Blog Entries Tagged as beer

Fighting Words

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

 

It’s time to tone down the language a bit. No, I’m not suggesting everyone’s got to keep their daily discourse airplane-friendly by filtering out expletives. I’ve been known to use a colorful metaphor or three from time to time (just ask anyone who works with me). What I’m proposing is that we take the inter-category smack-talk down a notch.

Last month at the National Beer Wholesalers Association’s 75th annual convention in San Diego, the usual hand-wringing over wine and spirits grabbing more and more of beer’s alcohol market share took place, but it seems like the verbiage being used in such discussions has been amped up quite a bit (and I’ve gone to every one of these conventions in the past decade, so I’ve got a pretty good personal history to draw upon). 

It was one of many topics of conversation on the panel of beer executives including Bill Hackett of Crown Imports, Luiz Edmond of Anheuser-Busch, Tom Long of MillerCoors, Dolf van den Brink of Heineken USA and, from the craft realm, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. 

During the course of the panel, I heard terms like “threats” and “adversaries,” being used to describe the wine and spirits categories. Pledges to “kick” wine and spirits’ “rear”—and less euphemistic terms—were hurled around. 

I get it, it’s a very competitive market place and competition is what makes the beverage and any other market great. But what’s being lost in all of the posturing and machismo is that fact that consumers, by and large really don’t care. There are actually very few drinkers of alcohol beverages that only drink from one category. Most are cross drinkers. I myself am a cross drinker. I’ve made no secret of my partisanship toward craft beer, but I do enjoy drinking a good glass of Cabernet, a single malt Scotch or a straight bourbon pretty frequently. I’ve taken personal trips to beer-centric areas like Belgium and Asheville, N.C. But I’ve also spent multiple vacation days in Napa. And I recently figured out how to make a pretty good mint julep (if I do say so myself), which has found a spot on my growing list of go-to drinks. 

The cross-category lines have blurred in distribution as well. Beer distributors increasingly have taken on products beyond their core segment, including wine and spirits. Look at a major wine and spirits distributor like Wirtz, which does some pretty healthy beer volume. 

In my cover story on the craft distilling movement, I talk to Rick Steckler of Click Wholesale, which has made a name for itself distributing beer and wine. With the privatization of spirits sales in the state of Washington, the company saw an opportunity to use its existing distribution infrastructure to excel in the spirits segment as well. 

I hardly think companies like Click or Wirtz are pitting one segment against another with such hostile rhetoric.

The mission of the Beer Institute has been to build “Brand Beer”—as well it should be because that’s within the organization’s purview. However, as an editor of a magazine that serves all drinks categories and as a consumer who drinks a little bit of everything I’m becoming an advocate for something more radical: Brand Beverage.  

The Festive Season

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

 

Since the Great American Beer Festival is going on right about now (and I am happily among the 50,000 strong at the annual Super Bowl of beer in Denver), I’ve been thinking a great deal about the festival experience. And I’m not the only one: If you tuned in last month to our webcast, “Craft Beer’s Climb: Tapping Into Profit,” you will have heard panelists Irene Firmat (Full Sail Brewing Co.) and Dale Katechis (Oskar Blues Brewing Co.) share their own festival memories, both good and bad. 

The consensus seems to be that when brands are determining which festivals to be a part of, steer clear of the ones organized by opportunistic promoters looking for nothing more than to cash in on one of the hottest trends in the beverage business. Stick with the ones that have a proven track record or, if the fest is new to the scene, are run by organizations, individuals or groups that are reputable within the craft beer world (or wine, spirits, etc., if it’s a festival for one of those sectors).

You also can get a good sense of the quality of a festival just by looking at the quality of the attendees. Are they, by and large, aficionados/curious consumers looking to sample new offerings and enhance their beer education in the process or are they fratboy binge drinkers looking to consume as much volume as is humanly possible in the space of a four-hour tasting session? If the answer is yes to the former and no to the latter than it’s a pretty safe bet to align your brands with such an event. 

The events that offer the best experiences for beer drinkers tend to be the ones that sell out quickly and are talked up incessantly across social media. 

