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Joe Sixpack | The year in beer - and what's ahead in '08

ONE THOUSAND, four hundred sixty-eight beers left their mark on me in 2007, and I've already forgotten a bunch of 'em. Here's what I can remember.

ONE THOUSAND, four hundred sixty-eight beers left their mark on me in 2007, and I've already forgotten a bunch of 'em. Here's what I can remember.

Prices skyrocket

Beer money isn't just pocket change anymore, and I'm not talking just about those pricey bottles of premium craft brews.

In '07, brewers around the world suddenly faced big increases in the cost of raw materials: glass for bottles, fuel for delivery trucks, malt for the suds and even paper for labels. The price of hops alone jumped 500 percent. A case of Bud is closing in on the $20 mark.

Both the wallet and the palate took a hit. Many small brewers found hops were unavailable at any price, forcing some to halt production of some of their hugely popular bitter ales, like imperial India pale ale. 2008 outlook: Victory HopDevil Lite.

Miller, Coors tie the knot

As a traditionalist, I'd normally blather about the grand brewing heritage that will be lost when these two legendary beer companies begin sharing the same letterhead next year. But Miller sacrificed its Milwaukee integrity years ago when it climbed into the sack with Philip Morris, while Coors damaged its all-American DNA the minute it started doing business with the Molson Canadians.

So what we're left with is a competition-killing corporate merger intended to cut costs (i.e., jobs) and line the pockets of fat cats while Anheuser-Busch continues to stomp down the grocery aisle.

2008 outlook: MillerCoors LiteLight.


some new brewpubs

Triumph Brewing opened with a splash in Old City, and Dock Street came back from the dead in the Cedar Park section of West Philly. The former is pouring remarkable lagers but looking for a niche with its menu; the latter doesn't have its legs yet, thanks mostly to the lack of a permanent brewer.

Still, those openings more than offset the summer's dreadful demise of Independence Brewing at Reading Terminal Market.

2008 outlook: The owners of New Jersey's defunct Heavyweight Brewing have announced plans to open a brewpub in Mt. Airy.

Craft beer explodes

For the third straight year, American microbreweries outpaced every other segment of the booze biz - spirits, wine, imports, mass-produced domestics, even Bacardi Breezers. Small brewery sales surged at more than five times the growth of the mainstream stuff, according to the Brewers Association.

The growth has pushed the big guys - especially Anheuser-Busch - to step up their efforts to grab a piece of the action.

Last year, the Borgs from St. Louis assimilated Old Dominion and Fordham. Even Pabst got into the game, picking up distribution rights for New York's tiny Southampton Brewing.

Locally, the Big Three's wholesalers, frustrated by those flat sales, continued to add smaller specialty brands to their portfolios. As the year closed, Origlio Beverage, the city's Coors wholesaler, struck a deal to purchase distribution rights for a wide variety of small brands (Dogfish Head, Legacy and Weyerbacher, plus many Belgians) that had been held by King of Prussia's Kunda Beverage.

2008 outlook: Michelob Ultra Barleywine.

Yards Brewing splits

Too early to know how this one will play out, but if all goes right:

_ Yards founder Tom Kehoe will have his new, bigger brewhouse up and running on Delaware Avenue in a couple of months.

_ Former partners Bill and Nancy Barton will have kegs from their new Philadelphia Brewing Co. in bars about the same time.

2008 outlook: More beer for everyone.

The best new beers of the year (in no particular order):

1. Nøgne Ø Dark Horizon (Norway): An imperial stout with 16 percent alcohol (at $25 a bottle), this baby set the pace for a new wave of Scandinavian beers.

2. Goose Island Matilda (Illinois): A surprisingly authentic Orval Trappist ale knockoff.

3. Stoudt's Smooth Hoperator (Downingtown): Maybe the best new Pennsylvania beer since Yards reformulated its Philadelphia Pale Ale: a hybrid, hoppy double bock.

4. Avery/Russian River Collaboration Not Litigation (Colorado/California): Two small brewers with the same brand name (Salvation) mixed their suds and produced a singularly outstanding Belgian-style strong ale.

5. Dogfish Head Red & White (Milton, Del.): Huge, fruity layers of flavor in a Belgian-style white beer that's been doused with pinot noir juice and aged in wine barrels.

6. Schneider & Brooklyner Hopfen-Weisse (Germany/New York): Another collaboration, this one matching yeasty Bavarian wheat goodness with assertive American hops. *

"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday.