Session #117: Predicting The Future Of Beer

crystal-ball
The 117th Session, is hosted this month by Csaba Babak, who writes the British beer blog Beer Means Business. For his topic, he’s chosen More, More, More, by which he’s asking us all to “paint a collective picture of what the future related to beer will be like.”

Here’s his full description of the topic:

I have always been obsessed with asking what happens next or what is still ahead instead of simply embracing what is in the present. Ever since I heard about Beer Blogging Fridays, I have been toying with the idea of hosting a Session to paint a collective picture of what the future related to beer will be like.

This month, Beer Means Business has the honour to host The Session and to make this happen. The final picture of Beer Future will be based on what you think we will see MORE of.

Over the last 10 years, numerous topics have been presented and the bloggers who discussed them expressed a rich diversity of perspectives or specific areas of interest. Therefore, I refrain from giving you further ideas or examples. There are no limits in time, space or nature either. I would like you to let your imagination free, and capture ONE thing you think we will see MORE of with an explanation of the idea.

session_logo_all_text_200

So this month’s Session will be short, both by necessity and because I think the answer to this month’s question has a relatively short answer.

beer-in-your-future

So, looking into my crystal ball, I have two observations.

1. Predictions are a fool’s errand. None of us can really say what the future will hold. Oh, we can make educated guesses, even back them up with charts, history or trend indicators. And I’ll even admit it can be fun to try. But in the end, the future rarely ever looks anything close to what think it will. To wit: where is my flying car that folds into a briefcase? A great quote that illustrates how off predictions can be comes from Joe Owades. Owades, in addition to creating low-calorie diet beer (a.k.a. light beer), helped several early small brewers with their recipes. In April of 1987 he said. “No microbrewer in his right mind should make wheat beer. Five years from now it will be dead (as a commercial product).” Wheat beers of all kinds seem to be doing very nicely, thank you very much. Though not beer-related, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates once quipped that “no one will ever need more than 64K RAM.” And these were both smart people who were well-respected members of their industries, knew a lot about their subject matter, yet failed utterly to grasp where the future was heading. I also happen to think (a hunch really) that even most predictions that turned out to be correct were the result of blind luck. So lots of predictions continue to fail, and will continue to fail, and maybe a few will turn out to be correct, but not enough to know who you should listen to and who to ignore. So I think it’s best to ignore them all and follow what you personally like, what speaks to you. At least that way you’ll be happy. There is, however, one thing I believe I can safely predict for the near future, and even the distant future. Then again, maybe I’m wrong.

2. People will still be drinking beer, and with a little luck, more of it will be beer with flavor.

Schlitz-1951-crystal-ball

First Self-Driving Truck Makes Beer Run

Budweiser-new
I’m a huge fan of the self-driving technology. I can’t wait until the first driverless cars go on the market; I’ll be one of the first in lone to but one, if I can. Not only will it improve traffic, curb (my) road rage, and allow greater alcohol consumption outside the home, it will also have the added benefit of making organizations like MADD and Alcohol Justice obsolete (which is why I believe they’re not pushing for this technology more). So as we get one step closer to eradicating drunk driving, I think it’s appropriate that the first commercial delivery of goods via a self-driving truck was essentially a beer run.

So a few days ago, the start-up company Otto announced that their first successful test run took place last week in Colorado, when a truck using their technology delivered 200 cases of Budweiser from their brewery in Fort Collins to Colorado Spring, about 120 miles away. Much like an airplane pilot, a drive manually drove it onto the highway and then engaged the autopilot which drove the truck the rest of the way to its destination. The drive hopped in the back to relax and was on hand the entire journey in case anything needed his attention.

Otto-truck

Otto itself posted the story on its blog three days ago, and it’s been picked up all over the country, including by the New York Times, CNBC, Tree Hugger and Mashable

The company itself was founded earlier this year, in January, and subsequently bought by Uber for $680 million in August. But it’s pretty impressive that they’ve gone from zero to successful commercial test in such a short time. According to various reports, several other car companies are working on similar technologies, too, so maybe a self-driving world might actually happen in my lifetime. That would be awesome.

Otto-can
ABI even created commemorative beer cans to mark the beer run.

Here’s a video of the story:

And Wired also has a video of the truck in action, and explains a bit about how it actually works.

Craft Beer Taste-Test Time Trials

mad-magazine
My son Porter has a subscription to Mad Magazine that we started for him a few years ago, when he began picking it up at the grocery store and really liked it. I remember devouring every issue when I was his age, too. The new issue (#540 August) came the other day, and features an illustration of Donald Trump on the cover with his head popped open and Mad Magazine’s mascot Alfred E. Neuman jumping out on a spring, like a jack-in-the-box. Which seems appropriate, frankly, but that’s another story.

Inside the issue, he brought my attention to a two-page piece on “New Olympic Events that AMERICANS Are Sure to Win.” These included “Synchronized-Selfies” and “Marathon TV Binge-Watching.” But the one he made a point to show me was the “Craft Beer Taste-Test Time Trials.”

