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Oakes Weekly - March 30, 2006

A couple of thoughts
Oakes Weekly March 30, 2006      
Written by Oakes

Vancouver, CANADA -

So Anheuser-Busch is up to it again, with more stealth brews. Normally this wouldn’t really bother me. They have the same right any other brewer has to make whatever beer they bloody well feel like. But when they start claiming the beer is made by “Green Valley Brewing”, as they are with their new Wild Hop Lager, they cross the line.

Remember coolers? Well, they took a lot of sales away from beer. The big brewers fought back. They made their own coolers. But the way they approached it was to make a mockery of the product, blur the lines between it and beer, and create confusion in the marketplace.

They tried this with craft beer once, and I guess they’re giving it another go around. One look at the tap handle for their new Spring Heat Wheat is all you need to know. They plan to make microbrews look silly, and convince people that the taste is not much different than macrobrews. They are taking their cue from Canadian macrobrewers, who have hobbled the domestic microbrewing scene with stealth micros like Sleeman, Alexander Keith’s and Rickard’s. (Enabled, I must add, by government liquor stores that allow for the survival of some rather lousy micros who simply don’t deserve it).

Craft beer is kicking ass right now. Macro beer is not. That’s just a marketplace reality. The big guys don’t like losing money. Maybe they’re just trying to go with the flow and make better beer? These guys don’t go with the flow. They answer to shareholders, every quarter. That means they need to control the flow. Going with the flow just doesn’t work as a business model for publicly traded companies. So that’s what we’re seeing here. A-B is trying to take control of the flow. They can get their stealth beers into places microbrews have trouble reaching. That means they get to consumers who haven’t yet clued into microbrews.

All they have to do is plant the seed that craft beer is a joke, that it’s not worth the extra money, that it’s frivolous, and bam. Macrobrew market share bleeding stops, microbrew market share gains arrested. It won’t work on any of you beer geeks, but if I were in the industry, I’d be thinking about ways to deal with this. It’s been a long time coming, but the big boys have finally got their guns out. Shouldn’t they be worried about imports? They can buy foreign macrobrewers and/or their distribution rights. They don’t seem to be able to do that with microbrewers by and large.

OK, another topic. I got an email announcing that Andechs Spezial Hell will soon be imported to the US. That’s pretty cool, but it got me thinking. The first that should pop into the head of any Ratebeerian is “Where the doppelbock be at, yo?” That’s a good question. Save for a minute that pale lagers from Germany probably outsell doppelbocks from Germany by quite a wide margin, it does make me wonder about why some beers get around and others of equal or better quality do not.

Andechs is definitely a brewery that should be in the US. There are a lot of other German brands imported into the US that don’t seem to have much reason for being there. The beers aren’t anything special and the brand has no particular cachet.

The seemingly arbitrary nature of beer importation can be both amusing and frustrating. In Canada, where the government so graciously decides what we can and cannot drink…even though I have right wing governments at city, province and national levels they still persist with this Communist enterprise…things are even more screwy than in the US. We’ll get the most completely obscure stuff but not get some brands that are globally available. I can buy all three Chimays in Vientiane, Laos but cannot do the same in Vancouver. But there are beers from Europe or Asia with 25 ratings, 24 of which come from Ontario.

What it boils down to is that the whole story of why we get access to Beer A but not Beer B is totally confusing. I wish there was a code to crack. Because I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks that any decent beer store should carry Andechs Doppelbock, a couple different types of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, maybe a little Tsingtao Black, I’m sure that B. United or someone like that could do well with Belle-Vue Selection Lambic, and getting access to a Schultheiss Berliner Weisse wouldn’t hurt either.

And why do Europeans get a million different Czech lagers in their stores and I can only buy three?

Alas, some things will probably always remain a mystery.



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