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"Can I give you some advice...?"

A few days ago, my partner Henry and I met a small business owner who occupied a warehouse close to our new office. The three of us were chatting about the brewing business and although I was fully engaged in the conversation, I noticed that he was not making any eye contact with me, but rather focusing his attention on Henry. After about five minutes or so of chatting, this man looked directly at Henry and said “Have you always been a brewer?”

Henry laughed and quickly explained to our new friend “No! I’ve never brewed beer – she is the brewer”.

Women were the original brewers  ( Source:  commons.wikipedia.com)

Women were the original brewers  (Source: commons.wikipedia.com)

This is not the first time this has happened. Every single person we meet assumes that Henry brews the beer because he’s the guy of our dynamic duo. The classic reaction of people when we set them straight is to laugh nervously, make a jittery comment along the lines of “Oh! Really? Seriously? Do you actually drink beer too?” and then overdo the eye contact in my direction as if to make up for the previous lack of acknowledgement… and always without a doubt a few choice hot tips on brewing follow, such as keeping your fermenter in a dark cupboard and they know because they’ve “…brewed my own beer once using a can of extract syrup in the bathtub”. (Some of you may remember the Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Year 2014!).

mansplain

verb (tColloquial (humorous) (of a man) to explain (something) to a woman, in a way that is patronising because it assumes that a woman will be ignorant of the subject matter.
[
MAN + (EX)PLAIN with s inserted to create a pronunciation link with explain]
mansplainingnoun

I’m not your typical cliché female, that’s for sure. I don’t particularly feel the need to get married or the urge to have a crowd of babies, I rarely wear makeup, I’m a qualified chemical engineer, I brew and consume beer, I have a full sleeve sized tattoo of a dragon on my left arm and I ride a motorbike… however it’s not so uncommon these days to see women breaking away from the old traditional roles.

Source:  www.methodshop.com

Source: www.methodshop.com

It was International Women’s Day earlier this month and this day always reminds me to stop and reflect on the women I know in my life. My conclusion this year is how lucky I am and always have been to be surrounded by intelligent, strong, independent women who are all basically smashing it in their respective fields and doing amazing things for the local and wider world communities. Yet somehow almost all of these beautiful friends of mine have a story to tell about being harassed or mistreated either in the workplace, at home or in public. So in honour of International Women’s Day, I’m going to share one of my many stories about being harassed in the workplace because of my gender…

That fluoro orange really brings out the colour of my eyes!

That fluoro orange really brings out the colour of my eyes!

As a chemical engineer specialising in process engineering, it’s common to be one of very few women, if not the only woman in the office. This was the case at one of my first engineering jobs. The rumour had spread throughout the entire woman-poor town that a new red head was working in one of the plants and sure enough, all sorts of men were making excuses to turn up at my office and ogle like I was a circus freak show. I can’t blame them because I looked pretty damn good in my 3 sizes too big fluorescent orange high vis work shirt and matching yellow hard hat but that’s not the point of the story. One guy even expressed his delighted surprise that I wasn't "Fat like a cow because Annabel is a cow's name". Yes, I'm serious. A few months later once the “new girl” excitement faded, I came to work and my office door was open as the cleaners had been in early. I sat down and found a cartoon drawing of a bald man with a member larger than his body sticking grotesquely out of his pants with the words “I may be bald, but at least I’ve got a BIG d**k”. I felt my cheeks burning – out of anger and the embarrassment of thinking I had earned respect in the workplace. I was a good engineer and I respected all of my co-worker whether they were boiler makers, metallurgists or operators. Putting my spy skills to good use, I quickly deduced that this was not left by the cleaning lady and was most probably left by someone on the shift team working the night before that happened to be led by a particularly sleazy bald man with a bad sense of humour. My boss apologised that this had happened and said he “look into it…” The Human Resources Department gave me this gem of advice: “You have to make a decision; you can either play along and everyone will like you, or you can make a fuss and be the office bitch”. After the second and third male appendages appeared on my desk, I took matter into my own hands and confronted the culprit in question. He denied it, however coincidentally the groin mail stopped arriving along with the usual sleazy remarks and jokes.   

