Friday, April 18, 2014

Maybe People Like it?

I wasn't planning on continuing down the road of the economic relationship of domestic versus import versus craft beer. But, in a totally unintended coincidence, I came across an article on Yahoo! Finance today about America's number one import beer—Corona Extra.

Courtesy of Corona's Facebook page
The gist of the article, written by Kyle Stock, is that Corona is bad, yet has managed to climb into the number one spot for imports, and the number 5 spot for best selling beers in the U.S. market overall. Stock asserts that its Constellation Brand's (Corona's former U.S. importer and as-of-last-year, the owners) marketing strategy that is the impetus for the brand's success. Essentially, he says, that it's Cororna's laid-back, beach-vibe that does the selling—not the beer's flavor. Stock, cites Rate Beer and Beer Advocate reviewers and rankings in his article, noting that BA gives Corona an "awful" rating of 55 out of 100, and that it doesn't even break 2 out of a possible 10 on Rate Beer.

I have to tell you, I don't buy that. First off, I think we can all agree that those who do the ratings on those sites might be a bit biased against mass-produced light lagers in the first place. Secondly, I'm not sure how hard Corona is really being pushed by Constellation. Sure, I see the occasional Corona ad, with a little more push around Cinco de Mayo, but no more than I see advertising for big craft, like Sam Adams.

Here's the thing, I actually like Corona. Add a lime wedge and you've got a pretty great barbecue and picnic beer. I've always thought Corona was a nice alternative to the corny-sweet American made macros. There's been a thousand time that I've been to a party or watching the game at someones house and they said "Oh, man, your a craft beer drinker, right? All I have is Corona, is that cool.?"

Of course it's cool.

So, maybe—and I'd imaging to the chagrin of all those BA reviewers—people drink Corona, because they just like it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The State of American Craft Beer

I found this article interesting.

Written for The Atlantic.com, the article's author, John Tierney considers the U.S beer industry over the past year and as the piece's subtitle notes, he takes a look at "What's rising, what's fading, and what people are really drinking"

For the beery minded, what Tierney writes isn't much of a revalation—domestically produced macro's have had sales losses; imports have had a slight rise in sales (especially Mexican made beer); and craft beer is on the rise. Tierney specifically mentions the amazing jump Lagunitas had this past year—an 80% plus rise in case sales between 2012 and 2013.

What caught my eye though, was the total sales numbers for the three categories. The top three in each category were: Bud Light in the domestic macro group at $5.94 billion, Corona Extra in the Import category at $1.22 billion, and in the craft category, Samuel Adams at $329 million. But, take a look at the total craft sales—about $1.8—versus just the top two brands in the other categories. There's a $5.36 billion dollar difference between the top two domestic and imported beer labels in the country, and the top 10 best selling craft breweries*.

That's two individual brands versus ten breweries, folks.

So what do I take away from this?  

As usual I'll let my standard sense of skeptism with the craft mantra rear its head. I hear a lot of folks saying that people are demanding locally made and sourced, innovative craft beer. But, is that really the case, or is that what the craft breweries and their fans have led themselves to believe? I have 5.36 billion reasons to think otherwise. Granted the so-called "craft" category has seen growth, but it's one thing to offer a variety of "innovative" beer, but quite another for it to be truly wanted. Add to the mix that micros, nanos and subnanos are opening hand over fist—and yet there is an industry acknowledgement of quality control issues, by some participants. Perhaps, the craft segment's rapid growth is not as healthy as it might seem—or is perpetuated to be.

Here's why I worry. It's one thing to open a small brewery with the intent to stay small—that is to say with no goal to expand. It's quite another thing to use a small brewery brewery as a springboard for larger plans. With expansion comes investment, and with investment comes the demand for return, and in turn the demand for return begets gimmicks and marketing simply to sell beer—and not necessarily good beer. At some point we'll end up having have hundreds of medium-sized craft breweries carrying oodles of debt, and producing marginal beer saddled with gimmicks and ploys, simply to pay down that debt—in a market that doesn't truly demand it.

How sustainable is that? More importantly—are we already there?





*Three of which—Widmer, Kona and RedHook—are partially owned by ABInBev, by the way.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Take Note

Last night I was grilling burgers. The weather has broken (some what) in Albany, and one of my happy place is in front of my Weber cooking various and sundry meat, with a bottle of beer in my hands. Occasionally I read the jibber-jabber on the neck or back label of these bottles—there's not much else you can do in the 4 minutes between burger flips. Usually the tiny, five point type tells me how innovative a brewery is, or how their beer was inspired by pirates or their traditional methods of adding Valentines Day candy to their beer.

