Like every other beer blogger in the world, I’m here to comment on the breaking news this morning of Anheuser-Busch’s take over of Goose Island. There’s a lot of romantic talk around about how this comes on the heels of a week of lovey camaraderie known as the Craft Brewers Conference, but we really should have seen this coming a mile away. Goose Island hasn’t been qualified as a “craft brewer” under the BA’s definition for a while now, precisely because the ownership stake that Anheuser-Busch has had in it has violated the “Independent” clause. It was really just a matter of time before this happened.
Contemplating the possible future meaning of this deal is, however, a little terrifying. Goose Island has been a front runner in quality craft for a while, now. They are technically brilliant and make some of the best known sour and barrel aged beers in the market. Will the quality of the beer go down with financial backing of A-B-I? It seems unlikely, given that most of the people in the company will stay in their place (sans, apparently, Greg Hall).
This gives A-B-I an array of new tools in their toolbox to compete with the ever encroaching craft market. There’s no way that they’re blind to the fact that they’ve been losing market share on their core products while craft has seen double-digit growth each year. This deal shows that plainly.
What really terrifies me is the thought that this is the first A-B-I takover, but I am positive it will not be the last. In the coming years we are sure to see a lot of larger craft breweries get gobbled up by the big players in the market. It’s been happening in Europe for years. Why should America be exempt?
Once that starts happening, what does that mean for the small craft market? We cannot compete, on any level, with the international marketing machines that are the world’s largest breweries.
Something that I think many in the craft market forget: Most consumers don’t care where their beer comes from, even the big beer geeks. The Beer Advocate boards are full of people saying, “So long as the beer is good, I don’t care who makes it.” It’s a lesson that small craft brewers need to sit up and pay attention to. More than ever, especially as A-B-I starts looking for acquisition targets, the enemy of the small craft brewer begins to become the large craft brewer. They’re already the ones coming into each state and taking up hard won shelf space and tap handles. When those large craft breweries start to become arms of the big brewers, who already have undue influence over many distributors, how are we possibly going to compete?
So, indeed, after the love fest of the last week – what will this ultimately mean for our big craft brewing happy family?
And before you ask me to never use the word “sluice” again, here’s a lovely picture of a sluice from Wikimedia Commons:
I would also like to relay that “sluice” is a surprising safe Google Image search.
We will now carry on with our regularly scheduled blog post.
So, what’s coming down the sluices!?
I’ve been conspicuously silent across both this blog and Mystery’s blog (where this, incidentally, is being cross-posted, if you’re reading this at Mystery’s blog, you may want to check out Top Fermented), for the past couple of weeks and that’s primarily because my days have been turned into a twisting mass of odd jobs, manual labor, staring at the wall waiting for inspiration, and alternately burying myself so deep into work that I forget to eat. A good chunk of this has been keeping me away from writing.
But it hasn’t been keeping me away from the computer. More on that in a sec.
I’m on a more regular schedule now, where I’m actually spending 3 days a week “at the office” so you should be seeing a few more blog posts popping up here and there.
Also popping up should be the fruits of (some of) my labor, so here’s a little preview of what to expect in the next couple of weeks:
In case you haven’t heard, myself and a couple of excellent friends organized and hold a monthly beer Meetup here in the Triangle in NC called Taste Your Beer for lack of a better, more inspiring, name. It’s been received pretty well and people seem genuinely excited to learn more about beer – not how to make it, but how to enjoy it, and just more about beer in general. So when I heard that there were upcoming Cicerone exams coming to Raleigh, I had the idea to make a study group for it.
However, after thinking about it, I thought – why limit this to just people who want to become Cicerones? Lots of people want to learn about beer but don’t necessarily have the desire (or the work experience and wallet) to become Cicerones. That’s why, starting in February, I’ll be offering beer education classes at my location at Mystery Brewing. It’ll be an 8 week class meeting once a week (with a few exceptions) covering beer from ingredient cultivation to serving and food pairing including off-flavors and style samples. It will cover the Cicerone exam content thoroughly so if you, like me, want to take the Cicerone exam in April or June, then this should act as an excellent study guide. However, if you just want to learn about beer then that’s cool, too.
