Despite being primarily a wine site, Vinepair often has some interesting beer content. A few months ago, they created a chart of The 20 Most Popular Beers in America. The rankings are based on IRI data from 2013, which is a little odd since more recent figures are undoubtedly available. But in the top sellers, they don’t change all that often so it’s likely still reasonably accurate.
In the “Details” below, the twenty beers are listed with a number of pieces of other interesting data, including the number of cases, price per case and their Beer Advocate score.
Show of hands: who remembers “Here’s to Beer,” the somewhat lackluster attempt by Anheuser-Busch to teach consumers more about beer eight years ago? No? Let me refresh your memory. The original idea in 2005 was to have all of the major breweries work together to promote beer as an industry, rather than promote any one brand, sort of like the Beer Belongs campaign by a brewers trade group in the late 1940s and 1950s. Unfortunately, trust was not strong among the competing larger breweries and none signed on, fearing A-B would run the show and control the message for their own benefit. So A-B decided to go it alone, and launched a consumer website in 2006 called Here’s to Beer. If you click on the link, it still works, but it’s not that first attempt anymore. Before it launched there were press releases and media talking about it, including me in Here’s To Beer — Here’s to Making it Appear Relevant and Appealing. A few days later the website went live and I did an initial review of it, which was not overwhelmingly positive. A year later I started questioning if Here’s to Beer was dead with R.I.P. Here’s to Beer? But it turned out that the reports of its demise had been premature, and a month later Phase 2 launched with an updated website. That website, which used to be “herestobeer.com” changed to “htbeerconnoisseur.com” and that’s the one that is still online, although it doesn’t appear to have been updated in quite some time, if ever. The copyright information at the bottom of the home page is dated 2009, and attributed to “Here’s to Beer, Inc.” which you won’t be surprised to learn is located at 1 Busch Place, Saint Louis,” the headquarters for Anheuser-Busch InBev. So Phase 2 was about as successful as the first attempt, and quietly faded away.
So this past Tuesday, on “National Beer Day,” you may have seen some of these graphics making the rounds on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. I know I retweeted a couple of them.
It turns out they’re part of a new effort by ABI, this time called “Leg’s Grab a Beer.” Apparently Beer Marketer’s Insights first reported on it, but I saw it on AdAge, in an article entitled Let’s Grab a Beer… With A-B InBev: Brewer Tries Unbranded Beer Image Campaign. The idea, this time around, according to Julia Mize, ABI VP of Beer Category + Community, is wanting “consumers to understand all the different varieties that are available with beer for different occasions.” Which is much more possible now that they acquired several more smaller breweries outright.
But her subsequent statement is really hilarious: “[W]e wanted to do it in a non-branded way so that we make sure we are connecting with the consumers and it’s not forced. It’s not marketing. Our intention here is to just have a resource that is relevant and fun and celebrates beer.” That reminds me of something Bill Hicks said about marketing, “they’re going for the anti-marketing dollar.” Essentially they’re marketing by not marketing, a tactic more prevalent in our more media-savvy present. And while I’m certainly not against a little education, this seems more like a Tumblr than any real effort at that. The plan apparently is for the “site [to] include a combination of original and aggregated content, ranging from ‘deep reads about the past, present and future of beer’ to colorful charts and graphics,” although at least for now there’s a lot more of the latter. Some of the “deep reads” include such titles as “7 Beer GIFs that Will Make Your Mouth Water” and a photograph of “Women demonstrating against Prohibition 1932.” It’s not exactly heady stuff they’re tackling so far.
Here’s to Beer, for all its faults, at least tried to educate consumers. This latest attempt seems more intended to entertain, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The National Beer Day cards were done, apparently, in partnership with Some E-Cards. Sadly, it doesn’t look like you can make your own cards using the beer background. That’s a shame, it would have been fun to make some.
There’s definitely some interesting things being shared, but edumacation it ain’t. The other problem I see is something that seems to happen frequently to these sorts of efforts. There was a flurry of posts to the Let’s Grab a Beer Tumblr (might as well call it what it is) but then nothing new since Tuesday, three days ago. That’s a long time for a tumblr to not be updated. I have several, and make an effort to post something at least once a day, while many others post new content far more often than that. But Here’s to Beer suffered from the same problem: infrequent updates gave little reason to return to the site with any frequency. If you can absorb everything there in a few minutes and then there’s nothing new posted, why would anyone become a regular visitor?
