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Oakes Weekly - December 29, 2005

My Thoughts on 2005
Oakes Weekly December 29, 2005      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

So 2005 is pretty close to being done. It was an interesting year in the beer world, but quietly so. One the grand scale, I don’t think things changed much. We saw the continuation of the same trends we went into the year with for the most part.

Macros are still having a tough go of it. It’s easy to point to a terrible product as the cause but there’s more to it than just that. One reason is that the Big Three have been taking market share for several decades from independent regional breweries. Well, there aren’t many of those left. Yes, Yuengling is still around and doing very well thank you, but others like Pittsburg on in their death throes. The decimation of the Stroh portfolio is ongoing. But the volume of macrobrew being consumed isn’t exactly skyrocketing. Big Beer is in a zero sum game right now and they’re finding that at this point, there’s hardly any easy marks left. Sure, they’ve never really had to target that market share anyway and always did focus on one another, but you can’t say they didn’t cause nor benefit from the demise of the regional.

They say that drinkers are switching away from beer. They’re drinking more wine now, and more spirits, too. Well, this is only partly true. Craft beer is showing robust gains in market share. It’s only Big Beer that is being switched out of. I’m not sure why this is rocket science. Have you taken a look at Big Beer lately?

Look at their marketing. It’s not hip. It’s sports, and men as doofuses, T&A and all the rest of the stuff they were using back in the 1980’s, if not before. They may target a younger audience but there is nothing in their promotions that jumps out as being appealing to younger drinkers. In Canada, Big Beer has for years now made overtures to hipness via the token black guy in every ad, but that’s it. I mean, that’s the best they can come up with. That is weak. Cheap tokenism doesn’t reflect the reality of youth who live in a tolerant, multicultural and not to mention heavily wired society.

Another interesting element I’ve seen is evidenced by the rise of the so-called retro brands. Grandpa’s beer is cool again, even if dad’s beer isn’t. Fair enough. I like hunting down those old brands. I get a kick out of the long histories of these brands and the sense of faux-nostalgia I get when I look at the labels. Look at the labels from the Big Three. Aside from Budweiser’s iconic emblem, the labels are bloody horrible. I mean total crap. Coors Light can’t change since they’ve made sure they will forever be the Silver Bullet but look at MGD, look at Bud Light, looks at any other Big Three major brands. Does the label for Natural Light etch itself in your mind? Do you feel anything at all when you look at a bottle of Molson Canadian? These guys really don’t try very hard to give you a decent presentation and that cannot help brand loyalty much less genre loyalty.

Speaking of image, the walls are coming down with regards to the image of cans. Canned microbrew isn’t new, of course. Several British Columbia micros have been canning for many years now as has Japan’s Ginga Kogen micro. But Oskar Blues has really broken through with the concept and other micros are following suit. That’s what was needed – good beer in cans. Not half-assed microbrew that tastes almost like macrobrew. Full on, balls out microbrew with lots of hops and rich malts. That has got to be one of the big stories and I see a major explosion in canned microbrew in 2006. Hey, I just care of the beer is good. Speakings of which, Oskar Blues is bringing out two more brands in cans. One is Gordon, their Imperial IPA and the other is a brown ale.

Experimentation has finally trickled down from the leaders in the craft brewing field to the level of the local brewpub. Russian River made one hell of a splash this past spring with its four new barrel-aged beers and I think that has done a lot for experimentation in beer. Now everyone wants their piece of the pie. People want to be famous for making outstanding beer. Maybe it had been too long since a brewer really broke out and guys were thinking they couldn’t do it. I don’t know. But with the Jolly Pumpkins and Russian Rivers bursting onto the scene everybody wants in on the action. I love that. Now I can go to a brewpub in the US and feel confident they’ll have something interesting on tap. Cause you know, I’ve had a few too many beers to get jacked up about an amber ale anymore.

Next week I’m going to do the Oakes Awards, honouring the best of the best of my beer experiences last year. There was a lot going on in 2005 no question. It was a pretty cool year.



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