Hey, everyone! Have you heard the news? FREE BEER! Yaaaaaaaaay!

That’s right! Anheuser-Busch-InBev is launching a new marketing campaign and it’s time to PAR-TAY! The new “Grab some Buds” campaign is targeted at the 21-30 demographic and culminates in a free national Budweiser Happy Hour on September 29th. [reference]

It warms the cockles of my jaded little heart.

This new campaign is targeted at the 21 – 30 demographic, which AB-InBev has determined is the primary reason that they’ve seen a 20% dip in unit sales for their flagship over the past 2 years. In order to invigorate the market and to bring people back into the fold of their bland overlords a new ad campaign and enormous marketing gimmick must be had because that’s what Budweiser does. They market things. They also, apparently, make beer.

Here’s the thing: I’m sure it will work.

For a day.

I ask you this: Who over the age of 21, among people who are likely to drink beer, hasn’t tried Budweiser? What are they really trying to achieve by doing this?

Let’s talk for a second about why Budweiser (the beer, not the company) is losing market share.

1) Many drinkers have discovered that they actually have taste buds and like things that taste good and have moved up to craft beer.

2) Many (other) drinkers have decided that Bud doesn’t really taste that different from Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Milwaukee’s Best Light Ice, PBR, Schaeffer’s, Stroh’s, Genny Light, or any one of hundreds of other sub-premium adjunct pilsners and have moved DOWN in price point to get the same crap taste for less money because, hey – have you noticed that the economy isn’t that great? Why pay more for what is essentially the same product? Or maybe they’re just hipsters.

This happy hour WILL work. People who are predisposed to drink Budweiser and who like getting trashed on a Wednesday night will show up for their free sample of Bud. They’ll stick around and have a few more – though I’d be curious to find out if they keep drinking Bud once it’s on their dime. Bars and restaurants will be pressured by Budweiser distributors to buy extra kegs to stock up for the obvious DELUGE of business that they’re sure to get on the 29th, but don’t worry, they’ll kick in an extra keg if you buy enough, or maybe snag you some tickets to the ballgame. You know, a little quid pro quo to get you through your day.

Sales will look up, investors and stock market lackeys will be mollified because 3rd quarter sales look like they might have some life, but in the end, will they really pick up a big slew of new Budweiser drinkers to revive and sustain their flagging brand?

I don’t see it happening.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 23 Sep 2010 @ 11 13 PM

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 21 Jan 2010 @ 10:39 PM 

Back – way, way back in internet years – just after last year’s Craft Brewer’s Conference, I wrote a little piece about why and how breweries should be using Twitter. It was originally a bit of a followup from watching the internet panel at the CBC. I wasn’t confident that the panel really convinced people why they should be using social media. In fact, I’m not even sure if left people with a favorable impression. So passionate was I about this, that I got together with a couple of great people to put a panel together for this year’s conference.

I’ve been planning on writing a few columns in support of the panel this spring as I work through collecting my thoughts for later discussion. The first was going to be what I perceive as the effective differences between Facebook and Twitter, built for a craft beer business perspective. That’s still coming, but via the magic of the internet, I was pointed over to a thread on ProBrewer that kind of got me by the short hairs.

Let me see if I can summarize this thread for you:

“What’s this Twitting thing? Is that on the Google? I can’t understand what those kids are saying without my ear horn!”

It makes me want to slap people. There is nothing in this world that pisses me off more than willful ignorance. The idea that you can’t understand something because it’s new is a one-way ticket to stagnation and failure. In the end the real issue is that you’re scared. Grow a pair. It’s a plastic box with electronics in it. We call it a computer. You use several every day, probably even to make beer.

I’m sure that all of the guys that posted to this thread are smart. You have to be smart to brew beer and run a business. You have to know a good deal of chemistry, physics, and biology. You have to have business sense and be at least relatively decent with numbers, you have to be savvy enough with people to know your customers, know what they want, and know how to get them to buy your product. And then you put something out like “I could really give a s#$t if those who read our company tweets consume my beer. If they would take guidance from a simple message from a stranger, they’re idiots.”

Shit, man. You just described marketing. You ever watch a commercial? They’re on the television now. Oh, right- that’s another plastic box with electronics in it. Forget I asked.

