Let’s Grab A Beer

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.

lgab-offended lgab-national-day

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.

Who Owns What

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.

I think you can see the chart full size here. If not, try here instead.

The New Belgian Flag

The Association of Belgium Brewers recently launched a campaign to celebrate Belgian beer … in Belgium. The marketing push, called “Fiers de nos bières” or “Proud of our Beers,” is trying to persuade the people of Belgium what beer lovers all over the world already know: that Belgian brewers make great beer that they should be proud of.

There’s also a website, proudofbelgianbeers.com, and a Facebook page (in Dutch). I’m something of an amateur vexillologist, so by far my favorite part of the campaign is the new Belgian flag that the ad agency DDB Brussels created. Such a simple idea, slightly modifying the existing flag to add some angles and a put a creamy head on the middle of the flag. Genius. You can even buy your own Belgian beer flag for €20.


Your Father’s Beer

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning famously said a couple of weeks ago after his victory over the Chargers that all he could think of was how soon he could “get a Bud Light in [his] mouth.” It seemed like a slap in the face to pick Budweiser while being the QB in the land of Rocky Mountain spring water-made Coors. Not to mention that Colorado is one of the best beer states in America, so it’s no surprise that a number of smaller craft breweries also called him out for his choice of frosty beverage. But in subsequent interviews, Manning’s stuck to his guns, succinctly explaining the reason for his beer preference.

“My father taught me a number of things, one of which being that Bud Light is the preferred beer of the Manning household”

My only question is this. Peyton Manning is 37 years old. He’s also married with two children, and presumably no longer lives at home but has his own household. At what age did you stop doing everything your father told you? It may be true, but it seems like a bit of a cop out. I thought it was more common to eschew your father’s beer and make your own choices.

I remember a particularly enlightening conversation I eavesdropped on at GABF a number of years ago. I was walking the hall, in a hurry on my way to somewhere, when a group of at least half-a-dozen young men, presumably in their early twenties, blocked my path and forced me to slow up behind them. From just behind their slow-walking row, I could hear what they were saying as we ambled past the Sierra Nevada Brewing booth. One of the them elbowed his friend, and pointing his head toward Sierra Nevada’s booth, remarked. “Sierra Nevada; my Dad really likes that beer.” He put the emphasis on “Dad” when he said it, indicating that it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. I remembered that a while later when I was having dinner and some drinks with Ken and Brian Grossman, and mentioned what I’d overheard. They said they were fully aware of that as a growing problem, having been around long enough that they were becoming the new generation’s Dad’s beer. It’s part of the reason they began doing so many more collaborations, specialty releases and even beer camp. It’s an interesting facet of the craft beer industry as it grows and matures. How do you maintain your image while also remaining fresh to newer, younger customers? Because nobody wants to drink the same beer as their father. I know I didn’t, and don’t.

I know none of this matters and everyone is free to drink whatever the hell they want. Still, I find it fascinating to watch how certain statements play out in the media. Had Manning picked a Coors product, he would have pleased the hometown fans. Had he picked a craft beer, especially a local one, he would have made the hometown fans, and many good beer lovers, overjoyed. Instead he picked Bud Light, coincidentally the “official beer of the NFL,” so most likely the group he pleased the most was the league.


Last fall, Manning apparently bought twenty-one Papa John’s Pizza franchises, all in Colorado. I wonder what beers they serve?


Session #83: Against The Grain

Our 83rd Session is hosted by Rebecca Patrick, who writes online at The Bake and Brew. Her topic for this session is decidedly against the grain, so much so that it is specifically Against the Grain.

How much is our taste or opinion of a craft beer affected by what friends and the craft beer community at large thinks? What beer do you love that no one else seems to get? Or what beer do you say “no thanks” to that everyone can’t get enough of?

I can find myself wondering sometimes when I’ve had an extremely popular beer, but haven’t been all that “wowed”…is it me? Am I missing something here? Was there too much hype? Could there be such a thing as taste inflation? If we really want to dive further into this, is it really only “good” if a large portion of the craft beer community says it is or is our own opinion and taste enough?


You only have to watch the lines at GABF at the beginning of each session to know that hype and brand perception do play a role in a brewery’s success. There are a handful of breweries whose lines are suddenly longer than most of the others, seemingly immediately after the doors open and the people rush inside. Many make a beeline to a select number of brewer’s booths. Many of these remain more crowded throughout the session. Are they better than other breweries? Perhaps, but probably not. They certainly make good beer, and beer which has, for whatever reason, captured the public imagination. That intangible popularity, whether manufactured or developed organically, is at least a part of the company’s success. Any business needs to have customers want to buy their products or they won’t survive. I know that sounds obvious, like the sports announcer who says the team has to score more points in order to win, but I think we sometimes forget that.