You know you’ve got a perception problem when Mad Magazine is making fun of you. It’s a shame that enjoying good beer has been so perverted both from within and also from outside, in the form of the big brewers taking pot shots at a lot of core aficionados’ behavior.

mad-mag-2016

The Downside To Working Long Hours

workers
A few months ago, Anheuser-Busch InBev head honcho Carlos Brito was quoted as saying that “every employee should behave like an owner-entrepreneur, committed to building the company.” That bullshit mantra favored by corporate leaders, known as “DWYL” (do what you love), is just another way to exploit workers, in the same way “monarchs used to tell about being ordained by God help us get through the day not by easing our pain, but by increasing our capacity for suffering.” As I noted at the time, I hate that way of thinking, and it completely pisses me off that they think anyone should fall for it. AlterNet had an interesting pice at the time that refuted that way of thinking, called Don’t Feel Like a Failure for Not Loving Your Corporate Job Enough.

Curiously, though not exactly a surprise, a recent meta-study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) entitled “Long working hours and alcohol use: systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies and unpublished individual participant data,” found that the more you work, the more at risk you are to drink too much. Anybody shocked to hear that? The study looked at 63 different studies, and in the aggregate reached the same conclusion. Too much work will drive you to drink. Here’s the abstract:

Objective To quantify the association between long working hours and alcohol use.

Design Systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies and unpublished individual participant data.

Data sources A systematic search of PubMed and Embase databases in April 2014 for published studies, supplemented with manual searches. Unpublished individual participant data were obtained from 27 additional studies.

Review methods The search strategy was designed to retrieve cross sectional and prospective studies of the association between long working hours and alcohol use. Summary estimates were obtained with random effects meta-analysis. Sources of heterogeneity were examined with meta-regression.

Results Cross sectional analysis was based on 61 studies representing 333 693 participants from 14 countries. Prospective analysis was based on 20 studies representing 100 602 participants from nine countries. The pooled maximum adjusted odds ratio for the association between long working hours and alcohol use was 1.11 (95% confidence interval 1.05 to 1.18) in the cross sectional analysis of published and unpublished data. Odds ratio of new onset risky alcohol use was 1.12 (1.04 to 1.20) in the analysis of prospective published and unpublished data. In the 18 studies with individual participant data it was possible to assess the European Union Working Time Directive, which recommends an upper limit of 48 hours a week. Odds ratios of new onset risky alcohol use for those working 49-54 hours and ≥55 hours a week were 1.13 (1.02 to 1.26; adjusted difference in incidence 0.8 percentage points) and 1.12 (1.01 to 1.25; adjusted difference in incidence 0.7 percentage points), respectively, compared with working standard 35-40 hours (incidence of new onset risky alcohol use 6.2%). There was no difference in these associations between men and women or by age or socioeconomic groups, geographical regions, sample type (population based v occupational cohort), prevalence of risky alcohol use in the cohort, or sample attrition rate.

Conclusions Individuals whose working hours exceed standard recommendations are more likely to increase their alcohol use to levels that pose a health risk.

working-hard

Unusually, the entire study is available online if you want to read the entire study, their methodology, the data sets and their analysis. But you probably don’t need to in order to come to the same conclusion. Being worked too hard by companies trying to squeeze every ounce of labor out of their salaried and even hourly employees is not good for them. People need to balance their work life with the rest of their lives. It may be a cliche that nobody every says on their death bed that they wished they’d spent more time at work, but that doesn’t make it any less true. As the class divide continues to widen, people are feeling increasing pressure to work longer hours just to keep their jobs, and employers are exploiting, encouraging and even requiring such behavior. In my own experience, my last corporate job required 60-hour work weeks, and I had to work from home a few hours every single Sunday, vacation, sick day, holiday or not. One of my biggest regrets was after having taken a week off to fly back to Pennsylvania to be with by father on his deathbed, he begged me to stay a few more days. The pressure to return to work was so great that I felt that I could not, and reluctantly I flew back to California. He died in his sleep while my plane was still in the air flying home to San Francisco. Our society is unhealthy when we’re expected to put our companies — which in reality care almost nothing for our loyalty and hard work, and would fire each and every one of us in an instant if it helped the share price or the bottom line — ahead of our personal lives. The more that becomes normalized, the worse off we’ll be as a nation. Working too long and/or too hard is not good for people.

496800929

Prohibition Party 2016

prohibition-party
My friend Paul Marshall sent me this delightful little story about the state of the Prohibition Party in 2016. And yes, that Prohibition Party. Believe it or not it’s the oldest independent third-party still active, and they field a presidential candidate every four years. The party was founded in 1869, and its single defining platform was that they were, and still are, “opposed [to] the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages.” I knew they were still around, hoping to convince people that Prohibition was really a good idea, and we should try it again, despite all evidence to the contrary. But what I didn’t know was just how small they’ve become.

prohibition-party-poster

In their heyday, before the 18th Amendment passed, they were active in American politics and contributed to the discussion, and even after Prohibition was enacted, continued to agitate for even stricter controls until they faded into obscurity. How obscure? In the 2012 national election for President of the United States, the Prohibition Party candidate, Jack Fellure of West Virginia, received 518 votes. But that’s not even the low point. One of their 2004 candidates, Earl Dodge of Colorado (there were two that election due to a split in the party), got 140 votes. At their peak, in 1892, John Bidwell of California received 270,770, which represented only a little bit less than half a percent of the roughly 63 million people then in the U.S. Seven times they cracked the 200,000 vote line, though not since 1916. The last time they hit over 100,000 votes was 1948, and 1976 was the last time they garnered more than 10,000. In the last three elections, less then 1,000 people voted for the party candidate.