It’s somewhat obvious why they’re doing this, as one of their own posts makes clear. So if beer drinkers are using social media more often, why wouldn’t they realize you have to keep up with the pace of that social media? If they really want something like this to work, they need at least a dedicated person working on this 24/7. That’s what makes a successful Tumblr.
Midway through the AdAge article, the author suggests it’s branding at the heart of this move.
But there is also an inherent fear in industry circles about the so-called “wineification” [how I hate that word!] of beer. This refers to placing emphasis on beer styles, versus brands. For instance, if more people walk into bars and ask for a “wheat beer,” rather than a Shock Top or Blue Moon, brands become less valuable. And good branding equals profits.
“They are facing the ultimate challenge here of trying to promote a category that really lives through its brands,” said one industry executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “So how do you celebrate beer without making it a commodity? The value of the industry is in the equity of the brands.”
I have to take issue with her definition of “wineification,” saying it means “placing emphasis on beer styles, versus brands.” I don’t think that’s it at all. Nobody walks into a wine bar and says “give me a Chardonnay” or “oh, anything red will be fine.” The term generally has been used to suggest that beer is trying to be fancy, or be marketed more like wine, and is usually used derisively (at least by me). I think people do look to drink a particular type of beer they’re in the mood for or for some other reason just want at a particular time, but it’s been a long time (at least a decade or more, I’d guess) since most people would sit down at a bar and ask the bartender for whatever “pale ale,” or perhaps more popularly an “IPA, they have on tap. Brands still matter a great deal, as the spate of recent high profile trademark disputes among brewers should make abundantly clear to anyone paying attention.
But the rest is an interesting insight. Branding is how all of the big brewers made their fortunes, especially when most beer tasted about the same. In effect, all beer was commodified for a long time, which is why advertising, marketing and branding became so important for the success of the big beer companies. It was no accident that year after year, A-B outspent their competition in ad dollars per barrel by a wide margin. I haven’t seen those figures since InBev took control of A-B, but certainly that was the case up until that transition.
Now that smaller breweries have essentially uncommodified beer by offering a wide range of beers that don’t all resemble or taste like one another, big brewers are left asking themselves what to do now. “So how do you celebrate beer without making it a commodity? The value of the industry is in the equity of the brands.” In some ways that, anonymous executive is still engaging in old beer thinking, using the framework of how the industry used to be constituted. One could argue it still is since 90% of beer is of that single, commodified type — American lager — but it’s nowhere near as universal as when I was a kid. And I think even small beer’s 10% slice of the total beer pie is enough to have at least changed many, if not most, people’s perception of it, even if they choose to still buy the big brewer’s beers. Even the loyal customers still buying the bland American beers know about Yuengling, or Samuel Adams, or Sierra Nevada, or New Belgium, or Lagunitas. What the big brewers bought with decades of blanket advertising was not just blind loyalty, but habit. And habits are harder to shake, because they’re no longer conscious decisions.
So I’m unequivocally in favor of beer education for everyone. We’ve known since the beginning of flavorful beer’s rise that education was the path to winning over more beer drinkers. In order to appreciate it, you have to know something about it. That may not be necessary to simply drink it and enjoy it, but to appreciate what you’re tasting, you do have to know a little more.
I think music once again provides a useful analogy. You don’t need to know anything about music theory or composition to love the Allegro con brio first movement to Beethoven’s 5th symphony in C minor, or Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. But if you do, the experience is much richer because you understand what they were doing differently than their predecessors and how they were expressing musical ideas. The history of music is all about rules, and breaking them. Baroque music was very orderly and followed strict rules for its composition, then innovative composers broke those rules and created the classical music period, which in turn had its rules broken by romantic composers, and so on. Each time there was push back from the status quo before the new music became the next established form.