Indeed, many people complain mightily about hyped and over-hyped beers, forgetting that hype is the engine that drives awareness and, ultimately, sales. Honestly, if you don’t want to wait in a line all day for some rare (or even artificially rare) beer, I think I see a way out. Don’t go. But what I don’t understand is the need to piss on everybody else’s enjoyment of the event. The many release parties and events that numerous breweries create are generally well-attended, despite the complaining, so what’s the problem? It sometimes feels like we’re entering a phase in craft beer akin to the music world where as soon as a band becomes popular, their fans who were with them in the beginning accuse them of “selling out” or say they’re no good anymore, moving on to the next unknown. It was ridiculous when I was in the music business, and it’s no less absurd when it comes to beer.


But that brings us back to Rebecca’s question about whether or not “our own opinion and taste [is] enough?” Yes. Yes, it is. If you’re a longtime reader of the Bulletin, you’ve probably noticed that I rarely post “reviews” of beers. Unless it’s part of a specific assignment, I generally don’t. I’ve been writing about beer over twenty years, and been judging at competitions for around fifteen years, and been drinking critically far longer than that, and still I don’t really understand why anyone would take my advice on how good a beer is. Whenever anyone writes a review, it’s personal. By design and definition, what I say about a beer is just how it tastes to me — what I like or don’t like about it — on that particular day and under the specific circumstances it was sampled (time and place). But your experience will vary. Your palate isn’t the same as mine. If I’ve learned anything from tasting with the same people for many years (on tasting panels and commercial judging) it’s that tastes vary. Different people have tolerances and sensitivities to certain flavors and those vary from person to person. It’s not a problem in most instances; spaghetti tastes like spaghetti to almost everybody. But when you examine anything more closely, the minute differences become more important when you’re paying close attention and looking for them. With so much variation, you’d think that beer judging would be little better than a crapshoot, and yet many beers that as a community we agree are at least good, tend to rise to the top and win awards multiple times. By careful selection of judges with different backgrounds and experience, and by making the standards for judging as unambiguous and detailed as possible, these differences seem to work themselves out. That’s been my experience, as least.

But having worked retail a lot when I was younger, I’ve also witnessed that many people do honestly want to be told what to try. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. You ask someone who knows more than you for advice about what’s good, what’s worth trying. In theory, they should know more, and in practice that is often the case. At BevMo, though, I can’t tell you how many times I witnessed people walking the wine aisles with a Wine Spectator open to their ratings pages, shopping the scores. That seems less effective, to me because you don’t know how your own palate matches up to the reviewer (or how honest the review was).

One nice thing about beer, at least, is taking a bad recommendation won’t break the bank. If you try a pint or even a six-pack of something you end up not enjoying, you’re not out too much money. You may not take that person’s advice again, especially if happens several times, but that’s about it. If I start doing more reviews, which is always a possibility, my only goal would be to suggest beers to try, and perhaps why you’d want to, not why I like them, or why you must, too. I know there’s wide disagreement among writers on this issue, but I prefer to talk about what’s good, and not write bad reviews, in effect telling people what to avoid or what’s unappetizing. There’s just too much beer out there, with much of it quite good, to waste ink (or bytes) on tearing down a beer I didn’t happen to enjoy. I understand the counter-arguments, and realize bad reviews have their place, it’s just not for me.

I’m not quite sure that answers the question, or even does go against the grain, though it does ramble around in the vicinity of the topic. I don’t mind the hype surrounding many popular beers, mostly because I don’t get caught up in it. I think it’s a necessary part of there being so many breweries all trying to gain the attention of consumers. Each brewery has to find some way to stand out. Some of their attempts work better than others, naturally, but that’s to be expected. I’m probably not the typical beer consumer, and so am not swayed too much by opinion or popularity. On the other hand, I’ll try almost anything, and in fact am interested in doing just that, all the time. I rarely say “no thanks” to trying anything. I find these days it’s harder to be “wowed,” but I think that’s more about having tried so many beers in my lifetime. There’s certainly no shortage of great beers being made these days, and I’m still just as excited to try each new one I can. And as much as I’m happy to have a job talking about what beers I like and love, you should trust your own palate about what you enjoy most. I hope I can help steer you to something new or worthwhile from time to time, but if you love a beer than that alone makes it a great beer.


Beer Brands Infographic

Today’s infographic is an interesting one, created by Olivia Vander Tuig at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, during the Spring of this year, in collaboration with Annie-Locke Scherer and Madelyn Willey. The infographic compares the beer brands Pabst Blue Ribbon, Guinness, Miller High Life, and Heineken, and was made as a companion for a travel studio about branding and factory experience called Behind the Brand.

Click here to see the infographic full size. You can also download a much larger version from dropbox.

Olympia Beer Offers Million Dollar Prize For Finding Bigfoot

In what has to be one of the most unusual marketing efforts by a large brewer, Olympia Beer has offered to pay $1 million dollars — in increments of $25,000 a year for the next four decades — to anyone who can find conclusive evidence of a live Bigfoot. The contest is the brainchild of Evan and Daren Metropoulos, who recently bought Pabst Brewing Co., which also owns the Olympia brand.


