Stratemagizing A-B Advertising for ’08

“Offensive in a good way” is how Tony Ponturo, vice-president of global media, sports and entertainment marketing for Anheuser-Busch, sees their strategy for advertising and marketing in 2008. By that he means they “can’t just be defensive in buying assets.” Although I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what every big beer company did once sponsorship of events, leagues, teams, etc. proved a lucrative way to get one’s brand name out there. So welcome to the new model? Doubtful, reading the Brandweek article on A-B’s marketing and advertising plans for 2008, I’m not exactly bowled over by novelty and a fresh approach.

At least we’ll see less new products this year. Of course, it would be hard to match the “80 new products and line extensions” of 2007. Executive V-P Bob Lachky, claiming A-B has “become smarter marketers,” listed only a few of the new product rollouts for this year.

  • Chelada (Bud-plus-Clamato)
  • LandShark Lager
  • Michelob fruit-flavored extensions
  • Shock Top (a Belgian white ale)
  • Wild Blue (a blueberry-flavored beer)

Hmm, none of those sound particularly promising, and I think I’ve already tried at least a couple of them (meaning only that they can’t be altogether new). And I love this bit of ad-speak.

But beer still has plenty of untapped white space, said Marlene Coulis, vp-consumer insights and innovations. Brews coming this year will likely be flavor extensions of existing brands.

“Untapped white space,” now there’s a phrase for you. I’ll be sure to work that into my lexicon this year somehow. It’s just too deliciously jargon-esque not to.

More from the Brandweek piece:

Call it a spin, but A-B is shedding its reliance on growth through distribution and pure image marketing that targets 21-27-year-old males. It has to. Bud and Bud Light have more than 90% distribution in big markets. To grow, A-B has to keep its core drinkers and attract “explorers”—people who seek variety in beverages. A-B also needs new products to win drinkers who reject the existing lineup.

To woo the uninitiated, A-B launched “the great American lager,” from DDB, New York [an ad agency —J], during January bowl games rather than wait for the Super Bowl. The Bud campaign cites product attributes like beechwood aging and seven-step brewing. [Those must be the embarrassing Rob Riggle (from the Daily Show) spots that I’ve been seeing. —J]

“The explorer group has never been talked to like this,” said Keith Levy, vp-brand management. “If we can reach them about what Bud stands for, we can grow.”

Still, the category’s penchant for advertising image in a bottle is not dead. “Image with a reason for being is powerful,” said Lachky. “We’re talking about the product more, and we understand better what the consumer needs are today. Image-only ads and attack ads are only sufficient within the category because our category is competing with wine and liquor.”

That’s why the advertising spend for Bud and Bud Light will increase by $70 million in 2008; cable and digital buys will at least double. Media spend for both brands was $219 million January-October 2007, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. A-B will also seek more “cross platform” opportunities, as with the “Dude” campaign, which began online around Thanksgiving before jumping to TV a few weeks later.

Does any of that sound very different from what they’ve been doing for years and years? Not to me, and also not to Jim Morris who writes a consumer advertising blog, Advertising for Peanuts, who said in a recent post titled Beating Dead Clydesdales:

The recent history of Budweiser is strewn with carnage left in the wake of their fatal inability to leave a one-shot alone—frogs, whassupers, and now the eternal parade of the dude-utterers. Even when this brand does come across an idea with legs, they spot an ant and imagine a millipede, as has been the case with their long ago worn out “Real men of genius” radio campaign.

I realize that a good beer advertising idea is a rare and precious thing, seldom seen in these parts, but isn’t that all the more reason to nurture and protect it and respect its boundaries, rather than exploiting, devaluing and demeaning it until any memory of its original brilliance is eclipsed by the slagheap of its strained successors?

With the Super Bowl around the corner (Go Packers!), and the writer’s strike still going, advertisers are ponying up record amounts for 30-second spots during the big game. Prices this year are 15% more expensive than last year, as compared to being only 4% higher last year over the previous Super Bowl. A-B has reportedly bought 10 spots for its various brands. Let’s see how many of those are different from the usual fare.

