Sapporo Buys Anchor Brewing

anchor-new sapporo-crest
This morning Anchor Brewing and Sapporo anounced that Sapporo Holdings Limited was acquiring all of the equity interest in Anchor Brewing Company, and that they’ll take over at the end of the month, August 31. As large as the beer industry is, it’s also a small community where everybody knows everybody, and everybody talks. As a result, there are few secrets. This was one of those rumors that has been circulating around the beer world for months. It’s a rumor everybody was talking about but no one could confirm, though no one was denying it either. Anchor’s press release holds back the amount of the sale, but the news release from Sapporo gives the transaction as $85 million, which seems like a bargain. Sapporo bought only the brewery; Anchor’s distillery business will be spun off into a separate company.

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Here’s Anchor’s press release:

San Francisco, CA (August 3, 2017) – Anchor Brewing Company announces that Sapporo Holdings Limited will be acquiring the company with plans to continue Anchor’s traditions and legacy in San Francisco while growing the brand globally. Anchor Brewing Company’s flagship beer, Anchor Steam® Beer, has been brewed in San Francisco since 1896. Sapporo has a long-standing history in Japan dating back to 1876 and an appreciation for tradition, craftsmanship and provenance which are all fundamental tenets of Anchor.

“Sapporo shares our values and appreciates our unique, time-honored approach to brewing,” said Keith Greggor, Anchor Brewing Co-Owner. “With both a long-term vision and the resources to realize it, Sapporo will keep brewing Anchor’s beers in San Francisco while expanding to new markets worldwide.”

“Anchor Steam Beer is a San Francisco original, inspiring a new generation of brewers and beer lovers around the world,” said Masaki Oga, President and Representative Director, Sapporo Holdings LTD. “Both companies share a brewing philosophy backed by long histories and this transaction enables both Sapporo Group’s US business and Anchor Brewing Company’s global business to make a further leap forward.”

More than 50 years ago, Anchor started the modern craft beer movement with a series of innovations. Anchor brewed the first post-prohibition Porter, ignited todays IPA boom when it introduced dry-hopping and the cascade hop and created the industry’s first seasonal beers. Since then, the emergence of thousands of craft breweries within the United States and around the world has created the need for scale and synergies to compete in a growing global market for craft beer.

Anchor’s experienced management team will continue to run the business but now benefit from superior financing and additional resources. Sapporo is committed to preserving and maintaining Anchor’s operations in San Francisco, including the historic Potrero Hill brewery. Sapporo will invest in the brewery to improve production efficiencies and will strengthen all aspects of management and production to ensure the highest quality of beer is consistently delivered. In addition, Sapporo is fully supportive of Anchor’s new public taproom concept that will be opening soon. Sapporo will also export Anchor to new international markets using its global distribution resources.

The transaction is expected to close on August 31st; subject to customary closing conditions. Terms are not disclosed. Anchor Distilling Company is not part of this transaction and will now become a fully independent company in its own right.

Sapporo first made its way to America in 1964. In 1984, SAPPORO U.S.A., INC. was founded to help preserve our high standard of quality throughout the country. Today, Sapporo stands alone as the best-selling Asian Beer in the United States for more than 30 years.

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Sapporo’s announcement on their website is more perfunctory and all-business, but in some ways more illuminating:

Sapporo Holdings Limited (hereinafter “Sapporo Holdings”) will acquire all of the equity interest of Anchor Brewing Company (California, US; hereinafter “Anchor”).

The Sapporo Group plans to further expand its US beer business by adding Anchor, a prominent beer manufacturer which produces the leading brand “Anchor Steam® Beer,” to its group.

1. Equity transfer agreement

Sapporo Holdings will enter into an equity transfer agreement with Anchor’s parent company Anchor Brewers and Distillers, LLC (hereinafter “ABD”). The transaction will be conducted through Sapporo Holdings’ subsidiary, to be established for the purpose of entering into the agreement. Sapporo will obtain all of ABD’s equity interest in Anchor which will join its group companies.