Full details and rules can be found at OlympiaBigfoot.com, but here’s their “Mission Statement” for finding Bigfoot:

Olympia Beer and Bigfoot have been leaving footprints together in the Pacific Northwest since 1896.

We have been sharing the same backyard for over a century and we believe it’s time to do what has never been done, and that is to offer a one million dollar reward to anyone who can ensure the safe capture of Bigfoot. When we say safe capture that means Bigfoot has to be alive and breathing folks, with no wounds. That’s right you can’t use any act of violence, no guns/knives/boxing gloves/nets/etc, only sugar or sweets to lure him in.

You must register to participate in the search. To report your discovery of irrefutable evidence of the existence of Bigfoot, click on the “Submit Capture Report” link on the left and follow the instructions to report your evidence. You participation in the search is subject to the complete Official Rules.

To aid us in this adventure, Olympia Beer is partnering with The Falcon Project

The Falcon Project has been identified as “the most penetrative search for Bigfoot ever conducted in the United States.” They will conduct an aerial search for Sasquatch employing an unmanned airship with high definition thermal imaging camera equipment.

Sure, it’s a publicity stunt, but it’s a funny one. And what if someone actually does it? Apparently 14% of all Americans believe Sasquatch to be real, while another 14% say they’re not sure.


Winners must provide “irrefutable evidence” of Bigfoot’s existence and, according to the rules, may include “DNA Evidence.” From the rules:

“Bigfoot” refers to a previously undiscovered species of upright, bipedal hominid, native to North America existing contemporaneously with the Contest Period or the twenty-five (25) year period immediately prior to the Contest Period. There is no set type or amount of evidence required to establish proof for purposes of this Contest other than that all evidence presented must satisfy the Judging Panel. Evidence may include, but is not limited to DNA Evidence. DNA Evidence may include hair, blood, tissue or saliva that proves the DNA sequence of the donor shows that said donor resides in the primate evolutionary family tree, among other apes or hominids, but does not have the same genetic markers and DNA sequence as any known species. Evidence may also include “Visual Proof” of a live physical body. Physical remains may be considered as evidence provided that it can be conclusively demonstrated that the date of death pre-dated the Contest Period. Visual Proof shall not include footprints, bone fragments, inconclusive skeletal remains, or any other non-definitive evidence of the existence of Bigfoot. Any photo or video taken with photographic or video equipment is not sufficient to qualify as evidence in and of itself for consideration in the Contest, but may be considered as supporting evidence.

Annie Leibovitz Shoots Stella Artois

A couple of days ago, Stella Artois sent out a press release that iconic photographer Annie Leibovitz was hired by Anheuser-Busch InBev to shoot photos for their Belgian lager. The photos are being released at the Sundance Film Festival, which started two days ago, apparently amid much hoopla. Which makes sense when you realize that Stella Artois is an “official sponsor” of the independent film festival, listed as a “sustaining sponsor.” They’re in fact the only big alcohol company sponsor, among quite a few corporate sponsors. I don’t know why that seems odd to me, but I guess I thought Sundance was supposed be about independent filmmakers, especially when the site also includes a donations page where they make it sound like your $10 will make a grassroots movement possible. Maybe I’ve become jaded, but the nearly two dozen truly big sponsors plus what looks like it could easily be another hundred more company sponsorships, seems counter to the principal of “independent” and their mission of “discovery and development of independent artists and audiences.”

In both the press release, Stella Artois Unveils New Campaign Shot by Legendary Photographer Annie Leibovitz and the Stella Artois website, they refer to it as a “collaboration” between the beer and photographer. But how is hiring a famous photographer and paying her to work a “collaboration” in any meaningful sense?

Merriam-Webster defines collaborate as “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” That’s what brewers do when they get together to brew a beer, most times at least, but this just seems like a big company paying a lot of money (one presumes Annie Leibovitz doesn’t work cheap) to an expensive big-name photographer to sell a big product. Does that make it art? I honestly don’t know. I think I’m cranky and overworked these days.

Here’s some more press release spin:

It features British Actor, Noah Huntley and Ukrainian model Tanya Ruban and will appear in the printed fashion titles such as GQ, Elle and Vanity Fair, beginning in February 2013.

“Annie Leibovitz’s work marries artistic genius with painstaking craftsmanship to create timeless beauty,” said Emma Fox, Global Marketing Director, Stella Artois. “This concept is a personal one for Stella Artois. Our fans experience the beer in its finished form, but 600 years of brewing expertise helped make this possible. So we wanted to celebrate both the beauty and the craftsmanship that go into its creation”.

So here’s the results, or at least two of them. You can see lots of behind the scenes of the photoshoot itself — why you’d want to, I don’t really understand — in the Stella Artois Studio, what the press release refers to as an “online experience.”


It’s not that they’re bad photographs, but they certainly don’t make me want to drink Stella Artois. Didn’t Jeff Bridges and Michelle Pfeiffer already do this in The Fabulous Baker Boys.