03 August 2011

Why do people choose beer as their soapbox?

This article about Goose Island moving brewing operations for 312 to NY seems to be extremely polarizing on twitter, facebook, BeerAdvocate, and Ratebeer. The emotions run from excitement about the possibility that more specialty beers like Bourbon County Stout, Matilda, Fleur, and the other lines of well received Belgian inspired beers to downright visceral hatred of Goose Island because they are now owned by InBev. If you read the article InBev is moving a very low end beer like 312 to make room for more specialty beer. They are making a move to make more beer for us beer geeks. What is the problem with that? Is the issue that Goose Island isn't brewing 312 in Chicago anymore? What next? Are you going to tell me that Sam Adams isn't brewed in Boston? (It isn't.) Do you drink Brooklyn beer? The Matt Brewing company in NY most likely brewed that beer you are drinking. I am curious what all the hipsters out there would think when they find out their precious PBR was actually brewed by Miller Beer Co.

I guess I don't quite understand this rationale by people. I didn't care for AB even before they were owned by a massive International conglomerate, but if they happen to own a company that brews amazing beer I'm going to buy it. Period. I can't imagine never drinking another bourbon county stout, in my opinion one of the finest beers brewed on the planet, because they are owned by a large company. Some of the beers in InBev's portfolio include Goose Island, Spaten, Bass, Becks, Boddingtons, Franziskaner, Hertog Jan, Hoegaarden, Leffe, Lowenbrau, Whitebread, and Alexander Keith's. There are some truly great beers in that list and they just happen to be owned by a massive conglomerate. For the most part people wouldn't even know they were owned by InBev if they hadn't seen the list. I am not talking about the yellow piss water they call beer, but truly world class beer.

I am continually surprised by people that look at Blue Moon differently after they find out that it is owned by MolsenCoors. If you like the beer, and the beer is good, why won't you drink it? The same people that won't drink these beers have Nike shoes on their feet, shop at Wal-Mart, put BP gasoline in their Ford, Chevy, Honda, or Toyota car, and play angry birds on their Apple Iphone. (Made by tiny hands in distant lands.) Food is the exact same way. You won't drink a Goose Island beer with your factory food dinner owned by two or three companies? Where does the hypocrisy end? Why is beer the sticking point for people? I love the idea of sourcing as many ingredients as possible locally, but as Anthony Bourdain says: "Who is going to work in your perfect agrarian society?" Monsanto is who will be working your perfect agrarian society.

I like to look at it another way though. I am very grateful to the big three brewing companies. What? Did he just say that? Yes, I did. Do they have some shady brewing and business practices? Yes. Is their marketing machine just silly and annoying? Yes. Do they do harm to smaller brewing companies? Not anymore. If you make a good product people are going to buy it. They are going to make some headaches for brewers for sure, but it is as simple as making great beer the public wants to buy. I am tired of places hiding around the term "craft" and they brew shit beer. If you brew great beer the big 3 won't do much to you, but if you brew shitty beer marketing can only take you so far. Those big three companies are not going to sink a brewing company anymore. If it had not been for the hubris of the big three and their marketing machine power, and fizzy-yellow beer where would the craft beer movement be right now? The bravado of American craft beer is a direct result of the big three continuing their business models. Without these behemoths where would we be? Certainly not at our current point as we are right now. I am not here to extol the virtues of these companies because that would be false. They were dirty, dangerous, and did harm to the brewing culture as a whole for many years, but that was in the past and we are now living in the greatest beer brewing that the US has ever experienced. I do feel sorry for the guys that grew up in the 50's, 60's, 70's, really large parts of the 80's and 90's though. Those were dark times that need not be mentioned for great beer. We are currently living in a craft beer explosion though that isn't showing signs of stopping. You can thank all of the bland, mass-marketing, and yellow lagers out there for that growth.

