03 Aug 2017 @ 5:19 PM 

A little earlier this week, a good friend said to me: Hey. I’ve missed you writing on TopFermented. I figured with all of these acquisitions that you’d have something to say.

Sure, said I, I have a lot of thoughts, but not only am I busy as hell with the brewery these days, I also feel like I need to be a little more delicate with my words as President of the NC Craft Brewers Guild.

And then, lo, the muse gods answered all of our prayers and Anchor Brewing was acquired by Sapporo.

Since the last time I wrote a post here, disparaging ABI, a lot has happened in the M&A world of the craft brewing industry, most notably ABI’s acquisition of local NC darlings Wicked Weed, which seemed to hit home with a lot of people.

To me?  This one.

Why?  Well, because it looks a lot more like a signal than all of the others.  This brewery was first.  Fritz Maytag rescued Anchor from closing its doors in 1965 and effectively became the first craft brewery.  It’s been doing what we’re all doing for longer than anybody.  It was the model for so many breweries over the past 50 years.

On the other hand, it’s easy to forget that Fritz Maytag sold Anchor to Griffin Group, owners of BrewDog (hah, punks, sure thing fellas) and Skyy Vodka, way back in 2010, so no big shock that it was on the sale block as mergers and acquisitions are heating up in the beer industry.  You’ll see in the article that Keith Greggor, of the Griffin Group (and CEO of Anchor) said that “the move was a year in the making and the result of speaking with ‘many, many’ larger breweries all over the world to find the right fit.”

In fact, none of it is really a shock.  Many people in the industry are in the same space that Fritz came to in 2010:  In need of an exit strategy.  They’ve put their time in, they’ve grown their companies, they’ve done well by their employees, they’ve brought the brand they built into the world of success.  What else are you supposed to do?  Just close shop and lay everybody off?  Sell and go enjoy your grandkids, for gods sake.  Fritz was a pioneer in exit strategies just as he was in many other aspects of the craft industry.  He beat most everybody there by years.

Still – it feels like a larger symbol – this beacon of independence, innovation, and entrepreneurship is now just another brand swept up in the great brand homogenization of the past few years.  Like it or not, it’s part of an international corporation that will benefit by dragging sales away from small, local, independent producers.  From now on, when you buy an Anchor beer, that buck will ultimately stop at Sapporo Breweries, Toiso, Eniwa, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan.

So, you know, support your local international brewery.  Or just buy what tastes good, I guess.

Ultimately, that’s the most disappointing part of it to me.  Every time one of these happens, a big wave goes through the craft industry in which a bunch of people who say: “Who gives a shit? If it tastes good, who cares who makes it?”

Well, I do.

And, sure.  I am biased.  The vast majority of breweries who will have M&A as a viable exit strategy look very similar to the ones that have already been acquired:  Established, 15+ years old, growing, with a good on-site presence and wide distribution.  The vast majority of breweries who will suffer for it look a lot like mine:  Tiny, hyper local, battling with congested distribution markets and a variable tourism trade after 3 – 7 years of being open with 3000 new breweries behind us eagerly waiting to take our place.  It sure as shit matters to me.

It’s difficult to see our forefathers and our pioneers – our independent giants and captains of industry – slip away from us.  It feels like a betrayal to the innovative attitude that seduced all of us 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rounders into the industry in the first place – the dreams of working hard with your own hands to make a cool product has gotten lost in the fast paced factory.  It hurts to see someone you idolized as a successful entrepreneur and businessman just become another suit and tie.

But it’s what the future holds for our industry.

On the wall of my production floor here at Mystery, there’s a quote from Fritz Maytag that reads, “Beer doesn’t make itself by itself. It takes an element of mystery and things unknown.”  Most people think it’s how I named my brewery.  It isn’t.  But it speaks to me enormously about the product and the reason that many of us are in the industry itself.  It’s more than just a business to a lot of us, it’s our way of life, it’s our passion.

So, this week, I’ll go buy my last Anchor Steam.  I’ll hoist it in memory to the innovative business that Fritz Maytag once built, and I won’t look back, just like I’ve done with so many breweries lately.  Then, I’ll get back up on my brew deck and pour my heart and soul in.

