials said. The construction also will include a controversial bypass that will take Brown Line trains above Red and Purple Line trains north of the busy Belmont station, CTA officials said.

Construction is expected to start in the fall of 2019, with the entire project to be completed in 2025, CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase said.

Chase said that by the end of 2019, the CTA expects to start advance work to prepare for later phases of the project. This work will include building temporary stations to replace the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations, which will be rebuilt. The CTA also will do track work to prepare for further repairs. Exact timing for the work will depend on the contractor.

Chase said the bypass work will start in 2020. The agency will start building new stations from Lawrence to Bryn Mawr in about two or three years, she said.

That will make a huge difference in Uptown, where the 110-year-old El stations look like they're about to collapse on themselves.

Bad day for Lagunitas Brewing

The Petaluma*, Calif., based company, which has a major production facility here in Chicago, laid off 12% of its workforce:

The workforce reduction will affect every department in the company, which operates a production plant in Chicago and a taproom in Seattle, CEO Maria Stipp said in a prepared statement. Lagunitas employs about 900 people at its Petaluma headquarters, which will take the brunt of the more than 100 layoffs.

The decision to downsize comes 17 months after Dutch brewing giant Heineken International acquired full ownership of the homegrown brewery company, which has long been a supporter of local nonprofits through beer donations and fundraisers at its Petaluma taproom.

The layoffs were not wholly unexpected given cutbacks at other craft brewers with growth slowing in the estimated $26 billion-a-year U.S. craft sector. The sector had incredible growth in recent years, with production rising as much as 20 percent annually as recently as 2014. But in recent years the increases have been in the low single digits.

Who could have predicted that Heineken would want profits more than protecting its workers?

*Petaluma is a million times better than its sister city, Megaluma.

Tons of plastic in the Great Lakes

Not only do the Great Lakes face threats from thirsty populations outside their basin, but they're also chock full of plastic microparticles:

One recent study found microplastic particles—fragments measuring less then 5 millimeters—in globally sourced tap water and beer brewed with water from the Great Lakes.

According to recent estimates, over 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans every year. Using that study’s calculations of how much plastic pollution per person enters the water in coastal regions, one of us (Matthew Hoffman) has estimated that around 10,000 tons of plastic enter the Great Lakes annually. Now we are analyzing where it accumulates and how it may affect aquatic life.

Using our models, we created maps that predict the average surface distribution of Great Lakes plastic pollution. They show that most of it ends up closer to shore. This helps to explain why so much plastic is found on Great Lakes beaches: In 2017 alone, volunteers with the Alliance for the Great Lakes collected more than 16 tons of plastic at beach cleanups. If more plastic is ending up near shore, where more wildlife is located and where we obtain our drinking water, is that really a better outcome than a garbage patch?

Mmm. Plastic beer! Since most of the beer I drink comes from breweries walking distance from my house...yum!

The state of American craft brewing

The Chicago Tribune reported today that the largest craft brewer in the United States is now...AB InBev, AKA Anheuser-Busch:

Between 2011 and 2017, Anheuser-Busch bought 10 breweries from coast to coast, beginning with Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. and ending (for now) with Wicked Weed Brewing of Asheville, N.C. In between, it picked up breweries in Oregon (10 Barrel), Virginia (Devils Backbone), Seattle (Elysian), Los Angeles (Golden Road), Houston (Karbach) and the metro areas of Phoenix (Four Peaks), Denver (Breckenridge) and New York City (Blue Point).

Anheuser-Busch’s shopping spree appears to have paid off. Last month, industry newsletter Beer Marketer’s Insights reported that the beer giant has surged past Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada in 2018 to become the nation’s top craft beer company in terms of dollar sales.

To be clear, Anheuser-Busch’s craft beer supremacy exists in one very specific metric at the moment; IRI tracks sales in grocery, big box, drug and convenience stores. When factoring in draft and liquor store sales, Beer Marketer’s Insights estimates that Boston Beer remains ahead of Anheuser-Busch in terms of both volume and dollar sales. But the passing of that torch is all but an inevitability during the next year or so.

However, it’s not all good news for Anheuser-Busch’s craft effort.

Its lead horse, Goose Island, had a rough 2017, and 2018 is proving just as difficult. In early August, the Goose Island portfolio was down double digits across the previous three months....

I've said before, part of craft beer's appeal is that it comes from actual craft breweries. And big beer companies don't actually like craft beer—because they can't compete with them.

So, mazel tov to InBev, but I'm going to stick with Revolution, Dovetail, Begyle, and Empircal, all of which brew within a 10-block radius of my house.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results, craft beer edition

Ballast Point, a former craft brewery that sold out to Constellation Brands for $1 billion in 2015, hasn't given the buyers everything they had hoped for:

Ballast Point has plummeted back to earth after its meteoric rise, though, a sales decline that reflects early missteps after the merger and the slowing growth of craft beer in general, according to industry experts and Constellation executives. The San Diego-based brewer of Sculpin IPA faces numerous challenges in its quest to grow as national craft brand, but perhaps none more significant than this: There are almost 6,500 breweries in the U.S. today — at least 2,000 more than when Constellation bought Ballast Point.

