Blog Entries Tagged as beer

Hunting for the Northern Lights and Discovering Local Beer

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

Skál! That’s how you say “cheers” in Iceland. But think of how a Viking would say it—that should be the delivery.


Over pints of Ölgeroin’s most popular beer, Engils Gull, two Scots, two Americans, an Australian and a Londoner learned that beer wasn’t legalized in Iceland until 1989. Yes, 1989.

One of the largest and oldest companies in Iceland, Ölgeroin (which means brewery in Icelandic) was founded in 1913 and today not only produces beer, but a number of other drink and food items.

I spent six days in Reykjavik, Iceland, last month with the main goal of seeing the Northern Lights. Mission accomplished on the last night of the trip—it was worth the wait.

In the meantime, the country has so much to offer in and around its capital city. Among them was the brewery tour at Ölgeroin Egill Skallagrímsson.

It turns out that Iceland also went through a Prohibition era of sorts that lasted 73 years. Our guide relayed that the people of Iceland voted in 1908 to ban all alcohol. The ban however, didn’t go into effect until the beginning of 1915.

Don’t think “Boardwalk Empire” though with underground bars and clubs and an Al Capone-type figure leading a squad of bootleggers. It wasn’t exactly like that in Iceland.

There was a partial repeal of the ban in 1933 when the country was threatened by Spain with a trade ultimatum. If Iceland didn’t begin importing Spanish wine, the Spanish would stop buying Iceland fish—the country’s largest export. So wine was allowed.

In 1935, the production of liquors was permitted and that was the first occasion where Iceland’s national drink called Brennivin, a schnapps-like spirit distilled from potatoes with 40 percent alcohol, became available.

Though beer was still outlawed, it was being brewed, just not for the locals. Ölgeroin was brewing beer for export, but in fact, beer like Polar Beer (a light golden lager with 4.7 percent ABV), was brewed for occupying armed forces during WWII and later to the American military base outside of Keflavík. Our guide told us that the “bootleggers” were also the taxi drivers who would have cases of beer in the trunk and sell it to their passengers.  

We got to sample Polar Beer as well as Egils Malt and Appelsín (a fizzy orange drink), which have become a traditional part of Icelandic Christmas celebrations. We also got to sample some selections from Ölgeroin’s microbrewery, Borg Brugghus, which was started in 2007. The microbrewery makes a selection of seasonal and limited-edition brews, many of which sell out soon after they hit the shelves, our guide informed us. They are numbered brews—we got to sample number 10, Snorri. It’s brewed from domestic barley and seasoned with Icelandic organic thyme that mixes a fruity nose with local wild herb flavors. The craft beers were lined up along the top shelf of the back bar in the tasting room of the Ölgeroin building, which it moved into in 2009. The building is one of the best warehouses in Iceland, the brewery proclaims.

The last thing we sampled that evening before hitting the town: a shot of Brennivin, often referred to as Black Death. Skál!

Lowering the Bar

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

So, a man walks into a bar. He wants to order a pint of fine craft beer so he motions to the bartender. The bartender walks past him, not making eye contact. A few minutes pass and he continues to motion the bartender. Again, no acknowledgment whatsoever. After a few more minutes pass, he finally gets the bartender’s attention. She shoots him a “What do you want?” look and he shouts his order above the noise in the crowded pub. She shouts back, “I can’t hear you,” and walks away. Waiting for the punchline? There isn’t one. This, sadly, is no joke. This sort of thing happens more often than it should. The man in the tale is yours truly. It happened last month.

Look, I get that it was crowded and crowds and noise can be overwhelming. But that’s no excuse for poor customer service. In less-crowded situations I’ve sat at the bar and managed to engage the barkeep a little more easily. This time I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to order so I asked for a little insight on one of the many artisanal brews on tap.

Me: What style is it?

Bartender: It’s like Bass.

Me: But it says it has an ABV of 9 percent. That’s a bit high for that style.

Bartender: Well, it’s the same color.

This pub prided itself on its vast selection of craft beers on draught. But it seems that management was more concerned with quantity over quality—the quantity of its taps versus the quality of a trained, informed serving staff.

