Everything old is new again…eventually.

One of the reasons the Philadelphia region became a major beer destination in the late ’90s despite the fact that the craft beer scene here was still in the embryonic stage was that the city is ideally situated as port of entry for beers from Europe. Our imported beer culture, such as it was, focused almost entirely on German brands at the time, but as the Belgian beer scene exploded, Monk’s Café, through the efforts of co-founder Tom Peters, was where many of these strange new delights were bound. Michael Jackson’s regular appearances there for historic dinners sometimes featuring beers almost impossible to get in Belgium itself, much less elsewhere in the U.S., only added to the mystique. “Brussels on the Schuylkill,” as Philly was often described, might have been a somewhat audacious statement, but it was hardly a misnomer given the availability of all those rare beers.

Well, you know what they say about what goes around, right? My ever nostalgic heart went all aflutter when I received notice that Brauhaus Schmitz, the very good German bierhall on South St., is bringing two rare German beers to the U.S. for the first time ever. Rothaus Tannenzäpfle, the legendary Black Forest pilsner, made its debut in February and Füchschen Alt, which has been brewed in Düsseldorf since 1848, comes ashore in March. “Munich on the Schuylkill,” anyone?

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Posted in Breweries, Cafes, Restaurants, Taverns, First Taste, Observations | Leave a comment

Troegs Cultivator Helles Bock.

troegs-beer-cultivatorHere is what I have to say about this beer.

Buy some.

It is delicious.

Really, have I ever led you wrong?

Well, except that one time….

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Posted in Beer, Breweries, Brewers | Leave a comment

Sam’s a hard act to follow….

Sam Calagione, that is, whose thoughts on A-B InBev’s recent activities re: the craft world  I pointed you to yesterday, but a report in this morning’s edition of the invaluable Beer Business Daily more than lives up to the challenge and underlines one possibility which could seriously limit distribution opportunities for craft brewers. It appears that A-B is on the verge of once again pressuring its distributors to embrace the “100% share of mind” approach that August Busch III originally promulgated by enforcing the compliance aspects of its Wholesale Equity Agreement:

A-B will now be apparently performing the assessments twice a year on some wholesalers and put a large emphasis around the scoring and compliance aspects. Does that include exclusivity? One distributor told BBD that they didn’t mention exclusivity in particular, but “that’s a large part of the equity agreement….. People thought August III was tough on exclusivity, I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet.”…[A]s another distributor pointed out, the purchase of Goose Island and Blue Point and Elysian and 10 Barrel have given A-B a decent portfolio of craft brands (not to mention the CBA brands). A-B will likely use that fact to persuade wholesalers to be exclusive with A-B and all their craft brands and get those footprints fixed.

 

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Posted in Big Blands, Breweries, Brewers, Brewpubs | 2 Comments

Promises are meant to be….

Not broken, exactly, but subject to reality. When I said in the previous item that “regular” posting would resume hereabouts, you have to first consider just how regularly I was adding something new ever before the Big Blackout and I have to come to grips with a three weeks or long phalanx of deadlines staring me in the face. Also, it’s cold and I hate that.

Anyway, I will do what I can as I can to make your visits here worth the while. For now–and this will surely brighten a few spirits–here is the indomitable Sam Calagione providing what is probably the best response to date to what seems likely to be an ongoing effort by A-B InBev to acquire or seriously invest in the world of Craft. I do think Sam, along with a lot of critics, misses the point somewhat on the Super Bowl ad imbroglio–I see it at least  in part as an attempt to give Bud drinkers and sense of community similar to that enjoyed by the Craft crowd and find nothing wrong with that, nor with the jabs made at Craft since, heaven knows, we’ve been trashing the Big Blands for years and years–but, overall, he is right on the mark on the more serious aspects.

Here’s a taste, but do click the link above and read it all…

It seems like the strategy is to let the original brick and mortar of what once was a craft brewery make their esoteric and super weird beers so it still looks like an independent brewery. Then they take two or three flagship brands and make them in the giant, fully-automatic megabreweries to sell them super cheap. This really disrupts the market, but they’d rather shine a light on esoteric stuff from a once-independent brewer.

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Posted in Big Blands, Breweries, Brewers, Brewpubs, Website | Leave a comment

Whatever became of that nice Liquid Diet website?

Dunno what anyone trying to access this site concluded over the last two weeks, but this post I put up at my other blog two days ago under the above headline gives you a bit of the background. All appears well now and regular posting will resume soon.