Execution date of agreement: August 3, 2017 (Thursday)

Equity transfer date: August 31, 2017 (Thursday)

2. Rationale behind Agreement

Last year, the Sapporo Group formulated the new Long-Term Management Vision “SPEED 150” through 2026, the year marking the Group’s 150th anniversary since its founding. The vision set forth in Speed 150 is for the Sapporo Group to be a company with highly unique brands in the fields of “Alcoholic Beverages,” “Food,” and “Soft Drinks” around the world.

Regarding its “Promote Global Business Expansion” policy, a key driver of its group growth strategy, Sapporo Group is pushing forward a distinctive plan that designates North America its business base and the rapidly growing “Southeast Asian” region as its highest-priority markets. In the US where the SAPPORO brand has maintained its position as the No. 1 Asian beer in the country over 30 years, the Group has been considering expanding its beer business through the acquisition of a new brand as well as further growing the SAPPORO brand.

Anchor is a prominent and historic US beer producer founded in 1896 in San Francisco. “Anchor Steam Beer,” its flagship brand, is said to be an icon that ignited the current craft beer boom in the US. Armed with its strong brand power primarily in San Francisco, where it is based, as well as other areas across the US, it has been enjoyed by countless beer lovers throughout the years.

The addition of Anchor’s strong brand power and network to the Sapporo Group’s US beer business portfolio through the conclusion of this agreement is expected to accelerate its speed of growth in the US.

3. About Anchor

Name: Anchor Brewing Company, LLC (beer manufacturing and sales)
Location: 1705 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, California, USA
Year founded: 1896
Representative: CEO Matt Davenport
Num. of employees: 160 (as of December 2016)
Production plant: One plant (San Francisco, California state)
Sales volume Approximate: 1.75 million cases (equivalent to 355ml × 24 bottles in 2016)
Annual sales Approximate: 33 million U.S. dollars (about ¥3.7 billion in fiscal 12/2016)

(Note 1) Sapporo Holdings acquired Anchor Brewing Company’s “equity” instead of its shares due to the fact that the latter is a limited liability company.

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This is, of course, big news, especially locally. The Chronicle got the exclusive on the story because Fritz Maytag had a good relationship with his local paper and after the Griffon Group bought Anchor they continued that tradition. So my newspaper group, like everyone else, was a little behind, and while their reporters are working on the story itself, they asked me to write an analysis of what the sale means for beer lovers, written for a mainstream audience, so please forgive the explanations of everyday things known by most beer aficionados. After an introduction similar to the one that began this post, here’s my initial thoughts on the acquisition of Anchor:

We know why Sapporo wanted Anchor. Their 150th anniversary is coming in 2026, and they’ve made it policy “to be a company with highly unique brands in the fields of ‘Alcoholic Beverages,’ ‘Food,’ and ‘Soft Drinks’ around the world.” They call it “Speed 150,” or the “Promote Global Business Expansion” policy. For the last thirty years, Sapporo has been the number one beer in the Asian market, but they have plans to expand worldwide through the acquisition of new brands. For example, in 2006, Sapporo bought the third-largest brewer in Canada, Sleeman Breweries.

Sapporo considered Anchor a prime target, characterizing the brewery as “a prominent and historic US beer producer founded in 1896 in San Francisco. ‘Anchor Steam Beer,’ its flagship brand, is said to be an icon that ignited the current craft beer boom in the US. Armed with its strong brand power primarily in San Francisco, where it is based, as well as other areas across the US, it has been enjoyed by countless beer lovers throughout the years.”

So what about Anchor? Why were they interested in being part of Sapporo? According to the rumors, Anchor’s been looking for funding to help fuel their growth for at least a year, as sales faltered somewhat in recent years. They’ve remained a strong brand, but the many new beers they’ve been releasing haven’t all done as well as hoped, and it’s been widely rumored that capacity has been down. Capacity is the maximum amount of beer a brewery can brew in a year, and the closer to 100% a brewery is, the more profitable they are. According to Anchor’s president, Keith Greggor, they’re currently operating at between 55 and 60 percent. The grand Pier 48 plan to build a new brewery and event space near AT&T Park has been on hold for a while now, and it’s unclear if that will change. What will change is Anchor will have access to expansion money and other resources that a company as large as Sapporo can make available for them. For example, they’ve already announced a new public taproom on De Haro St., across the street from the existing brewery will go forward as planned.