Prohibition Party

2008 Prohibition Party presidential candidate Gene Amondson of Washington state, the last year for which they’re selling buttons on the party’s website store. When I say store, it’s actually a Cafe Press store, and the party website itself was created for free using Wix.com. The party coffers are apparently not very full.

According to the Guardian article by Adam Gabbatt, A sobering alternative? Prohibition party back on the ticket this election, revealed that this year’s candidate is Jim Hedges of Pennsylvania, and his running mate is Bill Bayes of Mississippi. Hedges is actually the only known member of the Prohibition Party to have held any elected office — local, state or national — in the 21st Century, when he was the Tax Assessor for Thompson Township, Pennsylvania between 2002 and 2007.

Gabbatt went to Pennsylvania to interview the candidates, and it’s a fascinating read. It’s interesting to hear him talk so matter-of-factly about such an anachronistic idea that most people have moved past, with the obvious exception of the anti-alcohol groups that still exist. But even they seemed to have abandoned trying to get Prohibition going again (even though they’d certainly be in favor of it). Instead, they’ve been slinging mud and trying to disrupt the manufacture and sale (though especially access and advertising) of alcohol pretty much since before the ink was dry on the 21st Amendment.

Not surprisingly, the makeup of the membership skews to an older demographic, and according to Hedges “the current members are over 50, many in their 70s and 80s, and many are ultra-conservative.” But one of the most surprising reveals in the article is just how small the Prohibition Party of today really is. Hedges said that there are “currently about three dozen fee-paying members, who each contribute $10 a year.” So that’s $360 the party receives in dues for the year, plus there was a trust set up in the 1930s that provides additional funds. In most elections recently, that’s allowed them to be on the ballot in just one state, though this year Hedges is hoping to make it onto the ballot in six states, with an ultimate goal of getting 1,000 votes in each. But he’s realistic about his changes of becoming president, which he states are simply. “Zero. None whatsoever.” Still, despite the great divide between his party’s platform, and my own politics, I still think he’d make a better president than Donald Trump. If only there were a button available.

2016-prohibition-candidates
Jim Hedges and Adam Gabbatt in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania, taken by Guardian author Adam Gabbatt.

Budweiser Tries To Rebrand Itself As “America”

bud-stature-liberty
The original Anheuser-Busch considered itself a quintessentially American company, and it many ways it was. Run by the same family for generations from their mansions in St. Louis, Missouri, in the heartland of America, it was easy for the German-American Busch family to position Budweiser as the ultimate American beer. And they rarely shied away from making such associations. From early on, the Budweiser label was red, white and blue and they used that to their advantage on numerous occasions. During my lifetime, countless times their advertising played on that patriotism, using patriotic iconography in their POS and marketing.

But I imagine this latest campaign may be going a little too far for many people. They filed, and received, label approval on April 11, 2016 from the TTB with application OMB No. 1513-0020 for a new label. That new label will try to rebrand the new Anheuser-Busch InBev, no longer an American company with international roots in Brazil and Belgium, as “America.” No, seriously, they’re actually going to call Budweiser “America,” at least for the summer. According to AdAge:

A-B InBev on Tuesday, May 10, confirmed the limited-edition label change, saying “America” would replace “Budweiser” on the front of 12-oz. cans and bottles. The packaging will run from May 23 through election season in November, the brewer stated. The agency that handled the design change is Jones Knowles Ritchie, New York. The packaging will be accompanied by a summer-long campaign called “America is in Your Hands.” A national TV spot featuring the cans and bottles will premiere on June 1.

And it’s not just that title, the new label is riddled with patriotic associations. It’s an amazing piece of propaganda, and not in any way subtle.

14840.2BUD12canSummer
This is the image that accompanied the TTB label application.

Will this work? Can the international conglomerate poised to swallow up SABMiller — who’s already the world’s largest beer company — be able to convince Americans that they’re still your blue collar friend? That they’re still America’s beer? It feels like a tough sell, but if I’ve learned anything in my five decades consuming advertising it’s that people are incredibly gullible. Many people don’t care who owns Budweiser. Many people don’t care, or perhaps even know, that Budweiser is owned by a ginormous international conglomerate. They’ve been Bud drinkers as long as they can remember, and they have too many other things they care more about than thinking about what beer they’re drinking. I think because we live in such a beer bubble that we sometimes forget that most people don’t care about the industry as deeply as we do.

It seems like ABI has become far more aggressive lately in how they’re trying to position their brand. Part of that seems like desperation at their shrinking market, but being the world’s 25th most valuable brand, worth an estimated $22.3 billion alone (never mind the rest of the company), still makes them the 800-pound gorilla. And that sort of size would make anyone aggressive, with no one else remotely close to their size. I’m certainly curious to see this play out. Will there be a backlash? My guess is no. They’ll be some fiery condemnations on the interwebs, perhaps a few stories on television, and then it will die down. Bud drinkers will just continue drinking their beer of choice. And I’m willing to bet at least a few won’t even notice the change. It will certainly appeal to a certain jingoist bent that many Americans are prone to, the people who believe America is always number one in everything, and anybody who says differently is a commie; the same people who used to say “America, love it or leave it.”

bud-to-america-cans

ABI released a statement today entitled “Budweiser Emblazons America On Cans And Bottles To Kick Off Its Most Patriotic Summer Ever” with the details on their new ad campaign.

