Mergers and Takeovers:  Has the Beer Revolution Been Completed?  Did Someone Win?

It seemed like it was all about love and art; love for taste and character of true beer and the art of creating it. The zeitgeist of activism seemed to cloak the revolutionary struggle between small breweries and the behemoth corporations. Craft brewers gave the world IPAs, saisons, ambers, chocolate stouts, sea salt gose, browns, etc. craft breweries, such as Four Peaks here in Arizona, pushed legal boundaries for production and capacity for craft brewers. 

And then …

Then they started selling out to the mega corporate brewers. Now, takeover after takeover concerns me. Of course, it can be argued that this signals the fact that AB has recognized that we all want good beer. They see the growing numbers of craft beer. Now they want a portion of those increasing sales and are providing distribution to said good beer. So, good beer won the revolution.  

It just feels so icky. 

Were all these brewers just in it for the money? Have they now become the enemy they allegedly fought? Now I am forced to decide: is it about the beer or the philosophy? If the character of these craft beers does not change, if they hold onto the quality and the vision that made them great beers, must I abjure them solely because I disagree with their business model? 

It feels like it’s just about the distribution now and, thus, the profits.  (That seems to be indicated here).  They want their beers all over the country. And, on one hand, why blame them for that? That’s what business is all about and so, on one hand, they can’t be faulted. Interestingly, this is the same capitalistic tumor that afflicted Busch and Pabst and Uihlein and Miller and their ilk at the beginning of the 20th century. They wanted their products all over the nation and ruthlessly pursued that goal. They all did make a solid and consistent product. A product, mind you, not a craft beer. The quality is good, consistent, stable. They have a lot of scientific and marketing resources to throw at their beers. They were in the manufacturing business and were successful. 

Corporate resources and national distribution. I suppose in the beer world this can be seen as the achievement of the American Dream. A small business struggled, fought, created and now has the opportunity to be globally recognized. Success! I guess. It all depends on your definition of that word. 

In regard to corporations and resources, I wonder also how this will help or hinder the raw materials vendors of barley, wheat, and hops? Or the yeast labs? I assume they will still sell the same volume, unless a consolidation of beer recipes occurs at AB’s new breweries or a reduction of offerings is enforced. Doubtless, AB has purchasing contracts and pricing agreements with many of those vendors. So, if they are selling domestic grains at lower prices to AB and higher to other smaller breweries, will that change now to the standard AB cost for the breweries just purchased? I am not a professional brewer and am not familiar with all the pricing structures therein, so I wonder. I wonder, too, how this might affect the home brewing markets. And what about corporate decisions to use GMOs? Oh, super, now the conspiracy begins. 

The world is becoming more and more homogenous it seems. Now the choices in the beer market will be given us. We shall pick from amongst what “they” tell us to pick from. Like good little drones we will say, “behold what many beers there are.” The free market. 
Hiwever, another thought is – what if the beers do not change? What if operations at the breweries don’t change? If Kiltlifter remains Kiltlifter, why should I not drink it on occasion? What makes Four Peaks less of a destination if it remains essentially unchanged?    But some comments by the creators of Four Peaks makes me worry.  They say here that “the beer will improve.”  So they are toying with the recipes?  

That really is the question. Will these breweries remain unchanged? If the taste of the beer is the same, well, what am I whining about? Isn’t it all about the beer?  That leads also to darker questions. If these craft breweries can become part of a corporation and retain their inherent goodness, does that indicate that the beers the corporations have been brewing all this time are actually acceptable products and I’ve just been swept up in an emotional boycott of their business practices? Is it time to rethink my viewpoint on those beers? Dear God, am I going to start drinking AmberBock again?

My solution to avoiding those latter questions is twofold.

Drink Local

A nano brewery in your hometown is most likely not owned by a giant corporation. (Right, Tim, right??) It is the place that creates beers you can only find at home, locally. The white whale beers. Additionally you are supporting your local economy. You’re paying people you know. The people at the brewery are making beer for people they know. At least drink there until the place gets so big it wants to go corporate. 

Drink Your Own.

