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Oakes Weekly - February 12, 2004

What's Going on In This World?
Oakes Weekly February 12, 2004      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

Another great week at the Ratebeer Magazine, with an extensive interview of (in)famous beer lover Dr. Bill, a visit to the Great Alaskan Beer & Barley Wine Festival, and a different perspective on the Ratebeer Homebrew Competition. Plus, you’re probably still not finished reading SilkTork’s exhaustive review of British regional breweries.

<P>I haven’t opened up the recesses of my mind too random thoughts lately, so I’ll give it a go this week.

<P>First, the big beer news. The purchase of McTarnahan’s (née Portland Brewing) by Pyramid. I can’t say I care that much. Part of the reason is that despite their lengthy history, Portland never did impress me. I give them credit for being a pioneer, but you’ll have a hard time convincing me that they were successful in keeping up with the market. Their beers were just too bland, and Oregon isn’t about bland these days. McTarnahan’s never resonated with me, nor any other serious beer lover after about 1992. Oregon Honey Beer – remember that? They were the perfect takeover target – underachieving with a couple of points of strength (in particular, the McTarnahan’s name being long-established, and their Blackwatch being a recent hit that has finally brought this old micro a little bit of attention). As for Pyramid, they have a stronger brand image and better beer lineup, but at this point in my beergeekism, I’m way more concerned with tiny players in the market than even big micros. My thoughts lie more with the classic lambic brewers out there, or the Hair of the Dogs, or guys even smaller. Breweries whose beers run in the middle of the pack no longer command my jaded mind to attention. That’s how it goes when the middle of the pack numbers in the thousands.

<P>Far below the middle of the pack is Molson. We had an analyst into the office last week who was bullish as all hell on Molson. Without going into details, he made a pretty reasonable financial case for a rise in their stock, but one predicated on a few things. First, he reckoned they'd get out of Brazil. Apparently some rocket scientist went down there and pissed all the distributors right off, so they're on a month-to-month basis with them, and the operation overall reportedly has about a year to turn itself around.

<P>I thought about it, and really I think that if Molson did get out of Brazil, they'd be nothing but a going-nowhere firm in a mature market with stale brands. Worse yet, a failure on the global stage. Numbers are wonderful, but at the end of the day, does anybody really want to get involved in an enterprise that has cut back their other businesses to concentrate on just one thing, and then they can't get that right?

<P>I'm not trying to offer investment advice here - I just wanted to rant a bit about how much Molson sucks.

<P>About those lambic brewers I mentioned. Much talk has gone on of late and though I have not sat down and composed a thorough article regarding the manner, there seems considerable room for concern. The EU is, simply put, standardizing everything in its path. When it comes to Belgian beer, you can thank Interbrew for that. The lambic brewers are now being hassled for the cleanliness of their premises. Of course, if you know anything about lambic production, you’ll understand that cleaning up the premises means screwing up the beer. There have not been, to my knowledge, any health problems occurring from the consumption of traditional lambic, but that doesn’t matter to the lawmakers, who seem set to destroy every tradition in Europe without any accountability.

<P>Current estimates run that to bring their breweries up to code will cost a lot of money for small lambic producers. One source suggests that a brewer would need to move 20,000 hl of lambic each year in order to afford the luxurious standards of cleanliness demanded by the EU. Who does that? Maybe Cantillon does, and certainly many of the non-traditional producers do. But that leaves many producers, from Frank Boon to Girardin to De Cam to Hanssens, in jeopardy.

<P>From the Belgian side of things, perhaps more effective lobbying might dissuade some of the Eurocrats who are devising these culture-eviscerating edicts. It would be a shame to see other artisanal products successfully defended only to see traditional beers die due to lack of pull in Brussels. A shift in marketing might also be of benefit, as declining sales of lambic in Belgium is a long-established trend.

<P>Over here, we need to do what we can. If you love lambic, buy it. Write to the distributors and importers, too. Convert all of your friends, or at least try. And for God’s sake, convert the Belle Vue drinkers with all the vigour you can muster. A generation of drinkers is learning the term lambic, and mentally relating it to cough syrup. That alone puts traditional lambic at risk, regardless of what the legal environment might hold. There is a time and place to get evangelistic, and this is one of those times. Consumers, especially those in North America, aren’t likely to hold much sway over Belgian lawmakers, but surely we can each do our part in terms of creating demand for and expressing our love of traditional lambic.

<P>Ok, so it’s February and us 9-to-5 schleppers haven’t seen the sun on a weekday since Hallowe’en. It’s probably bloody cold, too. It’s not awful here, but it’s hardly paradise either. It’s just a really depressing time of year, and I am certainly not immune from this gloom. I’ve been listening to nothing but wrist-slitting music for weeks on end, wallowing in my own crapulence, and generally getting nihilistic about everything. There comes a point when a guy like me just needs to buck up and get find something to take pleasure in, otherwise I’ll be miserable until May. But as much as I want to find something joyful in this world, this low-carb bullshit isn’t it.

<P>It’s bad enough that this garbage exists (I haven’t wasted my time on any of it). But now everything I see is Atkins-branded, the fad is (dare I dream?) reaching its apex and the beers in this trend are selling like wildfire – that’s worse. But when people legitimize it, publicize it…there are a lot of great beers and wonderful stories out there more worthy of the beer lover’s time and effort. I swear to God I never want to see the words “low-carb” ever again, especially in the same sentence as the word “beer”. Especially not from people in the business, who really should know better. I can’t wait to see the back of this thoroughly repugnant asininity.

<P>All right then, I’m off.



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