 

The Times Goes For Extremes

There was another terrific article by Eric Asimov in the New York Times yesterday about extreme beers called A Taste for Brews That Go to Extremes. Although admitting not everybody likes the new extremism, Asimov certainly does and the article also includes several Bay Area beers, including ones from Lagunitas, Mad River and Moylan’s breweries. And there’s a great quote from Brendan Moylan, owner of both Marin Brewing and Moylan’s.

“We’re the same country that put men on the moon, and we’re taking the same approach to beer,” said Brendan Moylan, the founder of Moylan Brewing Company in Novato, Calif. “We passed the rest of the world by ages ago, and they’re just waking up to it.”

The Times also did a tasting of several extreme beers, and happily included two well-known brewers in the process: Garrett Oliver, from Brooklyn Brewing, and Phil Markowski, from Southampton Publick House. Despite their initial derisiveness over the very pursuit of extremeness, even they found beers they enjoyed. 90-Minute IPA from Dogfish Head was the group’s favorite, followed by the Double Simcoe I.P.A. from Weyerbacher and Maximus from Lagunitas. There’s also a Beers of the Times feature where you can listen to the tasters talking about their favorite beers.

 

Anheuser-Busch Up 2% in 2007

Anheuser-Busch announced today that shipments were up 2% in 2007 over the previous year. While the news is presumably good for shareholders, it’s not exactly all that different from recent years when increases have been meager at best.

From the press release:

“Anheuser-Busch achieved increased shipments in 2007 due to the success of our initiatives to broaden the company’s beer portfolio, including the addition of InBev European brands,” said Busch. Wholesaler sales-to-retailers grew 1.3 percent for the full year. Acquired and import brands contributed 170 basis points of growth to shipments and 160 points to wholesaler sales-to-retailers for the full year.

For the fourth quarter 2007 wholesaler sales-to-retailers were up 1.3 percent, on a selling day adjusted basis. The fourth quarter of 2007 had one more selling day than the fourth quarter of 2006. U.S. beer shipments to wholesalers increased 3.4 percent in the same timeframe. Shipments to wholesalers are not selling day adjusted. Import brands contributed 230 basis points of growth to shipments and 180 points of growth to wholesaler sales-to-retailers for the quarter. Wholesaler inventories at year-end were approximately the same as year-end 2006.

“Our expanded beer portfolio along with our enhanced marketing and sales strategies to accelerate core beer sales position Anheuser-Busch for growth in volume and earnings in 2008,” concluded Busch.

Anheuser-Busch Cos., Inc. will announce worldwide beer volume and consolidated earnings results for the fourth quarter and full year 2007 on Jan. 31, 2008.

I’m no economist, but I confess I read economics as a hobby, and the fact that the press release keeps switching between percentages and basis points (which are 100ths of a percentage, e.g. 150 basis points = 1.5%) seems to me like they’re engaging in a bit of prestidigitation. Maybe that is standard practice, I don’t know. But just in case, let’s look at the first paragraph. “Wholesaler sales-to-retailers grew 1.3 percent” and “import brands contributed … 160 points to wholesaler sales-to-retailers.” So unless I’m mis-reading it, doesn’t that mean if imports made up 1.6%, then other products — which would have to be domestic beer, the core brands — fell by 0.3% or 30 basis points? Because if imports “contributed” more than the total, wouldn’t that have to mean the rest of the percentage came from somewhere else?

Similarly, in the next paragraph it is stated that “beer shipments to wholesalers increased 3.4 percent” and “[i]mport brands contributed 230 basis points of growth to shipments.” That would also seem to suggest that domestic beer only increased 1.1%, wouldn’t it? That would seem to contradict Busch’s statement that these numbers would cause one to “conclude” core brands will likely grow “in volume and earnings in 2008.”