Nevermind, the lovely irony of asking “Has everyone willingly given up privacy?” on a public message board using your real name as a username. Liam, buddy: Misdirected ire. You must have been having a bad day that day, eh? I hope I can get up to Yellow Belly the next time I’m in NL to try your beer, regardless of that fact that you’ve completely written me off as a customer. Hey – does that mean I can drink for free?

And I don’t really mean to take the piss out of Liam here, it’s just to easy to troll and be snarky when people give you such opportunities! Moving on:

Allow me to address a few of the points that I’m going to summarize out of this thread (and countless freakin’ others out there):

Social Media is for “young people”

Almost 40% of Facebook users are between ages 36 and 65.

60% of Facebook users are over the age of 25.

Those damn kids. They’re probably planning your 30th high school reunion using the Facebook. Maybe you should get in touch.

Social media is a fad.

Facebook reported hitting 132 million users in December 2009. MySpace reports almost 50 million. Twitter reports 23 million. They’re not all overlapping users, though many are (there’s the followup column I’m writing, see?).

Allow me to translate that into math:

If every drinking-aged adult in the country (~200 million) buys beer (they don’t), and craft beer makes up ~5% of the market share (they do), then more people over the age of 26 use Facebook (79.2 million) than drink craft beer (10 million) by a factor of a whole shitload. Fad. Sheesh.

I don’t have time for social media

I don’t have time to promote my business! I don’t have time to get people interested in my brand! I don’t have time to sell my product! I don’t have time to interact with my customers! Waaah!

Really? You know how long it takes me to send out a tweet? Like 25 seconds. To be fair: I type fast. Let’s say it takes you TWICE as long as me to type – no! Three times as long! Finger-pecker!

Ach! My aged fingers can not stand typing for over a minute! I can’t take 75 seconds out of my incredibly busy day to interact with my customers just once!

If you’re that busy, you’re probably at a point where you could consider hiring someone to help you. If you make the point of hiring somebody who’s not an anti-social curmudgeon, then chances are you could make managing social media part of their job and then you don’t have to worry about understanding anything fancy and new.

Look, there’s only one excuse for this type of response: You don’t get it. And you know what? That’s okay! It’s totally fine to not intuitively understand something the first time you look at it. To assume that it’s stupid because you don’t understand it is folly.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time on social media. Can you? Certainly! It can be borderline addictive. I’ll get into that in my next point.

It’s all anti-social crap for people with ADD!

You’re confusing social media with iPhone owners. (I kid! (Mostly!))

Social media is the opposite of anti-social. C’mon, people. “Social” is in the freakin’ name. Every interaction via any form of social media is essentially a part of a conversation. It’s not an update look-at-my-life-because-I’m-so-freakin’-awesome tool. It’s a human interaction please-talk-to-me tool. It’s not just:

“I had a Brooklyn Backbreaker at Tyler’s Taproom last week and I gotta say: pretty awesome.”

It’s also:

“Oooh, I’ve been wanting to try that one. Is it still on tap?”

People are talking about you. They’re talking about your product and they’re talking about your brewery. They’re talking about them a lot and having meaningful conversations about them. That is exactly why social media can be so addictive – interacting with people is fun. You do it in the bar all the time, right? Oh, right – I know: Only with people you know, or people who have the same interests as you, or maybe just the pretty girls.

Yeah, okay. Just like social media. Look, you don’t have to interact with anybody that you don’t want to. You choose who you follow and the people who follow you are enthusiastic fans of your business and your product. They are your good customers and your best evangelists. Not only do they want to have a conversation with you, they want to have a conversation about you to others. You can’t ask for better marketing than that – don’t you want to be a part of that conversation and have the chance to help guide it?

True story: I have met more new beer people in my area in the past year via Twitter, Facebook, and this blog than the previous 6 years I’ve been living here. And I’m talking great people – awesome people that I like to go hang out with after work and have a beer with, people that I have invited over to my house for dinner and drinks, and people that I hope I will not ever lose touch with because they’re such good people. Wow! Being anti-social is fun!

Social media is not a replacement for human interaction – it’s an augmentation.

It’s not a press release machine – it’s a customer interaction tool.

It’s an easy and effective tool that you can use to share your brand and your story with an eager-and-waiting audience and probably have a lot of fun at the same time. Use it. There is no downside and no reason not to.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 21 Jan 2010 @ 11 30 PM

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 23 Nov 2009 @ 3:36 PM 

“With great beer, comes great responsibility.”

