Jul 162008

Anheuser-Busch logo

Het waar, A-B?

I’m sure you’ve all heard the news already – beverage giant InBev raised its offer price for Anheuser-Busch, brewers of Budweiser, to $70/share, and A-B agreed to the takeover. The deal still has to be approved by A-B shareholders and U.S. and Eurpoean anti-trust regulators, but the media is treating it like a done deal.

The proposed merger is interesting on so many fronts. Will Budweiser, the quintessential American beer, now be owned by foreigners? Will InBev succeed in becoming the world’s largest brewer (and fourth-largest worldwide consumer products company)? Will InBev, brewer of Stella Artois and Becks, keep the Budweiser recipe intact as they have claimed, or would they dare tinker with such an American icon?

I really don’t know what this means for the beer industry or the craft beer market. A-B is the largest brewer in the U.S. and enjoys a 48% market share. That’s a lot of beer drinkers, and I’m willing to bet a lot of them won’t exactly be happy about a foreign company brewing their Bud. At the same time, SABMiller and Molson Coors are joining forces to consolidate their U.S. and Puerto Rico operations into a new company called MillerCoors. MillerCoors is expected to better weather the industry storm with a combined 30% market share. Have the craft breweries really brought down big beer?

Craft beer has been enjoying explosive growth for some time now. I have been pleasantly surprised at the selection of interesting beers where there used to be only Budweiser and Coors: a hefeweizen at Penn Station? A blonde ale served at Yankee Stadium?? However, big beer still reigns supreme across the land – sometimes in ways which aren’t immediately apparent. After all, you can find Blue Moon on tap in just about every barroom in my neck of the woods, and that happens to be a Coors offering.

That’s right, big beer has been quietly brewing up their own versions of “craft beers”, as well as buying up stakes in craft breweries. A-B itself owns minority stakes in Widmer Brothers and Redhook Ale Brewery. In addition, Michelob, another A-B brand, has been actually winning medals at the GABF and World Beer Cup…I don’t think anyone can argue that an unleashed A-B brewer is a powerful force, and Michelob’s bold offerings – an “Amberbock”, honey lager, and a Märzen, are supposedly closer to craft quality than the yellow fizzy stuff we’re accustomed to (disclaimer: I have not tried any of those beers, but I’m going to try and find them to do a review in the near future).

No matter what happens, it’s obvious the beer industry is in a period of upheaval. Some of the old standards are being tested, and it will be interesting to see if the big breweries lose market share, and if so, where it goes. I think it is important to support your local breweries and brewpubs now, since if the big boys are going through trying times, the smaller guys might be feeling the pinch soon, too.

So, let me know what you think of these developments. Even if you hate A-B and big beer’s beverages, they have made huge contributions to the beer world in general – for example, big beer is largely responsible for the cold-storage distribution chains across the country which help keep our favorite brews in prime condition by the time our locals get them. I just hope this winds up being a good thing, overall, for the beer community. And InBev had better not get rid of those Clydesdales, or Stella will never again touch these lips.

Jun 242008

Generic beer

Generic beer

I’m not particularly proud of what I’m about to tell you. It’s not something I like to talk about, and I wouldn’t say anything at all, but I’d rather you hear it from me than someone else.

I drink Bud. Miller, too. And an occasional Coors.

There, I said it. Yes, I write a brewing blog, consider myself a beer connoisseur, brew all kinds of strong, flavorful styles, and yet I still sometimes pick up a can of watery, fizzy macroswill and actually drink the contents.

There is a definite stigma that exists in homebrew and craft beer circles when it comes to BMC. It seems many beer aficionados absolutely despise our domestic light American lagers, and I wonder what impact this confession will have on my beer street-cred. To some, it would be like finding out your favorite gourmet chef eats at McDonald’s, but I don’t see anything wrong with it. None of these macrobrews would ever make it into my favorites list, but I think they can be appreciated for what they are, given the right place and time.

Like, right now. I’m sitting on the train fresh out of work, sipping on a Budweiser as I write this post. It’s thin, it’s ice-cold, and it doesn’t have any malt or hops character to speak of. It’s brewed with rice. It’s just about everything I wouldn’t want one of my beers to be, but it’s cheap and it hits the spot for a quick on-the-way-home brew. Forgive me.

Another “right” time for BMC is when you’re trying to beat the heat at a summertime baseball game. BMC and baseball are two great American pastimes, and they go together very nicely. Besides, the beer guy at Yankee Stadium isn’t exactly hawking Dogfish Head or Rochefort, so I’ll take what I can get. If I’m going to sit in the sun watching a bunch of guys make millions of dollars throwing a ball around, I need a beer. Any beer.

Sometimes, it is also necessary to quaff a BudMillerCoors when attending a social event. If I am at a bar and have a choice of fine beers to choose from, you’d better believe I am ordering something a bit more highbrow. However, I occasionally find myself at a hole-in-the-wall dive or a relative’s barbecue where BMC is the only offering. I will accept it with a smile on my face, knowing I can drink four or five Coors Lights and still drive home.

I do have my limits, though. I recall a night spent visiting friends outside of Morgantown, WV. We went to “the bar” – appropriately named, since there was only one to speak of in town. I was thrilled to find $2 Heinekens on offer – they’re usually three times that price at home. Imagine my surprise when I was ridiculed after ordering one for drinking “the expensive stuff” – the rest of the bar was enjoying 25-cent cans of PBR. You would’ve thought I’d ordered a bottle of $500 champagne. I kept ordering my Heinekens, causing more grief for myself, but I just couldn’t bring myself to drink Blue Ribbon when Heineken was effectively at fire-sale prices.

So, there you have it. I don’t think it makes me any less of a beer lover. If BMC is all you ever experience in the world of beer, I think it’s a bit sad. That’s not the case here – I know what good beer tastes like, and I’ll keep brewing and drinking it for as long as I am able. In fact, I think BMC helps me appreciate the good stuff even more – it cleanses the palate, like water or a bland cracker.

Come on, join in. Confess your worst beer secrets here. I promise I won’t make fun of you, and we can all laugh and cry together.