Trendy Beers: A Bad Business Decision?

Boston Beer Company’s slumping sales have been a topic of conversation in the craft beer community. Author Jeff Alworth blames the company’s propensity to chase trends. Alworth explains:

Boston Beer has made a series of decisions that may have resulted in short-term profits–spinning off alcoholic apple juice, tea, and seltzer divisions–but they enhanced the sense that this was a big company as bland and personality-free as Kellogg’s or Proctor and Gamble. No one could ever fault Sam Adams for failing to release new beers, but the ever-multiplying new lines of random beer types (IPAs, barrel-aged beers, nitro cans) has created a brewery with no there there.

Trend-chasing isn’t limited to Boston Beer. Breweries across the country are scrambling to bring out their versions of grapefruit IPAs, golden ales, and New England IPAs. If the past is any indication—remember the wheat beers of the 1990s?—today’s fad beers stay trendy very long.

According to Alworth, breweries that specialize in trendy beers fail to establish a connection with their customers. That connection is more important with beer than with other consumer products. He cites four examples—Sierra Nevada, Hill Farmstead, Schlenkerla, and Genesee—each of which has a distinct “personality”. Those personalities are built in collaboration with their drinkers, who expect the beer will embody that personality.

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The Friday Mash (Emerald City Edition)

Fifty-five years ago today, the Century 21 Exhibition aka the Seattle World’s Fair opened. It was the first World’s Fair in America since World War II. Surviving structures from the fair include The Space Needle, the Seattle Monrail, and Seattle Center.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in Boston, where Daradee Murphy unveiled a novel strategy for tackling the Boston Marathon’s infamous “Heartbreak Hill”: beer instead of water as her hydration drink of choice.

Once a hot trend, black IPA lost its mojo last year. However, Bryan Roth of All About Beer magazine says that the style is down but not out: several breweries are rolling out new versions.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company has announced the dates and cities for Beer Camp on Tour 2017. This year Beer Camp collaborative series will feature six domestic and six overseas craft breweries.

Five years ago, a startling archaeological discovery in modern-day Turkey provided evidence that it was beer, not agriculture, that led human beings to abandon their hunter-gatherer ways and begin living in communities.

Vijay Mallya, India’s “King of Good Times”, is under arrest in England. Mallya, who inherited United Breweries of Kingfisher beer fame, faces fraud and money-laundering charges in his home country.

The former head of a global recruitment firm says it’s time to get rid of the “beer test” for new hires: it leads to poor hiring decisions, discriminates against non-drinkers, and makes the workplace less diverse.

Finally, women’s advocacy group FemCollective is sponsoring an all-female beer festival in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. FemAle will highlight female beer experts and brewers from across the country, and men as well as women are welcome to attend.

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Jim Koch Sounds the Alarm

Boston Beer Company jump-started America’s craft beer movement and made its founder, Jim Koch, a billionaire. But in a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Koch warns craft’s run might be coming to an end.

Koch calls industry consolidation the number-one culprit. In 2008, federal antitrust regulators not only approved the MillerCoors joint venture, but they also gave the green light to InBev’s acquisition of Anheuser-Busch. That left two brewing giants in control of 90 percent of America’s domestic beer protection. Making matters worse, the federal government allowed the big brewers to buy craft breweries—and then fail to disclose that they were the new owners.

Those mega-mergers resulted in higher beer prices and pink slips for American workers, as well as consolidation among distributors. Today, in most markets, more than 90 percent of all beer is controlled by distributors who depend on either A-B InBev or MillerCoors for most of their volume. Those distributors have considerable power regarding promotion, shelf space, and marketing support for the brands they handle—and they have an incentive to give preferential treatment to craft brands the big brewers now own.

According to Koch, the key to saving American craft beer is stricter antitrust enforcement. He names China and South Africa as countries whose regulators imposed strict conditions on big brewery mergers to protect their domestic economies.

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The Friday Mash (“Long Live the King” Edition)

On this day in 1603, James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England and Ireland upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I. The kingdoms of Scotland and England remained sovereign states, with their own parliaments, but both were ruled by James in personal union.

And now….The Mash!