“We have a great high-end Mexican portfolio and wanted to get into craft. We entered in a big way with Ballast Point. … This is really an example of where we’re headed right here in terms of executing our strategy,” said Marty Birkel, Ballast Point president, in an interview at the new Chicago brewpub.

Michigan-based Founders Brewing Co., best known for its lower-priced, lower-alcohol All Day IPA, was roughly the same size as Ballast Point in 2015, but could end up shipping twice as much beer to wholesalers this year. Founders CEO Mike Stevens called the Ballast Point decline a “perfect storm” of high price point — a six-pack of Sculpin regularly sold for $15 — and what he believes to be a fading trend in fruit-flavored IPAs.

“They were obviously just screaming to the top of the peak, riding that price point, riding their fruit IPAs. … Right when that (deal) went down, we kind of all knew that they were going to have to fix the price points because the consumers were going to lose interest,” Stevens said.

Given that "small" and "craft" are two of the things people who drink beers from small, craft breweries want, and that these things go away when a conglomerate buys them, none of this should surprise anyone. And yet, the culture at large companies almost compels this kind of behavior.

At least Constellation isn't trying to kill its acquisitions, as InBev and MillerCoors have been accused. And craft breweries continue to flourish, both here and abroad. So all is not lost...just Ballast Point.

Four unrelated stories

A little Tuesday morning randomness for you:

Back to debugging acceptance tests.

Craft beer is the anti-monopoly hero

CityLab digs into "the strangest, happiest economic story in America:"

In almost every economic sector, including television, books, music, groceries, pharmacies, and advertising, a handful of companies control a prodigious share of the market.

The beer industry has been one of the worst offenders. The refreshing simplicity of Blue Moon, the vanilla smoothness of Boddingtons, the classic brightness of a Pilsner Urquell, and the bourbon-barrel stouts of Goose Island—all are owned by two companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors. As recently as 2012, this duopoly controllednearly 90 percent of beer production.

But in the last decade, something strange and extraordinary has happened. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of brewery establishments expanded by a factor of six, and the number of brewery workers grew by 120 percent. Yes, a 200-year-old industry has sextupled its establishments and more than doubled its workforce in less than a decade. Even more incredibly, this has happened during a time when U.S. beer consumption declined.

Average beer prices have grown nearly 50 percent. So while Americans are drinking less beer than they did in the 2000s (probably a good thing) they’re often paying more for a superior product (another good thing). Meanwhile, the best-selling beers in the country are all in steep decline, as are their producers. Between 2007 and 2016, shipments from five major brewers—Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, Heineken, Pabst, and Diageo, which owns Guinness—fell by 14 percent.

It's not just the United States. The UK passed 2,000 breweries last fall, with organisations like the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) leading the charge.

At least as far as good-tasting, high-quality beer goes, it's a good time to be alive in the English-speaking world.

More goals met

On Thursday I hit all my (admittedly non-taxing) goals for the day. And yesterday, on into this morning, I almost did again, except that making three of the goals interfered with making the fourth.

Goal #1: See the Churchill War Rooms. Having recently seen "Darkest Hour," I wanted to see the rooms where it happened. I did, and they were really cool.

Goal #2: Visit three more pubs. I had planned to check in again at 214 Bermondsey, then head up to Ye Olde Mitre before stopping again at The Ship Tavern. I walked from the Churchill War Rooms to 214 Bermondsey (3.7 km) but it turned out they weren't open yet. So I trundled up to Fleet Street (another 3.7 km) and went to The George instead. At Ye Olde Mitre—which can use the archaic spelling legitimately as it's over 400 years old—I met up with an old friend, went to dinner with him, and then finally made it to The Ship Tavern.

Goal #3: Get to 10,000 steps as early in the day as possible. At the stroke of midnight I set off from The Ship Tavern back to my hotel in Earls Court, a distance of 6.4 km that got me 6,828 steps in just under an hour and ten minutes. I dropped my bag off, ate the curry I'd picked up on the way, and trundled around Earls Court for another half-hour before hitting 10,000 steps at 2:09 am GMT. Someday soon, but not today, I'll get there even earlier. At the pace I set from Holborn to Earls Court, it would have taken me only 102 minute had I not stopped for food.

Goal #4: Read another book. At The George, I started Robert Abelson's Statistics as Principled Argument, and managed to get halfway into the second chapter before getting swept up in conversations with the Aussies who mobbed the area where I was sitting at the Ship Tavern. It's also a bit denser than the Frum I read cover to cover on Thursday, which slowed me down a bit.

Today's goals included stopping in two more pubs, including the Southampton Arms, about which I have blogged frequently, and reading a third book. Alas, neither looks promising, for several reasons including the pouring rain outside right now and the six pubs I've already visited since I got here. So this afternoon I'm going to nap, plough ahead with the Abelson, and head up to Southampton Arms when the rain lets up, which the Met Office assures me will happen around 5 pm.