We seem to hold wait staff in restaurants to much higher standards of human interaction than we do bar staff. What’s the reason for that? There isn’t one, at least there shouldn’t be one. Bartenders are salespeople, just as waiters and waitresses are. They’re there to get you to buy stuff and answer any questions you may have about that stuff so you can make a more informed purchasing decision. I’m not saying that these bars are the rule—but they’re not the exception either. They’re somewhere in the middle of the exception-rule continuum.

And that costs sales, regardless of how negligible that loss would be in the grand scheme of things. It’s certainly not something that the companies that own the brands and the wholesalers that distribute the brands the bar is supposed to be selling take lightly.  

The staff and the owners could argue, “Well, the place is packed, so we’re obviously doing something right. So back off!” But why would anyone ever want to take customer traffic for granted? Exactly how loyal are the customers that happen to be packing that bar on a given night? Maybe they just pushed their way into that particular place because all the other establishments in the neighborhood were even more crowded. And if the managers and staff are giving them no reason to come back, they won’t.

Here’s another thing to consider: social media. If someone has a bad experience in a pub, that place can expect an instantaneous, unflattering tweet or a rather damning review on Yelp.  

The joke may begin with the man (or woman) walking into a bar. But no one’s laughing when the woman (or man) walks out of the bar a few seconds later…and never comes back. 

Let the Games Begin: BevStar 2013 Call for Entries

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

With the dawn of a new year comes a new chance for your brand to shine. Whether you're playing in the alcohol or non-alcohol space (or both even), you are cordially invited to submit your product to our third-annual BevStar Awards competition. It's our annual celebration of innovation across all of the major beverage categories. And the best part? It's absolutely free to enter, aside from whatever shipping costs you need to incur to get a sample of your product to our judging team.

Since this is about innovation, we ask that your product be new(ish). That means it should have been launched no earlier than Sept. 2011. If it hasn't been launched yet, that's fine. As long as you've got a product, a package and a plan to roll it out before summer 2013, it's eligible. (The product has to exist. Ideation is great, but execution is critical.)

Once again, we'll be awarding gold, silver and bronze awards in the following categories:

• Carbonated Soft Drinks

• Water/Enhanced Water

• Functional Beverages (including sports drinks, but not including energy drinks—those get their own category. We got a ton of energy entries last year.)

• Energy Drinks

• Beer

• Mead, Cider and Sake

• Wine

• Spirits

• Ready-to-Drink Tea & Coffee

We'll also present special achievement awards for marketing innovation, social media initiatives and environmental sustainability.

To enter, please e-mail the following to bevstar@beverageworld.com :

1. Product Name

2. Parent Company Name

3. Contact Info (address, phone & e-mail)

4. High-resolution product image

5. A brief description of the product and why you believe it should win a BevStar award.

6. The names of any packaging, label design, ingredient and branding companies or individuals that helped develop or market your product.

If your product passes the written test, we'll send you instructions on where to ship product samples for the practical test. We ask that you limit the samples to one bottle/can/carton/etc. per product entered.

Keep in mind, tasting is only one component of our selection process. Your product has to offer the whole package, which includes, well, the package and its overall market positioning.

The submission deadline is March 1. Winners will be notified by June 1 and we'll showcase winning products in the July 2013 issue of Beverage World.

If you've got any questions you can e-mail me directly.

We're looking forward to your entries!

 

 

 

 

Reverse Consolidation?

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

In the course of putting together our annual Forecast issue (the fun begins with the rather foreboding cover item on energy drinks on page 32), it’s often a tricky task to put a fresh spin on certain categories that, year after year, seem to have been performing more or less the same, give or take a volume percentage point here or there. And when the outlook for the coming year is for more of the same, it’s a mixed blessing: It’s a good thing because those doing the forecasting have a smaller chance of being wrong when performance has been so consistent and bad because those of us tasked with writing about such projections have to figure out a way to not keep repeating ourselves.

The category of which I speak, of course, is beer. To borrow a phrase from Led Zeppelin, the song remains the same: Beer’s going to keep losing alcohol share to wine and spirits, the overall market’s going to be flat or, at best, grow at a dying snail’s pace, but the craft segment’s going to continue to enjoy low double-digit growth in both volume and dollar sales.