This whole takeover and merger fiasco fuels my desire to home brew. That is the only true craft beer. Home brew is truly unique, it has true character. It an expression of the home brewer. Yeah, that means at times you get some wonky beers. But some times you also get irreproducible masterpieces. Those beers will be the stories that live on. 

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Kingman’s Beer and Brat Festival

Being less than impressed by my visit to this festival last year it is surprising I find myself here once more. I blame my sister. She wanted to go this year. Since it is a beer event (loosely) and I am slightly attempting to keep tabs on these things in Kingman, and it seems decent to preserve consanguineous relations, well, here I am.

The weather is decidedly worse this year. Heavy gray clouds are threatening to bring forth a downpour of some kind of precipitation. The temperature is too low. At least it’s not raining yet.  It’s about a quarter to five and so far there are approximately twenty people here.  My sister and I just missed the polka band. Good or bad?

One big improvement his year is: I made it in time for the good beer. Beck’s Octoberfest and Mudshark’s Oktoberfest is not sold out yet.  Of course, I did not realize that Mudshark had a presence at the Octoberfest until I’d ordered a Beck’s.  Ah,well; I’ve got cash for more beer.  The Beck’s had a good head. It was orangey in color. It was a little thin. However, it was better than other choices. Bud Light, Budweiser, Shocktop Pumpkin.

But Mudshark’s Oktoberfest was the best. Who’s shocked? Really? I chose a seat in the sun to try to keep warm but the downside is that it was near the road,  The aroma of the Mudshark beer was masked by exhaust. How lovely. But the taste was present. Bread, caramel, cigarette smoke – what the?  Stupid smokers.

It’s more brown than I expected.  But, I am looking at it through a mildly opaque plastic cup.

Still, it was enjoyable.  Two cups worth.

What else happened?  Well, I learned that Budweiser has a presence in Fort Collins, Colorado.  I can’t say I was thoroughly happy with that.  My sister visited the brewery when she lived in Loveland.  I realized that I hate that there are some nice locations in this town and they are ruined by various things:  trains, people.  That’s right, Locomotive Park downtown isn’t bad, just not utilized right.  The cursed train rolled through at least three times.

The event is still boring.  I mean, the beer was decent this time.  But there was too much downtime.  We waited way too long for the next band to setup with nothing to do but listen to pre-recorded Bryan Adams and watch some people make googly eyes at each other – and they weren’t young enough for it to be cute.  Neither activity was exciting.   Two hours in, maybe forty people have arrived.  The googly eye couples, as noted, some older people (rotary club members?) and a couple of groups of young people who seemed to be enjoying their socializing.  The event organizers expected four grand in total attendance. Wonder if it will happen?

There was a big police presence; didn’t notice them last year. Makes me wonder if something happened last time around.

My sister had a good time because she was introduced to Mudshark. and got to talk.  Those young people seemed to have a good time.  This thing might be better if you had more friends with you.

Kingman’s Oktoberfest wasn’t the total waste of time it was last year, but it still needs more beer.  Much, much more beer.

Pictures of Treachery

I bought this beer for a beer blogging session a few weeks ago.  It will not be a practice.

Hmm.  A Michelob.  An Anheuser Busch product.  AmBev.  A big commercial macro-brewery.  I feel evil for having purchased a six pack.   Those cursed Wal-Martians!

I even poured it into a glass.  That’s treatment reserved for “real” beers.  I can’t even re-use this bottle.  I wonder if this is the reason I decided to brew my own amber (ingredients coming, I hope I can get to it sometime this weekend).

A traditional beer mug.  Nice color, really, that clear orange/brown/copper.  Pretty good head on the beer, too.

AmberBock does taste much better than the regular Bud products.  It doesn’t have the same sticky, fizzy mouthfeel, much better body.  It would be nice to have a little more bready aroma to it, and even maybe a little hint of German hops.  If people absolutely have to drink Bud stuff, this would be the beer to pick.

My Thank You To The Big Brewers Via Budweiser, Which Is Now AmBev, Right? I’m So Confused At Times

So, what is a “big brewer” now?  I tried to figure this out.  I used the list of Top 50 Brewing Companies published by the Brewer’s Association.  There are actually two lists there – Top 50 Brewing Companies and Top 50 Craft Brewing Companies.  And thirty-six of the fifty top brewing companies are from the craft brewing company list.