As is almost always the case, initially nothing will change at Anchor Brewing. None of the beers will change, they’ll continue to brew at their location on Potrero Hill and the current management team will remain at the helm. When Fritz Maytag sold Anchor to the Griffin Group in 2010, very little changed initially, though many hardcore beer lovers were concerned. As the beer industry is going through a period of time where breweries being bought by other breweries or financial groups is becoming commonplace, these deals are often met with a backlash. After an announced sale, many vow to no longer drink beer from the acquired brewery. It was particularly strong when Anheuser-Busch InBev bought 10 Barrel Brewing, Golden Road Brewing and several others recently or when Constellation Brands bought Ballast Point.

Most beer drinkers will be unaffected. Most don’t follow the beer industry’s news at all, and just buy the beer they like to drink. That’s what recent history has shown. There’s a small subset of all craft beer drinkers who really do follow the beer news, and care deeply about whether or not the brewery is independent. They’re often vicious on social media and once a brewery has “sold out,” they become dead to them. But in almost every case, the new markets and increased distribution that resulted from the acquisition more than makes up for losing their business and sales overall increase, often dramatically.

The trade association for craft breweries — The Brewers Association — has been promoting the value of independent breweries for many years, and rewrote their definition of a “craft brewery” in part to reflect that but also to determine who can be a member. They also recently rolled out an “Independent Craft Beer Seal” that members can put on their labels to indicate that they’re not owned by another company (or at least not more than 25 percent).

Being bought by Sapporo will make Anchor no longer eligible to be a member of the Brewers Association, which is particularly strange since Anchor Brewery is credited with starting the entire craft beer movement that resulted in the conditions that led to a trade group representing small brewers being viable. So as the days and weeks unfold, it will be interesting to see how hardcore beer lovers react. So far this morning, after the announcement, reactions have been fairly tame, at least compared to previous sales. Maybe we’re getting used to these things. They’ve definitely become part of the maturing of the craft beer industry, and we’ll continue to see many more in the coming years. This is simply part of the ups and downs of any industry.

But many beer lovers tend to be more emotional and feel an attachment to their favorite brewery, much more so than seems to happen in other businesses. Many breweries, in addition to their beer, sell a brand lifestyle that’s a part of the brand’s identity. Small brewers regularly promote themselves as being mavericks, rebels, independent or just different as a way of distinguishing themselves from the larger breweries. And it often works too well, so much so that their fans sometimes feel betrayed when they reveal themselves to have been a savvy business all along. I think with Anchor Brewery, who’s been around since 1896, they’ll be less of a backlash than in some of the more recent high profile sales. Anchor, and Fritz Maytag, re-invented itself in 1965 and sparked a revolution in beer-making. No one can take that away from them as they start the next chapter of their journey. As long as I can still get a fresh Liberty Ale the next time I stop by the brewery, everything will be fine.

anchor-liberty-label

As I’m sure many people are wondering, I asked Anchor’s press contact whether or not Fritz was consulted — not that they’d have to, of course — but just as a courtesy, and if so, what his thoughts were. As far as I can tell, I don’t think they did talk to him (again, not that they had to at all) and this was the response I got:

We think they would recognize the difficult decision we had to make and would approve of the care and diligence we have made in the route chosen. This acquisition and investment insures that Anchor will be able to continue its time-honored brewing tradition in San Francisco for a long time, which was Fritz’s goal when he sold the brewery.

Top 50 Breweries For 2016

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The Brewers Association has also just announced the top 50 breweries in the U.S. based on sales, by volume, for 2016, which this year they’re calling the “Top 50 Overall Brewing Companies.” This includes all breweries, regardless of size or any other definitions or parameters. Here is the new list:


Top 50 Overall Brewing Companies

Breweries in bold are considered to be “small and independent craft brewers” under the BA’s current definition. That there are so many footnotes (23 in total, or almost half of the list) explaining exceptions or reasons for the specific entry, seems illustrative of a growing problem with the definition of what is a craft brewery. I certainly understand the need for a trade group to have a clearly defined set of criteria for membership, but I think the current one is getting increasingly outdated again, and it’s only been a few years since the contentious debate that resulted in the current BA one. But it may be time to revisit that again.