America’s No. 1 full-flavored lager is taking its longstanding tradition of patriotic packaging even further this summer by replacing “Budweiser” with “America” on the front of its 12-oz. cans and bottles. The brand is also modifying Budweiser’s iconic label to add copy that is central to American history, including phrases from the Pledge of Allegiance and lyrics from “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful.” On shelves nationwide from May 23 through the election in November, these cans and bottles aim to inspire drinkers to celebrate America and Budweiser’s shared values of freedom and authenticity.

Designed in partnership with Jones Knowles Ritchie New York, Budweiser’s bold new look serves as the focal point for its summer-long campaign—“America is in Your Hands”—which reminds people from sea to shining sea to embrace the optimism upon which the country was first built. The “America” cans and bottles will star in the brand’s new national TV spot, premiering June 1.

“We are embarking on what should be the most patriotic summer that this generation has ever seen, with Copa America Centenario being held on U.S. soil for the first time, Team USA competing at the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said Ricardo Marques, vice president, Budweiser. “Budweiser has always strived to embody America in a bottle, and we’re honored to salute this great nation where our beer has been passionately brewed for the past 140 years.”

The “America is in Your Hands” campaign will come to life this summer during culturally relevant moments where Budweiser will be present, including Fourth of July celebrations, the Copa America Centenario soccer tournament, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and events to celebrate the brand’s six Team Budweiser athletes competing to appear in the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The campaign will include billboards, murals, digital content, and retail activations along with additional surprises to be revealed throughout the summer.

Budweiser is also unveiling new cans and bottles featuring a magnified view of the Statue of Liberty’s torch, inspired by Team Budweiser, the brand’s six Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls. On shelves from May 23 through mid-September, the “Torch” packaging will be available in 16-oz. and 25-oz. cans, along with 16-oz. aluminum bottles.

bud-to-america-bottle

Is this the new face of American beer? I suspect not, but only time will tell how many Americans will fall for it.

Call It Session Beer Day

national-session-beer-days
If you’re on the internet, Twitter or Facebook today, you’ll no doubt have noticed that people are saying it’s National Beer Day. And it is, but only in the sense that somebody decided to call it that, and lots of people agreed to it, as well. Which is exactly how every holiday got started. But the day should, I think, make sense. April 7 was chosen because it was the day that beer was first available after prohibition ended. Or at least that’s what a lot people believed, and continue to believe. Some even still call April 7 “Repeal Day.” But, of course, it wasn’t. When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as our 32nd president on March 4, 1933, he quickly got to work on one of his campaign promises: to end prohibition.

He wrote to Congress on March 13, 1933:

I recommend to the Congress the passage of legislation for the immediate modification of the Volstead Act, in order to legalize the manufacture and sale of beer and other beverages of such alcoholic content as is permissible under the Constitution; and to provide through such manufacture and sale, by substantial taxes, a proper and much-needed revenue for the Government. I deem action at this time to be of the highest importance.

The very next day, Representative Thomas H. Cullen introduced the proposed legislation in the House of Representatives. Senator Pat Harrison did likewise in the Senate. It easily passed both houses, and was sent to committee on March 20. The re-worked combined document was approved by the Senate later the same day, while the House approved it the following day.

On March 22, FDR signed the Cullen-Harrison Act, which amended the Volstead Act and specifically “27 U.S.C.: Intoxicating Liquors,” creating § 64a et seq., allowing for the manufacture and sale of low-alcohol beer, which they defined as 3.2% alcohol by weight (which by the more common standard today, is beer that’s 4% by volume or abv – technically 4.05%). When he signed the legislation, FDR is reported to have quipped. “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”

FDR signing the Cullen-Harrison Act.

According to the act, each state then was free to pass it’s own similar legislation and allow 3.2 beer to once again be available. Twenty-one of the states, including California, along with the District of Columbia, took the federal government up on the offer, and passed their own laws to allow low-alcohol beer. The new law took effect on April 7, 1933.

faurbach-april-1933
A raucous crowd celebrating the return of 3.2 beer at the Fauerbach Brewery tavern in WIsconsin on April 7, 1933. They even had a small band playing in a corner of the bar.

So people in those states were pretty thrilled about being able to legally drink beer again for the first time in thirteen years, longer in some states, even if it was only weaker beer. Celebrations were held around the country. Since most breweries knew once FDR took office that beer would likely be back, they started brewing at least by March 22, when the law was signed, so that beer could be ready for early April. This was also the beginning of one of the most well-known marketing strategies, when Anheuser-Busch president Gussie Busch sent a team of clydesdale horses pulling a beer wagon first to present beer to New York governor Al Smith and then down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. to deliver beer to present Roosevelt.

beer-for-the-president

In the run-up to April 7, people in those twenty-one states started getting pretty excited and started calling the impending day names like “Beer is Back Day” and “Brew Year’s Day” or “New Beer’s Day.” What they didn’t call it was “National Beer Day.” That day would have to wait until December 5, 1933, when Utah ratified the 21st Amendment, the 36th state to do so, and making it the law of the land. The 21st Amendment repealed prohibition and made it possible for beer and wine of all strengths, along with spirits, to be legal again in all 48 states, whereas in April only 21 states legalized some beer, but only if they were low in alcohol. In fact, it wasn’t until 2009 that a man in Richmond, Virginia, who, at the urging of a friend, conceived of calling April 7 National Beer Day.

