Blog Entries Tagged as beer

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.

Laugh Along Even Though They’re Laughing at You

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

So, a couple of interesting events occurred this week and in an odd sort of way, they’re spiritually related. In New York, I got to see one of my favorite bands that had been on hiatus for the better part of a decade and hadn’t played in the city since 1998. The band is the Britpop combo Pulp, of whose most famous song I was reminded when I attended the second event, a wine festival in a Western U.S. city billed as a “Rock & Roll” wine event (complete with a performance from another band that peaked in the ’90s but whose return was far less triumphant than the aforementioned band from Sheffield, England. (Basically a glorified one-hit wonder, maybe a one-and-a-half-hit wonder if I’m feeling generous).

The song the latter event evoked was “Common People,” basically about a wealthy, bourgeois art student who cluelessly and patronizingly says she wants to live like the common folk. It’s completely lost on her why such a thing is not possible for someone whose rich dad is always a phone call away to bail her out.

What does that have to do with wine? Well, it wasn’t so much the drink itself, but the very forced nature of the tasting festival. It tried to hit attendees over the head with the fact that it was a “rock & roll” event, as if to say, “See, wine understands the common people.” (The cheap plastic tasting cups didn’t help matters. They just came off as tacky).

I’m not saying wine isn’t as flexible a beverage as beer, as far as consumption occasions are concerned. Quite the contrary. But I almost got the sense that the organizers were so self conscious about the—often misguided—perception of wine as a drink that encourages snobbery that they overcompensated by desperately trying to connect with everyday folk by producing a transparently artificial, raucous, rockin’ time. It’s like a multimillionaire buying a Chevy Cavalier in an attempt to “keep it real,” but driving it home to a personal car elevator.

Wine’s a great beverage and has every right to go after traditional beer occasions, just as beer has done with what had been historically perceived as wine occasions. But when it tries too hard, it just comes off as disingenuous and a little desperate.

So Much Bad News!

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

I also thought of entitling this column, ‘We don’t get no respect!’ Either headline would work. What I am referring to is something that has been in the background of the beverage business for a long time: how consistently negative the coverage of this industry is by the mainstream news media.

Let me prove my point. Here’s a list, off the top of my head, of some of the ongoing news stories related to our industry we see in the headlines each week: Alcohol abuse, the obesity epidemic, energy drinks and teens, carcinogens in sodas, carcinogens in cans, drunken driving, water shortages, fungicide in orange juice, fizzling soda sales. Like I said, that’s just off the top of my head. I know there are plenty of others.

We all work in a business that many of us are quite proud to be associated with, and yet swirling around us every day is this cloud of negativity being constantly pushed by the 24-hour modern-day news cycles. Each day, it seems, there’s some new piece of bad news eating away at our industry—and our sense of pride in what we do.

The latest target of a lot of the media has been Pepsi, really ever since brand Pepsi dropped from being No. 2 to No. 3 behind Coke and Diet Coke. It all makes for dramatically entertaining news, and it sells papers and boosts website visits I’m sure.

Here’s another example from, from a story titled: “The Surprising Health Benefits of Beer.” “If you’ve got party plans this weekend, don’t be afraid to knock back a cold one,” the story begins. “Beer has several surprising health benefits. Despite beer’s bad reputation, it actually has a number of natural antioxidants and vitamins that can help prevent heart disease and even rebuild muscle. It also has one of the highest energy contents of any food or drink. Of course, this means you need to set limits—one beer gets you going, four makes you fat.” Even this good news is reluctantly spewed forth, couched in warnings and encouragements to move beyond our fears of a beverage that’s been loved by billions since, well, Ancient Egypt!

How did we come to find ourselves the constant butt of jokes, warnings and criticism? Part of the reason I think is that beverages are just so taken for granted by the modern day world, that it’s a dog-bites-man kind of thing. The only thing the news media think is of interest are the sensational or the downright negative. Perhaps if we sold iPads rather than soda pop, we’d get a little better press? (Bad example. Sometimes they don’t like you just because you’re too successful, too.)