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Rank Brewing Company City State
1 Anheuser-Busch, Inc (a) Saint Louis MO
2 MillerCoors (b) Chicago IL
3 Pabst Brewing Co (c) Los Angeles CA
4 D. G. Yuengling & Son, Inc Pottsville PA
5 North American Breweries (d) Rochester NY
6 Boston Beer Co (e) Boston MA
7 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co Chico CA
8 New Belgium Brewing Co Fort Collins CO
9 Lagunitas Brewing Co (f) Petaluma CA
10 Craft Brew Alliance (g) Portland OR
11 Gambrinus (h) San Antonio TX
12 Duvel Moortgat (i) Paso Robles/Kansas City/Cooperstown CA/MO/NY
13 Ballast Point Brewing Co (j) San Diego CA
14 Bell’s Brewery, Inc (k) Comstock MI
15 Deschutes Brewery Bend OR
16 Founders Brewing Co (l) Grand Rapids MI
17 Stone Brewing Co Escondido CA
18 Oskar Blues Brewing
Holding Co
(m)
Longmont CO
19 Sapporo USA (n) La Crosse WI
20 Brooklyn Brewery Brooklyn NY
21 Minhas Craft Brewery (o) Monroe WI
22 Artisanal Brewing Ventures (p) Downington/Lakewood PA/NY
23 Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Milton DE
24 SweetWater Brewing Co Atlanta GA
25 New Glarus Brewing Co New Glarus WI
26 Matt Brewing Co (q) Utica NY
27 Harpoon Brewery Boston MA
28 Alaskan Brewing Co Juneau AK
29 Abita Brewing Co Abita Springs LA
30 Great Lakes Brewing Co Cleveland OH
31 Anchor Brewing Co San Francisco CA
32 Stevens Point Brewery (r) Stevens Point WI
33 August Schell Brewing Co (s) New Ulm MN
33 Long Trail Brewing Co (t) Bridgewater Corners VT
35 Summit Brewing Co Saint Paul MN
36 Odell Brewing Co Fort Collins CO
37 Shipyard Brewing Co (u) Portland ME
38 Full Sail Brewing Co Hood River OR
39 Rogue Ales Newport OR
40 21st Amendment Brewery Bay Area CA
41 Flying Dog Brewery Frederick MD
42 Ninkasi Brewing Co Eugene OR
43 Gordon Biersch Brewing Co San Jose CA
44 Allagash Brewing Co Portland ME
45 Narragansett Brewing Co Providence RI
46 Green Flash Brewing Co (v) San Diego CA
47 Tröegs Brewing Co Hershey PA
48 Uinta Brewing Co Salt Lake City UT
49 Bear Republic Brewing Co Cloverdale CA
50 Pittsburgh Brewing Co (w) Pittsburgh PA

six-glasses


2016 Top 50 Overall U.S.
Brewing Companies Notes

Details from brand lists are illustrative and may not be exhaustive. Ownership stakes reflect
greater than 25% ownership:

(a) Anheuser-Busch, Inc includes 10 Barrel, Bass, Beck’s, Blue Point, Bud Light,
Budweiser, Breckenridge, Busch, Devils Backbone (partial year), Elysian, Four Peaks,
Golden Road, Goose Island, Karbach (partial year), King Cobra, Landshark, Michelob,
Natural Rolling Rock, Shock Top, Wild Series brands and Ziegenbock brands. Does not
include partially owned Coastal, Craft Brew Alliance, Fordham, Kona, Old Dominion,
Omission, Red Hook, and Widmer Brothers brands;
(b) MillerCoors includes A.C. Golden, Batch 19, Blue Moon, Colorado Native, Coors,
Hamms, Hop Valley (partial year), Icehouse, Keystone, Killian’s, Leinenkugel’s,
Mickey’s, Milwaukee’s Best, Miller, Olde English, Revolver (partial year), Saint Archer,
Steel Reserve, Tenth & Blake, and Terrapin (partial year) brands;
(c) Pabst Brewing Co includes Ballantine, Lone Star, Pabst, Pearl, Primo, Rainier, Schlitz
and Small Town brands;
(d) North American Breweries includes Dundee, Genesee, Labatt Lime, Mactarnahan’s,
Magic Hat, Portland and Pyramid brands as well as import volume;
(e) Boston Beer Co includes Alchemy & Science and Sam Adams brands. Does not include
Twisted Tea or Angry Orchard brands;
(f) Lagunitas Brewing Co ownership stake by Heineken;
(g) Craft Brew Alliance includes Kona, Omission, Red Hook and Widmer Brothers brands;
(h) Gambrinus includes BridgePort, Shiner and Trumer brands;
(i) Duvel Moortgat USA includes Boulevard, Firestone Walker, and Ommegang brands;
(j) Ballast Point Brewing Co owned by Constellation brands;
(k) Bell’s Brewery, Inc includes Bell’s and Upper Hand brands;
(l) Founders ownership stake by Mahou San Miguel;
(m) Oskar Blues Brewing Holding Co includes Cigar City, Perrin and Utah Brewers
Cooperative brands;
(n) Sapporo USA includes Sapporo and Sleeman brands as well as export volume;
(o) Minhas Craft Brewery includes Huber, Mountain Crest and Rhinelander brands as well as
export volume;
(p) Artisanal Brewing Ventures includes Victory and Southern Tier brands;
(q) Matt Brewing Co includes Flying Bison, Saranac and Utica Club brands;
(r) Stevens Point Brewery includes James Page and Point brands;
(s) August Schell Brewing Co includes Grain Belt and Schell’s brands;
(t) Long Trail Brewing Co includes Long Trail, Otter Creek, The Shed and Wolaver’s
brands;
(u) Shipyard Brewing Co includes Casco Bay, Sea Dog and Shipyard brands;
(v) Green Flash Brewing Co includes Alpine and Green Flash brands;
(w)Pittsburgh Brewing Co includes Iron City and Old German brands

BEER-generic

Here is this year’s press release.

Session #119: The Discomfort Of Burning Mouth Beer

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For our 119th Session, our host is Alec Latham, who writes Mostly About Beer …. For his topic, he’s chosen Discomfort Beer, by which he means a beer which initially tasted funny, or odd, or off, or something, but which later became a favorite. Or maybe it didn’t. I’m not sure if I’m explaining that very well, so I’ll just let Alec take over and describe what he means:

What was your first ever taste of beer like? For me, it was like chilled copper coins mixed with tonic water and was disgusting. This is a process us committed beer drinkers can revisit every time we try something new.

A few years ago, I visited a pub in Pimlico called the Cask and Kitchen. There was a beer called Wild Raven by Thornbridge Brewery. Making assumptions based on the title, I ordered a pint as I love stout. I remember opening the sluices and then seizing up. Something wasn’t right. It had the chocolatey flavour of a stout but there was an intruder – lemon rind hissed in my nostrils and tainted my palate. Citrus grappled with the roast malt. Was it supposed to taste like this? Was it infection? Detergent? I spent some time staring at the floor in a suspended double-take.

That was my first ever Black IPA and at the time I wasn’t sure. Initially, I didn’t like it but whilst deciding whether or not to return it to the bar I kept giving it the benefit of the doubt. The dislike diminished. The acceptance grew. The pint gradually drained.

Black IPA is now one of my favourite styles but it could have gone the other way.

And does a Black IPA still get me blinking at the floor in a state of disquiet? No. Neither does the astringent character of Brett nor the dry bite of Lambic. All styles have been comprehensively “locked in”. Ultimately, familiarity devours discomfort.

For Session 119 I’d like you to write about which/what kind of beers took you out of your comfort zones. Beers you weren’t sure whether you didn’t like, or whether you just needed to adjust to. Also, this can’t include beers that were compromised, defective, flat, off etc because this is about deliberate styles. It would be interesting to see if these experiences are similar in different countries.