A few of the readers of my beer-focused blog have found their way over here and more are likely to because http://www.jackcurtin.com is, and has been for a while, inaccessible. We are working on it and might even do a redirect so that anyone trying to reach that URL will be directed to this site automatically until the issue is resolved or, who knows, forever and a day. I am having little or no help from WordPress folks and threads I have found in so-called “support” forums, some of them six years old, are shut down with a “this problem has not been resolved” note. I should stress that, since my site is self-hosted, those forums are not officially part of WordPress but rather run by people who use WordPress software to run their sites so I guess it’s not entirely fair to cast all the blame at the company. After a week of this crap, however, I am generally not pleased with anybody. Thank your time and attention.

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Posted in Website | 1 Comment

More on that Budweiser advert: Elysian’s Dick Cantwell is not pleased.

From this afternoon’s Craft Business Daily:

Chicago Tribune beer writer Josh Noel has just tweeted a preview of an article due out summing Elysian co-founder Dick Cantwell’s reaction to such apparent oversight. “I find it kind of incredible that ABI would be so tone deaf as to pretty directly (even if unwittingly) call out one of the breweries they have recently acquired, even as that brewery is dealing with the anger of the beer community in reaction to the sale,” the brewer apparently wrote the reporter, noting that “it certainly doesn’t make me feel any better about a deal I didn’t even want to happen. It’s made a difficult situation even more painful.”

ADDENDUM: Goose Island beer marketer Mike Thiel tweeted out last night: “I just think my own company took shots at my job.”

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Posted in Beer, Beer Is Good, Big Blands, Breweries, Brewers, Craft Beer | 4 Comments

This Bud’s for….people who don’t care.

There’s a lot of chatter in the beer world today over last night’s controversial Budweiser ad which takes a shot a craft, ranging from “Craft brewers make fun of Bud, why can’t Bud make fun of craft?” to screams of outrage, many including references to  10 Barrel and Elysian, both recently acquired by AB-InBev and wondering how their founders feel now.

I thought that this, from today’s Beer Business Daily, makes an interesting point (bold-faced by me):

An and marketing executive emailed me shortly after the ad aired and said, in his opinion, “I like their boldness and the fact that they are standing up for their beer.  But they made a huge mistake in attacking craft.  Effectively, they’re trying to create a choice between people who ‘fuss’ over their beer and people who don’t give a darn about what their beer taste like.  In other words, they’re pandering to a shrinking base, as opposed to explaining why even the most discerning beer drinker can appreciate what their product delivers. This will embolden some core Bud drinkers, and make them feel more proud about their choice. They won’t drink more, but they’ll feel better about it.”

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Posted in Beer, Beer Is Good, Big Blands, Breweries, Brewers, Craft Beer | 1 Comment

None dare call it craft.

When John Holl left legitimate journalism and entered the strange world of beer writing a couple of years back, we all had to raise our games more than a bit. Yes, he’s that good and when he has something to say, it’s wise to listen. Holl is now the editor of All About Beer Magazine and the new issue (just in the mail, on newsstands this coming week, I’d guess) cover-features his editorial suggesting that we at least consider the abolition of the word “craft” as a beer descriptor to the degree that is practical and possible.

There is a word that is used often in the beer world, but means different things to different people and organizations. The use of this particular word has seemingly muddied the water of the industry, causing confusion, blind passion and confrontation. The word, of course, is craft.

Overall, the word has become co-opted. While it is about beer, it’s also about marketing. Now the so-called big guys are in on the game, knowing that there is a trend these days toward small and local with certain products. That’s why we see brands like Blue Moon, owned by MillerCoors, using the term “Artfully Crafted” in advertisements. Conversely, Samuel Adams uses the line “For the Love of Beer” in its advertisements, with no mention of the word craft.

Now, here’s the tricky part. What does it mean?

For the Brewers Association (BA), a trade group, it means “promote and protect small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts,” according to its mission statement. It has promoted the word craft and placed guidelines as to what craft means as a way to define its dues-paying members.

And therein lies the reason why, after having wrestled with thoughts similar to Holl’s for months, I think that the term “craft” is both appropriate and necessary in industry vocabulary. For one thing, If the primary organization devoted to supporting a significant and (the) fastest growing segment of an industry chooses that identifier, it seems a bit petty to argue otherwise. For another, its absence would leave a  definite void. I write regularly for two of the major trade magazines in the beer world and there has to be a  shared terminology which is generally accepted in order to report on and discuss the business of beer. “Craft” is an identifiable industry segment for business and economics writers around the world. Just “beer” cannot replace it.

As for “it’s also about marketing,” aren’t “extreme,” “session” and similar descriptors which are amorphous and often contradictory equally so? And is marketing a bad thing? Bad or misleading marketing surely, but just trying to sell your product?