Maybe I’m nitpicking, but there is a fishy looking codicil below the press release that begins:

This release contains forward-looking statements regarding the company’s expectations concerning its future operations, earnings and prospects. On the date the forward-looking statements are made, the statements represent the company’s expectations, but the company’s expectations concerning its future operations, earnings and prospects may change. The company’s expectations involve risks and uncertainties (both favorable and unfavorable) and are based on many assumptions that the company believes to be reasonable, but such assumptions may ultimately prove to be inaccurate or incomplete, in whole or in part. Accordingly, there can be no assurances that the company’s expectations and the forward-looking statements will be correct.

And that’s only about 20% (or 200 basis points) worth of the qualifying fine print. It goes on and on in soporific legalese that no one will bother to read, except perhaps the most anal-retentive among us — yes, that means me, dear readers. But what that whole exercise boils down to is this. We think we’re going to do great in 2008 … unless we don’t. Please buy or hold on to your A-B stock because 2008’s going to be great year … unless it isn’t. The political punditry calls it spin, but there are unkinder words for what it really is.

 
UPDATE 1.8: As if you needed more proof that framing, spin and propaganda works, the next day’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that “[i]nvestors reacted happily to Anheuser-Busch Cos.’ announcement Monday that its beer shipments increased last year and in the most-recent quarter. Shares of the country’s biggest brewer soared nearly 5 percent, their steepest climb in more than 20 months, despite slow growth among the company’s trademark beers.” See, nobody, especially the business press, bothers to check the math or read the fine print.
 

Fine Food, Fine Wine, Bad Beer

Roger A. Baylor, better know to the online world as the Potable Curmudgeon, is the owner of New Albanian Brewing and Rich O’s Public House, both in New Albany, Indiana. On an online forum, Louisville Hot Bytes, dedicated to Food in nearby Louisville, Kentucky (just over the Ohio River from New Albany), Baylor asked an innocent — and I think altogether reasonable — question while discussing positive and negative factors that go into a restaurant’s rating. He posited whether a fine restaurant should be dinged a half-point for carrying only industrial light lagers from the big three mega-breweries. He goes on to assert that if you’d lower a restaurant’s score for using Velveeta, Wonder Bread or putting Blue Nun on their wine list, then why not if they had only pedestrian beer, too? He suggested that it’s hypocritical to be so fastidious about using only fine ingredients or carrying upscale items but then to not apply that same logic to beer. The forum discussion ran to thirteen pages and at times turned ugly and even mean, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into the mind of ignorance, backwards thinking and the status quo. Most of the defenders of bad beer use the excuse that they are simply giving the customer what he or she asked for, despite the fact that they wouldn’t carry Blue Nun or Velveeta even if the customer wanted those, too. But they also claim no customer would ask for inferior food or wine at a fine restaurant and thus it’s not the same. But the nature and understanding of wine and food are not the same today as they were when I was a child. My parents might conceivably have asked for Blue Nun or some pedestrian food (my stepfather loved to drown his eggs in pepper and ketchup, for example) but new kinds of chefs and restaurants changed the food world and they didn’t do so by catering to the status quo, they did so by changing it, by challenging it. What the customer really wants is a fine dining experience and most people can’t or won’t see how that includes beer, too.

In what I find truly bewildering, especially in my neck of the woods, Chez Panisse, whose famous owner Alice Waters has written books about using high quality and local ingredients, carried crap beer, and imported at that, until only very recently. And even that wasn’t Waters’ doing. My understanding is that one of her bartenders finally persuaded her to carry local beer and they now offer beer from Magnolia and Moonlight breweries. Her restaurant opened in 1971 and it took 35 years for her to apply the same logic that made her a food guru to beer? That she had to be convinced says quite a lot about how even devotees of fine, local food and wine can’t easily manage to extend their thinking to beer. I find that quite sad, and don’t really understand why so many people defend big beer when there’s so much diversity and pleasure waiting for them if they’d merely look beyond the barrage of marketing and advertising. Baylor himself gives his own answer to that question by posting a rant he wrote ten years ago on another one of his blogs, NA Confidential. It’s very well written and in it he makes several excellent points, including several I hadn’t even thought of — but will undoubtedly steal to use in the future.