Ever felt like the latest freak side show in a new workplace?  (Source: www.flickr.com )

Ever felt like the latest freak side show in a new workplace? (Source: www.flickr.com)

This story usually draws a laugh out of people when I tell this story, albeit a shocked and sympathetic one and I do put a humorous spin on it, but realistically it’s just not good behaviour in the workplace, right? But it is one of many stories that I can share to highlight just how this ridiculous type of behaviour is still occurring these days and it’s accepted as part of the culture in so many workplaces and in male dominated industries. So, I’d like to extend a big thank you to all those phallic artists and mansplainers who gave me the material for writing this blog and thank you even more so to the amazing men and women I know who offer support and respect. Fortunately, in the brewing industry I’ve met mostly awesome legends so far and look forward to meeting many more!

Happy belated International Women’s Day!

Cheers,

Annabe

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What is beer...? Part 3: Bier, Cerveza, Öl, Øl & Bīru etc...

Now that we’re clear on what defines a beer in Australia, what about the rest of the beer producing world?

Francois Jaques: Peasants Enjoying Beer at Pub Fribourg (Switz. 1923)

Francois Jaques: Peasants Enjoying Beer at Pub Fribourg (Switz. 1923)

I’ll start with the obvious – Germany, in particular Bavaria and that old ‘biblicalesque’ German purity law; Thy Beer shalt not contain anything other ingredient than water, malt and hops… and a little bit of luck that microscopic wild yeasts were all around at the time to actually produce alcohol! Whilst I do like the general message of this law – that is, don’t use low grade artificial nasties to make a consumable product and then always follow natural processes as much as possible – I would have to say overall that such a law is rubbish, or Gschmarry! as my Frankish Nürnberger friends would say. I for one have drunk many a delicious beer that contained an adjunct (so ein schmütziges Wort!) such as… hmmm… wheat (did somebody say Weihenstephan or Erdinger or Schneideweisse…), rice and even licorice.

If you look at the beers on other continents, you’ll notice that they predominantly use ingredients that are readily available to their local area. Japanese beers contain rice more often than not, African beers are primarily made using local sorghum and South American breweries love to brew with maize. And to be honest, using local ingredients is far more respectable than following an ancient rule in my opinion. Having said that, barley and all the good noble hops are basically native to Western Europe so it’s easy to follow the purity law if you’re brewing in Germany. I follow the same reasoning with respect to water – I won’t adjust Melbourne water chemistry to perfectly match Burton on Trent just because I want to brew a traditional English pale ale – why not use what you have without adding unnecessary additives if it won’t negatively impact flavour? Salty gose is an example of a beer that was invented as a consequence of the water that was available in Leipzig back in the day.

Sorghum plant.  Source:   luirig.altervista.org

Sorghum plant. Source: luirig.altervista.org

And I can’t go on without mentioning Belgium. I absolutely love most Belgian beers, they are simply beautifully crafted beverages. Using candy sugar or spices and herbs can result a really unique and refreshing beer. Clearly, the laws of a beer in Belgium are looser than those down the road in Deutschland and even further down the road (or ocean…) in Australia. Unlike the Australia beer laws, it is allowed in Belgium to add artificial sweeteners to beer, which I’m not a great fan of, but each to their own. Of course there are also natural additives like caragennan or use of copper finings during processing to improve beer quality and wood chips and barrels to add unique flavour profiles.

Source:   www.flickr.com

In Sweden, where alcohol is considered to be a serious problem to society, particularly in the northern parts of the country where darkness befalls the inhabitants for most of winter, and so the choice of availability and style is highly regulated by the Swedish government. When I was living in Luleå, I was introduced to “Systembolaget” the government run bottle shop… the ONLY bottleshop chain in Sweden. Systembolaget was only open during very specific office hours Monday to Friday, a few hours on Saturday and closed on Sundays so you had to be organised if you wanted to drink anything at home over the weekend. In Luleå we had the luxury of browsing in the shop and choosing our own products… you may laugh but in other cities, you were given a catalogue to choose from and somebody went to get your order from out the back… a bit like checking out a book at the State Library of Victoria. Everybody had their ID checked, even 90 year old pensioners. All of the Swedes I knew would drive to the border of Finland to a town famous for a large IKEA store and buy a car load of alcohol once a month to bring home because “alcohol here is too expensive!” I wasn’t so concerned as the Belgian beers were still three or four dollars cheaper than in Australia!