We begin in Vancouver where last week, the Railtown Pub advertised its St. Patrick’s Day celebration with a Guinness glass filled to the brim and literally losing its head. That caught the attention of the Irish Independent newspaper, which called the pour “sacrilegious”.

Now that the Chicago White Sox’s partnership with MillerCoors has expired, the ballclub has formed a new partnership with Constellation Brands, which will open “Casa Modelo” at the ballpark.

While on spring break in The Bahamas, a frat boy used the teeth of a beached shark to puncture a beer can so he could “shotgun” it. His video of the stunt prompted a swift—and angry—backlash on social media.

Portland, Oregon, is about to get a beer bar devoted to session beers. Its name, naturally enough, is Sessionable. The bar will pour 30 beers, all with ABVs ranging from 2.5 to 5 percent.

Neil Patrick Harris, who the spokesperson for Heineken beer, says that he has a Heineken Light tap in his bar at home. He adds that unlimited beer at home “is as awesome as it sounds”.

According to a recent survey, one out of four beer drinkers said they would switch to marijuana if it became legal in their state. If they do switch, brewers will suffer $2 billion per year in lost sales.

Finally, MLive.com asked eight brewery owners in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area whether the craft beer industry is in a bubble. They don’t think so, but some admit that the market is getting tougher for new entries.

The Friday Mash (“Sell High” Edition)

On this day in 2000, the Nasdaq Composite stock market index peaked at 5132.52, thanks to investors who bid up dot.com shares to astronomically high prices. Those who didn’t take profits got a nasty surprise: the Nasdaq fell by more than 50 percent by year’s end.

And now….The Mash!

Fittingly, we begin on Wall Street, where big breweries’ stocks haven’t been doing well. According to SeekingAlpha.com, the only company whose shares are trading near their 52-week high is Kirin Holdings Company.

Congress is considering a bill that would cut taxes for small brewers. The bill’s supporters contend that lower taxes would enable breweries to expand production, add jobs, and attract more visitors.

Session IPA is popular, but opinions vary as to its definition. Draft magazine has published a scale which shows how much these IPAs vary in alcoholic strength and, especially, perceived bitterness.

A few years ago, Emily Hengstebeck and her friends partied together at beer festivals. Now employed by a brewery, she found herself on the other side of the table. She describes what it’s like.

More than 7,000 CraftBeer.com readers filled out a survey asking them what was their state’s favorite beer bar, and why they liked it. Without further ado, here are the winners in each state.

It’s still “Miller Time” in Chicago. According to BevSpot, Miller has a more than 8-percent market share in the Windy City, more than twice the brand’s market share nationwide.

Finally, a Virginia brewery will release a beer honoring Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner, at a birthday celebration this month. The horse was nicknamed “Big Red”; the beer is an imperial red India pale ale.

How Many of These Beers Have You Enjoyed?

Last month, Food & Wine magazine asked 21 members of the craft beer community to rank the most important craft beers of all time. Josh Noel of the Chicago Tribune decided to follow up with his own top 25.

What makes a beer important? Noel elaborates:

To me, the definition is simple: It’s one that either changed consumer tastes or how breweries approach making beer. Some of the beers below have influenced both drinkers and brewers. Others hew more in one direction than the other. Others find their power in the brand or the package even more than the beer.

Noel agrees with much of the Food & Wine list, but also take several exceptions. You might, too.

Don’t Smoke ‘Em, Even If You’ve Got ‘Em

Last summer, Draft magazine published its complete guide to “Festiquette”: 30 rules for making your beer festival experience, and everyone else’s, better. The rules include “Eat breakfast”, “Don’t pee on random surfaces”, “Don’t break up”, and—people have actually tried this—“Don’t lie and say you own Draft magazine to get into VIP”.

After a bad experience at this year’s Arizona Strong Beer Festival, Draft has added Rule 31: “Leave the cigars at home”. The magazine’s staff contends that smoking cigars is not only a tacky exercise in conspicuous consumption, but it also ruins the purpose of a festival—namely, tasting and enjoying beer—for others. As they put it, “We liken people who light up at beer festivals to people who microwave fish at work: Sure, you’re allowed to do it, but by doing it, you’re creating discomfort for the people around you.”