 

Strange Brew: My Beer Predictions for 2008

To Beer or Not to Beer. As Strange Brew was a loose parody of Hamlet, I thought I’d again peer crazily into the skull of poor Yorick, and try to divine the future. Let’s see if anything that happened last year can be used to predict what might happen in the beer industry in 2007. Here are five things I think will happen this year. Let’s see how I do a year from now. What are your predictions?

 
The hops and malt shortages will continue to plague the industry throughout 2008 and may even grow worse. It seems to me that the malt problem can be solved more easily than the hops problem, not that either are particularly simple. But the hop one seems as resistant as a mutated spider mite. A Hop field or yard takes three years to produce a full yield and nobody is planting new vines so once most breweries’ current hop contacts run out, then what? I’ve been joking that we’ll see more gruits in 2008, but it is going to get harder and harder for big hoppy beers to remain economically viable as hop prices triple and quadruple, especially on the spot market. Will 2008 be the year of the session beer? Perhaps not, but it may not be a good idea for brewers to make fresh hop beers for a couple of years while hops are in such short supply.

 
Beer prices will go up, that’s a fact not a prediction. The real question is whether or not beer consumers will be willing to pay more and, if so, how much more? The big beer companies can more easily afford to absorb some margin losses to keep volume up, and so I don’t think they’ll raise their prices as much as the smaller breweries will be forced to. Whether or not, or to what extent, that will effect the continued growth of craft beer remains to be seen but I believe it will slow the growth of craft beer at least until hop prices come down and availability is up. I think craft beer will continue its upward movement, but it may be closer to 8-10% this year.

 
Distributor consolidation will increase and will continue to make things difficult for small brewers trying to bring their beer to market or increase their distribution to new areas.

 
Mergers among big multi-national beer companies will continue and at least one or two big such announcements will be made in 2008.

 
Neo-Prohibitionists will continue to step up attacks on alcohol generally and to specifically and inexplicably target beer.

 

Top 10 Beer Stories of 2007

As the year winds down yet again — didn’t we just do this a year ago? — everybody and his brother has a top ten list for the year and I’m still no different. It helps, I think, to stop and reflect on what happened over the previous year which puts the whole year in perspective and makes it easier to prepare for the coming one. So here are my choices for the top ten beer stories of 2007.
 

Irish Brewing in the Bronze Age: While seemingly a historical side note story, I think this has the potential to change how we view beer’s history in civilization, especially in Europe, where most our modern brewing heritage has its origins. If bronze age Ireland was brewing it means the impact of beer on mankind began far earlier than originally believed.

Lewes Arms Boycott Successful: I’m a sucker for the underdog and the small fry. The citizens of a small pub in the middle of nowhere took on pub giant Greene King to save their local beer being served in its home town. Greene King foolishly let it go on far longer than was prudent but eventually saw the light and relented.

Sam Adams vs. Sam Adams: The Boston Beer Company, owner of the trademarked Samuel Adams eponymous beers, went head to head in late October with a flesh and blood Sam Adams running for mayor of Portland. In a battle between a corporation’s fictional, but oddly legal, personhood and the real life variety, my money’s always on the real Sam Adams. For Boston Beer it was a public relations disaster and even their half-hearted apology seemed flat. On the plus side, Boston Beer did announce they’d be brewing at the old Rolling Rock brewery in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, which is good for that town. The one they were planning in Freetown, Massachusetts, on the other hand, after months of rumors, was finally canceled.

The Loss of Steve Harrison: Steve Harrison was Sierra Nevada Brewing‘s first employee and was as much responsible for its success, especially early on, as owner Ken Grossman and the rest of the crew from Chico. When he went missing under mysterious circumstances in August, it took a week of searching the area before his body turned up in the river. His passing was a huge and terrible loss to the brewing industry.

It’s Official! Double-Digit Craft Beer Growth Again!: It was another terrific year for craft beer and although there are problems in the horizon, three years of double-digit growth suggests that craft beer is on the right track. Barring some foreseen shortages, things are likely to continue to be rosy for the foreseeable future.

Widmer & Redhook Merger: Rumored since at least January, Widmer and Redhook agreed to merge in November.