I think we’re seeing something similar with beer, too, as traditional rules have been broken, but are often respected, too. Innovation is simply trying something a little different or even going back to something that hasn’t been done for a long time, or mixing the two, or doing something old in a new way. It doesn’t have to mean something particularly snooty or high falootin’ as we so often seem to think. It’s just how change occurs. It’s trying to find something you can call your own that a brewery can sell and make their reputation. Few breweries, if any, will do that making the same thing as everybody else is. That’s how we got in the mess we were in by 1980 in the first place. So we should expect breweries to try something new, with 3,000 of them they almost have to experiment to find a niche, or their place in the market. Some will undoubtedly work better than others, and some will ultimately fail while others succeed. That’s the natural order of things. That’s healthy competition, with breweries competing on taste or what people are willing to support and buy.
I think I’ve veered off quite a bit from where I started with this, rambling on about some unrelated ideas, but the takeaway is that education matters — “Just Say Know™” is my catchphrase — but this may not be the best way to engage more people to learn about beer. Still, I’m up for whatever. Let’s grab a beer.
This is my eighth annual annotated list of the Top 50, skipping last year 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.
- Anheuser-Busch InBev; #1 nine years, no surprise
- MillerCoors; ditto for #2
- Pabst Brewing; ditto for #3
- D. G. Yuengling and Son; Same as last year
- Boston Beer Co.; Same as last year
- North American Breweries; 5th year on the list, same position as last year
- Sierra Nevada Brewing; Same as last year
- New Belgium Brewing; Same as last year
- Craft Brewers Alliance; Same as last year
- Gambrinus Company; Same as last year
- Lagunitas Brewing; Same as last year
- Bell’s Brewery; Up 1 from #13 last year
- Deschutes Brewery; Down 1 from #12 last year
- Stone Brewing; Up 3 from #17 last year
- Sleeman Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
- Minhas Craft Brewery; Down 1 from #15 last year
- Brooklyn Brewery; Down 1 from #26 last year
- Duvel Moortgat USA (Boulevard Brewing/Ommegang); Down 4 from #14 last year
- Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Up 1 from #20 last year
- Matt Brewing; Down 2 from #18 last year
- Harpoon Brewery; Down 2 from #19 last year
- Firestone Walker Brewing; Up 1 from #23 last year
- Founders Brewing; Jumped Up 12 from #35 last year
- SweetWater Brewing; Up 2 from #26 last year
- New Glarus Brewing; Same as last year
- Alaskan Brewing; Down 2 from #24 last year
- Abita Brewing; Down 5 from #22 last year
- Anchor Brewing; Up 1 from #29 last year
- Great Lakes Brewing; Down 2 from #27 last year
- Oskar Blues Brewing; Up 3 from #33
- Shipyard Brewing; Down 10 from #21 last year
- Stevens Point Brewery; Up 13 from #45 last year
- August Schell Brewing; Down 5 from #33 last year
- Summit Brewing; Down 2 from #32 last year
- Victory Brewing; Down 2 from #37 last year
- Long Trail Brewing; Down 5 from #31 last year
- Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits; Up 1 from #38 last year
- Rogue Ales Brewery; Down 2 from #36 last year
- Full Sail Brewing; Down 5 from #34 last year
- Odell Brewing; Up 4 from #44 last year
- Southern Tier Brewing; Down 1 from #40 last year
- Ninkasi Brewing; Down 3 from #39 last year
- World Brew/Winery Exchange; Down 13 from #30 last year
- Flying Dog Brewery; Down 1 from #43 last year
- Pittsburgh Brewing (fka Iron City); Down 2 from #47 last year
- Uinta Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
- Bear Republic Brewing; Down 1 from #46 last year
- Left Hand Brewing; Up 2 from #50 last year
- 21st Amendment Brewery; Not in Top 50 last year, though they were on the list in 2012
- Allagash Brewing; Not in Top 50 last year
Not too much movement this year, except for a few small shufflings. Only four new breweries made the list; Sleeman Brewing, Uinta Brewing, 21st Amendment Brewery and Allagash Brewing.
Off the list was Blue Point Brewing, Cold Spring Brewing, CraftWorks Breweries & Restaurants (Gordon Biersch/Rock Bottom), Karl Strauss Breweries, Lost Coast Brewery, and Mendocino Brewing.