The label of the beer in my hand last night took a different approach. At this point, I suppose I should mention what was I was drinking—The Just Beer Project's Anytime IPA, a sessional, and quite quaffable, IPA-like brew. The JBP comes from the minds of Alan Newman and Stacey Steinmeitz (formerly of Magic Hat) now the big cheeses at Boston Beer Company's subsidiary Alchemy & Science, Burlington, Vermont.

So what caught my eye? This:
CONFUSED BY THE STORIES? OVERWHELMED BY THE VARIETY? JUST PLAIN THIRSTY? 
THE JUST BEER PROJECT is a craft-beer company located in Burlington, VT. Our mission is to deliver world-class craft-beer, expertly brewed, without all the complication. You drink it. It tastes great.
That sounds more like something coming from Miller Light or Corona, than a craft brewery, nowadays. So, I read it twice. Let me lay it down for you again, too.
CONFUSED BY THE STORIES? OVERWHELMED BY THE VARIETY?JUST PLAIN THIRSTY? 
THE JUST BEER PROJECT is a craft-beer company located in Burlington, VT. Our mission is to deliver world-class craft-beer, expertly brewed, without all the complication. You drink it. It tastes great.
No orchids from Africa? No essence of unicorn? No attempts to fuse a Belgian Sextuple with an American IPA, then spike it with Captain Crunch Crunch-berries and the sand from the tomb of Nebirau II, Pharaoh of the Sixteenth Dynasty? How can that be? You mean to tell me the plan is just to deliver expertly brewed, world-class beer?

Then what?

You drink it. It tastes great.

Mind. Blown.

Friday, April 4, 2014

PBR Me ASAP

Remember when I wrote, a few weeks ago, about bringing King Gambrinus back to Albany? Well, Milwaukee has trumped me.

According to the Associated Press' Carrie Antlfinger via the Minneapolis Star Tribunes website, a small group of Milwaukeeans have launched, an albeit long shot, campaign to bring back one of the cities iconic breweries—Pabst. 

Milwaukee and beer are indelibly tied to each other in the American collective conscience. SAB Miller's regional headquarters, and Miller's original brewery are located there; the city's Major League Baseball franchise is named the Brewers, and of course how could we forget, that Laverne & Shirley worked at the Schotz Brewery, in a fictionalized version of Milwaukee's Schlitz Brewery, on their namesake television show. 

In any case, as tied to beer as Milwaukee is, over the last 15 years, one of the cities iconic breweries, Pabst Brewing Company, has all but lost it's connection to the city. Pabst has been bought and sold about as much as the U.S. Congress, and has relocated or has been contacted brewed in so many places, I've lost track. It's now now anchored in Los Angeles, California, owned by Dean Metropoulous, who bought it in 2010 for a pittance—$250 million dollars. All that's left of Pabst in Milwaukee is a rotting building. 

So, some citizens of the city have mounted an effort to "Bring Pabst Blue Ribbon Home" Susie Seudleman, an organizer of the effort is quoted in the article.
"When I think about Pabst being anywhere else but Milwaukee, it just doesn't make sense. Milwaukee made this beer what it is. ... It's right on the can.
She also notes that the effort is as much about investing in the city of Milwaukee as it is the novelty of bring back a home town beer. The group is asking for all Milwaukeeans to give as much or as little as they can, in a plan similar to how the citizens of Green Bay, Wisconsin own the NFL franchise, the Green Bay Packers. It will be an uphill battle, though. Potential cost estimates by the Brewers Association, reach as high as $700 million to $1 billion dollars. The BPBRH campaigners, are un-phased. A town-hall-style brainstorming session is planned for April 23. 

Is it going to work? I don't know. That's a lot of semolians.

But I will say this, and not to beat a dead horse, I think an effort to bring a wayward brewery home—a brewery which will could possibly bring jobs, and substantive change to a community—is far more laudable than some of the gimmicks and schemes many craft breweries do in the name of beer.

For all you FBers out there (I heard there are a few of you) check out Milwaukee Should Own Pabst Blue Ribbon, here.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Designing Great Beer...Labels

There was one bright spot in the New York Times Magazine article about the Bjergso brothers. Thankfully it didn't have anything to do with them. Embedded in the article was link to a sidebar—or as the magazine calls it an "Interactive Feature"—in which, graphic designer Milton Glaser takes a critical eye to beer label design. Being a graphic designer, I'll admit to having my worlds collide here.

