Here we go again. It’s year’s end once more and time for reflection on the past and what it might mean for the future, or at least the next year. While these top ten lists are ubiquitous at this time of year, I enjoy them too much all year long to not continue them through the holidays. 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 2009.
The Explosion of Beer Weeks: Prior to this year there had been beer weeks, but 2009 saw an explosion of new week-long beer celebrations all around the country. Beerapalooza morphed into SF Beer Week, along with new ones in Baltimore, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle and two in Washington, D.C. And more are planned for 2010, bringing the total number of beer weeks very close to two dozen.
Bill Brand Passed Away: This is probably a bigger story in the Bay Area, but Bill’s influence as a beer writer was broader and wider than just Northern California. Bill had many more stories to tell when the train struck him in February of this year, and his loss continues to be felt throughout the beer world.
ABIB Begins Acting Like We Thought They Would: Despite promises by InBev throughout the negotiating process to buy Anhesuer-Busch, the newly configured ABIB in January began acting exactly like everyone who’s followed the company believed they would. In January they closed their London brewery, V-P Bob Lachky left mysteriously in February, in early March they began dictating new terms to understandably pissed-off suppliers and at the end of that month suspended the “born on date” on many brands. That’s in addition to lay-offs, price hikes and other “changes” to their corporate structure.
White House Ties To Neo-Prohibitionists: This was quite troubling, especially to those of us in the Liberal camp, but in April newly elected President Obama chose the Director of MADD to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, all but insuring no sane decisions in the near future. A few months later, in October, it was revealed that the head of neo-prohibitionist groups had visited the White House on numerous occasions, even meeting with the President a few times. During the same time period, no beer or alcohol representatives had similar access. And all this took place while the neo-prohibitionist groups were crying about the beer lobby and its undue influence in government.
Tactical Nuclear Penguin: Love it or hate it, no beer managed to get as much ink this year as the Scottish BrewDog’s record-beating Tactical Nuclear Penguin. At 32% a.b.v., it’s now the strongest beer in the world. The collaboration between Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada that resulted in Life & Limb was a close second.
The Beer Summit: Though July’s presidential Beer Summit at the White House did no real favors for craft beer, it did put beer front and center in the public consciousness for a few days. Everyone wanted to talk beer and the speculation about what beer each of the three men would choose became fever pitch in the days leading up to the non-event.
Rock Art’s Vermonster vs. A True Monster: This year’s David and Goliath story involved the Hansen Beverage Company and their flagship Monster Energy Drink. It’s probably no coincidence that they recently signed a distribution with the famously litigious Anheuser-Busch, but when they got wind of a seasonal release by the tiny Rock Art Brewery, named Vermonster, a battery of white-lipped attorneys were set loose on the unsuspecting Vermont microbrewery. The arguments that they made were more facetious than even are normally made in these bully fights, and there was a groundswell of outrage, helped along by new social media like Twitter and Facebook. In the end, Hansen backed down and got essentially what Rock Art offered them in the beginning, but with the added bonus that many people — myself included — will never buy another Hansen’s product as long as they live. Bullies should never be rewarded.
Beer Wars: The Movie: While the movie itself sparked its own war of sorts online, the pre-release marketing and filmmaker Anat Baron’s continued engagement of the beer community afterward has kept its message going, debated and analyzed for most of the year. Whether you appreciated what the film was trying to accomplish or not, it did keep things lively throughout 2009.
It’s the Economy, Stupid: When the economy tanked, many states and even the Federal government — urged on by neo-prohibitionists taking advantage of the situation — floated bills and other legislation trying to punish the beer and alcohol industry with higher taxes. The rationale for all of this was that strapped budgets needed to be put right and called on alcohol to pay even more than it already does (which is more than any other goods save tobacco.) While many such misguided attempts were ultimately defeated, many more remain open and worrisome.
Recession-Proof Craft Beer: Though the sales figures for craft beer did dip slightly, they continued to be healthy and far greater then either imports or domestic macrobeer. And growth by dollars continued to rise, in part due to higher prices, but also due in part to consumer’s willingness to pay a little bit more for better beer, seen as an affordable luxury. This essentially confirmed the recession-proof nature of beer, and especially craft beer. I’ve personally spoken to many, many breweries who are continuing to see excellent sales and sales growth in stark contrast to the big guys.
And what will next year bring? See my post later this week with my predictions for the beer industry in 2010.