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Categories: brewery, distribution, industry, Mystery Brewing Company, news, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 03 Aug 2017 @ 05 21 PM

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 02 Apr 2009 @ 9:59 AM 

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to get a response on my post about the Bittersweet Partnership from what would appear to be Kristy McReady, Communications Partner, whose job it is to “engage with consumers via press and the website to help raise awareness of women and beer as an issue and ultimately BitterSweet Partnership’s aims to address it.”

Meet Kristy!

Meet Kristy!

Which, well.. well done, Kristy. Mission accomplished… sorta.

For those of you just tuning in, here is the text of the post:

Kristy from BitterSweet here – thanks for picking up on the story.

The BitterSweet Partnership was launched as we believe that the beer industry has ignored women for far too long. We know that lots of women already love beer, but our research showed that almost 8 out of 10 women (77%) say they seldom or never drink it,.

The ‘clear beer’ is a completely new, ultra filtered beer product which is still in development and has yet to be launched or even named. We’re listening to all women to understand what they want from a beer, so this is just one product that we’re currently testing – we’re looking at product developments to match a whole range of tastes, plus creating better buying and drinking experiences for women. We’ll also be working with Coors Brewers to help inform the way Coors brands generally engage with women in the future.

We’re about making beer an acceptable and stylish drink choice for women, not about encouraging women to drink more – we strongly recommend that women stick to government guidelines on safe drinking.

I want to say that I think it’s admirable that the Bittersweet Partnership has taken the time to search Twitter and respond to blogs about this. I do wish that the response didn’t seem so … canned. I really do hope that it was Kristy doing this and not some minion on Kristy’s name. That would make me feel good. Given that Kristy is supposed to be in the UK and the post came in at 5:07 PM EDT (or 10:07 PM GMT), I’m not so sure, but I’m willing to give them (her?) the benefit of the doubt. [Note: The IP address checks out to a UK cable internet provider, so.. hey.. cool.]

Dear Kristy,

Thank you. I appreciate your input. I’d like to respond to your post in a few ways.

First, I’d like to point out that stating research statistics without a reference or any sort of methods is a bit tough to swallow. I’m not disagreeing with the finding, as I don’t find it necessarily surprising, but I see nothing here about who you asked, how you asked it, or why said women seldom or never drink beer, or even if you were merely asking about Coors products or beer in general. As a counterpoint, my research clearly shows that 83% (5 out of 6) of women drink beer but that 40% of those surveyed would prefer more elegant presentation in pub/club settings.

Furthermore, I think we need to redefine your terms a bit in order to get the real message from your post. I’d like to change “brewing industry” to “Coors” and “beer” to “Coors Product(s)” to give the content a little more perspective.

I think that there are a lot of women in the brewing industry who would be surprised to find out that they’re ignoring (other) women. In fact, the brewing industry as a whole isn’t ignoring women at all. Within the past couple of years, women’s relationship to beer has been a constant topic in the craft beer industry. There have been articles about it in trade magazines and it has a panel dedicated to it at the upcoming Craft Beer Conference. Marketing beer to women is part of improving the image of beer as a whole, especially in its relationship to wine and cocktails.

If we can change that sentence to “…we believe that Coors has ignored women for far too long…” then I think we have something more specific. It’s something that I can’t really speak to, as I don’t know enough about the inner working of Coors, but it’s something that you can speak to. You’re in the position to change that!

I have issues with the ultra-clear tea-and-fruit-flavored “beer” because I think at that point you’re changing the product. You might be selling beer by a very technical definition, but rather than helping your market segment understand why they should be buying your product, you’re changing your product for your market segment. Again, if we change “beer” to “Coors Product” I have a lot less issue with this. You’re creating a Coors Product that will appeal to a market segment? Awesome. Good luck with that. But let’s call an alcopop an alcopop.

The one area that I think is a great point in this post is the brief mention of “creating better buying and drinking experiences for women.” As a commenter mentioned yesterday, it can be difficult to be elegant while swigging beer out of a bottle. While most of the beer bars that I frequent have rather elegant glassware to choose from, that certainly is not the case for most common establishments, especially if we are focusing on (as I think we are in this case) specifically pub culture. That is where Coors, and by extension, the Bittersweet Partnership has the power to change a lot.

