AB InBev on the Death of Craft Beer

AB-InBev Gives Craft Beer a “Couple Years”

AB-InBev has been getting some heat based on a video the released showing members of The High End talking about the death of craft beer coming within “a couple years time.” I certainly have some issues with the video and how the idea presented,  but that point isn’t one of them. The term craft beer might be dead in a few years. That could be for the best, and it could really hurt AB-InBev.

6_pack brewers association independent craft beer sealGoodbye Craft, Hello Independent

Enthusiasts of the craft beer industry have likely seen the branding around the Brewers Association’s latest campaign. The newest leg, “Seek the Seal,” implores beer drinkers to be on the look out for their Independent Craft Brewer Seal the next time that they’re out at a brewery, bar, or beer store. This seal denotes that a product is made by an independently owned brewer that follows the BA’s definition of a craft brewer, though that subject is getting murkier as the industry develops. Yes, the seal still features the term “craft” that the Brewers Association has been using to define itself for years, but the focus is now on that first term, independent.

The BA’s definition of what constitutes a craft brewery has largely been supported by the industry of small brewers, but that’s predominantly from an industry professional position. To the average consumer, craft beer is just high-quality beer, which can be seen as anything aside from the American macro lagers that just about everyone is familiar with.

The issue with craft beer is not the industry or the quality of the product for the BA, it is the term craft. Craft is too generic for where they see their mission statement pointing them. AB-InBev can and does make full flavored beer that some people really enjoy and see as high quality. They see it as craft. The BA’s specific definition does nothing for the average person grabbing a 6-pack on their way to a friends house to denote where they want consumers to look.

brewbound nielsen craft beer survey independent The Value of Independence

It’s not just the BA or the brewers that wants this clarity. In May of 2017, Brewbound and Nielsen collaborated on a survey of beer drinkers about what influenced their purchasing decisions. 81% of the 2,000 beer drinkers surveyed said that the terms “independent or independently owned” resonated with them and it was determined to be the most positively influential descriptor on the survey. Terms also included words like “sour” and “hazy” both of which negatively influenced purchasing decisions in 2017. Oh, how our tastes and trends have changed.

Americans like supporting others on their way to the “American dream,” especially if that dream involves making beer! When the average consumer sees a new IPA in the beer aisle with a clever name  and a list of hops used, most assume they’re supporting a local, small business when they buy it. The BA wants to make it absolutely clear to people the difference between an independent craft beer, and what the industry has labelled as “crafty” beer, breweries that want to be capitalize on the popularity of local brewers but are owned by large scale macro-breweries.

Whether Elysian, Ballast Point, or Blue Point are some of your favorite breweries out there or not isn’t the point. The Brewers Association is trying to make it as clear as possible whether your next beer purchase is supporting a locally owned craft brewer, or one of the largest beer companies in the world. It’s not a statement about the quality of their beer, it’s about the story behind it.

Newest Article – The Birth of Brut IPA

brut ipa craftbeer.com article featureNew CraftBeer.com Article on the Brut IPA

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Sturdavant of Social Kitchen and Brewery in San Fransisco about the development of his own beer style that has recently been gaining traction on the world beer scene for CraftBeer.com.

Brut IPA is an emerging beer style developed by Kim that focuses on ultra dry and easy drinking American IPAs that feature fruit forward hops. For more info about the style, how it’s made, and what it feels like to be solely responsible for a brand new style of beer, you can check out the full story of the Brut IPA on CraftBeer.com.

Fieldwork Brewing Co. Stars Hollow Pale Ale Beer Review

fieldwork brewing co stars hollow pale ale beer reviewFieldwork Stars Hollow-Intro to Hazy IPAs

I’m still warming up to hazy, juicy IPAs. I liked them on occasion in Colorado, because they were more of an occasional occurrence. They’re everywhere in California. They’re hard to escape here, and that’s because they’re some of the most popular beers on the market. Given that I’m now working at Fieldwork Brewing Co. (Disclosure of somewhat-bias), I have to give them a chance. So far, Stars Hollow Pale Ale stands out from the crowd.

I’ve found that I’m still pretty burned out on hazy IPAs, they’re all just so much of everything I’m not exactly looking for when I want an IPA. Hazy pale ales are a bit more subtle. They may still look a bit like orange, or in this case pineapple, juice, but the juicy profile isn’t as in your face. There’s nuance in a 5.0% pale ale where a 7.5% IPA is more overwhelming.