So says Uncle Ben on his death sidewalk to MillerCoors, the secret identity of Spiderbrau before he whisks off into the night, swinging from hop bine to hop bine to avenge the death of his only father figure, now dead…. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

And thus I have labeled myself as a comic book geek, as well.

Recently, MillerCoors launched a new website: http://www.greatbeergreatresponsibility.com and it is glorious. I don’t want to badmouth this for its focus on ecology and good environmental responsibility, and I’m glad they’re going through this contrived marketing exercise to let us know that they’re doing their part.

I want to badmouth it for so many other reasons.

For one thing, nobody should ever make anything that autoplays noise – especially talking – when you first go to a website. Let me walk you through my first experience with this website:

Erik clicks on a link from a news article announcing this website.

Swarthy and Attractive Multicultural Man pops up on the screen.

“Hi!” says Swarthy and Attractive Multicultural Man with a little wave.

Erik closes browser quickly. Erik’s cube-mate looks over at him.

“What was that?” asks Erik’s cube mate.

“Uhh.. nothing.” he replies slyly.

Erik mutes his computer, re-opens website. Fake Redhead pops up on the screen and starts talking animatedly with her hands clenched tightly together with some message that I will never hear.

And thus, your welcome script has been lost. Well-done MillerCoors.

Okay, so aside from irking me by trying to be over-awesome with their technology and co-opting a phrase from a movie made about my favorite childhood superhero, the thing that amuses me about the site is that it seems so hellbent on getting people to pledge to do stuff with them but… who’s going to use this site? Why would you? What do you get in return – self-satisfaction? I suppose that’s what the internet is all about.

Here are my favorite three parts of the website:

Alcohol Responsibility

Here, we see a graphic narrated by Attractive Latina of how many MillerCoors customers have pledged to never drive drunk.
111!

111. Now, even if this number was 1, and that was really one more person who really was never going to drive drunk again, that’d be awesome, but I’m not convinced that clicking a link on a website saying that you’re not going to do it means that you’re really not going to do it. Part of me thinks that you want to give people some sort of incentive for not making this pledge, but then people would just pledge to get whatever you’re incentivizing them with, but it would at least give you a more impressive looking number than 111.

And y’know? Sit back for a moment and think about how many people work for MillerCoors worldwide. Don’t you think that they could have passed something around even one of their offices saying, “Please go pledge to not drive drunk, or you’re fired.” to pop that number up a little bit for release?

Environmental Sustainability

On this slide, Fake Redhead shows us how much water MillerCoors is saving compared to the rest of us. Please note, the number of gallons of water MillerCoors has saved so far YTD is not the actual number. It is an estimate based on projection of water savings from 2009 – 2015. So, essentially, they made it up.
2797
And the rest of us lousy bastards have pledged to save only 2797 gallons of water, by doing one of 5 things that you can promise them that you’ll do:

– Take shorter showers
– Don’t let the water run while you brush your teeth
– Don’t let the water run while you do the dishes
– Don’t let the water run while you wash your car
– Only do full loads of laundry

While they don’t explicitly say this, I’m pretty sure that if you pledge to do one of these things and do not fulfill your promise, you are no longer allowed to purchase MillerCoors products.

Really the thing that amuses me about this is the enormous juxtaposition between two-thousand gallons and fourteen-million. See my previous argument about passing this around the office.

Here’s something that you can do to save an enormous amount of energy and do very good for the environment: Drink local beer, not beer that was shipped halfway across the country or halfway across the world before it got on your grocer’s shelf.

What Will You Do?

This is my favorite part of the WHOLE website. This little scrolly bar shows all of the things that people have pledged to do in order to make a difference. You can click on it and make your own pledge.
These people are JUST LIKE YOU.
There are currently 20 in total. So that you don’t have to go to the website and watch them scroll yourself, here they are:

Water my lawn less. – Pam, LA
Use less plastic. – Peggy, LA
Turn the lights off when I leave the room. – Allie, IL
I will never drive drunk. – Bryan, IL
Wash my clothes in cold water instead of hot. – Katie, CO
Practice energy consevation programs,learned at work,in our homes. -Joel G., CA
Get a designated driver each and every time I go out. – Josh, IL
Use a rain barrel to collect water for plants. AnnMarie, CA
Visit talkingalcohol.com to know more about alcohol and health. – Amit, AL
Don’t let the water run when brushing my teeth. – Kim, WI
Don’t leave the water running when brushing teeth and washing dishes. – Lisa, CO
Purchase wind energy from the local utility to power my house. – Lisa, WI
Turn off the water when I brush my teeth. – Beth, WI
Turn off the lights when I leave a room. No exceptions. – Jim, CO
Encourage recycling in my office – paper, cans, boxes – anything possible! – Deb, IL
Take shorter showers. – Sandra, WI
Talked to my daughter about alcohol and what to do if it shows up at high school parties. – Diane, WI
Volunteer my time in my community on a regular basis. – Ryan, WI
Take a shorter shower and encourage my friends to do the same. – Brennan, WI
Start talking to my kids about drinking early so they make responsible choices. – Alicia, ME

I don’t know about you, but my first impression is that these are not real people. Nevermind that most of these statements look like they’re cut and pasted from the rest of the site. Nevermind that most of them are from the same 3 states. Nevermind that Amit from Alabama actually plugged another MillerCoors site. Real people are going to be putting things in like,

I will drink beer insted of watur LOLOL!!11

What I’d really like to see is a mass write in campaign on this site with all of the comments saying something like:

I will save fossil fuels by drinking locally-made craft beer.

(Go ahead, Go make your pledge now.)

So, I’m having a lot of fun with this, but I feel like this is a website that strictly exists as a PR campaign, or some way for MillerCoors to say: No! We care about the environment and we encourage people to drink responsibly… LOOK! We have a website! We’re excellent corporate citizens! (investors applaud)

And if that’s what it takes to keep the neo-Prohibitionists at bay, then so be it. That is a cause I can get behind.

On the other hand, if this is a dead serious campaign to get MillerCoors customers to be more responsible and environmentally friendly, I’d like to point out that it’s already been psychographically proven that craft beer drinkers “are 153% more likely to always buy organic” and I think that suggests that they’re probably overall pretty environmentally friendly. If that’s the case, we’ve already won, Spiderbrau or no.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 23 Nov 2009 @ 03 54 PM

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If you haven’t read this brilliant article that popped up this morning on Ad Age using psychographics to determine what your beer says about you, well.. hold on tight. This is hardcore science, ladies and gentlemen. Prepare to be blown away.

This chart shows the correlation between the number of pirates in the world and global warming.

This chart shows the correlation between the number of pirates in the world and global warming.


This marketing organization called Mindset Media “interviewed more than 2,600 people online in August and September” and created a profile that you fit in to. As internet interviews polls are incontrovertible truth, this is now a statement of your human condition and the results of this will now be used in every commercial for every sporting event you will watch for the next 6 – 8 months (or at least until a new internet interview poll has been posted or focus group has been convened).

Here’s the thing: I’m not about to say that there’s no merit to this kind of “study” but there is absolutely no merit to this kind of “study”. The results presented are the kind of thing that tends to get published by people who have very little understanding of how statistics actually work. They’re the type of statistics you see in baseball games when they’re trying to fill time.

“10 out of the last 16 meetings between these teams have included a hit batsman, so you can be sure to see some fireworks tonight!”

Nice try, but past performance is not indicative of future results and, even more importantly for this specific column, correlation does not imply causation. I might repeat this phrase again.

I hope they got paid well for this it because it is hi-larious. I’m almost tempted to cut and paste the entire article over here, but that’s bad form. Here are some “statistical” tidbits about people according to what they drink. So that I’m not dismissed (as some of the commenters on this column were) for disagreeing with the article just because I don’t like being pigeonholed (though I don’t), here’s commentary on the entire crapassery.

Budweiser
True to form, Bud drinkers are sensible, grounded and practical. They are the polar opposite of daydreamers and don’t easily get carried away. These beer drinkers also don’t like authority—can anyone say union?—and are emotionally steady people who live in the here and now. […] Budweiser drinkers are 42% more likely to drive a truck than the average person, 68% more likely to choose a credit card with flexible payment terms and 42% more likely to use breath-freshening strips every day.

“Can anyone say union?”

Is this suggesting that there’s no authority structure in a union? Can anyone say Hoffa?