I’m certainly in favor of celebrating beer. I do so pretty much every day in my house. As regular readers know, I keep track of beer holidays, birthdays and historical dates, too. It’s a hobby of mine. You can follow along on the Brookston Almanac. But I think that if we’re going to celebrate a “National Beer Day” that December 5 makes a lot more sense since that’s when beer became legal again nationally in every state in America in 1933, or at least had the potential to do so. More recently, Lew Bryson, launched April 7th as “Session Beer Day” as a part of his Session Beer Project, which is designed to shine a light on and celebrate low-alcohol, but full-flavored beer. And that, to me, makes more sense because it was beer that was 4% abv or lower that became legal today, which is essentially our modern definition of a “session beer.”

sessionbeer

Here’s what I wrote about session beers in 2010, and I think it still holds true today.

While “extreme beers” are the current darlings of the craft beer scene, another kind of beer is waiting in the wings for its shot at the spotlight: Session Beers. They’ve been here all along, but they often don’t get the attention they deserve. If extreme beers are the big bullies of the beer world, loud and brash with huge flavors, showing great depth and complexity, and usually high alcohol, session beers are their polar opposite.

Session beers are, by contrast, light-bodied, with delicate flavors and are often very refreshing. What’s not to like? They’re actually harder to make than extreme beers, because it’s also easier to hide flaws in a big beer. A session beer is a beer that’s naked by comparison. Any defect is immediately obvious.

One of my favorite quotes about making these kinds of beers is by Gordon Biersch brewer Tom Dargen, who once said. “Making [a session] beer is like going to the beach in a thong. You better have all your parts in place or it’s going to be ugly.”

Defining a session beer

So what exactly is a “session beer?” Defining them is actually trickier than is sounds. They’re not exactly a beer style or even a collection of styles, more like an idea. The basic notion is that a “session beer” is one that you can drink during an entire “session” of drinking and still be relatively lucid and hold up your end of the conversation.

Their most obvious characteristic is that they’re lower in alcohol than many mainstream beers, which are usually around 5.5% a.b.v. — alcohol by volume. While there’s no official definition, most people tend to believe that beers under 5% can be considered session beers, and at least a few set the bar even lower.

Bryson defines them as being 4.5% or below and also includes in his definition that they must be flavorful, balanced and reasonably priced. His simplest way of describing them is “low-alcohol, but not low-taste.”

They’re the ideal for beer for an evening at the pub, spending the night with friends, having a few drinks and talking about the day’s events. That’s one of the reasons most British beers that you’ll find at an average pub in England can be considered session beers, at least the cask or real ales. English ales are usually around 4.5% or less but remain surprisingly full-flavored.

Session beers are also similar to so-called “lawnmower beers,” except that they tend to be more flavorful. Lawnmower beers are most often mass-produced light lagers with very little actual flavor or hop character. The kind of beer you want to quench your thirst after mowing the lawn in the hot sun. Session beers are similarly light-bodied, but should stand apart by having delicate, but very obvious hop, malt, and/or other flavor characteristics.

My friend Martyn Cornell, who’s a British beer writer and historian, gave one of the best statements I’ve ever seen about how session beers are not just about being low-alcohol, but are “a combination of restraint, satisfaction, and ‘moreishness.’ Just like the ideal companions on a good evening down the pub, a good session beer will not dominate the occasion and demand attention; at the same time its contribution, while never obtrusive, will be welcome, satisfying, and pleasurable.”

There are plenty of beers that fit that definition being made by craft brewers in America and by small and large breweries abroad, too. Many area breweries and brewpubs have one or two that can be considered a session beer. Check the alcohol level and then give them a taste to make sure they’re as flavorful as you like.

While many are also light in color, golden to amber, they don’t have to be. One of the most surprising session beers is Guinness, because many people believe that dark beers are heavier beers. But that’s just not the case, as Guinness Draught is only 4% a.b.v.

A beery backlash

I should point out that I love many extreme beers and in no way think session beers should replace them, or otherwise diminish their popularity. Extreme beers include some of the best, most experimental, most forward-looking beers ever conceived and brewed. They’ve helped redefine what beer is and what it can be. It’s helped bring foodies into the fold by its ability to be paired with an endless variety of foods, standing up to many dishes that wine cannot. I certainly won’t stop being excited by all the wonderful big beers being made.

But more is not always, well … more. Sometimes less is. Sometimes you just want something that has subtlety, delicate flavors and lets you enjoy your time with friends and family. And that’s why session beers are such a great choice.

Session beers are simply a great concept, and one that promotes both responsible drinking and conviviality, while at the same time not sacrificing taste. I can certainly drink to that.

Essentially every day is National Beer Day, but today should really be Session Beer Day.

session-beer-day

UPDATE 4.8: To underscore my point that many people still incorrectly believe that prohibition was repealed on April 7, witness Summit Brewing’s new poster for 2016, whose title reads “April 7 Celebrate Prohibition Repeal Day.” C’mon guys, I know your heart is in the right place, but this isn’t helping.

summit-repeal-day-2016

The Top 50 Annotated 2015

ba
This is my ninth annual annotated list of the Top 50, skipping two years ago because the BA provided that information then, so here again you can see who moved up and down, who was new to the list and who dropped off. So here is this year’s list again annotated with how they changed compared to last year.