Source:   fi.wikipedia.org

In America, beer taxes do not increase as the alcohol content increases, making it an easy decision for a small microbrewer to make an Imperial Stout or a Strong Ale bordering on 15% ABV. And then there’s that question – what is CRAFT beer? Well we can certainly state what is a craft brewery according to the Brewer’s Association of America:

In America, according to the Brewers Association (https://www.brewersassociation.org), a craft brewery is defined as "small, independent and traditional", where "small" is expressed to be "annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less" and "independent" means at least 75% of the brewery is owned/managed by a craft brewer, and "traditional" constitutes that the beer’s volume contains at least 50% "traditional or innovative" ingredients… whilst ‘traditional’ and ‘innovative’ may not be mutually exclusive, they do seem to be antonymous to one another but maybe that’s just me… 6 million barrels seems like a lot of beer to me, but then again the amount of beer spilled down the drain on the packaging line at a big commercial brewery is more than I brew in a year!

No use crying over spilt beer... l Source:   www.flickr.com

No use crying over spilt beer... lSource: www.flickr.com

At the end of the day, despite the obvious science behind the brewing process, the head brewer is like an artist, creating their own unique work of art using a wide variety colours in their pallet (or flavours in their palate… see what I did there?? Ha!). You can be an excellent technical brewer by understanding the science behind the catalysis of enzymes and flocculation patterns of different yeasts, but to produce a truly beautiful, unique and memorable beer, you must have a certain level of creativity and natural flair for recipe development. Any beer can be measured in metric terms, but a great beer is loved and remembered by you because it stands out from the rest in your palate’s opinion. Deliciousness is in the taste buds of the drinker!

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What is beer - Part Two: The Definition of Beer

So we all know what we think is a good beer in our own humble opinions, or what we consider to be craft beer vs “normal” beer… but would our favourite homebrew be officially considered a beer if we were to present it to the ATO? What is the common factor relating all the very different styles and brands of beer to one another as beer itself?

Source: www.youtube.com

Source: www.youtube.com

According to the Australian Taxation Office website, a brewed beverage is defined as beer if it meets a set of requirements defined in the Schedule to the Excise Tariff Act. These standard criteria are:

So in summary, a beer must be fermented from liquid wort (I myself have never heard of someone fermenting a drink from a solid base…), of which the sugars were predominantly extracted from a malted cereal based starch source, is no bitterer than 4 IBU, is not fortified beyond 0.5% of the total ABV (so a desperado or a jäger bomb are not technically classified as beers) of at least 1.15%, contains less than 4%w/w of simple sweet sugars and is not sweetened with the likes of aspartame (thank goodness, although I am quite certain that I have tasted something suspiciously artificial in more than a few beers that I have tasted before).

Source: en.wikipedia.com

Source: en.wikipedia.com

It does read a little like an excerpt from what would be the brewing version in the ‘… for Dummies’ series of books, however when it comes to things like alcoholic beverages it is important to have some specific guidelines. Imagine if “beers” started popping up on the market with less than 4 IBU? 4 IBU as the lower limit is pushing it as it is - I once drank a 4 IBU beer brewed by a group of food tech students who didn’t like to drink beer and did it just to piss of the brewing teacher I think… it tasted like fizzy glass of water with a syrupy mouthfeel. Or if there were no guidelines, I’m sure many spirit companies would try and call their RTDs beer to get a lower taxation rate… who wouldn’t? Or someone would market a sickly sweet fizzy soda drink as beer and then we’d all be totally confused.

Source: en.wikipedia.com

Source: en.wikipedia.com

Beyond the Australian legal definition of beer is the tax system on different volumes of beer in kegs and bottles that seems to tickle the brain of even the smartest mathematician. I’m not going to tackle it in mind-numbing detail here but it’s interesting to note that a smaller keg is subject to a higher tax rate than a larger 50L one. Why it is cheaper to make more beer is beyond me, and consequently brewery workers are breaking their backs to move 65kg of beer in one shot because they can’t afford to make it in smaller and lighter packaging. I’m sure there’d certainly be a reduction in Work Cover claims and back problems in the brewing industry if this were amended, not to mention the beer in the bars being fresher due to faster emptying of the beer carrying vessel… although I still couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor lady representing the ATO at a brewing conference I attended who was attacked with a barrage of complaints from people with back pain and neck pain that had clearly affected their clarity of judgement to distinguish between an administrative employee and the actual government that made the rules.