Michael Jackson Passes Away: This was a huge and somewhat unexpected blow to the cause of better beer. Many of us who’d known Michael for a time had speculated about his health and last year he had finally publicly announced that he’d been battling Parkinson’s for at least ten years. I know I breathed a sigh of relief because I knew Parkinson’s could be treated and wasn’t the immediate threat it had once been. So when I got the news I was taken aback, as were most of us in the industry. It was news of the worst kind, especially coming on the heels of the losses of several other beer industry personalities throughout 2007: Alan Eames, Steve Harrison and John White. As I’ve said many times before, Michael’s impact on the craft beer industry here in the U.S. and better beer throughout the world cannot be overestimated. He was a singular talent that I can’t imagine being replaced. And beyond the loss to the industry, for me personally I think Michael Jackson’s death should be nearer the top because it’s doubly difficult and surprisingly emotional to lose a friend so unexpectedly.

Assaults on Beer by Neo-Prohibitionists & Wine Writers: Perhaps because of craft beers’ recent gains and renewed attention, the number of attacks on beer by both anti-alcohol groups and misguided and ignorant beverage and food journalists seemed to be on the rise with hardly a week passing without yet another egregious example. Neo-prohibitionists accused beer of all sorts of evil and wine writers blasted beer with all manner of misinformation and twisted statistics. Here’s a sample of some of the worst:

Coors & Miller to Merge U.S. Operations: In an unexpected, if not altogether surprising move, the second and third largest American beer companies decided to pool their efforts in competing against number one. What the impact will be on the rest of the industry still remains to be seen, but I, for one, am not convinced it will be all for the better or that there’s nothing to fret about.

The Hop and Malt Shortages: The shortages of hops got most of the attention but shortages of malt is just as serious. This could not have happened at a worse time for the industry as shortages quite possibly could have disastrous consequences for continuing the roll that craft beer has been on for a half-decade.

And what will next year bring? See tomorrow’s post with my predictions for the beer industry in 2008.

 

My Report Card From 2007

Last year at this time, I made five predictions for the 2007 beer year. Let’s see how I did.

 
Craft beer growth will hit double digits for 2006 and also will continue to rise through 2007.

My Score: A+ This one wasn’t a stretch, of course, though things will likely be trickier next year.

 
Price wars among the large domestic producers and the popular import brands will heat up again beginning in spring or early summer.

My Score: B Price wars by the major players did indeed start up again after a short ceasefire, but didn’t begin until late summer, which I continue to believe is bad for the industry and the image of beer as a whole.

 
Mainstream media attention will increase and will actually begin to improve.

My Score: B While there was certainly some shoddy reporting, overall things did improve for beers’ coverage by the mainstream media, and I’m not just saying that because I started doing some writing for one of the mainstream news outlets. There weren’t nearly as many of the really horrific articles that were so common in 2006. As craft beer regained its cache, good beer again became the story and happily one that’s being told with a bit more accuracy and attention to detail.

 
A-B’s Here’s to Beer PR campaign will either quietly disappear or if the website remains up will not have any new content added now that Bob Lachky is no longer in charge of the effort.

My Score: C+ While Here’s to Beer has not disappeared, after Bob Lachky was promoted, the website did indeed lie dormant for many months but last March a new version was launched to much fanfare. But when I look now the current edition is only Vol. 3, meaning since March it has only been updated with new content twice in nine months rather than the promised monthly changing content.

 
Gluten-Free beer made for the growing number of people with Celiac disease will surprise most predictions and become a bigger niche than expected.

My Score: C This wasn’t quite as big as I anticipated, but I understand Red Bridge and the others are holding their own. It’s probably going to remain small but steady.