  1. Anheuser-Busch InBev; #1 last ten years, no surprise
  2. MillerCoors; ditto for #2
  3. Pabst Brewing; ditto for #3
  4. D. G. Yuengling and Son; Same as last year
  5. Boston Beer Co.; Same as last year
  6. North American Breweries; Same as last year
  7. Sierra Nevada Brewing; Same as last year
  8. New Belgium Brewing; Same as last year
  9. Craft Brewers Alliance; Same as last year
  10. Lagunitas Brewing; Up 1 from #11 last year
  11. Gambrinus Company; Down 1 from #10 last year
  12. Bell’s Brewery; Same as last year
  13. Deschutes Brewery; Same as last year
  14. Minhas Craft Brewery; Up 2 from #16 last year
  15. Stone Brewing; Down 1 from #14 last year
  16. Sleeman Brewing; Down 1 from #15 last year
  17. Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits; Rocketed up 20 from #37 last year
  18. Brooklyn Brewery; Down 1 from #17 last year
  19. Firestone Walker Brewing; Up 3 from #22 last year
  20. Founders Brewing; Up 3 from #23 last year
  21. Oskar Blues Brewing; Jumped up 9 from #30
  22. Duvel Moortgat USA (Boulevard Brewing/Ommegang); Down 4 from #18 last year
  23. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Down 4 from #19 last year
  24. Matt Brewing; Down 4 from #20 last year
  25. SweetWater Brewing; Down 1 from #24 last year
  26. Harpoon Brewery; Down 5 from #21 last year
  27. New Glarus Brewing; Down 2 from #25 last year
  28. Great Lakes Brewing; Up 1 from #29 last year
  29. Alaskan Brewing; Down 3 from #26 last year
  30. Abita Brewing; Down 3 from #27 last year
  31. Anchor Brewing; Down 3 from #28 last year
  32. Stevens Point Brewery; Same as last year
  33. Victory Brewing; Up 2 from #35 last year
  34. August Schell Brewing; Down 1 from #33 last year
  35. Long Trail Brewing; Down 1 from #36 last year
  36. Summit Brewing; Down 2 from #34 last year
  37. Shipyard Brewing; Down 6 from #31 last year
  38. Full Sail Brewing; Up 5 from #39 last year
  39. Odell Brewing; Up 1 from #40 last year
  40. Southern Tier Brewing; Up 1 from #41 last year
  41. Rogue Ales Brewery; Down 3 from #38 last year
  42. 21st Amendment Brewery; Jumped up 7 from 49 last year
  43. Ninkasi Brewing; Down 1 from #42 last year
  44. Flying Dog Brewery; Same as last year
  45. Narragansett Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
  46. Pittsburgh Brewing (fka Iron City); Down 1 from #45 last year
  47. Left Hand Brewing; Up 1 from #48 last year
  48. Uinta Brewing; Down 2 from #46 last year
  49. Green Flash Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
  50. Allagash Brewing; Same as last year

Not too much movement this year, except for a few small shufflings. The top is virtually unchanged, with only numbers 10 and 11 switching places. And apart from those two small changes, the top 13 were all the same as 2014. The biggest jump came from Ballast Point, which leapt up 20 spots, while Shipyard slipped the furthest, dropping six slots. Only two new breweries made the list; Green Flash Brewing and Narragansett Brewing. Off the list was World Brew/Winery Exchange, a California contract label brewer making private label beers for retailers, and Bear Republic Brewing.

If you want to see the previous annotated lists for comparison, here is 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006.

10 Barrel Hoping To Open San Diego Brewpub

10-barrel
You’ve probably heard the rumors and the news that 10 Barrel Brewing, acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2014, is trying to open a new brewpub location, this one in San Diego, California. Today I received a press release from ABI, detailing the trouble they’ve met in trying to expand into the Southern California market. Here’s what they had to say:

This will be the first non-craft brewery, per the Brewers Association’s definition of a craft brewer, to expand into San Diego — which is already home to 117 local craft breweries, with 40 more in planning. The news has been met with strong opposition from members of San Diego’s craft beer community, including the San Diego Brewers Guild, who’s mission is to promote awareness and increase the visibility of fresh, locally brewed beer.

10 Barrel has applied for a permit to construct a brewpub in San Diego’s burgeoning East Village, at 1501 E Street, and has proposed a “full-service restaurant with accessory alcohol manufacturing.”

Today, February 17th, representatives of 10 Barrel will present on behalf of the project to the Downtown Community Planning Council (DCPC), an advisory group, and a decision is expected soon.

Apparently, the biggest opposition they’ve received is from local brewers already in the market, in the guise of the San Diego Brewers Guild. This is setting up to be an interesting battle. San Diego business owners clearly want to keep their local angle for the businesses, though how that will square with the acquisition of Saint Archer by MillerCoors remains to be seen.