And so I am confused.

Macro brewers used to be just ye olde Budweiser and Coors and Miller and the giant conglomerates that ate them up.  Maybe that’s what’s meant to be the focus of this month’s beer blogging Friday.  I’m just not sure.  The host said give thanks to the “big boys”.  Well, there’s lots of them now.  So, I am in a sarcastic and sour mood today; thus, my “thanks” shall indeed go out to the big conglomerates.

Of course, I want to try to be civil and fair.  That’s only proper.  Mayhaps there are good things that have come from the ilk of Anheuser-Buch.   Yes, there must be some positives.  There should always be positive things to say or write about other people, and in the end this is about people.  It’s not like the giant tanks and massive bottling machines magically produce beer all by their lonesome.  No, there is are people behind it all, masterminding it, diluting it, actually approving the product.

So perhaps that’s the first point.  They are employers.  Thanks for that.  According to the AB-Inbev 2010 annual report the company employs approximately 114,000 people.  I don’t know if that’s changed at all during 2011.

What else?

Thanks for banning other brewer’s at the World Cup a few years back.  That was extremely classy.

Thanks for the commercials.  Some of them are humorous though most are banal and adolescent.

Thanks for altering the taste buds of millions of people so that they do not even know how to appreciate beer.

Thanks for letting people know that beer is only good for getting loaded.

Thanks for glorifying a redneck lifestyle.  (Okay, this one is meant for Coors, my bad).

Thanks for ethical dilemmas, too.  I have personally avowed to never taste from the vine of the Budweiser.  Yet, I found myself in Wal-Mart today on an innocuous visit for sundry household items.  Apparently the collective consciousness of the Wal-Martians – no doubt driven by the saturation of their consciousness by overwhelming marketing propaganda of the Budweiserans – exerted a terrible influence upon me.  I found myself suddenly in the beer aisle, as if transported by some weird quantum wormhole, from the bathroom fixture aisle.  The AmberBock was staring at me, calling me.  I looked away, wandered to another aisle, but it called me back.  It is the one and only Bud product that I find palatable.  But it’s also a Bud product.  What of my personal boycott?  Out the window it went.  Somehow I convinced myself that it was okay to buy this particular type of spullwasser.  It has more body than the other stuff, I said to me.  It has a little more flavor, I continued.  Hey, I said to my own self, at least they didn’t try to pawn this beer off as a ‘craft’ beer.  It has always been just AmberBock.   Anyway, I bought and I’m drinking it and it’s Budweiser and I rationalized and, boom, ethical dilemma.

Thanks for Prohibition.  No, wait, it was Prohibition that gave birth to you, right?  You are like its sour progeny.  Right.

I’m getting bitter just writing these things.  Bitter, like the hops you must use in your beer but which I cannot identify.

I must move on to so-called positive things.  Without dictators and tyrants, there can be no revolution.  Thanks, big brewers, for being the despots that made so many seek the origins of beer and rise up in protest of your libation to call us back to the golden ages.

When I go to a store to seek beer I see lots of red, white, silver, yellow and blue boxes.  And the same color of cans.  It’s a diluted rainbow.  I blandly follow the rainbow until I find a shelf of real beer, bottles of gold and amber delight.  You forced me to look carefully for real beers.  Thanks.

Thanks for distribution lanes, I think.  I mean, sure, you try to dominate them but at least your insane need to distribute low quality beer nationwide engendered their creation.  Now the real brewers can somewhat make use of them to send out real beer.

Thanks for helping spread the use of refrigeration.  This is a real “thank you” since refrigeration is important to the health of beer, especially in areas that do not have naturally refrigerated areas, such as glaciers and very deep caves.

Thanks for consistency.  I appreciate this note from the Anheuser Busch website:

Pasteurization- Adolphus Busch responded quickly to advances in science and technology. Previously, beer had been highly susceptible to the influence of heat, light, storage conditions and spoilage. With the introduction of Pasteurization, heat could be used to destroy harmful micro-organisms, allowing beer to be maintained for longer periods without spoiling. Adolphus embraced this idea and became the first U.S. brewer to pasteurize beer in the 1870s. This new technology allowed beer to be shipped long distances without spoiling and made it practical to bottle beer.