 

Beer & Christianity Redux

This came to me via Rick Sellers at his Pacific Brew News concerning another poll by ChristiaNet concerning Christian’s attitudes towards beer drinking. I meant to write about this earlier, but it got away from me. The story is about a poll ChristiaNet conducted with their readership, which they state involves twelve million monthly page loads, and they further claim to be the “world’s largest Christian portal.” The question they asked was “[i]s it wrong for a Christian to consume beer?” Now why they singled out beer is still a mystery to me. To justify the question, Bill Cooper, the president of ChristiaNet, says “Christ warns of the results of drunkenness.” But, of course, the question wasn’t “is it wrong for a Christian to consume beer to the point of drunkenness” or to be drunk, it was simply whether it was acceptable to consume any amount of beer. That’s a vastly different question and one which does nothing to examine the “results of drunkenness.” They did a similar poll last year, too, which I wrote about on Christmas Eve, but more about that later.

According to their press release, 5,200 completed the online poll and beer drinking got the thumbs up by a very slim margin, about 51%. A little over a third (38%) did, however, respond that they believed that having a beer was “wrong.” Here is some of their rationale.

They felt that one beer almost always leads to more and then can also lead to alcoholism, “I don’t know anyone that only drinks one beer, they usually drink more to get a buzz and that is wrong. Sometimes they even turn into alcoholics.” Others in this group quoted Proverbs 20:1 which states, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Most felt that all alcohol consumption was wrong, “There just isn’t any good reason to drink alcohol, and it is not like it tastes good.”

Wow, I don’t want to hang out with the person who doesn’t know even one person who can stop at a single beer. Being someone who visits the ChristiaNet website, I would think most — or at least some — of his friends were likely Christians like him. And not one of them could resist the temptation to have a second drink of beer? This guy needs to start hanging out with a new crowd. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve enjoyed one beer at a bar or with my dinner without being unable to stop there and even without turning into an alcoholic. I can’t help but picture that process as a bit like the gentlemanly Dr. Jekyll turning into the unsavory Mr. Hyde. Without trying to make light of alcoholism, is that really how it happens? And why on occasion is getting a buzz so wrong? Or is drinking “beer” to get that buzz what’s wrong here? Having the sacred wine makes it acceptable, does it? I guess I just don’t understand how these people think.

Just over ten percent wondered “about whether or not beer, in particular, was wrong” and at least one respondent was confused “because the Bible only talks about drunkenness with wine and strong drink, not about having only one beer.” What I assume many do not realize is that when the Bible was translated into Greek that there was no exact match for the Hebrew word and “wine” was simply substituted as being the closest word available. There are a number of serious scholars who believe that it is possible that it was actually beer (apparently the Greeks at that time had no word for beer) that Jesus turned the water into and that it may even have been beer that was served at the last supper. How different our world might be today if beer had early on achieved the exalted place in religion that wine did, possibly as the result of a mis-translation.

Last year about this same time, ChristiaNet asked this same question but got very different results. Only 339 people filled out the previous survey, of which 192 — or 57% — thought drinking beer was wrong. Armed with those staggeringly small and unscientific statistics, ChristiaNet proceeded to tell the world that Christians think drinking beer is wrong. I wrote about it a few days after their press release in a post I called Beer & Christianity. I thought it was nonsense then, and I’m not convinced it’s any less so this year, despite the fact that 5,200 people took the poll this year. When you look at how random sampling for polling data is usually done, this type of online poll has none of the features that make it a statistically accurate sample of the general population. Instead, as Rick also points out, the people responding are all people who regularly visit ChristiaNet’s website, most likely evangelical Christians — fanatics, possibly. That already greatly skews any data they collect on this or any subject they might ask their visitors’ opinions about. Of course, you may say, isn’t that obvious? Well, maybe it is, but then why bother with a press release unless you’re trying to convince somebody of something as a result of this poll? I scratched my head over this before and I’m afraid it’s still itchy.

Anyway, in his post, Rick called me a fanatic — which is true, of course — with regard to the agenda of neo-prohibitionists though he has tended to feel that “there’s no way we, as Americans, have anything to worry about with our beer related rights. Now, if there are this many ‘Christians’ in our country who think my beer consumption is flat wrong, it would seem appropriate to assume they wouldn’t mind seeing some form of control on my consumption.” I think that’s correct, and I think it’s also why there is a lot that we should be worried about. That’s precisely why I’m fanatical, because I believe apathy and complacency will ultimately spell doom. And while there are millions of self-avowed Christians who think drinking beer is no mortal sin, those that do seem to be more vocal and shrill about imposing that belief on everybody else.