The Friday Mash (Gold Record Edition)

Seventy-five years ago, the first-ever gold record was presented to Glenn Miller for “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. The song was originally featured in the film Sun Valley Serenade (1941).

And now….The Mash!

We begin in Cincinnati, where Urban Artifact is brewing a beer made with yeasts from the historic Union Terminal, which is now a museum complex. The brewery added sour cherries to add tart fruitiness to the beer, a 7% ABV bock.

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, Brewery Ommegang has you covered. It will release three beers whose labels bear the sigils of the Houses of Lannister, Stark, and Targaryen.

Alex P. Davis, who runs the Library Alehouse in Santa Monica, doesn’t think beer lovers should stand in line to taste rare beers such as Pliny the Elder IPA because so many world-class beers are available without the wait.

Despite being the capital of one of Mexico’s poorest states, Oaxaca City has become destination of hipster tourists—many of from other Mexican states. And it’s developed a lively craft beer culture.

TheMotleyFool.com explains how Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors are exploiting the three-tier system to keep craft products out of bars and stores. Rather than fight A-B, Craft Brew Alliance entered into in a production and distribution deal with the brewing giant.

Rochester, New York, is the nation’s unofficial Tater Tots capital. Local journalist Will Cleveland has a few pointers on pairing beer with the tots—and yes, any beer from the Genesee family is a good choice.

Finally, The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has appointed Theresa McCulla as historian to oversee its American Brewing History Initiative. McCulla, who will receive a Ph.D in American Studies from Harvard, also holds a culinary arts diploma.

Some Politics With Your Beer?

Portland, Oregon-based Jeff Alworth started his blogging career on a site devoted to ending Republican Party dominance in his state. However, Alworth realized that people needed a respite from the ugly, polarized politics of our time, so he started blogging about beer. As he puts it, “politics divide, beer unites.”

With the election of Donald Trump as president, Alworth fears that political divisions will find their way into beer bars and breweries will feel compelled to take sides. He warns that beer and politics have become entwined in the past. For example, the Sons of Liberty planned the Boston Tea Party in a tavern, and Adolf Hitler led an unsuccessful revolt from a Munich beer hall.

As for present-day America, Alworth writes:

I don’t know where we’re headed. I really don’t want to sacrifice the world of beer and the physical spaces of pubs as refuges of camaraderie and community. But we have entered a moment when it seems like everything has political valence. It is certainly conceivable that we’ll have to take sides as beery folk. I’d love this to be my last post on politics on this site for the next four years—and still hope it will be. We’ll see.

The Friday Mash (Georgia Bulldogs Edition)

On this day in 1785, the University of Georgia opened its doors. UGA is the first state-chartered university in the United States, and is the birthplace of the American system of public higher education.

And now…The Mash!

We begin in Massachusetts, where the state’s top liquor regulator is “ready to put everything on the table” in an effort to modernize the liquor code. That includes lifting Draconian limits on the number of licenses a community can issue.

Craft beer—sort of—is on the shelves at Wal-Mart. Its brand name is Trouble, it’s apparently contract-brewed by Genesee Brewing, and it got panned by a panel of Washington Post staffers.

Jake Tuck of Eater magazine explains “beer poptimism”: a growing appreciation of beers that are “unassailably popular, widely accessible, and highly quaffable”. Yes, that means macro brews.

In Bishkek, the capital of Krygystan, two women have opened a craft brewery called Save the Ales. Much of the beer sold in that country consists of bland imports and watery local products.

A startup called Colorado Craft Distributors aims to serve “small but special” breweries looking to get their beer into liquor stores, bars, and restaurants along the state’s Front Range.

Brooklyn Brewery has made a beer using Saccharomyces carlsbergensis, the lager yeast isolated in 1883 by Emil Christian Hansen, a researcher at the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen.

Finally, actor Matt Damon, the co-founder of Water.org, has joined forces with the brewer of Stella Artois beer to bring clean water to people in developing countries. Every pint of Stella sold in Britain guarantees someone a month’s supply of water.

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