Bud Light
Bud Light drinkers profile as lacking in carefulness. They are grounded like their Bud brethren, but respect authority. Bud Lighters can also have frat boy-like personalities, particularly when it comes to personal risk-taking. […] Bud Light drinkers are also 48% more likely than the average person to play the lottery every day and 34% more likely to never buy organic products.

So, if someone drinks Bud Light they are well-grounded, and carelessly respect authority by… binge drinking, if I read this right.

Have you noticed how much these read like horoscopes?

Michelob Ultra
Michelob Ultra drinkers rate high in superiority; that is, they think highly of themselves and can be a little bit conceited. They care what other people think about them and want to appear perfect. […] Michelob Ultra drinkers are 43% more likely than the average person to consider sustainability a priority, and 34% more likely to buy life insurance.

They want to appear perfect, but they’re more likely to buy life insurance. How can you tell what people want from an internet interview poll? I’ll give them the conceited part… but how do they measure this?

14. Are you conceited?
Not at all
A little bit
Quite a bit
A lot

Corona
“Where’s the party?” is probably an oft-asked question by Corona and Corona Light drinkers. They are busy and energetic people who are also extremely extroverted. […] But the life-of-the-party Corona drinkers also have an altruistic side; they care deeply about other people and see themselves as giving and warm.

Corona drinkers are 91% more likely than average to buy recycled products and 38% more likely to own three or more flat-screen TVs.

Turns out Corona and Corona Light drinkers do not differ as much as Bud and Bud Light drinkers do. Or maybe authority doesn’t come into the picture when you’re talking PAR-TAY and skunky beer.

Also: Three or more flat-screen TV’s and you’re drinking Corona!? You cheap bastards.

Heineken
There’s a slang term that could sum up Heineken drinkers: posers. These self-assured people believe they are exceptional, get low scores on modesty and high scores on self-esteem.

Ah, so they’re Michelob Ultra drinkers. Righto.

People who choose Heineken as their favorite beer are 58% more likely to have American Express cards, 45% more likely to be early adopters of new mobile phones, and 29% more likely to drive sports cars.

So are those the AmEx cards that you have to pay off all at once, or at the AmEx cards with the flexible payment schedules? Because I’m not sure I understand how these people are different from the previous “demographics.” It seems to me that they could be both Bud drinkers and Michelob Ultra drinkers. Maybe it’s the sports cars that set them apart.

The question I have is: If you’re more likely to be an early adopter of a new mobile phone, how many flat-screen TV’s (on average) do you own?

We’re starting to get into the good stuff, next:

Blue Moon
The personality traits of people who prefer Blue Moon, a Belgian style wheat beer, tracked similarly to the same type of people who prefer craft beers—which means Blue Moon drinkers probably don’t know it’s a Molson Coors Brewing Co. family product made in Colorado. […] Blue Moonies are socially liberal and usually quite willing to go against convention. They really hate moral authorities, and believe children should be exposed to moral dilemmas and allowed to come to their own conclusions. […] People who drink Blue Moon beer are 105% more likely than the average person to drive hybrid cars, 77% more likely to own Apple Mac laptops, 65% more likely to purchase five pairs or more of sneakers every year, and 32% more likely to not be registered voters.

To summarize: Blue Moon drinkers are godless socialist hippies. Thank god. I’m used to getting hit with that label because I enjoy good things. I love the suggestion here that if Blue Moon drinkers knew that their beer was made by Molson Coors that they wouldn’t drink it. That’s brilliant.

Craft Beers
These specialty made beers get lumped into one category both because there are fewer fans (and thus less statistically significant data) of them, but also because the personalities of one type fairly well describe another.

Or maybe craft beer drinkers are more likely to be savvy internet users and not take asinine internet interviews polls. There should be statistically fewer Henekin drinkers than craft beer drinkers considering that the import market isn’t that much bigger than the craft beer market and this is one beer out of the entire segment which also includes Corona and Guinness.

But, hey.. whatever. It’s your “statistics”, if you want to make market segment judgment calls without actually understanding the market, it’s all good by me. Good luck with “marketing.”

This group is more likely to spend time thinking about beer rather than work. They are more open-minded than most people, seek out interesting and varied experiences and are intellectually curious. Craft-beer drinkers also skew as having a lower sense of responsibility—they don’t stress about missed deadlines and tend to be happy-go-lucky about life.