Well here’s a solution. Maybe beverage companies should show off to the general public just what it is they do. Make it clear that producing, distributing and marketing a beverage is hard, complicated work and shouldn’t be taken for granted. That’s a story we tell in Beverage World each month. Maybe it’s time the rest of the world heard it too.

April Preview: Budweiser's Use of Social Media

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

Readers of the print edition of Beverage World each month may be familiar with our Connections section, where we look at how the emerging world of social media is being harnessed by beverage companies in their marketing programs. In the upcoming April edition, I explore some of the ways Anheuser-Busch is making use of social media to create deeper connections with its Budweiser consumers.

One of A-B's recent successes in this area was around a Super Bowl ad it ran in Canada, called Flash Fans 2012. It's a really great ad and I suggest you click on the link if you haven't already seen it.

When I interviewed Budweiser's global marketing director, Jorge Meza, for April's Connections article, he gave me a little bit more background about the ad:

“It’s such a moving piece,” he said. “it gives consumers a little bit of the flavor of what it means to live a dream.”

Meza says the response to the ad has been, "amazing," adding, "What’s interesting is that this video started only on Facebook and because of the viral power that it had, it very quickly generated half a million views. So, even before we actually had shown it during the Super Bowl, it was racking up views and a lot of buzz online. So by the time it was in the Super Bowl it was already a phenomenon in Canada.”

You can watch it here: Flash Fans 2012


Is it last call for the independent neighborhood tavern?

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

“Steve believed the corner bar to be the most egalitarian of all American gathering places, and he knew that Americans have always venerated their bars, saloons, taverns, and ‘gin mills,’ one of his favorite expressions. He knew that Americans invest their bars with meaning and turn to them for everything from glamour to succor, and above all for relief from that scourge of modern life—loneliness. He didn’t know that the Puritans, upon landing in the New World, built a bar even before they built a church.” — “The Tender Bar,” J.R. Moehringer

In his 2005 memoir, “The Tender Bar,” J.R. Moehringer recounts how the local tavern in Manhasset, Long Island, where he grew up, served as his home away from home, with all of the people who frequented it nurturing him and helping him grow into the man he is today. “Americans have always venerated their bars,” Moehringer writes.

That is, until recently. Times change, and so does, apparently, where Americans like to stop for a drink. For better or worse, the independent neighborhood tavern is disappearing from the American landscape. According to a recent article in USA Today, “Neighborhood taverns, which for generations were cornerstones of Chicago’s ethnic communities, are being squeezed out by the economy, gentrification, changing tastes and city regulations that make it more difficult to operate in residential areas.” The article goes on to say that in Chicago, the number of tavern licenses has dwindled from 3,300 in 1990 to about 1,200 today.

And the U.S. is not alone. Even in the U.K., where the neighborhood pub has been even more important to the social fabric, a similar trend is playing out. Six British pubs were closing every day, according to one recent survey, a trend attributed to the smoking ban, the huge discounts for alcohol offered by retail chains, and, of course, the effects of the recession on extra spending money.

Here in the U.S., a big part of the reason also has been the proliferation of national chain restaurants, with their flashier, brightly lit bars and big-screen TVs. I’d venture another reason as well—the rise of social media. In “The Tender Bar,” Moehringer describes how the other bar-goers became his extended family. Log onto Facebook today and our lists of friends have become the digital equivalent. That’s not to say we don’t still want to see them in the flesh to hoist a real, not a virtual, pint. But with all that Facebooking, friending, Tweeting and FarmVilleing, how much time does that leave for a trip down to the neighborhood bar?

Is this for better or for worse? I’d argue it’s for the worse. America has become a country where people of different political persuasions or different social strata rarely come into contact with one another. And that is an important ingredient for a healthy democracy to function. To mull this issue or that over a beer with your neighbors at the corner bar used to be as important as the U.S. Senate debating and filtering down the latest piece of legislation. Just think of all the mulling we’ve been missing.