However, a potential new twist on what’s happening in the market is that a strange dichotomy has emerged. At the top of the market, where the large multinational brewers roam (and on the distribution tier, for that matter— but that’s another story), consolidation is the driving dynamic. AB InBev is buying Modelo—a handful of years after InBev bought Anheuser-Busch to form the gargantuan entity we’ve come to know and love—Heineken’s expected to take control of Asia Pacific Breweries and there are always rumors and rumblings that AB InBev might even merge with SABMiller to give new meaning to the word ‘formidable.’

But on the small brewer side, domain of the crafts, you’ve got the reverse happening. There are already more than 2,100 small, independent brewers in the country, up several hundred from just a year ago. With more than 1,300 breweries in planning at last tally, that number could hit 2,500 in 2013. Sure there’s some consolidation happening with a couple of brewers here and there merging or giants scooping them up—à la AB InBev-Goose Island—but, relative to the number of newbies popping up, those instances are few and far between, the exceptions rather than the rule. It’s almost as if the market as a whole has gotten so consolidated that the pendulum has swung toward the exact opposite of consolidation, as far as craft brewing is concerned.

It’s a phenomenon that’s carrying over into spirits, as our November 2012 cover story could attest. It’s also happening in the non-alcohol realm among segments like artisanal sodas.

Will this reverse consolidation eventually slow down and become the reverse of reverse consolidation (aka ‘consolidation’)? Of course, that’s ultimately the market trajectory that history favors. However, 100 or so years from now, couldn’t the cycle start anew yet again? Even more recent history favors that scenario. It’s a pendulum effect and, pendula are, after all, controlled by gravity—a force not unlike consumer demand.

Crafting a Positive Message

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Category: General Blogs  |  Tags: beer

I’ve found myself spreading the “craft beer word” quite a bit recently. Not really on purpose. It’s just that when you become familiar with the craft beer movement, it can become hard not to evangelize a little about it. After all, there are few stories in the beverage world these days that are as exciting as the meteoric rise we are seeing with craft.  And, it’s hard to not educate others about that and the fact that a fundamental shift is currently taking place in how Americans consume beer.

That shift, as you might expect, is still underreported when it comes to the mainstream press. Whether it’s on TV or in the newspapers, beer consumption can still automatically rack up its share of negative press coverage. Instead, few may be aware of what an economic powerhouse the craft movement has been for the U.S. Few probably know that as of June this year the U.S. recorded its highest number of breweries (2,126) in 125 years (in 1890, it had 2,011).

As a result, some still tend to look at the glass half empty when they hear beer. For example, I’ve recently found myself trying to convince some of my neighbors here in the Queens, N.Y. town where I live that a soon-to-open gastropub will actually be a big plus for our downtown shopping area. The pub says it will offer a wide selection of craft beer, whiskey, scotch and delicious foods to go with them. Sounds like a classy joint to me. Our downtown could use just the type of consumers who buy craft beer. That demographic tends to be young and educated and has money to spend, something our main shopping drag, already with its share of empty storefronts, could only benefit from. Unfortunately, some of my neighbors have immediately jumped to an opposite conclusion. They only see drunken patrons stumbling out onto the sidewalk, disturbing the peace.

Nevertheless, I continue to do my share to talk up the craft movement wherever I can. This Thanksgiving, I realized I had some unopened craft beer samples lying around my apartment (yes, one of the perks of being an editor of Beverage World is that we get our share of samples!). Suddenly it occurred to me that several of the people coming to Thanksgiving this year I knew to be beer lovers. Maybe a tasting was in order? It would kill two birds with one stone. After all, my Thanksgivings have several times in recent years taken a turn towards the Dark Side thanks to some bitter political divides. What better way to gird against the possibility of any more drama than by a pleasant beer tasting?

Turns out, my instincts were right on target. The beer tasting was a huge hit and even served to educate those around the table about the different varieties of craft beer. I think it opened some of the beer lovers’ eyes to the wider world that craft affords us all. And I’m happy to report, this exercise in beer discovery was just the thing to unite an otherwise politically polarized group soon after the bitterness of the recent election. Yes, craft beer at the Kaplan Family Thanksgiving was a uniter, not a divider. You might want to give it a try at your celebratory gatherings this month. Happy Holidays!