BEER WITH A SOCIALIST: “First It Was Exploding Cans, Now 450 North Shrugs Off Miscalculated ABVs.”

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The tweeter’s spot-on prelude, which I wish I’d written first:

“I love this story (below) so much. It’s everything wrong with craft “beer” these days: Absolute shit product, exploding cans, Branding for kids, Zero QC, Zero integrity, (apparently) Zero accountability, Zero fucks given… and consumers still buying.”

This is why I’m happily ensconced in the Realm of the Retro. To paraphrase General Grant, I’ll fight it out on these principles if it takes the rest of my life.

Let the uninformed buyer beware?

To an extent, yes, but kaleidoscopes, tilt-a-whirls and rotating roulette wheels aren’t my personal idea of fun, and this article is required reading for anyone who still cares about beer — the actual liquid in the glass, not the institutionalized attention deficit disorder which seems to have gripped the land.

By the way, it’s an Indiana brewery in the process of grabbing attention for all the wrong reasons. As an old friend once observed, “for shit’s sake.”

¯_(ツ)_/¯ — First It Was Exploding Cans, Now 450 North Shrugs Off Miscalculated ABVs, by Kate Bernot (Good Beer Hunting)

THE GIST

“Holy shiiiiit.”

So began the text in a provocative screenshot that was circulating on Twitter in mid-December. The image, whose origins and authorship are unknown, claimed to show laboratory test results of a beer from Columbus, Indiana’s 450 North Brewing Company.

The beer in question was Slushy XL Elephant Ears, a “smoothie-style” Berliner Weisse flavored with raspberry, blackberry, graham cracker, cinnamon, and vanilla, and which could be visually mistaken for a grape Slurpee. The release was part of the brewery’s Slushy XL line, a hype-darling series of kettle-soured beers packaged in 16oz cans and flavored heavily with fruit purees after fermentation. The test results showed the beer’s ABV was 2.65%, significantly lower than the 8% ABV listed on the can.

“If they sent this away to another lab the results would be exactly the same,” the screenshot read. “Shocking.”

Not only had the brewery apparently been wildly incorrect in its ABV calculations, but it was charging customers IPA-level prices—roughly $15-$19 per four-pack—that some might be reluctant to pay for such a low-strength beer.

450 North responded via a statement on Instagram posted Dec. 24. Signed by owners David and Brenda Simmons, the post breezily acknowledged the disparity, apologized, and stated the brewery would remove the ABV from its Slushy line until early 2020. It also said the brewery has since adjusted its ABV calculation process to “include any additional adjuncts added post-fermentation.”

“The findings were unexpected,” they wrote. “The independent testing of multiple Slushys has determined that our calculation process was critically flawed.”

According to Instagram, the brewery has released seven Slushy beers since then, but did not disclose any of their ABVs, or assumed ABVs. The Simmons haven’t addressed the issue since their lone response on Christmas Eve.

WHY IT MATTERS

This isn’t 450 North’s first quality control stumble related to its super-fruited beers. In August 2018, its brewers acknowledged some of its fruited, kettle-soured beer cans might explode if not refrigerated immediately after purchase, because yeast present in the cans could continue to ferment thanks to the the hummingbird-nectar levels of sugar added post-fermentation. Can conditioning isn’t new, but it is a delicate process that takes nuanced attention to allow a beer to finish gracefully—let alone safely. 450 North, however, opted to add levels of fruit that could have been a can’s kryptonite.

“If you want something super fruity, that’s the risk you’ve got to take, it seems like,” 450 North’s assistant brewer Brian Pine told the ABV Chicago podcast at the time. The brewery charges roughly $15-$19 for 16oz four-packs of these beers, noting on Instagram that “the amount of fruit added to our Slushys has always dictated the price.” It’s unclear if that’s specific to actual fruit puree, or fruit juice, which caused the latest problem for the brewery.

But these ABV errors, which the brewery’s Instagram post calls “critically flawed,” raise additional red flags and beg even more questions. Namely, how did the brewery miscalculate its ABVs so drastically? Did it really not know its beers would be less alcoholic following significant additions of fruit? Did it just not care? Do its customers care?

The controversy also raises questions around the Simmons’ two other beverage alcohol companies: Simmons Winery and Gnarly Grove Hard Cider. The couple clearly has an understanding of fermentation when it comes to a variety of alcohol categories, so what happened with 450 North?

Those questions can’t be answered here, however, as 450 North did not return messages left with taproom staff, or direct messages on social media.The email address listed on 450 North’s Instagram account is invalid. Additional follow-up calls to the brewery went unanswered; the brewery’s voicemail was also full …

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