Here’s yet another look at the changing landscape of brewery ownerships, this time from Vinepair, and while they primarily write about wine, they also must tacitly accept the well-trodden wisdom that “it takes a lot of beer to make great wine,” since they do occasionally tackle beer. Last week, the posted their “Map: The Companies Who Actually Make Your Beer.” It’s restricted to ten of the largest companies who own multiple breweries and, to their credit, it’s been updated four times so far, meaning they’re doing their best to get it right, which given its complexity, not to mention who often it’s changing, is no easy task.
The Wall Street Journal had a piece on the beer business entitled Beer Giants Cultivate Their Crafty Side which I can’t read in its entirety because I don’t have a subscription, but it did include a chart showing the current state of affairs in the beer industry.
Shifting Suds. “Independent brewers are selling more beer,” but given this comes from the Wall Street Journal (which is all about BIG business) they can’t help but add “but their shipments remain small compared with the big beer brands.”
What the Wall Street Journal forgets to mention is that Anheuser-Busch was founded in 1852 and didn’t hit 1 million annual barrels until 1901, when they were 49 years old. Sierra Nevada took only 35 years (or less) to reach 1 million, and Boston Beer needed even less time, reaching their first million barrels 1996, meaning it took Samuel Adams 12 years.
As the year’s winding down, I noticed this article from Booze News from last week entitled America’s Fastest Growing Beer Brands. While the article itself offered few insights, I noticed a graphic depicting which beer companies owned which brands. The graphic was taken from a Gizmodo article that ran a little over a year ago about Who Actually Owns Your Favorite Beers. I added one or two to ABI’s stable of brands, but otherwise a year on it’s still fairly accurate. If there’s any that need to be added, or changed, let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I can do.
For the last several years, sales of some of the major beer brands have been slipping, and not just the sub-premiums or secondary packages but even once mighty flagships. 24/7 Wall Street has a new list of some of these brands, characterized as Beers Americans No Longer Drink. Using data from Beer Marketer’s Insights, here are seven brands that have lost significant sales, at least 20%, between 2013 and 2008. The negative number following the name is how much sales are down in that six-year period.
- Miller High Life -21.2%
- Budweiser -27.6%
- Milwaukee’s Best Light -40.6%
- Milwaukee’s Best -57.0%
- Miller Genuine Draft -58.3%
- Budweiser Select -61.1%
Some additional analysis and reasons for the decline, according to 24/7 Wall St:
Another key factor in the weakening sales has been price dynamics. “Beer prices were increased more aggressively over the last five years than wine and spirits,” Shepard said. Many people in the industry believe that, as a result, some customers replaced buying beer with the now relatively less expensive wines and spirits, he explained.
Several other products were also gaining at the expense of big brand-name beers, Shepard noted. While some customers have been moving to wine and spirits, others were switching to imported beer, particularly Mexican imports. Indeed, in the five years through 2013, shipments of Mexican brands Dos Equis and Modelo Especial more-than doubled. Similarly, he added, “Some [drinkers] are moving to craft [beer]. Clearly, there’s been a trade-up in the industry.”
Craft beers have largely bucked the overall downtrend in beer sales. From 2008 to 2013, shipments of craft beer rose by 80.1% to a total of more than 16 million barrels, or 7.6% of the U.S. beer market. While the craft beer category now outsells Budweiser, it remains a relatively niche market. For comparison, the nation’s top-selling brand, Bud Light, shipped 38 million barrels in 2013, accounting for 18% of all beer shipped.
This caught me by surprise. Anheuser-Busch InBev announced today that it is buying 10 Barrel Brewing, the award-winning brewpub located in Bend, Oregon. 10 Barrel is the brewery that Tonya Cornett, formerly of Bend Brewing, moved to a couple of years ago.
From the press release:
“For the past eight years, we’ve been brewing beer, drinking beer and having fun doing it.” said co-founder Jeremy Cox, who will continue to lead 10 Barrel along with his partners, co-founder and brother Chris Cox, and Garrett Wales. “We are excited to stay focused on brewing cool beers, get our beers in more hands, and make the most of the operational and distribution expertise of Anheuser-Busch,” said Cox.
