Bringing out the Worst in People

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Many of you in our fair Great Lake State may be aware of MLive’s little ongoing poll. LINK.

MLive is Michigan’s biggest “media group,” a conglomeration of most newspapers not part of the Detroit Free Press & Detroit News joint operation, and reaches across most of the state. Anyway, they’ve been running a series of research columns where a journalist group seeks nominations, then they sample and create a list of the state’s “best” hamburger, breakfast, ice cream and other treats over the past couple years.

Recently, as linked above, they decided to seek the state’s “best brewery.” You can imagine the ensuing nonsense, and get your own taste of it if you read the comments on any of the articles linked from the story above. Thankfully, some comments are being deleted it seems, but many of these commenters are awful, horrible trolls in the worst sense of the word. Mass polls seem to bring out the worst in people sometimes, particularly on a topic such as this where so many folks take pride in “their” local or favorite brew. Often they may have met the brewer or owner of these local places and feel vested in these results. It’s really not that much different than the online “Beer City, USA” polls that have recently been celebrated ’round here. Except this one is sometimes getting nasty, and that’s nothing to celebrate.

The truth is, there is NO “best” brewery. The entire point of the craft industry is that we don’t have to drink the same swill every day, and no beer made for flavor is going to appeal to everyone. Many people, myself included, will love many, many beers and rotate them constantly. Most people don’t eat the exact same food every meal and every day, but can enjoy many favorite meals. Beer is no exception, as there are different days, moods, weather that influences enjoyment of different beers. It’s also a natural product, that isn’t going to be the same every day, every batch, every package. How can one possibly say there’s a “best,” when it will never be exactly the same again?

I always find almost any poll ranking the “best,” whether it be a hamburger, song, shoe or beer, to be completely suspect. By “vote of the masses,” McDonald’s is the best hamburger in the USA, Lady Gaga is the country’s best musician, Nike makes the best shoes and Bud Light (which is still the #1 selling beer in Michigan) is the nation’s best beer. Opinions such as this are like….well, you know.

EDIT: Fred Bueltmann, the “Beervangelist” from New Holland Brewing hits the nail directly on its head with their statement regarding these online “best of” contests. Well done…and complete agreement from here.

Moving Forward

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We mentioned this topic about a year ago with the coming reform to Michigan’s control of alcohol, specifically regarding distribution of beer and the brewing industry. We rather expected a more public debate, but the negotiations and lobbying have actually been of the “back room” variety and news has been rather difficult to come by. MLive recently published a very nice summary of progress.

Obviously, these latest proposals are watered down from the original set of recommendations, but it’s still a step in the right direction for the state’s brewing industry. That Michigan’s brewing industry is rapidly expanding is no surprise to anyone, but there is a severe bottle neck in the barrelage limitations and ownership restrictions for the established producers and access to distribution for the wee little fellows, who are just starting up.

Hopefully, this agreement proves to be a win-win for all involved.

Entrepreneurs, such as Barfly Ventures (HopCat GR, HopCat Lansing, Grand Rapids Brewing Company, Stella’s Lounge, etc.), can continue to expand, with jobs and investment in their communities.

In additions, new small ventures and nano-breweries – who may have difficulty getting distribution or wholesaler “attention” in many markets – can choose to handle it themselves for a time. It removes a cost from distribution companies, who no longer have to “build” tiny brands within a clogged inventory, and it allows small brewers to learn an appreciation for the job distributors do. We eagerly await the actual proposal and terms on this final issue, as this had previously been a “line in the sand” for the Wholesalers Association. It makes sense, however, for these small brewers, who lack ad budgets, salesmen or name recognition, to bear the cost & effort of establishing their brands on their own behalf, rather than relying on a wholesalers and their sales staff, who may be indifferent to an unprofitable brand representing a fraction of a percent in sales.

We’ll toast progress and look for even more growth in Michigan beer going forward.

UPDATE (10/31/13): Continued progress is being made, according to MLive, on liquor reform, including self-distribution for the “little guys” we mentioned above: LINK

Holiday Shopping Early

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“How are you celebrating the holiday season?”
David Letterman

“Drinking beer.”
Art “Fatso” Donovan, 1988.

Cheers and Semper Fi to Donovan (1925-1913), one of American’s great Everymen, who passed away last week. A five-time Pro Bowl player, he was the first Baltimore Colt to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, in 1968. He was also a popular talk show guest throughout the later part of his life, where he was fond of saying that his preferred was to die was to “sit under a tree, drinking beer and eating bologna until he blew up.”

Let’s Drink American Beer!

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Happy Independence Day!

In celebration of the fireworks, cookouts and national American holiday, how about drinking some American beer?

Note the top 3 beer companies, by volume, in the United States, according to the Brewers Association, are either NOT American-owned or NOT actual brewers:
1. Anheuser-Busch Inc. – owned by Brazilian/Belgian multi-national ABInBev, based in Lueven, Belgium; makers of Budweiser, Stella Artois, Becks, Bass, Corona and hundreds of other brands.
2. MillerCoors – owned by South African Breweries (SABMillerCoors), based in London, U.K.; makers of Miller, Coors, Molson and several dozen brands.
3. Pabst Brewing Co. – L.A. based contract brewer owns no actual breweries, their brands, such as PBR, Old Style, and Schlitz are made primarily by MillerCoors breweries under contract

These three companies control nearly 90% of the American beer market.