Source:   vector.me

Source: vector.me

And of course, the higher the alcohol content relative to total volume, the more tax you pay... in Australia at least. The reason I mention this taxation law is because it is quite different to some other countries such as the United States of America… but you’ll have to stay tuned for the next instalment of What is Beer? when I look at beer in other parts of the world.

Cheers!

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What is beer...? Part One: The Good, the Bad & the Hoppy

So, what is beer?

This is a question that I often ponder… not just craft beer, but beer in general. There are so many different styles being brewed all over the world and more and more craft breweries are popping up that are adding their own twists to traditional styles, merging two or more styles together or reinventing them completely.

Source: www.pixabay.com

Source: www.pixabay.com

The question is not “what is a good beer?” - I would say that a good beer is one without flavour faults a beer judge may argue that a good beer fits into the strict criteria of its given style. A well trained beer taster should be able to determine without bias if a beer is free from off-flavours and well made, regardless of whether or not they like the style.

Source: www.flickr.com

Source: www.flickr.com

Whilst studying at university, I worked in a wine shop and although I’m personally not a big fan of fruity, grassy sauvignon blancs, I trained my palate to determine distinct flavours and faults and so I was able to recommend a good sauvignon blanc to the customer although I wouldn’t necessarily choose that wine… I didn’t enjoy it myself, but it was undoubtedly a fundamentally well-made wine.

Source: www.matchingfoodandwine.com

Source: www.matchingfoodandwine.com

The question is also not “what is a popular beer?” - That is ultimately decided upon by the consumer and that is the beauty of beer – from hefeweizens to IPAs and saisons – everyone has their favourite styles and brands particular to their individual palate. A great beer is never going to become popular if nobody knows about it or tries it and similarly, an average beer can become very popular if marketed and branded effectively.

Source: awakenings2012.blogspot.com

Source: awakenings2012.blogspot.com

A good example is a wheat beer. Some people are sensitive to the phenol flavours and aromas produced by a typical wheat beer yeast. So whilst I absolutely love the spicy, clove and banana fragrance and taste of a hefeweizen, the person next to me might be overwhelmed with the smell of medicinal “old bandaid”… but that doesn’t make it a bad beer, right? It just means that some people don’t like that flavour profile.

Source: www.koreanbarista.com

Source: www.koreanbarista.com

My partner’s palate is very sensitive to hop resin and high IBUs and he won’t drink anything over 30 IBU. He finds that really heavily hopped IPAs coat his mouth with a thick and unpleasant flavour, but that doesn’t mean all double and triple IPAs are bad or poorly made beers, it just means he prefers something different when we’re out at the pub. Just like Bob doesn’t like the texture of avocadoes or Mary doesn’t like blue cheese… you wouldn’t say that all avocadoes and blue cheese are bad!

Source: de.academic.ru

Source: de.academic.ru

With all of the social media sites at our fingertips these days, everybody is a critic. I find it really interesting to read all of the different reviews of food and drinks on internet forums and Facebook groups – it’s so great that we can communicate and share our experiences with one another simply with the click of a button, however it is always interesting to see how quickly defamatory remarks are posted about something without a second thought or some research simply because someone didn’t like it!

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Source: en.wikipedia.org

But enough ranting and raving on about what I think! To truly answer the question “what is beer?” a good place to start is the ATO definition of a beer…stay tuned for Part 2: “The definition of beer in Australia” to be posted same time, same place next week.

Cheers!

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Cheers to your good health!

Last year I had the pleasure of talking to a group of young entrepreneurs at the Henley Club in Melbourne and one of the questions asked afterwards was “Why don’t you have a big beer gut?” At the time, I laughed it off and made a few jokes about having a lucky metabolism, but it’s something that stuck in my mind ever since… I’ve always been a strong believer that it’s not the beer that packs on the weight – it’s lethargy combined with too much beer and 3 burgers and chips on the way home from a big night that give people the so-called (and I think mis-named) “beer belly”… I have friends who drink far more beer than I do and yet they are far fitter and slimmer than I am, so I started doing some research to find out just how healthy or unhealthy beer is for you.