Look for more information about these classes popping up in the next few days. We need to get going soon to be ready for the Cicerone exam AND the World Beer Festival.
With a new brewing company comes a new website. The blog over at mysterybrewingco.com will soon be going away for a more robust website with some features that I think will be fairly interesting to people. Among them are the normal kind of website things: discussion boards, a news feed, info about the brewery, social media and that sort of crap. But here’s a little preview of some of the other things I’m working on (not all of which will be up and running immediately):
Okay – this part isn’t nearly as exciting to you as it is to me. Still. I’m excited.
And no, that doesn’t mean that I’m starting another Kickstarter project (yet), but Kickstarter backers will remember that there are still homebrew recipes to go out, Irregulars memberships to revel in, beer dinners to eat, and video chats to watch. I haven’t forgotten, and there will be movement on a couple of these things soon.
And more.. much, much more.
If I’m running into any sort of problem, lately, it’s the fact that I have more ideas for things to do than I have resources and, frankly, spare neurons for processing. The important part that my next blog post should be a snark filled rant about some sort of craft beer segment piece and not one of these lame update sessions.
But! The future is bright and there’s beer there. Join me!
Ã€ votre santÃ©,
A little while back, I ran across a fascinating article over on Ad Age.
What first drew my attention was, unsurprisingly, the beer. Colorado Native is made by AC Golden Brewing Company, a small 30 bbl subsidiary of MillerCoors. Much like Blue Moon, they are relying on “craft”-style marketing: word of mouth/viral marketing. Part of me really likes the idea of Colorado Native – it is made with almost 100% Colorado ingredients. I mean, we’re talking barley, hops, water, packaging, and even the social marketing they’re using on each bottle.
And that’s what kept my eye on this article. Social Marketing? What what? The article kind of blows through the Snap Tag reference, which is a little crazy considering it’s Ad Age magazine and not a beer-related media. I, on the other hand, was fascinated, so I did a little reading because this is something that I think that craft brewers can learn from.
MillerCoors/AC Golden is using this interesting new type of barcode technology called a Snap Tag. Snap Tags are, for all intents and purposes, pretty barcodes. Here’s an example, from SpyderLynk‘s website.
See the dots in the circle? That’s what defines the code. I’m not exactly sure, but my guess is that the location of the dots in the circle, probably in degrees based on the orientation of the logo, can denote specific information. I speculate that they’re probably a numerical format that can be translated further by an algorithm held at SpyderLynk. Since the particular product we’re talking about is Colorado Native, it’s probably a small code that changes per batch of beer manufactured so that you can track exactly which batch this came out of, who it was distributed by and, very likely (if you have that kind of tracking technology – and why wouldn’t MillerCoors?), what retailer it was bought from.
“Okay,” I can year you saying, “What’s the big deal? People put tracking codes on their products all the time. It’s really helpful for figuring out defects in batches, it helps with customer support, etc., etc.”
Yeah, I totally agree. But what you have here isn’t just a tracking program, it’s a program in which consumers are encouraged to interact with you. The amount of information you’re getting off the Snap Tag and the bottle is small. The information you’re getting from the consumer is enormous. It starts with their phone number and/or e-mail address and then, when you send something back, it continues with their birth date (you have to verify age, right?) and then continues further on with a nice questionnaire asking about their lifestyle preferences, etc. Okay, are you on Facebook? Twitter? Yeah? Awesome. Hi! You are my target market, for you have bought my product. Now I know pretty much everything about you and you have given it to my freely.
It’s a ridiculously good use of modern technology and I’m a little shocked that I don’t see any craft breweries going in this direction.
Snap Tags? No. I’m still not convinced of the merit of Snap Tags, themselves. Each of the case studies that SpyderLynk has listed on their website doesn’t actually use the information listed on the snap tag so much as it uses the Snap Tag to get people to willingly send in their contact information to a company — which is, as far as I’m concerned, the magic.