I think this could be a good archive for people researching fads, the origins of styles and the dearths of others – but especially how new ones were initially perceived.

Over the past year I’ve had a black barley wine, a braggot, a rye wine, a seaweed and cloudberry Gose, a beer made with Saki yeast and several made with Champagne yeast. I’ve sipped stout with Tonka beans, drank mulled lager and many tea beers – some with the tea complementing the hops – others completely replacing them. This has also been a year where 9 ABV hop-forward beers have become standard (from the UK perspective).

Some of the above I loved, others I liked and some I hated. What remains to be seen is which will catch on and which are just brief social media cameos.

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The beer that brings me the most discomfort I first tried in the mid-1990s. It was Ed’s Cave Creek Chili. Every bottle has a whole chili pepper inside of it. Why? Besides being novel, and eye-catching, some people — many people — like hot and spicy food. I am not one of those people, which immediately puts me at a disadvantage. It came across my desk as the chain beer buyer for Beverages & more. And so I tried it, and instantly regretted it. And still do to this day. Besides the pain of the barrage of hot and spicy flavors, these beers completely ruin me for any other beer I might want to drink, or really anything I might to eat too. Basically, it makes me unable to taste anything else for a period of time, and not just a few seconds; more like minutes, sometimes well over an hour.

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Of course, we brought it in. Just because I don’t like something shouldn’t mean others wouldn’t want to try it. And there was some obvious appeal for people who like that sort of thing, and it sold reasonably well, probably to just the sort of person who loves four-alarm (or is it five-alarm now?) chili or ghost peppers. People who must go to the extremes, who never met a challenge they wouldn’t try.

The beer is still around, though it’s now called Cave Creek Chili Beer, and is brewed in Mexico. As far as I know, it was the first modern chili beer. It was certainly the first one I ever tried. And they appear to even be growing in popularity. Chili Beer was in a subgroup for GABF and World Beer Cup judging, but recently were broken out into their own category. That only happens if they’re getting a growing number of entries each year. I always bow out of judging that category.

To be fair, I don’t like hot or spices in anything, food or liquid. I am unabashedly a spice wuss. I grew up in rural Amish country Pennsylvania, and like to joke that my family only used two spices: salt and lard. But that’s not far off, as most of the dishes I remember eating were fairly bland; corn pie, meatloaf, casseroles, stews, potato soup, stuff with very few spices. Maybe it was just my Mom, but most of her recipes came from other family members, so I don’t think so. Anyway, to this day I don’t even eat mustard or mayonnaise, no pepper, never touch any Indian food, and will eat only the plainest Mexican fare. After over twenty years, my wife will still hand me something, saying it’s not too hot, and I’ll gag from the spiciness. Of course, this usually makes her laugh, so maybe she’s been doing it on purpose all this time.

But that aside, I don’t think that beer should compete with my food, or even my tongue, for attention. It can wash down and compliment or even contrast my food, but if it renders me unable to taste the next bite, then to my way of thinking it’s not doing its job. It should also be pleasant and ultimately enjoyable. And burning the inside of my mouth has never accomplished that, even though I realize that is actually a goal for some people.

But using any more than the barest amount of chili peppers usually results in it overpowering whatever the base style of beer is, effectively removing its beeriness. I have the same issue with many barrel-aged beers, when they take on so much of the barrel character, or whatever had been in the barrel previously, that its essence is gone, having lost its beeriness in the process. If I want bourbon, I’ll just drink bourbon. In any flavored beer, the adjunct or wood should add to the beer, but not mask, remove or overpower its essential beeriness, otherwise it becomes something else entirely. And for almost every chili pepper beer that’s what happens. I have had one or two examples where it was subtle enough that it did just add to the flavors and not overwhelm your senses, but that’s rare enough that it’s an exception rather than a degree of that type of beer. The majority, I feel, want to hurt me, and wear that goal like a badge of honor, daring me to try it. I don’t think of drinking beer as an endurance test, something to make it through, or a challenge to meet.