You might be asking, "Who the hell is Milton Glaser?"

At 84, Glaser's career spans from the era of skinny ties, cigarettes, and the Madison Avenue scene, to Adobe Photoshop and the digital revolution. He has designed some of the world's most recognizable "identities" (that's graphic design talk for logos), including I Love NY, Fed Ex, Target, and of course Brooklyn Brewery. He's most recognized however, for a poster he designed, entitled Dylan, which accompanied Bob Dylan's 1967 Greatest Hits album. More recently, AMC has asked Glaser to design the promotional material for the final season its 1960s, advertising-themed series, Mad Men. I gotta' say, that seems like a perfect match.

In any case, Glaser gives some insight into why some beer labels work—like Left Hand's Nitro Stout—and why some don't (sorry DogFish Head.) If you want a peak into the mind of someone who is really creative—and it sure ain't the bearded, brothers Bjerso—check out what Mr. Glaser has to say.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Celebrity of Beer

Fred McMurray for Blatz.
Now, he was a beer celebrity.
This past Saturday I was lucky enough to get invited to the Craft New York beer fest in Albany, by Ethan Cox, from Community Beerworks. It was fun. I had some great beer, some really fantastic food, and I got the chance to meet some new folks for the first time. In fact, Ethan myself and Matt Whalen from Hamilton New York's Good Nature Brewing had pretty fantastic conversation about farm breweries and the New York Brewer's Association (the organizer of the event) role in helping to move that initiative along. All in all it was a great evening

But I was struck by something I overheard.

A rather well known, local beer blogger was asked by someone what he was doing after the festival to which he responded that he was "just gonna hang out with some of the brewers" at the hotel bar. But why would he want to do that? He just spent three hours sampling beer, with the very same people he was going to sit at the bar with. Granted some of those brewers may have been friends—friends, perhaps he hadn't seen in a while. I suppose that they may have been to busy during the festival to really catch up. Maybe, but maybe not.

Now, I want to make this clear, what I'm about to write is in no way, shape, or form an indictment of this fellow. I don't know him and I don't care one way or the other what he wants to do with his time, but observing from a close distance, he seemed a bit like a groupie—a brewer groupie.

I've starred to notice that brewers are being diety-ized deified. I'm not talking about a generalized noting of the accomplishments of say Fritz Maytag or Peter Celis. I'm not even talking about acknowledging the business prowess of Peter Swinburne or Jim Koch. I mean there is a celebrit-zing of brewers. The New York Times, just yesterday, ran an article about the rivalry between Mikkel Bjergso of Mikkeller and his twin brother Jeppe, the founder of Evil Twin. Apparently these two jut can't get along and we're supposed to care. I'm not sure why we're supposed to care, but we are. Isn't that tabloid fodder? Sam Caligone had, and Martin Dickie and James Watt, from Scotland's Brew Dog, have a TV show for fuck's sake! Brewers went from simply being a folks who make beer, to some kind of beer making gurus. But like Frank Zappa said, what kind of guru are you? More importantly, this whole nonsensical adoration has going to some of their heads—and I'm not talking about beer foam.

The food world has been going through this for a while (actually I like Guy Fieri). But be it beer or food, the focus is being shifted away from the product to the producer. When that happens, guess who suffers?

You and me.

Coincidentally, Alan Richman has an article on GQ.com about how a new breed of—as he terms them—"Egotarian" chefs are more interested in making food for their own enjoyment rather than the customer. I've pilfered the articles intro paragraph for my own beery needs. See if it rings true.
Something has gone wrong in our restaurant kitchens breweries lately. Suddenly, a new breed of chefs brewers seem to have decided that they should be cooking brewing beer not for your pleasure but for their own. In this competitive, male-dominated school of cooking brewing, the dishes beers that customers are served may be highly inventive and intelligent, but as Alan Richman notes, too often they are more self-indulgent than inspired. The result? Restaurants Breweries where the only person who needs to be pleased is never you, just the chef brewer.
What did I tell you? Not that far off, right?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Yeah...So...If You're Not Doing Anything Later...

...Maybe you can stop down at the Albany Institute of History & Art for their Hudson Valley Hops  (click here to buy tickets) event on April 12!

I'll be there. Alan will be there. Dieter will be there. Roger will be there.

Most importantly, beer will be there.