Source: Henley Club Melbourne (c)

Source: Henley Club Melbourne (c)

All good things in moderation. That’s why the experts say French women don’t get fat – they eat a little bit of everything. It’s also what my mother and her mother before her used to say. Enjoy the good things in life; just don’t enjoy them too much. Make the right choices… etc. etc. – we’ve all heard it before I’m sure. I remember reading a trashy magazine in my teens where a particularly skinny celebrity said she’s thin because she eats a couple of potatoes instead of a piece of cheese. According to calorieking.com.au, a couple of average potatoes (steamed) equates to around 879kJ. Calorie king also says a 50g piece of typical cheddar cheese is about the same. Obviously the potatoes will keep you fuller for longer, right? (Although personally I would always go for a wedge of triple cream brie over a boiled potato any day; I understand the concept of low GI food and moderation but I’m not crazy!)

Photo taken by H.Laas at Seville Hill Winery, Yarra Valley

Photo taken by H.Laas at Seville Hill Winery, Yarra Valley

A witbier typically has around 600kJ (Source: MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter). That’s about 2 whole small avocadoes and you wouldn’t eat 10 small avocadoes on a Friday evening as well as your dinner without planning at least a light jog or a bike ride on the weekend, right? I mean, avocado is named one of the “healthy fat” foods but only if you eat it in moderation. The calories in a witbier is also the same as a full cream milk, medium sized cappuccino and we Melbournians don’t think twice when we drink a couple of coffees every day, so why cut back beer because we’re “watching our weight”? It’s more filling so you’re less likely to drink litres and litres, but you can’t say that about wine or a G&T, which incidentally has the same kJ or more than a standard 5% beer, according to both MyFitnessPal and Calorie King.

But what about other health benefits?

Source: Robert L Schram (c)

Source: Robert L Schram (c)

Eric Warner, author of “German Wheat Beer” (Brewers Publications 1992), lists the top 11 reasons why Weissbier drinkers like this style. Many of these include health benefits and I’ll share some of the wittiest ones (no pun intended…):

#11     “Earlier I always had problems with my stomach and digestion in the clinic I was advised to begin carefully with Weissbier after my gall operation. For several years now Weissbier has been my elixir of life”

#6     “If we drink 2 pints of Export in the morning, we’re tired; with Weissbier in the same quantity this isn’t so.”

#5     “When I was 15 I had a lot of zits. Our doctor prescribed me pills, and every evening I was supposed to drink a pint of Weissbier… Within a few weeks the zits had disappeared. That came from the nicotinic acid in the beer yeast, maintained the doctor.”

#3     “Recently, a women’s magazine wrote that Weissbier yeast is even supposed to help with haemorrhoids”

#2     “The nicest thing about Weissbier are the burps, which also bring the bad air out of the stomach”

I’m certainly not a medical professional nor can I confirm or deny these benefits, but as a devout Weissbier drinker, I have never suffered from any of the aforementioned ailments and I have certainly enjoyed a “Weiss-burp” or two in my lifetime…

In addition, Warner discusses the benefits of Weissbier for the skin. Yeast is chock full of protein compounds, vitamins and minerals, however he does warn that you that doctors say one must not consume more than 7 litres a day as this could jeopardise the health due to an overdose of nucleic acid, known to lead to gout (yeah, that’s also the best reason I can think of for not drinking too much!!). I don’t know about you readers, but I’d much rather follow the German doctor’s orders take one Hefeweizen a day rather than a daily multivitamin pill :-)

I say forget about beer calories and get moving-

Lofoten Islands, Norway 2008

Lofoten Islands, Norway 2008

- it doesn’t have to be a strenuous hike in the Norwegian fjord lands…

… you could even combine beer, socialising and exercise with a low key cricket match!