You have blanketed the country, maybe the world, with bland, banal brews.  When a loser opens a Bud Light on the east coast it’s going to taste exactly like the Bud Light that another loser on the west coast is drinking.  You learned how to make the same beer, every time, without variation.  You’ve made a consistent product, but one without heart, without character.

Small brewers have made beers with some true character to them.  At first, the small brewers were only interested in the beers being the same from pint to pint at the brewery itself; then it was at local eateries, then maybe the next state.  They are using the power of the bad guys against them.  At least, that’s my viewpoint.

Homebrewer’s aren’t so interested in consistency (all right, fine, I’m not terribly focused on it) because “house flavors” and “accidents” can produce some unique beers.  But once brewers move into the professional realm consistency becomes more crucial.  When I go to Mudshark’s in Lake Havasu City, AZ and ask for Full Moon (the finest wit in the southwest, by the way) I know exactly what I’m getting.  And if there is a variation, oh!  That is anathema!  That is reason for blackballing!  That is why I no longer patronize the Boiler Room (another local brewery, but I shall not now speak of it).  So, consistency is vital.

Some other interesting “innovations” from the Big Bud:

Toward this end, Busch patented the first diesel engine, which was installed in the brewery to increase production. With the onset of World War I, Busch founded a subsidiary to produce the engines for Navy submarines. In addition, the Anheuser-Busch family purchased sufficient war bonds to finance two bombers–each named ‘Miss Budweiser.’ —http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/AnheuserBusch-Companies-Inc-company-History.html

With his beer-derived wealth, Busch bought the American rights to Rudolf Diesel‘s invention, and established the Busch-Zulzer Brothers Diesel Engine Company to manufacture America’s first diesel engines. —http://www.nndb.com/people/038/000159558/

So, should we thank them for furthering the use of fossil fuels to produce a beverage which should be untainted?  Should we say, ‘hey, rock on, for not having a conscience and just supporting wholesale slaughter in war’?

Beer is pushed, by Bud and virtually every other brewer, as a social product.  It is supposed to bring people together.  Financing bombers?  The ethical dilemma arises again. 

 

Samuel Adams Octoberfest – One of Those Beers, the Kind that Turned Me Into a Beer Enthusiast

Yes, back in the day – almost fifteen years ago now – the great beer, Octoberfest, was introduced to me and I to it.  An old friend and I were in the mood for a marzen and we found the Sam Adams version and there was great rejoicing.  It’s a beautiful beer.  We used to have a big party two or three times a year wherein his family and ours and a couple of other would hang out, eat good food and drink beer.  Octoberfest was almost always on the menu if the party hit late in the year.

I think what I love about Octoberfest, and marzen’s in general, is how easy they are to drink.  They are like the ultimate beer style.  For example, Octoberfest does have hops – you can smell that noble green product hovering in the creamy head – but they don’t overpower or dominate the brew.  And Boston Beer has a penchant for hops.  The hops have found their place, they are the gorgeous backup singers in this band.

The roasted malts are sublimely balanced, they taste sweet, just slightly caramelized, a hint of their roasted nature.  The malts provide a medium body, not too thick, not too diluted.  The malts are the band here, a tight band, one that’s played together for years and understands the direction each are taking and they all contribute to the finished product.  The caramel malts help give it the brilliant red-amber glow.  Those Munich malts probably donated the bready aroma.   And they all pitched in for the yeast to provide an alcohol content of5.%.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talk about a session beer, I think marzen’s are the best.  They don’t require strenuous thinking to dissect their discrete parts.  The beer doesn’t fill you up, it doesn’t assault you with alcohol.  It is everything a beer should be, refreshing, tasty, eminently sharable.  It’s my favorite Sam Adams beer.

I like Boston Beer Company more and more, too.  Now that the malignant Budweiser is no longer and American brewery, Boston Beer has taken over as the largest domestic brewery here.  At least, I believe that’s the case.  (If I am wrong, please, someone notify me).  It has waged war with the bigger breweries, never surrendering, always pressing forward, brewing with honor.  I’m gonna go drink another pint and read another book.