Here are the largest American-owned breweries, by volume:
1. D. G. Yuengling and Son Inc. – based in Pottsville, PA, makers of Yuengling Lager
2. Boston Beer Co. – based in Boston, MA, makers of Sam Adams
3. North American Breweries – based in Rochester, NY, makers of Genessee, Magic Hat and others.
4. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. – based in Chico, CA
5. New Belgium Brewing Co. – based in Fort Collins, CO, makers of Fat Tire.

Yuengling and Boston Beer Company are very close in volume, and account for approximately 1% of the U.S. market each. The others are obviously less. In fact, the entire craft brewing industry, numbering nearly 3000 independent American brewers, amount to less than 7% of the U.S. market by volume this past year.

While we love beer from all corners of the globe around here, at least for today, we’ll stick exclusively to a native selection. In turn, we hope your holiday is eventful and safe. Cheers!

The Bass red triangle: things AB-InBev won’t tell you

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Scathing and brilliant column on the continued destruction of heritage brands under the ownership of ABInBev by one of the best beer blogs out there. You’ll find similar practices in some of their other brands also. These corporate schills have long admitted to being marketers, not brewers, so this is probably no great surprise. To them, the value in the Bass brand lies in its “sales potential,” however achieved, not its history.

Beware the Goose…

Zythophile

Bass pale ale labelThere are stupid marketeers, and there’s AB-InBev. The Belgo-Brazilians have decided to rename one of the oldest beer brands in Britain, Bass pale ale, a literally iconic IPA, as “Bass Trademark Number One”. It’s a move so clueless, so lacking in understanding of how beer drinkers relate to the beers they drink, I have no doubt it will be held up to MBA students in five years’ time as a classic example of How To Royally Screw Up Your Brand.

The move is predicated upon the red triangle that is found on every bottle of Bass pale ale, and on every pumpclip of the draught version, being the first registered trademark in Britain. The generally accepted story is that after the passing of the Trade Mark Registration Act of 1875, when applications to apply for trademark registration opened on January 1, 1876, a Bass employee was sent to wait overnight…

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Education is the Key

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States are always reviewing and updating their alcohol laws and regulations. Michigan, where I reside, has recently allowed bars, restaurants and taverns to fill growlers, a practice that had been restricted to brewers previously. North Carolina is also considering similar legislation (LINK) with the caveat of reviewing sanitation practices beforehand. This secondary issue has seen much discussion in this state as well.

Let’s face it: many watering holes do NOT practice standard sanitation techniques, including regular cleaning of draft lines. Most advocates recommend cleaning lines every two weeks as a standard and there are many companies which offer to perform the service. For this reason, some are suggesting that bars and restaurants not be allowed to sell growlers, in case they end up pouring substandard beer for a customer.

Many brewery and brewpub owners and employees against this legislation had very strong feeling and expressed them in detail.  The biggest issue for those against was product quality: quality in draft beer systems, quality in draft beer system maintenance and quality of cleaning the growler prior to refill.  Many felt that the beer would not be represented properly with the draft dispense and the sanitation issues that exist at some bars/restaurants.
– Michigan Beer Guide, Legislative Report, Nov/Dec 2012

Of course, this also means that patrons will have to come to breweries ONLY to get their growlers filled, so this argument is somewhat prejudiced from the start. In addition, it ignores several other market realities:

– If a bar has poor or dirty draft lines, they’re already serving substandard beer by the glass.
– I can find six packs regularly in convenience stores, that are well over a year old, sitting warm on shelves in direct light, so they’re selling substandard beer to customers.

So, is it really about quality control?

Perhaps…but we might argue that the pros far outweigh the cons in this case. Let’s face it, most growler fills are likely to be craft beer, rather than Macro Lite, so they’ll largely come from tap houses that regularly serve quality beer. Many (most?) of the bars serving quality beers DO utilize proper sanitation practices, so it seems unfair to punish them for the sins of a few who may not. Also, allowing bars and pubs to fill growlers extends a breweries products to patrons beyond their local area. Most patrons also realize that fresher beer is better. I’d much rather have a relatively fresh keg serving of craft beer than an aforementioned mistreated six pack as my “introduction” to a new consumer.

Rather than additional legislation calling for a new bureaucracy to “regulate” the cleaning of draft lines – which may or may not be regularly enforced – wouldn’t it make sense for the brewers to come together, under the Michigan Beer Guild or other organization, to self-fund a “certification program” and supply a dated sticker or certificate to bars and taverns for display?

They could charge a small fee and ask for proof of cleaning practices – which could be a simple as cleaning receipts going back 3-6 months showing regular cleanings. Each year, the certification could be renewed with new proof provided. In fact, the cleaning companies may be willing to support this program as well in an effort to reach more customers! Further, use websites, brewery staff and social media to educate consumers to seek out the “Growler Certification” in bars and restaurant they patronize for the best quality product.

The craft brewing world has been built largely without the “assistance” of government officials and by educating consumers one-by-one. Why should the solution to this issue be any different?

Duff

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In an odd bit of news, we find that Homer Simpson favorite, Duff, is actually now available authorized by Universal Studios.


What may be surprising to some, is that some people have seen unauthorized versions of Duff in Europe and other places. The studio has apparently be fighting these other versions over the years, until finally licensing their own contract brew.

The other big surprise, is that Universal Studios did not contract with one of the large macro brewers to make their product – instead, they contracted with Florida Brewing Company, who actually falls within the threshhold of a “craft brewer” according to the Brewers’ Association definition.

If anyone has actually tried the beer – apparently only available at their theme park, at least for now – please let us know in the comments. While we suspect it will resemble a cheap, adjunct brand, we’d be interested nonetheless in feedback.

In the meantime, here are some classic “Duff moments” from the show: LINK