Curiously, ABI’s press release also includes that opposition, in fact is more than half of what I received, giving voice to their complaints. According to them, “Representatives of the San Diego Brewers Guild, including President Emeritas Kevin Hopkins, will speak at the meeting on behalf of the Guild,” and also circulated the guild’s official statement:

“The acquisitions that transacted last year and the news of AB-InBev’s intentions to open up in San Diego through 10 Barrel highlights the fact that San Diego is truly a world-class brewing center. That reputation is due to the hard work of locally-owned breweries and the San Diego Brewers Guild. Historically, it has been independent brewers who have built the thriving beer community that San Diego is now known for around the world. The risk underlying the acquisition of breweries by large, international corporations and the risk of businesses like the proposed 10 Barrel brewpub in San Diego is that beer drinkers here may think that when they patronize these businesses, and buy and drink beer, that they are supporting the local brewing community. That is not the case. Should the 10 Barrel project open in San Diego as proposed, consumers need to know that it is owned by Anheuser-Busch and not a local craft brewery or a craft brewery in general. Now more than ever, with the introduction of non-craft breweries to San Diego’s craft landscape, it is important to continue to support locally owned and operated San Diego breweries, like the brewer members in the San Diego Brewers Guild.”

I’m a little baffled by that. Are they looking for sympathy for their cause. On one hand it’s certainly understandable that San Diego brewers would prefer to not have a carpetbagger come into their midst, but as Thorn Street Brewery owner Eric O’Connor said in a letter of opposition, “large companies have the right to open and operate where they see fit.” I’m sure I’d feel the same way, but I’m not sure what anyone could do about it. As long as consumers support the venture, it will continue to thrive. If everyone agreed to not patronize it because its ownership wasn’t local, it would likely have to close. But how realistic is that? I’m not trying to be difficult, I honestly don’t know. We all talk a good game about supporting local and not spending money with breweries who’s ownership has changed and/or is not to our individual liking. But Goose Island, 10 Barrel and even Blue Moon continue to do quite well despite all the foot stomping. And this is not a new problem. People said the same thing about Redhook and Widmer when ABI acquired just a minority interest in them in 1994, and both are still in business over twenty years later, so I’m not sure a boycott would really work, nor could this sort of hand-wringing do any good.

In O’Connor’s letter, he adds that if 10 Barrel does come, “there should be complete transparency of who the ownership is and where the money is going.” But isn’t there already? Don’t we already know that ABI owns 10 Barrel and that’s, of course, where the money will go. MillerCoors isn’t hiding the fact that they own Blue Moon, or Saint Archer. Likewise, it’s not exactly a secret who owns Goose Island, Blue Point, or Shock Top. But that’s because there’s a tiny sliver of the market that actually pays attention to who owns what. Most of the world is busy doing something else, living their lives, and drinking whatever they want, oblivious.

And believe me, my sympathies are with the San Diego brewers, but I don’t see what they can really do. ABI also included a pdf of all the complaints their plans have received, including letters from other local bars and brewers. The gist of them is that “beer drinkers here in San Diego may think that when they patronize a business like what 10 Barrel is proposing, and when they buy and drink 10 Barrel’s beer, that they are supporting the local brewing community.” And they’re probably right to be concerned about that, but I think it’s more of a problem because most people don’t care as deeply about that as we do. Mike Sardinia, president of the guild, insists “it is vital that consumers need to know that it is owned by Anheuser-Busch and not a locally operated brewery.” In his conclusion, he warns that “[i]t is important that the City not make it easy for Anheuser-Busch to open in San Diego without due diligence and without a full review of its application and its intentions with the 10 Barrel project.”

The irony there is that in the early days, small brewers were complaining that it wasn’t fair how difficult the then Big 3 (Bud, Miller and Coors) made it for them to obtain distribution, tap handles and generally succeed in a market that they dominated. I’m certainly glad we have more power now, and have, in many cases, succeeded spectacularly, but I’m still not sure this, while understandable, is the best way to use it.

Last month, Peter Rowe, in the San Diego Union-Tribune, asked rhetorically, An Anheuser-Busch brewpub for San Diego? Toward the end, he even mentions that “some threaten to picket and boycott 10 Barrel, when and if it opens,” which also seems silly. If people in San Diego, like most places, are really as supportive of local-only businesses then it will fail all by itself. But I think the real fear is that everybody loves the locals on Twitter, or Facebook, or when answering a pollster, but not when it comes to reality. Like it or not, national brands in every industry are popular precisely because they’re familiar, widely available and the same everywhere. It’s certainly true that artisanal products, like cheese, chocolate, bread, etc. are all doing great, but the big brands are still the big brands, just like with craft beer. Dents have been made, but they still have a majority marketshare.

But headlines about this from mainstream news are along the lines of Local craft brewers to Anheuser-Busch: Keep out. It feels strange to side with the big guys but it doesn’t feel like they’re doing anything particularly wrong here. I understand opposing this or even working together to promote their own local-ness as a positive attribute, but this feels like a case when turnabout isn’t fair play. We should be better than that. If San Diego brewers are making great beer — and they are — and if people in their market are willing to support them, then this is something that will take care of itself, and that, I think should be the goal.

Prohibitionists Pissed Over Deadpool Alcopops

deadpool
I don’t really like malternatives, alcopops, malt-based beverages, or whatever you want to call them. I find them too sweet, the latest overly sweet concoction to take the wine cooler segment of the market. But the one thing I hate more than alcopops in prohibitionists telling me only kids like comic book characters and that if anything appeals to kids in any way, shape or form, then it must be stopped, even if adults happen to like that thing, too. Honestly, it’s a fucked up way to view the world.