10 Barrel expects to sell approximately 40,000 barrels of beer in 2014. Apocalypse IPA, the brewer’s most popular beer, accounts for nearly half of the company’s total volume.
“10 Barrel, its brewers, and their high-quality beers are an exciting addition to our high-end portfolio,” said Andy Goeler, CEO, Craft, Anheuser-Busch. “The brewery is a major contender in the Northwest, an area with a large number of craft breweries. We see tremendous value in the brewery’s unique offerings and differentiated style, which 10 Barrel fans know and love.”
In addition to the Bend brewery, the acquisition will include the company’s existing brewpubs in Bend and Boise, Idaho; and a Portland brewpub scheduled to open in early 2015.
The deal should close by the end of the year, though the terms or price have not been disclosed.
The founders of 10 Barrel also posted a short video explaining their decision and, perhaps more importantly, asking people to give them the benefit of the doubt before rushing to judgment and “let the beer do the talking.”
While to a certain extent it’s easy to understand the reaction of the big brewers, it’s still just sad. It’s the equivalent of negotiating with terrorists, in this case the food terrorists, so to speak. If you haven’t figured out what I’m talking about yet, it’s the so-called Food Babe, and her weird crusade against beer, among many other foodstuffs. She’s the modern version of yellow journalism, all sensationalism and almost no substance. It’s described as “a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.”
Her first salvo was last year when she sensationally claimed to expose The Shocking Ingredients in Beer. Almost every one was as un-shocking as it gets, especially if you understand the brewing process. But that’s the new yellow journalism, and unfortunately you see it all over the internet. A provocative headline to grab page views, link bait or something just overly sensational is all you need. It’s happened so many times since I’ve been writing online that I’ve lost count. And it works. The beer community rushes in to correct egregious mistakes, faulty reasoning, uninformed opinion while the hit count spikes, advertisers smile and websites raise their advertising rates. It rarely matters that what’s written is often wrong, sometimes so utterly wrong that it should be embarrassing for not only the author, but the publication, too. And yet curiously, it’s not. And for me, that’s why it’s yellow journalism. It’s not intended to be factual, or well-researched or reasoned. It’s sole purpose is to get eyeballs on the page. And facts apparently are boring. The truth is somnambulistic. Controversy, even the manufactured kind, is what brings the traffic.
I don’t need to rehash all that was wrong with the original missive by the Food Babe, The Shocking Ingredients in Beer. Plenty of people dissected it at the time, though none better than Ambitious Brew author Maureen Ogle, who enlisted the help of several respected brewers in her lengthy, comprehensive denunciation What’s In YOUR Beer? Or, The Dangers of Dumbassery, which she later summarized in All About Beer Magazine as Don’t Be A Knee-Jerk, Research the Facts. As Ogle notes, the Food Babe started her “research” with a “baseline list of ‘legal’ additives allowed in beer from the book ‘Chemicals Additives in Beer’ by the Center of Science and Public Interest.” Despite its name, the CSPI is a prohibitionist organization that rarely has anything to do with actual science. It’s one of the most egregiously dishonest of the bunch, in my opinion, an opinion assembled from following them for many years. They’re hardly a good place to begin an honest attempt to look at the ingredients in beer. Plus she begins by stating she’s not even a beer drinker, but prefers wine, even though many of the process chemicals she accuses beer of being composed of are also used in making wine.
A close second, there was also Thomas Cizauskas’ take in Beer Wars: The Calumny of The Food Babe. But others, before and since, have noted that Vani Hari (the Food Babe’s given name) has zero credentials in food sciences, or any other science, apparently. See, for example the RationalWiki or Joe Schwarcz: The Food Babe is anything but an expert on GMOs, writing in the Montreal Gazette. There’s no shortage of people writing about what she’s saying — pro and con — and that, of course, is the point. She’s so out there that people can’t help it; the Ann Coulter of food punditry. Despite so many people crying foul, it’s had no effect whatsoever, which is exactly what you’d expect if truth was never really the goal.