I think this might also go along with one of the worst trends I am seeing in the beer industry. The idea of drinking "local." That's right, I said that too. This has been one of the worst things I've seen because of what it is doing to people. People are being brainwashed by this line just as people were brainwashed into thinking that beer was fizzy-yellow, and it had to be served just above freezing. I'm not saying that I don't love what our local brewers are doing because I do very much, but Indianapolis is still in its craft beer infancy. People are depriving themselves of truly world class beers from all over the world. Do I support my local brewer? Hell yes I do. How do I know that Sun King makes a world class pale ale? It is because I've drank hundreds of pale ales. How do I know that Brugge is making amazing and unique sour style beers? It is because I've had many of them from around the US and the world. How do I know when a brewing company is more entrepreneurial than beer lover? That flows into the beer as well. I continue to support my local brewers, but the marketing path we are starting to walk down is just as dangerous for craft beer as what the big three did after prohibition. The marketing slogan is taking the place of real education. Education is the key for consumers. I truly believe that. I have to go back to brew a world class product and people are going to drink it. I think there is plenty of room to drink local and support your local brewers, but you can still drink amazing beer from around the country as well. I think it is also the way you are going to know you are drinking a truly world class beer. We've got beer brewed locally that can hang with anyone in the business, but I will never stop trying to sample everything under the sun at least once.

If you want something to get upset about check out Indiana's beer baron laws. That is for another post though.

I went on a long rant there. What are your thoughts? Constructive banter please.


  1. my main complaint about big beer companies is that they have, and no doubt will continue to, use their money to impede any legislation (Take Texas, for example) that may help the craft beer industry grow, just to keep smaller companies from taking any of their market share. Otherwise, to each his own.

  2. Great point. I should have addressed that in the the post. They will have a strong hold in Alabama as well for legislation as well. I stand corrected on that point for sure.

  3. It is easy to gloss over when they don't directly impact your market. I am not familiar with Indiana's beer laws or if there are movements to change them, but there definitely is here (Texas) and that is a big reason for people's disdain and even going so far as to boycott their products. This hatred then carries over to other markets, in my opinion, i.e. people outraged at the Goose Island situation.

  4. Chicago has a hard time with beer legislation as well, there are numerous cases where "beer bribes" are being offered to bars, and that practice of forcing a market, along with the distribution practice, is my main problem with the big 3.

    With Goose Island, I only fear they will attempt to dilute the brand by increasing volume too fast. Numerous breweries have had this problem, so I'm not laying the blame at IB's feet here, it's just a concern. With that being said, I think Goose Island expanding could be something great because, as you mentioned, it lets people try something new instead of just drinking their "local beers".

  5. Not doing damage to smaller brewers? Have you seen the documentary Beer Wars? You have to be kidding me. Ask the folks at Dogfish Head brewing how many frivilous lawsuits they've had to fight off from the big 3.

  6. I have one more thought. The reaction we see to change in practice of a brewery is the same you see whenever someone takes a TV show off the air or decides that our branded phone no longer needs a feature. We find comfort in what we have and know, and don't like change.

    The problem with this, is that these people have become what they hated in the first place. People started craft brewing because they didn't like what was out there. But now people have shifted the paradigm to liking only their "local brews" and excluding other beers. It's counterproductive

  7. @andrew

    The point I was making was they if a place brews great beer the big 3 can't do much about it. Yes, I've seen the frivolous lawsuits about their beer names, but the fact remains that DFH brews good beer, and are still growing. They are growing so much that they can't keep up with demand and pulled out of several states.

    The lawsuits are the cost of the doing business. Craft brewers sue each quite often over naming rights. Lost Abbey/Port Brewing are into right now about who used the cross first with Moylan's. That isn't just a big 3 issue, that is brand protection on a perceived threat.

  8. @skylar

    You hit the nail right on the head. Thank you.

  9. Distribution is the arena where the Big 3 can really hurt and impede the smaller breweries. You can't sell a product if you can't get it on shelves and if you do it is relegated to a small area at the end right after Bud with tomato juice.

    As far as the "Drink Local" ideaology, it is a great piece of marketing. I would love to think that everyone that is drinking Fresh*Local Beer is doing it because it is well crafted (it is), but I know many are drinking it because it is the new, hip, fashinable thing to drink around town and isnt that the goal of marketing?