People love drinking beer that could be a new form of alcoholic pineapple juice and hops, and I will never hold that against anyone. It’s not for me, at least not right now. Something a bit lighter on the palate, but still with some serious late stage hopping, is more my speed. The hop selection here, amarillo and blanc, aren’t my favorites, but they play nicely together here. Light pineapple and grapefruit peel make sure the beer is refreshing, but the more subtle malt bill makes sure they don’t overwhelm your senses.

Beer Review Overview

Appearance: Super hazy, golden straw colored pale ale. Pure eggshell white head with small bubbles that don’t last.

Aroma: Light pineapple and floral honey

Taste: A bit of pineapple without the candy sweetness. Almost like a stealth pineapple extract blended with a King’s Hawaiian sweet bread malt character. Subtle grapefruit rind and herbal lemongrass start the bitter finish that ends with a vegetal bitterness that lingers on the palate and lets you know you’re still drinking a heavily hopped American pale ale.

Mouthfeel: Light and smooth body with minimal carbonation that just adds a zing to the perimeter of your tongue when combined with the mild bitterness.

Overall: A refreshing and flavorful American pale ale with a new age hazy IPA spin on it. Not as crisp as I prefer my lawn games beer to be, but that’s not what they were going for. The bitterness adds to the crisp refreshing character to the pale ale without the carbonation interfering with the hops. I’m sure that any hazy IPA enthusiast would love a glass of this to go with their cup-holder equipped lawnmower on a sunny, California afternoon. Or morning, I don’t judge.

Stone Brewing Sues MillerCoors

The “Stone” Branding Has Gone Too Far

Greg Koch announced earlier this week that Stone Brewing has issued a lawsuit against MillerCoors over their packaging and branding efforts for the Keystone Light brand of beer. Stone is asserting that Keystone is willfully confusing customers with the prominence of the word “Stone” on the cans, as “Key” is on a different line in smaller text. I remember the campaign that seemed to play a major role in the rebranding, starring none other than Keith Stone. The ever-cool everyman was designed to be a casually , mustachioed man who was cool enough to show up at any college and be the life of the party. Continue reading “Stone Brewing Sues MillerCoors”

Craft Games and Indie Beer

Independent-Craft-Brewer-seal indie megaboothIndependence in Beer and Gaming

I work in the beer industry and follow the games industry. I have passion for each, and there’s more in common with them than you might think. Craft beer is produced by small and independent breweries that want to brew good beer and build a community. Indie game makers are small teams inspired to make something that they’ve dreamed up that isn’t out there. Both are characterized by passion. While you can make money in each of these endeavors, that’s never the main drive. It’s a need to create and a passion for the craft that keeps people going. Continue reading “Craft Games and Indie Beer”

AB InBev and Northern Brewer

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Images courtesy of Northern Brewer and ZX Ventures

AB InBev Enters the Homebrewing Industry

This past week, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced its plans to purchase one of the largest online homebrew supply companies in the country. AB Inbev is buying the Northern Brewer, which also own Midwest Homebrew Supply, another large force in the homebrewing industry.

The purchase is being made through ZX Ventures, AB InBev’s strategic ventures division which targets new growth and investment opportunities for the brewing giant. ZX Ventures is dubbed as the conglomerate’s “disruptive growth organization,” and is focused on 3 general areas of growth, craft/specialty beverages, e-commerce, and exploration. We’ve seen their impact on the craft space with purchases like Elysian and Goose Island, and now they’re branching out with their first significant step into the e-commerce space.

There are a ton of questions to go along with this announcement, the biggest of which being why is such a huge company even bothering with the relatively niche homebrewing industry.

AB InBev and the Potential of E-Commerce

AB InBev began purchasing craft breweries because they were losing market share to the growing number of small player in the overall beer industry. Through the growth of the craft beer specialty market, more consumers became enthusiasts and stopped purchasing macro-brewery beer in favor of more flavorful craft offerings. AB InBev’s solution has been to buy up some of the most successful entries in the craft space in order to profit off that growth while enabling them to grow even faster.

They probably have the same idea with the homebrewing supply industry, spurning their purchase of Northern Brewer.

The homebrewing market is still growing. Along with losing money to the growth of independent craft breweries,  AB InBev probably doesn’t see many sales from consumers who are passionate enough beer to make their own. Seeing the related industry as a potential growth opportunity, AB InBev had enough capital to purchase one of the markets biggest players. Just like with craft breweries, they’re looking to help the supplier reach their potential faster and profit off the industry’s growth.