So yesterday, she doubled down and penned an open letter and petition: Anheuser-Busch and Miller Coors: Tell Us What’s In Your Beer! This, despite the fact that beer is hardly a mystery, and its ingredients and processes are not only well know, but readily available to anyone who wants to learn about them. But learning about what’s really in beer has apparently no interest to Hari whatsoever. There’s no angle she can sell in that. But ignorance is indeed blissful, and over 40,000 possibly well-meaning but similarly misguided people signed her petition, despite not really understanding the current law regarding alcohol is different for most other food products.
And she even contradicts herself with the basic premise. In her ridiculous graphic, she says that we know what’s in Coca-Cola and Windex, but not beer (even though she claimed to unearth what’s in beer last year) even though anyone paying attention already knows what’s in beer, how it’s made and the process chemicals that are not in the finished product. It’s hardly the #MysteryBeer she claims it to be. That’s a joke, a lie and a very effective way to drum up visitors. There’s no mystery to end, and she knows it. But it’s a fabulous way to get more attention for herself. And boy is it working.
But worst of all, earlier today ABI quickly caved. As a public company, I presume they concluded that the publicity was bad for their image, despite the absurdity of it. Of course, if she’d done even a modicum of actual research, she would have known that since at least 2012, ABI created a website (probably in response to the watering down claims) called tapintoyourbeer.com , which lists for every product they make, the ABV, fat, energy, carbohydrates and proteins. Now they’ve begun listing the primary ingredients for some of their products. For example, for Budweiser they list: “Water, Barley Malt, Rice, Yeast, Hops (ingredient listing is consistent with the FD&C Act).” In their official statement, they say they’ll be expanding that information with additional beer ingredients.
We provide significant information about our beer and their nutritional content through both our consumer hotline (1-800-DIAL-BUD) and our global consumer-information website www.tapintoyourbeer.com, which we have expanded over the years. This exceeds what is required of alcohol producers and is beyond what many other beer, wine and hard liquor producers provide. However, as American consumer needs evolve, we want to meet their expectations. Therefore, we are working to list our beer ingredients on our website, just as you would see for other food and non-alcohol beverage producers. We are beginning immediately, having incorporated this information earlier today on www.tapintoyourbeer.com for our flagship brands, Budweiser and Bud Light, and will be listing this for our other brands in the coming days.
To which, the Food Babe is claiming victory for her and her “Food Babe Army,” which is apparently what she calls her followers or fans, and states that they have “change[d] the policies of a multi-billion dollar company overnight.” But she’s not done, not until every brewery falls in line with her demands. She’s now posted a new graphic crowing about ABI caving in to her demands and asks what MillerCoors is hiding now that they’re “drinking in the dark,” whatever that means.
At MillerCoors, we put quality and safety above all else. Our beers are regulated by the TTB and every one of our products meets all federal and state regulatory requirements.
We’re proud of the care that goes into the production of all of our beers and have been brewing great-tasting beers with the highest quality ingredients for more than 440 combined years.
From the purity of the water we use to the highest-quality hops and malted barley, our brewmasters go to great lengths to ensure the quality and consistency of our beers.
We also value transparency and are happy to comply with the request for additional information. Earlier this year, we led all alcohol companies by voluntarily placing a nutritional label on our Miller64 brand and we will be putting more ingredient information online in the days ahead.
We will be including the ingredient list starting with our most popular brands, representing the overwhelming majority of our brand volume:
Coors Light, Miller Lite, Blue Moon Belgian White, Coors Banquet, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller High Life, Keystone Light and Miller Fortune.
Coors Light: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Miller Lite: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Miller High Life: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Keystone Light: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Blue Moon Belgian White: Water, barley malt, wheat, oats, yeast, hops, orange peel and coriander
Coors Banquet: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Miller Genuine Draft: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Miller Fortune: Water, barley malt, corn, yeast and hops
Maybe she didn’t have time to update her graphics again. Certainly she knows Miller Coors posted these, because she’s posted on their Facebook page, with this:
I have an email from you that says you use “corn syrup” and it’s a main ingredient in your beer – also – you said via email that bluemoon and banquet both have corn syrup. Where’s the full list of ingredients?
They replied, trying to explain that “the corn we use is a liquid corn brewing adjunct, but it is not high fructose corn syrup.” The ignorance about brewing displayed in the comments, presumably by her Food Babe Army, is as alarming as it is remarkable.