Many neo-prohibitionist groups are religiously based, and often claim that Christian morals are at odds with alcohol, which suggests to me that fundamentalist Christians have more in common with fundamentalist Muslims than either group might be willing to admit. Both seem to argue that their belief leads them to prohibiting alcohol and both likewise believe that whatever their religion teaches should apply to non-believers and believers alike. Muslims have been more successful in building sovereign nations that use religious law as the law of the land, regardless of an individual’s religion, and under such rule religious freedom is not tolerated. But Christian evangelicals want exactly the same thing: to replace our secular nation — founded on the principle of church and state being separate — with a Christian United States, whose laws are all based on their literal interpretation of the Bible. And whether or not beer would be permitted under such an intolerant society would depend largely on whose interpretation holds sway.

So I see these polls as dangerous, because even though they are based on poor science, most people probably won’t examine that too closely and will accept them at face value. That seems to happen a lot with polling data. You see inaccurate statistics quoted over and over again, oftentimes even after they’ve been discredited. For reasons I can’t explain (perhaps because people trust the media or because in school we’re not taught how to think, only what to think) polls tend to be believed more often than not. In my experience, human nature causes people to want to side with the majority or the winner so polls which report that a majority feel one way or another often have the effect of bringing about that result, especially if it’s close. This is why I hate political election polling and exit polls on election day, because I think they have the effect of swaying voter’s opinions to vote for the leader. And therein lies the danger. Tell people that enough other folks just like them think drinking beer is wrong and they’ll start to believe it, too. One thing you can safely say about all religions is that they don’t encourage independent thought: the whole point of faith is to believe without questioning so it seems to me religiously-based agendas are particularly susceptible to manipulation.

Rick is quite right to question that statistic claiming 38% of Christians “feel that drinking beer [is] wrong.” As he correctly concludes, “it is likely only those with strong enough opinions took the survey. But that too scares me, because it isn’t just the church goers in our country who are more than slightly apathetic — its seems to be the American way these days.” But if ChristiaNet and others with a neo-prohibitionist agenda keep sowing these anti-alcohol seeds with their questionable statistics they may win over enough of the “more than slightly apathetic” to make their proclamation a self-fulfilling prophecy. And trying to play my small part in making sure that doesn’t happen, keeping the neo-prohibitionist wolves at the door so to speak, is what makes me a fanatic. Because allowing an extreme minority to dictate morality and tell you and me we can’t enjoy a beer is not the way a free society should operate. Those with the loudest voices are not supposed to be who wins. So in the hopes of keeping that from happening, I’ll keep shouting in the wilderness until they pry the glass of beer from my cold, dead hand. But let’s try not to let it come to that, shall we? Let’s take this threat seriously. I really don’t want the Pyrrhic victory that forces me to say “I told you so.”

 

New Beer TV Show … Maybe

A company from Sacramento, California — The Idea Factory — was in town Monday and Tuesday shooting a pilot for a new television show about craft beer. They’ve already done several successful cable shows, and their work can currently be seen on the Garden Channel, the DIY channel and Discovery Health.

The host is brewer Jennifer Talley, who is from Squatter’s Pub in Utah. Idea Factory producer Peter Holmes saw Talley in a video she did for her brewery and thought she’d be a good host, making the show both about brewers (and brewing and beer) and by brewers, which I think may be the first time for a television show. In talking with the producer, their initial pitch will likely be made to the Food Network or similar cable channels. And I think that makes sense, as there is significant time devoted to beer with food in what they filmed already.

They started out with Talley interviewing Shaun O’Sullivan at his 21st Amendment Brewery & Restaurant. In the afternoon both O’Sullivan and Talley visited Magnolia and sat down to talk with owner Dave McLean over some food and beer. Then on Tuesday they filmed at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. They filmed at both the new production brewery nearby and at the brewpub. Later Bruce Paton, the beer chef, cooked some food and he sat down with Talley and Russian River owners Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo to talk about the pairings while they enjoyed both the food and beer.