Allow me to introduce you to something called a QR Code. It’s a bar code many people (those with Androids, maybe even with iPhones, now, I’m not sure) can actually read them with their cell phones, and I’m sure that as time goes on this will become more prevalent. Here’s an example of a QR Code:
Now here’s your Snap Tag replacement, with apologies to SpyderLynk for stealing their format:
Yeah, that’s right. Take a picture of that and send it to me and I’ll get back to you and find out about you, the consumer of said QR code. In many ways the QR code itself is completely inconsequential. In this case, however, not only am I getting information from the consumer, I am also giving information back to the consumer. You can do anything with this – contests, event information, business card info, whatever. And you can make your own QR Code for free. But it doesn’t matter! The code isn’t important! The customer contact is.
Craft breweries, it’s not often that I will tell you to take a an idea from the macros, but… take this one. The most valuable marketing tool you have is a personal relationship between your business and your customer. Take this idea! Use your packaging to do more than just signify what’s inside, it is your easiest customer contact – use it! Take this awesome idea and run with it!
And thus I have failed.
BrewDog, if you’re not familiar with them, are a Scottish brewery that, according to lore, are busy modeling their public image after Stone in their reverse psychology, “You’re not cool enough to be drinking this beer.” type of message. It’s all very cute and apparently incredibly effective.
The reason that I’ve been trying not to comment on them is because they’re punks. By punks, I think that it’s important that you realize that I don’t mean the sort of punk that rocks the Kasbah or the sort that promotes anarchy in the kingdom. They are the sort of punks with really consistent and compelling graphic design that have just recently had a public offering of their stock (EU residents only). They are punks in a sort of MTV “Punk’d” kind of way, which I don’t really mean as a compliment, but a sad statement of fact.
They also make, honestly, some really great beer. In a way, it’s too bad, because their beer is really overshadowed by their actions. Pretty much anytime I read about BrewDog I read about the company and the fact that the beer exists, not about what the beer actually tastes like. That I’ve had to find out on my own.
Without casting too much judgment (I’ll leave that to others) here are a few pieces that have caught my eye:
Earlier this year, BrewDog’s Tokyo* Imperial Stout was banned by The Portman Group, which is an organization in the UK which essentially acts as a watchdog group to promote responsible drinking in the UK. In and of itself, this isn’t really awful except that it was apparently banned due to a complaint by Brew Dog’s co-founder James Watt, which is just weird.
In response to the fairly ridiculous response that Tokyo* got by the media in the UK, the brewery released an “Imperial Mild” called Nanny State. They say it best in their own words:
Nanny State is our quiet and dignified response to the ongoing controversy surrounding Britain’s strongest ever beer, Tokyo*. Nanny State is a 1.1% ale. We have gone from making Britain’s strongest beer to a brew so low in alcohol it is below the legal classification of beer and not strong enough to be subject to beer duty.
Nanny State is an extraordinary little beer. It contains more hops than any other beer we have ever brewed. There is over 60 kilos used in our tiny 20HL batch. It contains more hops than any other beer ever brewed in the UK. It has a theoretical IBU of 225.
It hasn’t been very well received, but I haven’t tried it, myself. It would seem, to me, to be a bit out of balance.
This past week, they released what they say is the strongest beer in the world: Tactical Nuclear Penguin (which I think is an awesome name), an imperial stout weighing in at 32% alcohol on the same day that Scottish Parliament was debating a bill setting a minimum price for alcohol sales and raising age at which people may buy alcohol. It’s been posited, rather angrily, that the timing was intentional. Normally, I’d think that was a stretch, but after watching BrewDog operate its releases as social statements previous to this hard to think it’s anything but planned.
(Note: Apparently, it’s only going to be the world’s strongest for a little while. A small German brewery is releasing a 40% alcohol Eisbock. Yikes!)