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So unlike Alec’s experience with Black IPAs, or many people, including myself, warming to a new type of beer, chili beer seems like a love it or hate it kind of beer, with little ground in the middle. And you won’t be surprised to learn I hate them. How could there be any middle ground? Maybe your tolerance for spiciness increases over time, but that has not been my personal experience. My wife has been trying for over twenty years, as did many girlfriends before that. And while I do, believe it or not, eat many more foods today than I did when I was a child and in the intervening years, many people are still shocked at how picky I am and usually chuckle at what I consider to be too spicy. C’est la vie.

So maybe I could, through a concerted effort, patent sampling, building up a tolerance over time, learn to better appreciate chili beers. Then what? They’d still be too much for everyday consumption. I can’t imagine a scenario or situation where that’s a beer I’d ever reach for willingly. What occasion would be appropriate to drink something that will burn my mouth and cause me to be unable to taste anything else? Maybe it’s pure hedonism on my part, but I don’t want to have to work at enjoying a beer. A good beer should, at the very least, just be enjoyable on its own, part and parcel of its beeriness. That is, and rightly should be what beeriness means: something delicious that you want to drink, and is enjoyable during and afterwards, or something that does not cause any discomfort.

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St. Nicholas: Patron Saint of Brewers

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While St. Nicholas is best known — in America, at least — for wearing red and white and giving presents to Children each December 25, he’s actually the patron saint for a number of professions, places and afflictions. His feast day is not actually Christmas Day, but almost three weeks earlier on December 6. That’s the reason why the holiday beer Samichlaus is brewed each year on this day. The person we associate with Christmas, Santa Claus, was based on Saint Nicholas, who was originally known (and still is in some places) as Bishop Nicholas of Myra.

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Nicholas is the patron saint of brewers, among many others. He’s also the patron saint against imprisonment, against robberies, against robbers. And Nick’s the patron for apothecaries, bakers, barrel makers, boatmen, boot blacks, boys, brewers, brides, captives, children, coopers, dock workers, druggists, fishermen, Greek Catholic Church in America, Greek Catholic Union, grooms, judges, lawsuits lost unjustly, longshoremen, maidens, mariners, merchants, penitent murderers, newlyweds, old maids, parish clerks, paupers, pawnbrokers, perfumeries, perfumers, pharmacists, pilgrims, poor people, prisoners, sailors, scholars, schoolchildren, shoe shiners, spinsters, students, penitent thieves, travellers, University of Paris, unmarried girls, and watermen. Places he’s the patron for are Apulia, Italy; Avolasca, Italy; Bardolino, Italy; Bari, Italy; Cammarata, Sicily, Italy; Cardinale, Italy; Cas Concos, Spain; Creazzo, Italy; Duronia, Italy; Fossalto, Italy; Gagliato, Italy; Greece; La Thuile, Italy; Lecco, Italy; Limerick, Ireland; Liptovský Mikulás, Slovakia; Lorraine; Mazzano Romano, Italy; Mentana, Italy; Miklavž na Dravskem polju, Slovenia; Naples, Italy; Portsmouth, England; Russia; Sassari, Italy; Sicily; Is-Siggiewi, and Malta.

He also has many names around the world, such as Baba Chaghaloo, Father Christmas, Joulupukki, Kanakaloka, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel, Papa Noël, Santa Claus, and Weihnachtsmann (“Christmas Man” or “Nikolaus”), to name just a few.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Saint Nicholas (March 15, 270 – December 6, 346) is the common name for Nicholas of Myra, a saint and Bishop of Myra (in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey). Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and is now commonly identified with Santa Claus. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was the custom in his time. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nicholas of Bari.

The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honoured by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, and children, and students in Greece, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia and Montenegro. He is also the patron saint of Barranquilla, Bari, Amsterdam, Beit Jala, and Liverpool. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch name for New York City. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari. So beloved is Saint Nicholas by Russians, one commonly heard saying is that “if God dies, at least we’ll still have St. Nicholas.”

