25 Dec 2009 @ 5:18 PM 

In case you missed it, there was a little sort-of announcement made by Stone this past week. You can watch the video (or read the blog post) to get the whole deal, but here’s the gist: Stone is considering the possibility of opening a brewery in Europe. That’s the announcement. That they’re considering it. Needless to say, this has garnered quite a few reactions, and I had a few of my own that I wanted to throw out and around for discussion.

I have to admit that my first reaction was a little knee-jerk “What the hell” kind of reaction that I appeared to have shared with a few others out there. Basically, the reaction goes somewhere along the lines of: What the hell? I can’t get Stone beers in [name one of many U.S. states] and now they’re going to open a brewery across the ocean?!

It’s where I sat for the first day or two.

To be honest, it’s an unfair reaction. Distribution laws are different state by state. I’m sure Stone would love to distribute to all 50 states. They would be silly not to, but it’s just not as easy as throwing beer in the mail. There’s all kinds of TTB hoops to jump through at both a federal level and a state level and then you need to find a distributor that 1) will carry your product 2) they way you’d like them to. Oh, and then retailers need to buy it. In some states, Stone doesn’t even have more than a few products that will be able to get to the shelf because of alcohol caps. So I’ll reserve my judgment on that one.

My next reaction was a little disappointment. I’ve always had a little soft spot for Stone because of their plan to sell deep into their market before expanding. That I started seeing Stone beers available in really out-of-the-way places on the East Coast made me assume that they had reached their goal of saturation in Southern California and that they were attempting to establish other markets. Okay, I say that a little tongue-in-cheek. I have a thing for small breweries. I hate it when their goal is constant growth. It smacks of greed to me. The craft beer market is too small for greed.

A lot of breweries have been taking the quick-expansion route in the past year. The fact that I went from never having had a Fat Tire before to getting irritated that every bar I go to in North Carolina has a Fat Tire tap before they have a local brewery tap has kind of irked me. To then follow that up with seeing Stone aggressively expand into my market made me a little wary. The American Southeast still has a way to go before it picks up huge hop profiles as its thing (and I doubt it ever will), so Stone hasn’t quite seen the same kind of ubiquity, but it’s here nonetheless. I kinda wish that I still felt the same sort of mystique I used to for Stone. When it was something that I couldn’t get my hands on, it was more special. Now it’s just a big IPA that I’m not always in the mood for at the beer bar. Availability cancels mystique.

On the other hand, this is how I’ve always thought breweries should handle expansion: Don’t ship your beer across god-knows-how-many miles and trust in some distributor that you can neither see nor control, build a new local brewery and distribute from there. It makes sense that if they want to expand their market to Europe to open a new brewery – it makes sense from a “I want my beer to be good and fresh” perspective. It makes sense from a business perspective, and I can get behind that.

My next reaction was amusement. Go back and watch the video and try to think about it in comparison with American foreign policy over the last.. oh.. 20 years. What unmitigated dicks Americans are. Greg and Steve come off as so damn cocksure in this video. “Don’t call us if you just want a brewery in your backyard – unless you’re a KING!” I know that they’re doing it to try to be quirky and cute and funny. But imagine that English isn’t your first language and you won’t be very surprised that there is – from the makers of “Arrogant Bastard”, mind you – a followup apology video to France. Take it from somebody who is related to a bunch of non-English-speakers: Humor doesn’t translate well.

And honestly guys: You’re funny. You are! But this is the internet. You had to know that was coming. Pictures of kittens get angry reactions. It’s the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. You could have prepared that “apology” in advance. (Though I’m sure that all of the reactions that you received were from unmitigated dick Americans.)

My final reaction? I’m not sure I’m there, yet. Part of me feels like a move across the ocean is kind of giving up on the American market. Despite Greg’s assurances that they would essentially exist as separate enterprises, I know that someone’s attention is going to be divided. In a very selfish way, I’d like Greg’s enthusiasm for craft beer and the craft beer market to be hyper-focused on the U.S., not Europe. Craft beer is still trying to gain a solid foothold here. It’s still struggling against imports and malternatives. To put it in perspective, Coors sold 150% more Zima in 1994 (1.2 million barrels) than all of the microbreweries (based on the BA definition) in the country did beer in 2008 (880,000 barrels).

I guess in a way, my feelings do reflect my pansy-ass, small-business-loving, latte-drinking, craft-beer-sipping, uber-liberal, somewhat protectionist political views: Why should we solve the world’s (beer) problems when we still have so many (beer) problems here at home?

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Categories: distribution, industry, marketing, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 04 Jan 2010 @ 01 05 PM

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