As for me, I can’t decide if these guys are marketing geniuses or just making shit up as they go along. They seem to be operating under the aphorism by Oscar Wilde, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” I’m not sure I really agree with that. Statements from neo-Prohibitionists with words like “childlike attention-seeking” are the kind of things that get picked up by people who don’t know what you’re all about. That’s the backwards way to publicity. You want the Prohibitionists to be the ones defending their stance against the incredulous media, not you defending yours. You want to convince people in general that the crazies are railing against nothing, not give the crazies ammunition.
I’ve also read suggestions that this is just the wacky Scottish sense of humor coming through. I have to say: I do find some of the things that they’ve been doing funny. There’s amusement to be had. On the other hand, if I had laid down Â£230 per share on this company for any significant amount of shares I don’t think I’d be laughing. I think I’d be wanting them to stop fucking around with my Â£230 and get back to what they do best: Making good beer. The UK beer market isn’t that wild and out there. I’m sure there are plenty of boundaries that can be pushed in the UK without stirring up quite as much shit as they have. But I guess then they wouldn’t be punks.
Maybe they’re just being the wrong kind of punks. Myself, I’d shoot for Joe Strummer over Ashton Kutcher. I’m old school, like that.
In case you didn’t catch the news a little while back, Pabst Blue Ribbon is for sale. Why is kind of amusing. It is currently owned by the Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation which has recently been given a deadline by the IRS to sell Pabst, because it is unlawful for charitable foundations to own for-profit companies.
Paul Kalmanovitz, who the Foundation is named after, was the former owner of Pabst, as well as Falstaff Brewing, Lone Star, and Pearl, Stroh’s, and Olympia. When he died, he left most of his estate to the creation of a charitable foundation for universities and hospitals. Oh, and also making bank with PBR.
Let me throw you one quote from the Wikipedia article about how Kalmanovitz made breweries profitable and I’ll move on:
Kalmanovitz acquired an ailing brewery, fired the corporate personnel, reduced budgets, sold off equipment, stopped plant maintenance, and eliminated product quality control.
Truly, it was the golden age of brewing.
Of course, Pabst – at this point – isn’t really a beer company. It’s a marketing organization. They contract the brewing of a dozen-or-so brands. I’m not clear on exactly who does the brewing for them, but I’m pretty sure it’s MillerCoors. Don’t quote me on that.
Regardless of where the beer is actually made, Pabst, and by extension, hipster-badge Pabst Blue Ribbon, is available for the low, low price of $300,000,000.
It seems like a paltry amount, especially if you look at the recent AB-InBev merger price tag of what.. $52 billion? But, considering this economy $300 million is probably as much as they can expect. And maybe rent in Milwaukee is a little lower than St. Louis.
Rather than wait for the announcement of the next giant corporation/richer-than-rich-private-entity snapping up Pabst, an enterprising set of individuals have put together a little website to crowdsource the purchase of Pabst: BuyABeerCompany.com.
Why this isn’t dragging in hipsters by the boatload, I’m not sure. Probably because if you’re drinking PBR, then the following sentence on the website is a deal-killer:
The asking price is $300 Million, not a small number, but through crowdsourcing pledges of as little as $5.00, the cost of a bottle of beer, this can be achieved based on the largest crowdsourced audience assembled, ever.
$5.00? For a bottle of beer? Man, that’s like a sixer of PBR.
(Hey hipsters! That’s like a 12-pack of Genny Cream Ale! You fools!)
It’s a cool concept. If you’re interested, you pledge for a certain amount. You don’t need to send in any money. Your money isn’t needed until they receive $300 million in pledges.
Never mind that at $5.00/pledge you need 60 million pledges. Or to look at that another way, you need $5 from every drinking American.
So, sure. We might all put down $300 million, collectively, on a Friday night. But try to organize us like this over the internet. I bet that most of those drinkers don’t even know what an internet looks like.
If an enterprising set of investors were interested, however, this would be an interesting way of buying Pabst without paying full price. Of course, then you’d have to share with all the douchebags like me who have pledged $25 for the opportunity to someday (maybe) own .00000008% of Pabst.
Who knows where that kind of investment could lead?
As of when I wrote this post, they already have $500,000 in pledges. Only $299,500,000 to go.
Come on, everyone. Pony up!