The problem is with the first expose, where the Food Babe brought up many different chemicals and items which are used in the brewing process but are not ingredients. Some are used to cool the beer through the process, some for cleaning, and some for other purposes that don’t end up in the beer you drink, some of which never touch the beer at all. For just one example, she claimed glycol was in beer. But that’s merely a coolant used to chill beer in the brewing process. It never touches the beer … ever. If it did, it would ruin the beer. But it’s still there in her list, displaying either a comic ignorance or a malicious intent to mislead. But that’s the irony. She’s claiming to be holding brewers’ feet to the fire to be truthful and transparent, while she herself is being completely dishonest. If her intent was honest, by now she would have modified her earlier attack to reflect the reality she would have, or should have, learned in the year since she first made her absurd claims about what’s in beer. If she was being honest, she’d admit some, if not all, of what she’d claimed was in beer, really wasn’t, for the simple fact that it’s not. That she appears to have learned nothing in the year since she first made her sensationalist claims, and stands by every one of her absurd statements, tells us everything we need to know about her veracity and her real intentions.
Most brewers I know don’t have a problem rattling off their beers’ ingredients nor would they probably mind listing them on the bottle or can, if they were required to do so. It’s not a conspiracy that they don’t have to currently. They do have to list them when they submit each beer for approval to the TTB, who regulate beer and other alcohol at the federal level. There’s already been discussions about listing nutritional information and/or alcohol and servings information. So nobody’s getting away with anything, or trying to poison you with chemicals, as the Food Babe suggests. That’s just bullshit. Whether or not you like the beers made by the big brewers, they’re very well made and modern breweries are industrial and technological marvels. For the most part, they’ve perfected the science of brewing. It’s too bad the fizzy yellow color of their beer is now the same color of the journalism attacking the beer industry.
UPDATE (6.13): To further prove my point, throughout the day, several people have commented that the Food Babe does not allow any dissenting opinions on her Facebook page, removing and banning anything challenging her point of view. And I’m not talking about anything insulting or harassing, I’m talking about science that refutes her. For example, the gentleman who writes the Facebook page Science Corner told me he was “blocked when I pointed out her inconsistencies and lack of fact checking. As a scientist I referenced my comments with actual facts taken from peer reviewed scientific journals.” Nothing says “honesty” like not allowing any debate. To makes matters worse, apparently her minions are now attacking me personally. Not my arguments, mind you, just my character. For example, one Food Babe Army soldier asked me if I was “bought & sold by Monsanto” or speculated that perhaps “Most of [my] investments [are] in big AG.” Hilarious, they really know me so well. I’m not exactly sure why dissent is so assiduously forbidden, if — as her followers insist — she’s just trying to get at the truth. As one commenter claims, “she’s trying to help WE THE PEOPLE make better decisions so we don’t become sick.” Apparently her plan to help these people with their decision-making will be accomplished by not allowing honest debate. Yet I’m the one who is “the YELLOW JOURNALIST,” as one of her wingnuts spat at me. It’s simply amazing.
UPDATE 2 (6.17): Several other rants about how dishonest Hari is being with her anti-beer campaign are worth taking a look at. First, Maureen Ogle wrote some new observations in Beware the Dangers of [Profit-Driven] Dumbassery. A couple more include Trevor Butterworth writing in Forbes, Quackmail: Why You Shouldn’t Fall For The Internet’s Newest Fool, The Food Babe, and Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe): The Jenny McCarthy of Food by David Gorski, writing in Science-Based Medicine. We’re all continuing to get trolled by the Food Babe Army, which is almost funny. One interesting troll tried to find fault with my take on glycol as a coolant, but mistook propylene glycol for another similar-sounding food safe compound used in salad dressing, among other things. For him it was a “gotcha” moment and (despite being wrong) he then declared (again) that I was “the yellow journalist.” This brings up two points in my mind. First, what the hell is wrong with these people? Why are they even using the term “the yellow journalist,” as if that’s a thing? They clearly don’t understand what yellow journalism is. I helpfully included a link to an overview of yellow journalism so that anyone unfamiliar with the more than 100-year-old term (almost everybody, one presumes) could see what I was talking about. The second point, and the more troubling of the two, is the idea that if Vani’s Army found one mistake in what I’ve written then that invalidates my entire argument and means that I’m the one engaging in yellow journalism. It’s a curious argument. They’re holding Vani’s critics to a standard of perfection that they’re not willing to impose on her. As far as I can tell, this has become about emotions and belief, and the facts no longer seem to matter, if indeed they ever did. That’s a scary prospect, but how else to explain why so many people seem to believe what she’s saying so uncritically and continue to do so when faced with numerous refutations disproving what she’s saying, and which are actually backed up with real science or expertise or experience. And speaking of being uncritical, it’s quite remarkable how many mainstream media outlets have given Hari a forum, and are passing on her misinformation without ever doing any fact-checking or maybe getting a second or contrary opinion. So much for being fair and balanced. But again it comes down to sensationalism, and the fact that controversy is what people what to see, the truth be damned.