    Good piece on an unpopular position.

  10. Not sure if it has much to do with the Big 3, perhaps their lobbying efforts over the years, but I just wish we could have more out-of-town beer choices.

    What sucks is to have your choices foiled because alcohol related laws are a factor of politics. Better, more productive laws would do great things for both, drinking local and drinking global. But it would really eat into the market share of the Big 3.

    Tuxedo Park Brewers Supply

  11. I just watched a TV commercial which depicted Leinenkugel as a craft beer for five generations. No mention was made of equity stakes, but hey, who cares?

    The profits from Goose Island's wonderful beer geek beers now go directly to the AB INBEV board room overseas. But hey, who cares?

    And hey, who really cares which exploitative Burmese sweat shop made the cheap shit at Wal-Mart, as long as it's still cheap?

    I forget ... what were we talking about?

  12. I think we were trying to figure out if the government set up in Planet of the Apes was closer to dictatorship, monarchy, socialism or democracy. Furthermore, how many years were they away from achieving capitalism?

    Do you think if another 1000 years went by, they would treat the remains of human civilization the same way we treat the Egyptian pyramids today? Would they theorize that aliens built the decaying skyscrapers?

  13. inbev diversifying their stable is a direct result of their attempts to control as much shelf space as possible, leaving as little room as possible for the up and comers, do they make some decent beers...maybe, but so do i a lot of people that i have much more respect for

  14. When it comes to craft beer though, how often are people buying from a grocery store? I don't really care about shelf space as I am not buying my beer at Kroger. A good liquor store has all of its craft in a spot I can find all paired together. I probably buy 50% of my beer though direct from the brewer on growler fill days.

    Was that a dig at the slow food movement in your post?

  15. i think the craft selection at grocery stores is growing considerably...the upland mix pack available at most indy-area krogers is probably one of the best deals in local beer right now, imagine how much more would be available if they didn't have 10different packaging varieties of bud lite monopolizing all that space

  16. I am noticing a lot more snobbery from craft brew fans. It's not enough to be a beer fan, you have to be a fan of the RIGHT kind of beer. And now you have to have the right reason to like a beer. It's kind of like the wine drinkers turning their nose down on the beer drinkers but now the craft brew fans are turning their nose down on other beer fans.

    It's disgusting if you ask me. Beer fans should know better.

    Now I do have some hatred to anyone who passes laws that block me from enjoying local or small brewers. To me that is where we should all be united and fighting instead of wasting time on trying to be a snob.

  17. I prefer buying my micro at a grocery store. They turn the beer quicker thus fresher beer. The liquor stores have a gluttony of old stale beer unless I am buying a popular beer like Two-Hearted. Same goes for a beer bar with 6 handles vs 26 handles. Guess where I go? Of course purchase at the micro is the best.

  18. It's only beer people....come on now!!!! It is amazing to me how people have come out of the woodwork to comment on beer, mainly craft beer and their opinions on it. What beer based knowledge does this stem from?? Have you been in the beer business for years? Are you a master brewer? Or do you just think you know beer?? We are all entitled to our own opinons of course but I can't stand the people who think they know beer and what it takes to make a really good beer. If you are not a brewer or have not been in the beer business and don't have the knowledge then get off your soap box and give it to someone that knows what they are talking about. Last but not least if the beer tastes good then DRINK IT who gives a shit who it is made by! We are very fortunate to have the amount of craft breweries we do in this country and to benefit from the growth and jobs they provide. Enjoy your beer and stop bitching about the others you don't like. Cheers!

  19. Reply to the anonymous August 04, 2011 5:52 pm comment

    If you seem to know so much why post anonymously. Tell us your vast experience in the beer buisness. If you are not in the biz how can you possibly know enough to make the comments you did?

  20. Yeah ABINBev has never done a thing to uphold 3-tier distribution in many states..... blagh.


  21. As someone who works for a local distributor just think about how many choices you are given for beer right now. If the 3-tier system didn't exist (even with its many problems) you wouldn't have acess to those beers, whiskeys, or wine. That argument doesn't hold water with me.