It would be pretty hard to miss the news that the latest Marvel Comics film adaptation opens today, and it’s the antihero Deadpool. I just learned, from the sheriff of not-having-fun, Alcohol Justice, that Marvel’s done a collaboration with Mike’s Hard Lemonade and created several flavors with Deadpool on the cans and packaging. Deadpool, the character, has been around since 1991, and while he started out as a villain, he’s become more of a wise-cracking antihero, and as such appeals to young adults and, undoubtedly, precocious teens.

mikes

As a result, the cross-promotion has Alcohol Justice (AJ) screaming bloody murder, accusing everyone involved of actively “threatening” kids. Why? Because “comic books,” of course. If there are comic books, then anything to do with them is about the kids. As the sheriff of AJ claims, “Kids are inherently targeted, PR damage to the brands is substantial, and shareholders should scream for heads to roll.”

For that reason, he’s placing both companies in the “Alcohol Justice Doghouse.” Oh, the humanity! How will they survive their banishment? Here’s a taste of just how out of touch AJ is about this.

A superhero’s mission is to champion good over evil and stand-up for those who can’t defend themselves. Superheroes appeal to many young boys and girls who dream of being one. It’s often reflected in how kids act and dress. But those dreams come crashing down fast when Big Alcohol capitalizes on the popular cartoon imagery of the latest superhero to sell booze.

Obviously, AJ has never before encountered Deadpool. He’s about as much a role model superhero as I am, which is to say not at all. Those values AJ espouses have nothing to do with this film, the character or, frankly, reality. Superman he’s not. He’s not even Spiderman. But what it really comes down to is their unshakeable belief that comic books are only for children. To which I can only say, grow up. Maybe that was true in the beginning or possibly after the Comic Code was instituted insuring family-friendly fare. But it hasn’t been the case since independent comic stores starting popping up in the late 1970s and 80s, creating a market for non-code comics, allowing for a much richer range of stories aimed at all ages. And that’s meant that for several decades there has been sequential art aimed squarely at older kids and even adults. They used to be called “underground comics,” but these are in the mainstream now, and have been for a long time.

I read comics as a kid, of course, but then stopped when I reached my teen years, because in the 1970s there wasn’t much that appealed to me. Most of the comic books were pretty sanitized, with only a few notable exceptions daring to include real current issues and societal problems in their books. But all that changed again in the 1980s when a flurry of creativity created an amazingly mature and complex body of work that was aimed squarely at an older, more mature audience. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore’s The Watchmen and V for Vendetta, or Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, are good examples, to name just a few.

The point that seems lost on AJ is that there are comics that are for children, but there also comics for adults, and everyone in between. Just because something is drawn or animated, doesn’t automatically make it “inherently targeted” at kids. Try Art Spiegelman’s Maus, John Lewis’ March or Joe Sacco’s Palestine and see if you still think comics are only for children.

But here’s where they go off the rails again, where they just make shit up, and create their own reality.

“Though the alcohol industry claims ‘Millennials’ are their target alcopop audience, their promotions and campaigns effectively target youth who are years younger than the minimum legal drinking age,” said [Bruce Lee] Livingston. “As a result of the low prices, wide availability, and marketing tactics like this one by 21st Century Fox & Mike’s Harder Lemonade, alcopops are very popular among underage youth and responsible for a disproportionate share of underage alcohol-related harm.”

So the industry just “claims” they’re marketing to legal adults. Of course, if that weren’t the case they’d be breaking the law, not to mention they’d have an incredibly stupid business model. Don’t you think that if Alcohol Justice could prove actual targeting of underage people, that they’d have tried to put them out of business years ago? This is just propaganda and hyperbole, and not exactly the high moral kind that they so often pretend to be following, usually from atop their very tall horses.

But even if, for the sake of argument, Mike’s was breaking the law, hoping underage teenagers were loitering around their neighborhood convenience store, trying to entice the homeless man living in the alley to buy them some booze, that would not change the fact that kids under 18, and adults under 21, are not allowed to buy alcohol. This is in reality two problems. The first is that AJ believes alcohol companies are actively trying to illegally sell to minors. Given how illegal that is, if they could prove it, they would have by now. The second problem is that even though it’s illegal for minors to buy alcohol, they sometimes still manage to get their hands on it, and they blame the alcohol companies for creating the desire for them. But so what? Seriously, so what?

Before I was sixteen, I definitely wanted to drive a car. I even drove my stepfather’s Corvette around the block when I was 14 or 15. But I still knew I had to wait until I was sixteen before I could get a driver’s license and legally drive. But boy those car ads sure made driving look sexy, and made me want the hot new cars even before I could drive. Maybe we should ban all automobile advertising because it might appeal to kids who don’t have a driver’s license. But, no, we let car companies keep targeting our youth, causing teens to steal cars, go for joyrides and break the law. Obviously, the car advertising is causing the harm, because it appeals to children. Oh, sure, the car manufacturers “claim” that licensed drivers “are their target audience,” but we know better. Just watch how much fun it looks to drive their cars.

So I’m taking my son Porter to see Deadpool tonight, over his Mom’s objection. Not because of the alcopops, of course, but her concerns are because it looks really violent. But Porter loves what he’s seen of the dark humor that’s been shown in the various trailers, and I think he’s old enough. Of course, the film is Rated R, which given that he’s fourteen “requires [an] accompanying parent.” And that’s another reason it’s easy to see that the Deadpool Mike’s are marketing to young adults, 21 and over, since the rating further limits it being seen by minors looking to get buzzed on alcopops. But I’m old and still read comic books. AJ would do well to remember that there are a lot of us, and we drink, too.

deadpool-enjoys-beer