Then there are those that, in many ways, transcend even the best of them. It’s one thing to participate in a festival and connect face-to-face with your brand’s biggest fans. It’s an entirely different scenario when your brand IS the festival. That’s what struck me about this year’s edition of Brewery Ommegang’s annual Belgium Comes to Cooperstown, presented this past August on the vast, 140-acre grounds of the Upstate New York farmhouse brewery. It was the first time I had been since 2007 (having been in 2005 and 2006 as well) and the event was bigger than ever. Tickets always sell out in minutes based on reputation alone, and this year was no exception. Craft beer lovers make the trek into the countryside, turning the brewery property into a sprawling tent city for the weekend as they camp on site following the afternoon tasting session. Imagine that the brand profile you’ve created is such that—for a weekend at least—you don’t have to reach out to where consumers are; they come to you. And it’s also a testament to the dynamic of the segment you’re in that you invite 50 or 60 other brewers—what most would call “competition”—to sample their wares alongside your own. There’s a good chance that many of those visiting products might be superior to your own, but that matters little because A.) as the cliché goes (and as I’ve heard repeatedly from craft brewing evangelists) a rising tide lifts all boats and B.) everyone there knows it’s your house and your party. 

Now that’s what I call branding.    

BevStar Awards 2012: We Finally Have Our Winners!

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

After a lengthy judging process involving a record number of entries this year and a self-imposed media blackout until the official winners' issue started arriving this week, we are very pleased to announce the winners of the 2012 Beverage World BevStar Awards. For those just joining us, the BevStars recognize new product innovation across all of the major beverage categories.

We received a particularly robust shower of entries in the Energy & Functional category—so many that we decided to split it into two separate categories this year. It really reflects the level of innovation in those segments. If you recall from our 2012 State of the Industry report, energy drink volume returned to double-digit growth last year, with an increase of more than 17 percent in 2011, according to Beverage Marketing Corporation.

Without further ado, here's the list of this year's winners. For details on all of these brands, read the July 2012 issue of Beverage World. Congratulations to all!

BEST IN SHOW
Ruthless Rye IPA, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

BEER
Gold: Ruthless Rye IPA, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Silver: Deviant Dale's IPA, Oskar Blues Brewing Co.
Bronze: Bronx Pale Ale, The Bronx Brewery

BOTTLED WATER
Gold: MyCause Water, Panacea Beverage Co.
Silver: Elevate Enhanced Fiber Water, 912 Corp.
Bronze: Karma Wellness Water, Karma Kulture LLC

CARBONATED SOFT DRINKS
Gold: Spindrift, Spindrift Soda co.
Silver: Dr Pepper Ten, Dr Pepper Snapple Group
Bronze: HotLips Cranberry Soda, HotLips Soda Co.

ENERGY
Gold: Monster Rehab, Monster Beverage Co.
Silver: Slap Frozen Energy, Brain-Twist
Bronze: Berry Rain, RevHoney

FUNCTIONAL
Gold: Neuro Sun, Neuro Beverage
Silver: Ralph & Charlie's Aloe, Ralph & Charlie's Beverage Co.
Bronze: Modjo Hydrate Elite, Cellutions

READY-TO-DRINK TEA & COFFEE
Gold: Honest (Not Too) Sweet Tea, Honest Tea
Silver: RealBeanz, RealBeanz LLC
Bronze: Tao of Tea, The Tao of Tea

SPIRITS
Gold: Purgatory Vodka, Alaska Distillery
Silver: Apple Pie Moonshine, Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery
Bronze: BuzzBallz, BuzzBallz LLC

WINE
Gold: FlasqWines, JT Wines
Silver: Blanc de Bleu, Premium Vintage Cellars
Bronze: Xavier Flouret La Pilar Malbec, Cognac One LLC

For those brands that entered but didn't take a gold, silver or bronze in any of the categories, don't fret. Competition was particularly stiff this year and the decisions were all very difficult for all of us on the judging panel. And there's always next year. We'll be announcing a call for entries some time in December.
 

Toasts & Spills: NYC Edition

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

 

few years back, I started a semi-regular feature in this space called Toasts & Spills, kind of a thumbs-up, thumbs-down on certain events, people, innovations, etc. around the beverage world. A couple of New York City-related occurrences over the past several weeks have made me realize it’s high time I wrote another one. 

Since I like to end things on a positive note, we’ll work backwards and start with a Spill.