UPDATE (7.14): Maureen Ogle today mentioned a new piece about the Food Babe in the Charlotte Observer, ostensibly the Food Babe’s home paper, Charlotte’s Food Babe has lots of fans – and some critics. Unsurprisingly, it’s mostly a fluff piece although at least it does address some of the criticisms leveled at Vani Hari. But it lets her get away with more than a few howlers, such as “Hari says she is simply trying to help people understand what’s in their food and hold companies accountable. She says she has researched her critics and that they attack anyone who opposes alternative nutrition.” Really, she’s “researched her critics?” I’d feel a lot better if she’d research their arguments and the science behind her original absurd claims.
Interestingly, the article mentions that she, and her husband, left lucrative “six-figure incomes” to run the website full-time, one that’s “packed with advertising and product endorsements. You can even buy an eating-plan subscription for $17.99 a month.” As someone who makes zero from writing this blog (and that’s on purpose I should add), I’d say you have to sell an awful lot of snake oil to make that work. Of course, the “babe” in food babe all but guarantees that she’ll get television time since we love people who are telegenic over substance so you’ll not be surprised in the least that she also has a “William Morris Endeavor agent to handle her TV appearances.” Frighteningly, a publisher is even putting out a book, “The Food Babe Way,” so that doesn’t sound like a cult or anything scary.
As to where she makes her money, something her “Army” loves to level at her critics (for example, commenters asked if I was being paid by Monsanto, oddly enough), it’s been revealed that she was a paid consultant to Chick-fil-A, but also claimed victory over the fast food chain when they announced they’d “use chicken that was free of antibiotics within five years,” posting “We Did It Again!” According to the Charlotte Observer, “Hari has confirmed that she was paid by Chick-fil-A for her work as a consultant on their ingredients, a fact she appears to have not mentioned on her website.” Yet none of her followers apparently have a problem with or see any contradiction in that.
Then there’s this headline: “Debate is her sport.” That’s almost funny, if it wasn’t so crucial to what’s wrong with someone like like Hari. She may claim to love debate, but she assiduously avoids it by banning anyone who questions her “findings,” even politely. The comments section of any piece written about her is rife with people telling tales of being banned, even this post.
Under “Science or silliness?,” the Observer brings up the nonsense about glycol, thusly:
Her claim about “an ingredient found in antifreeze” being added to beer also draws criticism. Actually, the ingredient used is propylene glycol alginate, a kelp derivative used to stabilize head foam, not propylene glycol, a coolant. She later clarified this on her website.
While she sort of updated information about her original claim, under Big Update: The Truth That Beer Companies Have Not Made Public Yet, under the subheading “‘Propylene Glycol Alginate’ is added to beer as a foam stabilizer,” she continues to mistake Propylene Glycol Alginate, or PGA, for “Propylene Glycol” that’s used in antifreeze, even though they’re two completely different animals. And in the original post, The Shocking Ingredients of Beer, still lists “Propylene Glycol (an ingredient found in anti-freeze)” exactly the same way as when it was first posted last fall. So the that misinformation is still being disseminated, despite her claim to have “clarified” it. Considering she keeps talking about “transparency,” why not update the original post? Well, the real reason is she’s still not even close to understanding what she’s talking about, and as far as I can tell she no intention of even trying to.