Craft-beer lovers are 153% more likely to always buy organic, 52% more likely to be fans of the show “The Office” and 36% more likely to be the ones to choose the movie they are going to see at the theater.

Hear, hear. I am open-minded, intellectually curious, and pretty happy-go-lucky. But by god you will watch what I want to see IN THE DAMN MOVIE THEATER.

(ahem)

‘Scuse me.

Irresponsible?

17. Are you responsible?
Not at all
A little bit
Quite a bit
A lot

Finally:

Abstainers
It probably doesn’t take a psychographic profile to discover that those people who refuse to drink beer at all don’t like to loosen up very much. They are socially conservative and see many issues as black and white. Teetotalers honor tradition and authority and prefer a less-hectic social life.

People who turn down beer are 50% more likely to call themselves Republican, and are 30% more likely to never buy organic products.

This is the only one that I can’t pick apart somehow. You didn’t need to do a survey to find this out.

So, as I was saying earlier, correlation does not imply causation. The 2,600 people interviewed who took this poll may have fallen into later-defined “demographics” but these things.. these percentages? They have nothing to do with the beer that they’re drinking. There are a thousand other things that may influence these other decisions. If it appears to be unrelated to beer, chances are it’s unrelated to beer.

My point in all this? For the love of god please don’t take this kind of thing seriously, especially if you’re trying to create marketing based off of it. Give consumers a little credit, for crissakes.

After all, you’re one, too. But what do I know? I’m an irresponsible craft beer drinker, and so happy-go-lucky I could barely manage ire for this post.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 02 Nov 2009 @ 08 16 PM

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Hey! Happy Oktoberfest! Prost! It started on Saturday. I’m sure you know that.

I’m not here to talk about Oktoberfest, but every year Oktoberfest brings the same thing to mind for me: Reinheitsgebot

If you know me in person, and have talked to me about beer, you have probably heard me rail on about Reinheitsgebot at least once. A little story a friend of mine likes to tell involves me ranting on in the kitchen to him over a beer. My wife enters the room a few minutes into the conversation – barely hears any of it – and says:

“Are you ranting about the Reinheitsgebot, again?”

“Yes, dear.”

Fact is this: I respect what people are trying to get at with the Reinheitsgebot. I do. But sometimes I feel like we have some sort of weird misguided loyalty to it. It’s a trade restriction, for crissakes, not a holy writ.

Here’s a translation of it, taken from brewery.org:

“We hereby proclaim and decree, by Authority of our Province, that henceforth in the Duchy of Bavaria, in the country as well as in the cities and marketplaces, the following rules apply to the sale of beer:

“From Michaelmas to Georgi, the price for one Mass [Bavarian Liter 1,069] or one Kopf [bowl-shaped container for fluids, not quite one Mass], is not to exceed one Pfennig Munich value, and

“From Georgi to Michaelmas, the Mass shall not be sold for more than two Pfennig of the same value, the Kopf not more than three Heller [Heller usually one-half Pfennig].

“If this not be adhered to, the punishment stated below shall be administered.

“Should any person brew, or otherwise have, other beer than March beer, it is not to be sold any higher than one Pfennig per Mass.

“Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.

“Should, however, an innkeeper in the country, city or markets buy two or three pails of beer (containing 60 Mass) and sell it again to the common peasantry, he alone shall be permitted to charge one Heller more for the Mass of the Kopf, than mentioned above. Furthermore, should there arise a scarcity and subsequent price increase of the barley (also considering that the times of harvest differ, due to location), WE, the Bavarian Duchy, shall have the right to order curtailments for the good of all concerned.”

So, mostly it’s price fixing. It’s “don’t charge more than X amount per Mass.” It’s also a grain restriction. It’s not a law decreeing the all-holy purity of beer, it’s a law saying “don’t use wheat or rye.” You’ll also note that it only applies to “all cities, markets and in the country” the Duchy could make beer out of whatever the hell they wanted. They’re restricting commercial breweries.

Why? Well, probably to stop the price of wheat and rye from going up to keep the cost of making bread reasonable. Fair, right? Okay. Fine. In 1871, when Bavaria joined Germany, they insisted on the Reinheitsgebot as a precondition in order to prevent competition from beers made with a wider range of ingredients. In fact, it was even written into Germany’s beer taxation laws in the 1950s, at first only to lagers, but eventually to all ales as well.

