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Your Beermonger: Big Business

by Nick Anderson — February 8, 2013 at 12:45 pm 931 33 Comments

Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway)

As mentioned in the comments section of last week’s column, the biggest news story in the beer industry involved the U.S. Justice Department filing suit to stop the purchase of Grupo Modelo (makers of Corona, among other brands) by AB InBev (Budweiser, Stella Artois), the biggest of the big beer companies. It’s funny which stories have ‘legs’ where others don’t; I remember the InBev purchase of Anheuser-Busch gaining quite a bit of attention, but I never got any phone calls from reporters then — and I did this week when the big guys got told “no”.

During the conversation I had with a reporter who had reached out for some perspective from the retail side, I was asked if I thought the competition between Big Beer and Craft Beer was more or less intense than a few years ago. What I think is that where once Big Beer fought to keep small breweries off the shelves because they saw a potential long-term threat, now Craft Beer is established itself.

The Sierra Nevadas and Dogfish Heads of the world aren’t going anywhere; Craft Beer is only 6% of U.S. beer sales, but that number is growing every year while the biggest names keep seeing their market share decline. Big Beer’s plan was to keep growing to the point where it would become, forgive the phrase, too big to fail. With the Grupo Modelo deal dead, or at the very least significantly delayed, I’m looking for the big beer companies to deploy a classic strategy: if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em.

Once upon a time it was the smaller, regional brewers who would get bought out by the big guys. Today it’s Craft Breweries in the sights. The sale of Goose Island to Budweiser a few years back was just the start, if AB InBev has its way — just recently Lagunitas founder Tony Magee mentioned meeting the AB InBev employee who made the Goose Island deal happen, and insinuated that Bud was sniffing around for a potential deal for Lagunitas as well (have no fears — Tony isn’t going anywhere anytime soon). As more drinkers opt out of the ‘faux craft’ labels created by Big Beer and offerings like Bud’s new Black Crown come and go, look for more small breweries to get bought up.

No matter what, keep in mind that it’s your support that has brought America’s small brewers to this point. InBev and MillerCoors can run all the ads and buy all the breweries they want; America is discovering its craft breweries, and every day more of us learn the difference between the real thing and a line we’re being sold. Until next time.

Cheers!

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Community discussion guidelines: Our sponsored columns are written by members of the local business community. While we encourage a robust and open discussion, we ask that all reviews of the businesses — good or bad — be directed to another venue, like Yelp. The comments section is intended for a conversation about the topic of the article.

  • novasteve

    Does Arrowwine sell the quality beers I drank in college from the G. Heilman Company such as Meister Brau? Goebels? For a special treat, we’d also drink Strohs, but that’s if we could afford it.

    • Arlingtoon

      Over in Wisconsin we certainly were familiar with G. Heileman’s finest, but preferred the beer from a small brewery over in Monroe called the Joseph Huber Brewing Company. Their two signature beers (alhtough I think they contained the same beer — they both tasted the same) were Huber and Hi-Brau. They sold for $.35/quart — and you got a nickle back when you returned the bottle.

      3 quarts for a buck! Great stuff. And it even tasted pretty good (as best I can recall).

      • novasteve

        Who made Old Style? That’s the only beer to have made me sick. We used to have dollar pitchers of that crap in college.

        • nom de guerre

          The G. Heileman brewery produced Old Style and Special Export.

        • FrenchyB

          Heileman makes that too.

    • The Beermonger

      Had to do a little research for this: Meister Brau looks like a possibility. For whatever reason, I didn’t see any license approval for Goebels, though. If you’d like, you can call or email me at the store with a wishlist and I can see what’s available here in VA for you.

  • GoodOmens

    Funny how the DOJ is worried about AB InBev forming a monopoly but lets local distributors/wholesalers run wild.

    The three tiered system is flawed (The separation of producers and buyers with a middle wholesaler) – time to change it.

    • The Beermonger

      There are arguments to be made either way. Some days I feel like getting rid of the 3-tier system entirely; some days I think it still makes sense. There has to be some middle-ground of reforms to make it relevant nearly 100 years after its creation, but I haven’t figured them out yet.

  • drax

    But Black Crown is all hip and stuff! I learned it from a Superbowl ad!

    • The Beermonger

      Skinny model types in black clothing seem to enjoy it. I learned that from a Superbowl ad.

  • CourthouseChris

    I wish homebrewers could sell their product just as any hobbyist, perhaps at farmers markets or other open markets. That’d be freaking awesome. The barriers to entry for such a simple product are ridiculous. I’d love to see the novelty that could come out of tiny producers.

    • novasteve

      I wonder if honey and dill would make a good combo for a homebrew.

      • CourthouseChris

        Sounds weird, but so do a lot of interesting beers, so I wouldn’t dismiss it. The dill could be good paired with some piney hops. I imagine dill is one of those things you could easily overdo.