Craft brewers, because they still only command a very small market share, don’t have the kind of influence to be able to say to your normal dive bar, “you will serve our beer in this manner in this glassware.” At this point it’s still difficult to get a majority of places to carry a product and keep their tap lines clean, much less serve beer in special glasses. Coors, and other megabreweries, however are in the position of being able to dictate these conditions to and through their distributors.

Mmm.. wheaty.

Mmm.. wheaty.


By now, I think we all know that Blue Moon is a Coors product, and word is that we’re about to see a huge spike in marketing dollars pushed at the brand. If you put money toward providing specialized glassware for it and distributing it to every upscale sports bar in the U.S. that carries Blue Moon, instead of some strained television commercial that plays alongside truck ads during baseball games, I pretty much guarantee that you see an uptick in sales.

In summary: Bittersweet, I don’t disagree with what you’re doing, or that there’s a problem with how beer, as a product, is related to women, but I do disagree with your tactic in addressing it. It is broad generalization of the beer industry, broad generalization of women, and borders on willful misinformation as a backbone for a marketing campaign.

I look forward to trying and reviewing your ultra-clear “beer.”

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Categories: industry, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 02 Apr 2009 @ 12 38 PM

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 01 Apr 2009 @ 7:15 AM 

Word around the intertubes is that Coors is developing a clear beer to market to women. It is reportedly flavored with green tea and dragon fruit, and is apparently going to taste more like an alcopop than the lager that it supposedly is. It’ll be launched in the UK first and then in US markets, the first release of the BitterSweet Partnership.

OMG!  Shopping!

OMG! Shopping!


I’m not a woman, but I feel fairly insulted by this on their behalf.

A quick snippet from their website, under the section “Shopping?”:

What if bars served beer in smaller glasses? What if beer came in sexy easy-to-carry boxes? What if it had fewer calories, would you feel better about drinking it?

Wow. Could we stereotype a little bit more here? Here’s a what-if: What if you didn’t portray women as objects in your commercials?

Shit, aren’t you just painting a similar picture with this marketing campaign?

“Girls don’t want drinks that are ICKY. Here, try this! It tastes like fairies!”

Are they really playing the “girls are fragile” card? They might as well be printing “Math is HARD” on pink fuzzy Hello Kitty bags. Those girls that they’re marketing to? They’re all 16 years old.

I’m also a little astonished that this partnership and this Partnership is helmed by five women. Kirsty, Kristy, Helen, Sarah, and Emma (all from marketing or sales, I think). Ladies: You are all successful business women. You have probably had to claw and scrape to get a decent amount of respect in the corporate world. I hope you’re getting compensated equally with your male peers.

But, look: I, too, have noticed that there are not as many female beer drinkers, but I know my share. In fact, lucky man that I am, I’m married to one. I can’t see any of the female beer drinkers I know putting down a well-made craft beer for an alcopop that’s marketed to be cute and girly. You wanna talk sexy? Let’s talk about girls who drink stouts and IPAs.

Most of the women I know who drink beer do tend to shy away from more hoppy brews. From there, though, there’s a pretty wide variance between those who gravitate toward more fruity beers (fruited lambics other fruit beers are popular), darker beers (porters and stouts are also popular), or light, somewhat sour beers (Belgian wits and geuzes are very popular). I can’t think of any woman I know that doesn’t drink beer because she is offended by its color. The color? Really?

I have an idea on how to get women to drink beer: educate them about it as you would any other human – they’re not a different species, for crissakes – and give them a place to drink beer that doesn’t feel like a dirty frat house. You want to get women interested? Sell them a beverage that they’re drinking to enjoy, one that pairs well with food, one with complexity of flavor, and varieties to explore. This “Partnership” is nothing but a desperate appeal to the “drink to get drunk” contingent.

Women out there – and I’m pretty sure I’ll only get beer drinkers here, but I could be wrong – how do you feel about this push by Coors? What kind of beer do you and don’t you like? What attracts you to a beer?

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Categories: industry, news
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 01 Apr 2009 @ 07 15 AM

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