Fortunately, the EU had the wisdom to suspend the Reinheitsgebot, saying that it was unfair for trade (because it is) and that anything allowed in other foods may be allowed in beer. However, beer brewed under Reinheitsgebot is still protected as a “traditional food” which seems a little ridiculous. I’ll get back to that.

As it happens, the British had an Ale Purity law, as well. They outlawed the “doctoring of ale, with hops” because of its “psycho-active properties” in 1484, just a few short years before the Reinheitsgebot was proposed in 1487 (it was put into law in 1516). You don’t see people clamoring to stick by that one, do you? Maybe that’s because hops are such a perfect addition to beer… but you know? A lot of other things are good additions to beer, as well. Imagine a summer without wheat beers. Sad.

Myself? I believe, firmly, that the Reinheitsgebot heralded the rise of the bland commercial crap that currently dominates our marketplace. You see, when Reinheitsgebot was enforced in Germany it put an end to a good chunk of old brewing traditions. I’ve read references of spiced ales and cherry ales, and of course even wheat beers don’t jive under Reinheitsgebot, either. In my imagination, Ye Olde Westerne Germanye has a brewing tradition a lot like that of Belgium (which it borders) until somebody slapped this trade restriction in place.

In fact, the rise of Pilsener is directly related to folks in other places mimicking the brewing traditions of Bavaria – it’s even noted in the company timeline of Plzensky Prazdroj, maker of the most famous Pilsener Urquell.

5 October 1842 First brew of Bavarian type beer, bottom-fermented beer, so-called pale lager.

What they don’t mention there is that this happened after the recruitment of Bavarian brewer Josef Groll, the father of Pilsener, who would have been brewing under the restrictions of the Reinheitsgebot his entire life. Why change a good thing, eh?

Pilsener, we all know, is the cultural precursor to Milwaukee’s Best Light Ice. It’s enough to make a man weep.

So, aside from the Reinheitsgebot being the origin of everything that’s wrong with the world of macrobrewing, what else do I have against it?

It’s old and it’s over. It’s marketing talk, at this point. It reduces beer to three components, one of which is technically incorrect. A lot of people like to say that the Reinheitsgebot restricts beer to being made with water, malt, hops, and yeast. Take a gander up there. No malt, no yeast. Sure, yeah. Technicalities. They say “barley” which is then made into malt, yes. And yeast wouldn’t be isolated as an organism for another 2-300 years. Who cares?

I care.

Fact: water, malt, hops, and yeast are the essential ingredients for making beer. They are simply the most efficient ingredients (unless you apply Science to help convert starches into sugars in another, more artificial, “I’m adding a bucket of unrelated enzymes to my mash” way). MOST beers are made out of water, malt, hops, and yeast. Throwing up some fancy-pants label about how “This FINE beverage is made under the restrictions of the Bavarian Beer Purity Law” seems almost somewhat akin to saying that your beer is “Triple-Hops Brewed” or “Cold Filtered.” What you’re saying applies to many, many, many, MANY beers. Why don’t you tell me what makes your beer different, instead?

Giving weight to the Reinheitsgebot also seems to imply that beers made with adjuncts – like many Belgian beers and Abbey ales, for example – are somehow inferior. In fact, many of those adjunct-laced beers are recognized as some of the finest beers in the world. You’re saying they’re not “pure?” Whoop-dee-doo. They’re awesome. That’s what counts.

Finally, I sometimes feel that the weight of the Reinheitsgebot gives us pause when experimenting with German beer styles. Certainly, Americans have (wonderfully) bastardized wheat beers in almost every way imaginable, but for some reason when we talk about a lot of the traditional German beer styles there seems to be somewhat of an effort to get them as close to their Reinheitsgeboty heritage as possible.

By this point, I think that American Craft Brewers have shown that there’s still a lot of new ground to be covered in beer. Let’s not get tied down to this archaic trade restriction as some sort of arbitrary measure of quality. Let’s let the taste buds do the talking, break out of this 400-year-old box, leave the marketing lingo behind, and put the Reinheitsgebot to bed as a historical curiosity.

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Categories: history, marketing, op-ed, taxation
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 21 Sep 2009 @ 09 50 PM

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