    • josh

      I wish, but it’ll never happen. You can’t even homebrew in some states. Nearly 100-year old ridiculous laws still in affect is just the start. One story I read, somewhere in the midwest, a homebrew supplier got everything taken away from him and is facing jailtime because while you can have seperate homebrew supplies in seperate stores, putting them all under one roof is against the law.

      • CourthouseChris

        And ten years ago people were saying legalized pot would never happen, and now we have Washington and Colorado. I think the biggest hurdle would be fighting the big industry it would hurt as opposed to the backwards laws of the south.

        • The Beermonger

          All of this, plus the level of regulation would be INTENSE. All those freedom-loving enterprising homebrewers wanting to sell their ware are gonna get a pantload of gov’t inspectors all up in their business if they want to sell consumables on the open market.

          Aside from that, I actually REALLY like that idea. It’d be a Wild West era in beer.

  • John Fontain

    “‘faux craft’ labels created by Big Beer”

    What would be some examples of this?

    • drax

      They’re talking about brands like Blue Moon and Shock Top.

      The big brewers have also bought several small craft breweries lately and launched their beers as national brands, which may or may not qualify as “fake” craft beers.

      All that matters is what they taste like though.

      • John Fontain

        Do Blue Moon and Shock Top market themselves as “craft beers” per se? Or just as higher quality/more flavorful beers?

        • drax

          Yeah, I think they do. But like I said, I don’t hold it against them. If a giant conglomerate can make a good beer, I’ll drink it.

        • drax

          The latest Blue Moon ad:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udPTYrD4kko

          Pretty much screams craft beer. Even uses the word “craft.” Two bearded guys playing with barley. No hot chicks.

          • John Fontain

            Yep, you’re right. I like the alternative version of the Lumineers song though.

    • FrenchyB

      Shock Top, Blue Moon, Leinenkugel, Goose Island, Henry Weinhard’s…

      • Buster

        Leinenkugel and Goose Island started out as independent breweries before being acquired by the big beer companies, and have largely maintained control of their product even under corporate ownership. So I’d cut them some slack.

        • Matt

          eff that, sell outs get no love in Arlington!

      • Quoth the Raven

        Don’t forget Red Hook. What a shame. That was one of the very best micro-brews around, with one of the very best breweries to visit, and now it’s completely ruined.

        • John Fontain

          In what way is it completely ruined?

          • PaulB

            You can’t tell??? LOL

          • Quoth the Raven

            I think the quality has gone way done. I know that’s not wholly surprising when beers go from small-batch to enormous, but in their case it’s been really shocking. At least to me. The beers which used to be outstanding (ESB and IPA, in my opinion) don’t stand out at all anymore and taste like they’re brewed by Budweiser. Which, unfortunately, is what they are.

          • John Fontain

            Thanks for the serious answer Raven. So basically the taste quality has gone down.

      • John Fontain

        Given that Henry Weinhard’s is more than 150 years old and the craft beer term is a much more recent development, is it really fair to call them a craft beer, let alone a “fake” craft beer?

        • The Beermonger

          A lot of good discussion here. Much of what you guys are talking about here are what we in the industry are trying to sort out right now: what exactly IS “craft beer”? Is there a definite line you can draw? Should it matter?

          InBev doesn’t have a controlling interest in the Craft Beer Alliance, but its distribution network opens doors for Red Hook, Leinenkugel, and Kona that they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. It’s a smart business move, but it leads to long-time fans like Quoth the Raven becoming disinterested in the product.

          I try to think of motivations when considering some of these gray area beers: there are fine brewers, sales people, and even marketing reps at work at all of these places. Hell, I was glad to find Red Hook IPA at Verizon during the Caps playoff run last season. I don’t carry CBA beers b/c I know the AB network is going to be pushing them in grocery stores and big boxes as much as they can–that’s their job. Blue Moon and Shock Top are more cynical plays to attract folks who want to move into something ‘better’ while still taking their money. Brand resurrections like Weinhard’s need to be judged individually; while I have no interest in carrying it, it may be perfectly serviceable and may lead someone down a path into independent breweries. The revival of New Albion by Sam Adams on the other hand is bringing back a touchstone of the craft beer movement itself, but one of its flagship breweries. It also happens to be pretty tasty; I just brought some into the shop, despite seeing it stacked in the Giant catty-corner to my neighborhood.

          TL;DR If it seems like someone is making something for the SOLE reason of trying to take your money, call it fake–it probably is. It’s not hard to tell the difference, just do as Lord Vader teaches: search your feelings. You know it to be true.

          • drax

            It shouldn’t matter one bit. All that matters is taste.

            It’s amusing to watch people buy beer because they think it’s better because it’s “craft” when it’s not really, but that’s about it. If Bud makes a really delicious quality beer, good for them.

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