The American image of Santa Claus in red and white has more to do with marketing than anything else. I wrote about this in The Santa Hypocrisy a couple of years ago when the Shelton Brothers were in hot water from several states who tried to tell them Santa Claus on a beer label threatened the American way of life and especially the impressionable young kiddies who would all be led down the path to underage drinking and alcoholism because Santa was depicted on a beer label. It was an utterly ridiculous position and they ultimately backed down, but it’s indicative of our puritan hang-ups as a culture and our general paternalism where we believe everyone needs to be protected. And in retrospect I can now see how the “institutionalized demonization of alcohol” creates the conditions for such decisions. Remember the message? “Alcohol is evil. No one can be trusted with it.” When that’s the underlying assumption, you create rules for what can and can’t be displayed on a label that are way beyond reason; standards no other products have to follow because they’re not seen as inherently evil.

But before the 20th century and in other parts of the world, Santa Claus was and still is depicted in many different ways and in various colors. Father Christmas, for example, is often seen wearing a green robe, as in the British Isles he’s more associated with nature and the old Celtic religions. The yule log, Christmas tree, wreaths, mistletoe and many other features we take for granted during the holidays do not have direct Christian origins, but were appropriated from pagan religions in order to make the transition to Christianity easier for the masses to make. Personally, I love a green Santa Claus because it reminds me of hops, and a Santa that stands for hops is one I can get behind.
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Few American beer labels show Santa precisely because of our peculiar brand of paternalism and the label laws spawned by our institutionalized demonization of alcohol. Santa’s Private Reserve, from Rogue in Oregon, is one of the few I can think of year after year. Most, not surprisingly, come from abroad, where people take a more reasonable approach to both the holidays and alcohol. There’s the famous Santa’s Butt from Ridgeway Brewing in England, but also Pickled Santa from the Hop Back Brewery and Austria’s Samichlaus is translated as “Santa Claus.”

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Why does it seem like we’re the only uptight nation on Earth when it comes to this silly issue. In Hong Kong, a giant Santa Claus is shown with a mug of beer, and no one seems to be that concerned. Try putting something like that up here, and all hell would break loose. We’re the only country complaining that there’s a “War on Christmas,” as stupid a notion as ever there was one, especially in a nation where those who celebrate Christmas constitute the vast majority.

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The point is if the church can have a patron saint of brewing, why do religious people object to St. Nicholas being on beer labels? Wouldn’t it make perfect sense for brewers to want to place their patron saint on their beer?

Throughout Europe, Monks not only kept alive the method of brewing beer but improved techniques for making it. A Benedictine nun in Germany, Hildegard von Bingen, is most likely responsible for the introduction of hops in beer. Religion and brewing are intertwined throughout history and, in every place except the United States, that continues to be the case. Why? What about our particular religiosity makes us incapable of seeing that and reconciling it? Why is it seemingly acceptable for Santa Claus to be used to sell everything under the sun … except alcohol. Santa sells cigarettes, soda pop, fast food and pretty much everything else with capitalistic glee yet alcohol is the corrupting influence? That’s going too far somehow? Please.

That Santa Claus only appeals to children is usually the rallying cry of the buffoons who complain about this sort of thing, but a survey of pop culture will reveal that St. Nick is used in all manner of adult contexts. Kris Kringle, like the spirit of Christmas itself, belongs to all of us, not just children. There’s no doubt that I love seeing Christmas through the fresh eyes of my children, their innocence and wonder adds a new dimension to my enjoyment of the season. But I loved the holidays as much before I was a father and after I was an adult, too.

That St. Nicholas appeals to wide array of people should be obvious from the huge number of groups and places that consider him their patron. When so many look to him for comfort in such a varied number of ways, how can anyone say what he is or what he isn’t, where he’s appropriate or where he’s not? They can’t of course, despite neo-prohibitionists and our government’s attempts to the contrary. As the patron saint of brewers, Santa Claus is, and ought to be, perfectly at home on a bottle of beer.

There’s also a wealth of information about the real Santa Claus at the Saint Nicholas Center online.

Session #117: Predicting The Future Of Beer

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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.

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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.

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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.

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First Self-Driving Truck Makes Beer Run

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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The Downside To Working Long Hours

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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.

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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.

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Prohibition Party 2016

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jim Hedges and Adam Gabbatt in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania, taken by Guardian author Adam Gabbatt.

Budweiser Tries To Rebrand Itself As “America”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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