For some consumers and brewers, it’s the battle of “us vs. them,” with people saying that the larger breweries make “crap” or “poor-quality” beer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those brewers use the same ingredients as smaller brewers to make the same final product: beer. And while some consumers are throwing stones at large corporations that make technically perfect beer, they are give a pass to some smaller breweries that fall under the craft banner but make and release clearly infected or inconsistent beers. Why?

It seems to me that the paragraph above is a commentary on the hypocrisy of “some consumers and brewers” and really has nothing to do with whether or not craft is a useful identifier.

One word shouldn’t be a dividing point. Ultimately, it should be about the beer in the glass, and whether it tastes good to the individual drinker. In the same way that the word microbrew is still batted around, we don’t honestly believe that the word craft will disappear anytime soon, but we do believe it’s time to have a conversation about what it really means. Is it a helpful word that makes beer better, or is it necessary at all?

I’d suggest that word  cannot “make beer better” no matter how helpful it might be. My answer, as should be obvious at this point, is that this particular word is clearly necessary, at least until and unless someone comes up with an alternative which fills all the requirements.

Here’s another perspective to consider. In Craft Beer Daily’s story about Holl’s editorial, editor Jenn Litz-Kirk quoted New Belgium founder Kim Jordan on her interpretation of “craft,” suggesting that that it is about the brewers and not the beer:

“I think the BA was prescient in understanding it was really going to be important to know who craft brewers were. If we say that part of what has made the beer industry exciting in the last 10 years is craft brewers, and that that spark and energy that they’ve provided to the beer category is what has made us flat rather than down, then we all benefit from the notion of a connection between beer drinkers and craft brewers…So I’d suggest we all benefit from that. I do understand there is that feeling of haves, have nots. And sometimes there are consequences that everyone wishes could be different. At the same time, I think it matters.”

As do I. I honestly believe that this is a classic solution-without-a-problem issue.

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Posted in Beer History, Beer Writing, Breweries, Brewers, Brewers Association, Brewpubs, Brewspapers, Craft Beer, Media, Nanobreweries, Publicans, Retailers & Wholesalers | Leave a comment

A-B’s craft acquisition strategy, per Beer Business Daily.

This was Harry Schuhmacher’s evaluation in a special late addendum to yesterday’s issue of his daily newsletter:

There are two common denominators underlying A-B’s strategic choice of craft brewers they purchase (and make no bones about it, there’s a strategy behind everything A-B does): 1. They are local or regional (i.e. not national), and 2. They have brewpubs and/or taprooms.

The strategic rationale for the first criterion is obvious: They don’t want to have to fix (many) distributor footprint issues and they can roll out the brands nationally for quick growth and a decently quick payback.

The strategic rationale for the second criterion allows them to deal directly with the consumer and bypass distributors, giving them a fairly significant on-premise presence in those markets, which could also create learnings in that important channel. In fact, this deal will make A-B one of the largest brewpub/taproom operators in the country, further blurring the lines between the three tiers and effectively making A-B a leader in all three tiers : They are the largest brewer, the largest distributor (arguably, Reyes may have inched them out), and one of the largest brewpub/taproom operators. The blurring the lines of the tiers continues apace.

People had said, you can tell where A-B will make its next craft purchase, just look at a map. Texas and Florida stick out like sore thumbs as possibilities, but Texas restricts on-premise sales and Florida is threatening to kill it. A-B is tending to so far stick to states which have lax brewpub and taproom laws.

I don’t see Pennsylvania meeting those lax law criteria, but let’s pretend it does. If A-B were to make a move on a brewery in this region, which one would it be? Make part of your own criteria that the selected target’s ownership would be inclined to listen.

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Posted in Beer Laws, Big Blands, Breweries, Brewers, Brewpubs, Nanobreweries, Opinion, Other Voices | 1 Comment

The Age of Innocence is over.

Anheuser-Busch is buying Seattle’s Elysian Brewing Co, it was announced today.

This is an edited sentence from a story I’ve written for the upcoming issue of Ale Street News (out in early February) about what happened in 2014 and what that might portend for the future:

Three well known and respected breweries—Founders, Blue Point and 10 Barrel—were bought out entirely or in part this past year… [and] Southern Tier, Sweetwater and Uinta all sold partial stakes in their businesses to private equity firms.

We are entering the decade when a lot of the original craft brewery founders will be making major business decisions for the future, whether as part of an exit strategy or to find a way to continue to compete and grow successfully in a rapidly changing market. They have every right to do these things–indeed, it might be considered a dereliction of duty not to consider all the options–but a lot of true believers are not going to be happy or accept it well.

We’re all growed up now.

 

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Posted in Beer | 2 Comments