"The Big Bashes" 2015 brewers vs The Local Taphouse cricket match for CBR

"The Big Bashes" 2015 brewers vs The Local Taphouse cricket match for CBR

My point is that you don’t see many brewery workers around that are overweight due to beer drinking as they’re on their feet all day carrying hops, lifting grain bags and filling kegs. And next time you feel like a beer, why not grab an unfiltered wheat beer and tell your partner/friends/colleagues that you’re simply undertaking your daily beauty routine?… just don’t overindulge and have more than 7 litres ;-)

(Note: this is a beer pyramid made by 4 people - ie. less than 2 beers each - Always drink in moderation!)

Prost!

We’re off to create and calculate some new beers for 2016…

Annabel & Henry

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2 Comments

What's in your beer?

word cloud.png

I drank a dessert stout last night and I tasted something really unusual on my palate that I hadn't come across before... it wasn't a fault or unpleasant, almost a vanilla-ish, milky flavour and of course I wanted to know what had gone into the beer because it certainly wasn't from any kind of malt, hop or yeast I've heard of. So I turned the bottle reading the label and... nothing. Not only did this beer not state any of the ingredients, it also didn't say where it was brewed. Just the name, alcohol content and a brief description of the beer...

Our Vienna lager label states the address where the beer was brewed

Our Vienna lager label states the address where the beer was brewed

And I started to think, would I buy and eat a packaged food item from the shop if there were no ingredients on the label? I'm one of those people who reads everything on the label before buying so probably not. Who knows what additives might be in there? Do I really want to eat twice my daily intake requirement of salt in one mouthful? Was my jar of sundried tomatoes grown locally or was it grown in Spain, processed in Norway, packaged in India before being sent back over to Australia... and that tomato has already travelled across the world more than I have before I eat it!

One of my favourite wines has a very informative label with the address, additives and even the ratio of different wine grape varieties!

One of my favourite wines has a very informative label with the address, additives and even the ratio of different wine grape varieties!

The stout ended up down the sink because the taste was just too weird for me, especially not knowing what was added to give that flavour. We opened a bottle of red wine to have with dinner instead... my partner complained after half of his glass that his mouth felt tingly and he was starting to feel a bit sick. We looked at the label and it told us that some preservatives were added... not the amount but at least it told us and we could look out for that in the future.

Isinglass is commonly used for clarifying cask ales or wine

Isinglass is commonly used for clarifying cask ales or wine

In the wine industry isinglass is widely used to clarify the wine. Isinglass comes from the swim bladder of fish, particularly sturgeon fish and is also used to settle out sediment in some real cask ales. Labelling requirements changed over the years so that a winery must state on the label if the product contains any derivatives of seafood or egg because many people are highly allergic to these food items. To get around this, some wineries have looked into using a similar product to isinglass from the bladders of animals such as pigs or cows. It's not quite as effective but it doesn't have to go onto the label under current labelling laws!

Fancy some bacon in your saison?!

Fancy some bacon in your saison?!

Of course everyone was talking about the Mountain Goat takeover by Asahi recently. No one really noticed that they had already been brewing some of their beer at Asahi, but now suddenly a handful of venues won't stock it and a few people won't drink it... but it still tastes great (so far...) and let's not forget that Mountain Goat did amazing things for helping the Australian craft beer industry move forward in Australia, but does the average beer drinker even care? Is it any different to buying anything from a bag of chips to a bottle of orange juice off the shelf of a major chain supermarket? Most of those products are all owned by the same global companies. There's other breweries that have been "blacklisted" by serious beer drinkers for secretly brewing at other bigger venues and not disclosing it, which is a sneaky tactic - if you have something to hide then you're probably not doing the right thing. 

So my question to you is this: Do you actually care what's in your beer or where it was made?

Our witbier label states where it is brewed and also mentions any "unusual" ingredients apart from hops, malt or yeast in the description

Our witbier label states where it is brewed and also mentions any "unusual" ingredients apart from hops, malt or yeast in the description

I do, but maybe that's just because I make beer myself and have seen some pretty weird things done to beer in the industry to make a batch of beer look or taste a certain way that I never would have expected to see. I don't add anything unnatural to my beer and we are completely transparent when it comes to where we brew and what we brew - it's all on the label. I believe that people have the choice to know what they are drinking and can make their own educated decisions based on that. I personally prefer to support smaller, local and natural products and companies but everyone is entitled to their own choice. 

What do you think?

Cheers!

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