While it’s obviously hard to say too much until it’s been edited, the raw footage I watched seemed pretty good. Everybody I met involved with the production from the producers, the cameramen and make-up all seemed professional and did a great job. Plus, they were all very genuinely nice people. The participants seemed natural on camera and it had the feel of a conversation you’d want to listen in on. The passion that many of us feel for craft beer (and food) comes out pretty easily and this was a good illustration of that principle in action. We all love to talk about beer. The only question remaining: is the rest of America ready to listen?

I wish them luck and it would certainly be great to see a show about craft beer that’s done by people who actually know what they’re talking about. So keep your fingers crossed. I’ll post updates as I learn more, but I imagine this is a long, slow process.
 

For more photos from the beer show tv pilot shoot, visit the photo gallery.
 

Prohibition Returns!

Reason Magazine is a fine and well-respected Libertarian magazine that had a very interesting article in last month’s issue. I say fine and well-respected because they saw fit to ask me to write an article for them last year, showing exceptional good taste, and as a result I still get a copy of the magazine each month. The November issue included an article by David Harsanyi, who is a columnist for the Denver Post. Harsanyi is also the author of a recent book called Nanny State, whose subtitle is “How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children.” His Reason article, Prohibition Returns! Teetotaling do-gooders attack your right to drink, was adapted from his book and it’s a very interesting read. I wanted to post it when I first read it, but Reason doesn’t put the current issue online instead keeping all but the current issue on the web. As a result I had to wait until now to share it.

One of the most interesting parts of his article involves Candace Lightner, the founder of MADD. She was the original mother against drunk driving who started a crusade. I have on several occasions written unflatteringly about her but what I did not realize is that she’s every bit as disgusted with MADD as I am. For example she told the L.A. Times in 2002 that she realized she was wrong about lowering the blood alcohol level to 0.08% because that strategy “was not a solution to the alcohol problem. The majority of crashes occur with high blood-alcohol levels, the .15, .18 and .25 drinkers.” As a result, Lightner and MADD parted ways in 1985 and she is no longer affiliated with the organization she founded.

From the Reason article:

Lightner has moved on from MADD, and since then has protested the shift from attacking drunk driving to attacking drinking in general. “I worry that the movement I helped create has lost direction,” she told The Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1992. BAC legislation, she said, “ignores the real core of the problem….If we really want to save lives, let’s go after the most dangerous drivers on the road.” Lightner said MADD has become an organization far more “neoprohibitionist” than she had envisioned. “I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol,” she said. “I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.”

I’m afraid I owe her an apology. I take back what I said previously. She has not taken things too far, the people who took over from where she started and fanatically went off to advocate a different agenda have much to answer for, not least of which is that they continue to use the tragedy of her daughter’s death at the hands of a drunk driver in their propaganda despite the fact that know they Lightner no longer agrees with what they’re doing. This also explains to some extent why MADD has gone off in such a radically different direction from the founder’s original intent. Neo-prohibitionists simply took over her organization co-opting it for their own purposes. Given that it’s been 22 years since the founder resigned, they’ve done a pretty good job of keeping that information in the background so that most people — myself included — weren’t even aware that the organization had internally changed so much. MADD’s mission statement changed abruptly in 1985 — the same year Lightner left — and has been changed two more times since then to incorporate the expanding agenda of the organization to include underage drinking and, although not stated explicitly, to end all legal drinking in this country if not the world. I think after learning this I’m even more frightened of MADD than I was when I thought it was still just a pissed-off mother trying to do right by the daughter that was taken from her by a drunk driver. At least I could understand that, even if I didn’t entirely agree with it. Now that I know she’s been gone for more than two decades and in her absence they’ve become more of a neo-prohibitionist organization I confess I can’t understand what they’re doing in the least. Nothing about their current agenda makes any sense whatsoever to me. All I know is we have to do everything we can to make sure they don’t succeed in bringing about another Prohibition.