This acquisition could play out a little differently than brewery purchases though. There has been some backlash against the breweries they own from enthusiasts devoted to a vision of small and independent craft beer, but big marketing budgets have allowed them to profit from less discerning craft beer drinkers.

Homebrewers Vs. the Big Beer Business

The issue that could arise with the Northern Brewer purchase is that homebrewers are some of the most adamant enthusiasts of high quality beer. I listened to a Q&A with Charlie Papazian at this year’s GABF and he said that he likely wouldn’t be a beer drinker today if he hadn’t discover homebrewing, he just couldn’t stand any of the offerings when he was young. That was a while ago, but the main players in the macro-brewing industry are largely unchanged. He’s assuredly not the only one who feels this way, and homebrewers are passionate about the craft of beer if they are anything. There aren’t nearly as many less discerning homebrewers for AB InBev to make a profit off. Homebrewing, as compared to just drinking beer, is obivously much more niche. The American Homebrewers Association already posted a survey on their members’ opinions on supporting small and local homebrewing supply shops versus a mega store with lower prices across the board. I’m curious to see their results.

Therein lies another possible issue for Northern Brewer’s new owners. Not only are homebrewers more likely to be concerned about supporting a small and independent versus the 5th largest consumer goods company in the world, they are also less price conscious consumers. According to a survey taken by the AHA in late 2013, the vast majority of American homebrewers are highly educated and affluent, with over 60% having a household income of over $75,000 annually.

This could spell some problems for AB InBev that purchasing well regarded craft breweries did not. Craft beer is exploding, and there are plenty of excited consumers who don’t care to do the research as to where their dollars are going. I meet people at the brewery all the time who are just trying out craft beer for the first time, it’s an amazing time for the industry. Homebrewers are more historically established, and as shown by that AHA survey, highly educated and less price sensitive. It’s going to be much harder to find a significant number of new homebrewers than it was to find new craft drinkers, it is always a possibility though.

The Northern Brewer hopes that one day homebrewing will be as common in households as cooking, no doubt that AB InBev is getting in early and hoping for the same.

Alesmith Brewing’s Evil Dead Red Ale

alesmith-breing-evil-dead-red-ale-craft-beer-1

Beer Notes: AleSmith’s Dead On Red Ale

In celebration of Halloween, AleSmith Brewing Company has again released their Evil Dead Red Ale. I’m a sucker for a good red ale, but there’s a huge amount of variety in the style between reds and ambers, so you never really know what you’re going to get. AleSmith has hit a home run with this one though, at least for me personally. Not only is the pop culture reference spot on, but the rich flavors presented in this pint distinguish from the crowded fall seasonal landscape.

Appearance

The first thing that stands out is the rich scarlet color. It goes perfectly with the shambling zombies printed on the bomber. The rich red color is, of course, indicative of blood, but the crystal clarity reminds you it’s just a hand crafted beer.

Aroma

The aroma is killer too. The ale has a sweet malt character that is well balanced with a crisp toasted scent and a hint of black cherry, all without any of them being overwhelming. The reds I’ve had recently focus almost completely on a rich, toasted malt character, that’s not a bad thing but I prefer the Evil Dead’s diversity. The aroma is full and satisfying, but still crisp like a breath of fresh air.

Body and Taste

The body is typical of a red, dense and malty, but the hops give it a refreshing crispness on your palate. The balance between the malt build of a classic red ale and the citrus hops is spot on. This duality is well executed and the most unique quality of the beer. The toasty aroma and flavors factor heavily into the taste, until a decadent caramel flavor takes over. Then, before the caramel sweetness becomes too heavy handed, the fruity and refreshing hops kick in and give it a citrusy and pleasantly bitter finish. The bitterness does linger, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome, especially if you identify as a hop head.

The head and lacing aren’t great, but I don’t give much weight to those aspect of a beer personally. Both can be impressive, but are also characteristics that everyone except the heartiest of beer geeks ignore. I don’t attribute much significance to them for the more common craft beer enthusiast.

Final Beer Notes

The reason the AleSmith Red stands out to me is the kickass toasted malt character that defines a red ale, combined with a perfect citrusy hop bitterness. The bitterness is similar to many IPAs, but is completely different when in concert with the grains typical of a red ale. The combination of these aspects is incredibly well executed. If you’re at all into red ales or red IPAs, do yourself a favor and make one of your Halloween treats an Evil Dead Red Ale from AleSmith Brewing Co.

I can’t leave out that the ABV is calculated at 6.66%. AleSmith’s eye for detail is inspired.

I give the Evil Dead Red Ale 4 and a half homemade chainsaw hands out of 5.