Just by my mentioning New York, you’ve probably already figured out what the Spill is, unless you’ve been having your mail forwarded to Under a Rock, USA. New York Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on soft drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces is yet another attempt to oversimplify the nation’s very complex obesity issue by vilifying one particular product rather than promoting a healthy lifestyle through a balanced, educational approach. Polls have shown that consumers—from New York and far beyond—overwhelmingly oppose such a ban, but that doesn’t mean it still shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Bloomie tends to get what he wants. And now, the local government in Cambridge, Mass., has announced a similar proposal. The bad idea has gone viral. 

But, to be fair, there are some good ideas coming out of New York. Case in point, this month’s Toast: The Good Beer Seal, which recognizes the city’s independently owned and operated bars with a commitment to craft beer. I had the good fortune to attend the induction ceremony for the most recent class of Good Beer Seal bars, held last month at popular beer bar and founding Good Beer Seal member Jimmy’s No. 43, in the city’s East Village. What makes the designation so sought after among local watering holes is not only must craft and specialty imports account for 80 percent of their offerings, but they also must provide education to staff and clientele on the beers they serve and be active in the community through responsible stewardship and charitable actions. 

A Good Beer Seal is a sort of spiritual cousin to the U.K.’s Cask Marque, which appears on the doors of pubs that serve quality cask ale. The eight inductees last month were Idle Hands, Dive Bar and Earl’s Beer & Cheese, all in Manhattan; Sycamore, 61 Local and Pine Box Rock Shop, all of Brooklyn and Adobe Blues and Killmeyer’s Old Bavaria Inn, on Staten Island. That brings the total number of Good Beer Seal bars to 40, in all five boroughs of New York. 

The ceremony began the official countdown to the city’s Good Beer Month—this month, actually—spotlighting Good Beer Seal bars and local brewers through special promotions, bar crawls and charitable benefits. 

And here comes the cognitive dissonance part of the column: Jimmy Carbone, Jimmy’s No. 43 owner and host of Beer Sessions Radio on the Heritage Radio Network, read a special proclamation from none other than Mayor Bloomberg in honor of Good Beer Month. 

At least one segment of the beverage market is safe. Just no one tell the mayor that an imperial pint is a 20-ounce pour.  

Strength in Numbers?

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

“If you are a startup here and quality is not on the top of your list, get out.”

Of all of what was said in private conversations and in public forums, both on- and off-the-record at last month’s Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) in San Diego, it was that one 18-word, Twitter-friendly sentence that seemed to resonate the most. The statement came from Brewers Association (BA) director Paul Gatza during his general session address and struck such a chord that it took several minutes to tweet it because whatever mobile signals existed were eaten up by hundreds of other smartphone-wielding attendees trying to post it simultaneously.

It was particularly pertinent at a time when there is something close to 1,000 breweries in planning, by the BA’s reckoning. And, as I write this, BA just announced that the number of operating craft breweries in the United States has hit the magic 2,000 mark. The number hasn’t been that high since the turn of the 20th century and this time we don’t appear to have an imminent Prohibition looming.

So it was safe to assume there were quite a few startups in the audience of a few thousand (a record-shattering 4,000-plus attended the four-day event).

It seems like a no-brainer that quality should be on the top of everyone’s list. But when so many new players are getting into a red-hot segment, the question in the back of my mind is, how committed are all of those newcomers and soon-to-be-newcomers? Are they serious about handing their lives over to what’s essentially a 24/7 job or do they just like beer and think it might be cool to run a brewery?

I would like to think that most fully understand what they’re getting themselves into and are going to be religiously devoted to ensuring the best product quality. And the mere bandwagoners who aren’t, well, Darwinian dynamics hopefully will play out.

It’s such an exciting time with so many breweries on the scene and so many in the pipeline. Are all going to produce top-quality products? The laws of probability say no. Will every one of them succeed? Again, no. Is there a correlation between quality and success? Of course there is. That’s not to say it’s a foregone conclusion that all quality producers will succeed, but it’s a heck of a good first step. There are plenty of educational tools out there that new brewers should be taking advantage of to keep them on the right side of quality, be they from the Siebel Institute, the Cicerone certification program, the curricula at UC Davis or the Brewers Association itself, just to name a few.    

Sitting in that CBC general session audience could have been the proprietors of the next Sierra Nevada or New Belgium. And those, among the other startups in the audience, are the ones who know that all begins and ends with the quality of what’s in the bottle, keg or can. No one wants another mid-’90s-style shakeout.

And by the way, the answer is no. No one got up and left.

It’s a start.