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Budweiser, Miller dropping in sales
Are smaller beers slowly gaining more recognition? Investment service company UBS finds that in the four weeks before April 13, imported and craft beer increased in sales, while bigger beer brands like Budweiser saw sales drop.
According to UBS, beer sales in general were down in those four weeks, with off-premise beer sales dropping 4.2 percent. Total dollar sales dropped 1.8 percent, Forbes reports.
When it comes to the past year, however, sales have increased, although smaller breweries are doing far better than large breweries.
Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors have seen sales grow 2.1 percent and 0.9 percent over the past year, but Crown Imports and Boston Beer have grown 7.8 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively. Heineken, in the meantime, saw an increase in total sales of 3.6 percent in the past year.
Does this mean that Bud Light is out and Sam Adams is in? We know several editors who would debate to the death about the perks of cheap Bud Light versus the slightly more expensive Sam Adams.
Craft Beer, Brought To You By Big Beer
Can you spot the microbrews? Craft beer brands purchased by larger companies now almost dominate many supermarket and liquor store shelves.
You may not be aware that Ballast Point Brewing Company, famed for its Sculpin IPA and fruity renditions of the same beer, was bought in 2015 for $1 billion by Constellation Brands, the company that owns Corona. Or that Lagunitas Brewing Company is now owned fully by Heineken or that Goose Island has since 2011 been a brand of Anheuser-Busch InBev, the global brewing giant that owns Budweiser.
These are just three of more than a dozen of the country's most popular and beloved craft breweries that have been purchased by global beverage companies in the past seven years. Indeed, beer brands recently purchased by larger companies now almost dominate many supermarket or liquor store shelves.
It isn't clear how many consumers know this is happening or whether they would care if they did. It also remains to be seen how these transactions will affect how the newly acquired brands taste.
But one thing is clear to craft beer brewers, lovers and lobbyists: They feel they're under attack by what they bitterly call "Big Beer" or "Big Alcohol."
Bob Pease, CEO and president of the Brewers Association, a Boulder, Colo., trade group representing independent craft brewers, says the incursion began six or seven years ago, after large companies, eyeing craft beer's growing market share, tried but essentially failed at brewing their own imitations of craft beer — like the short-lived Budweiser American Ale.
"So in 2011, AB InBev hit on this strategy of just buying the breweries that had the kind of mojo or street cred that they weren't nimble enough to replicate in their own breweries," he says.
Today, AB InBev alone owns 10 brands that until a few years ago were independently owned craft breweries.
The way Pease sees it, this system of taking ownership of craft brands has allowed larger beverage companies to strategically pressure beer distributors and retailers into dropping independently owned beers in favor of their own newly acquired brands. As a result, Pease says, small craft brands are being squeezed out of warehouses, delivery vans and, ultimately, supermarkets as shelves become increasingly stacked with what detractors like to call "crafty" beer.
"You'll find Goose Island on tap practically everywhere across the country, and you'll say, 'I didn't know they were that popular,' and they aren't," Pease says. "The distributors are just pushing these brands out there."
Felipe Szpigel — president of The High End, a business unit of Anheuser-Busch — was unavailable to speak by phone. But in an email, he says the United States "is the most competitive beer market in the world" and he indicates that the market is a fair one.
"We are partners with just 10 craft breweries, and work with the entire industry to encourage growth and choice," he writes. "The verdict on each craft beer will be made by consumers. No amount of distribution or promotion will keep substandard beers on the shelf."
Christian Kazakoff, brewer at Iron Springs Pub and Brewery in Fairfax, Calif., says the changing landscape of craft brewery ownership has made it harder for breweries like his to get their beer into retail spaces.
"We really have to hustle now," Kazakoff says. He says some small breweries have resorted to serving their beer strictly at their own brewpubs because competition on the retail market has become so stacked against companies without strong market leverage.
To Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association, a trade group that represents more than 500 of California's 800-plus craft breweries, it's obvious that small craft breweries are taking a hit as Big Beer knocks them off shelves.
"Craft breweries used to have to compete among themselves," McCormick says. "Now, big breweries are taking this if-you-can't-beat-them-buy-them approach, and all of a sudden, retailers are carrying 10 Barrel, Elysian, Goose Island and all the other brands now owned by AB InBev, when there are plenty of other good brands made by small local breweries."
From the consumer's perspective, all of this may not matter. For instance, even in the wake of Heineken's total buyout of Lagunitas, McCormick suspects the quality of the beer produced by Lagunitas' breweries (one in Chicago, one in Petaluma, Calif.) will remain the same, because — according to the brand's founder, Tony Magee — the beer will continue to be made by the same staff on the same equipment.
"With Lagunitas, I don't think the new ownership is going to change anything," McCormick says. We should note that Lagunitas is an NPR sponsor.
But he is less confident that the quality of other former craft brands will be sustained under new management.
"In the case of Anheuser-Busch, they're now brewing some of those brands they've bought in their own facilities, and I think that will change how the beer tastes," he says. "With Ballast Point, some of those recipes, because they have so many hops, are going to be very difficult to produce at the larger scales they've projected."
Szpigel, at Anheuser-Busch, promises that the company's quality-assurance processes will keep the flavor and consistency the same in acquired brands now being brewed on AB InBev equipment, like Elysian and Goose Island.
Representatives from Constellation Brands said they were unavailable to comment.
The Brewers Association recently introduced this "independent craft brewer seal." The image and logo will only be issued to beer brands that meet the Brewers Association's definition of the term "craft." Courtesy of Brewers Association hide caption
The Brewers Association recently introduced this "independent craft brewer seal." The image and logo will only be issued to beer brands that meet the Brewers Association's definition of the term "craft."
Courtesy of Brewers Association
Convinced that consumers will support small breweries if they are able to identify them, the Brewers Association recently introduced a so-called "independent craft brewer seal." Pease says the image and logo will only be issued to beer brands that meet the Brewers Association's definition of the term "craft." The Brewers Association requires, among other things, that a craft brewery be small — producing less than 6 million barrels per year — and independently owned.
Will such a seal affect how beer drinkers make choices in the beer aisle? Probably to some degree, at least. A recent consumer survey from the Nielsen marketing research group indicates roughly a third of craft beer buyers prefer beer that is not mass-produced.
McCormick says the craft brewers seal "will allow people to identify craft brands" and, probably, significantly influence what they buy.
"All other things being equal, if you have two brands next to each other, one independently or family owned, and the other owned by Big Alcohol, I think most people would choose the small, independently owned brand — no doubt about it," McCormick says.
Then again, Kazakoff already knows very well that Ballast Point is owned by Constellation Brands.
"But it hasn't stopped me from buying a Grapefruit Sculpin now and then," he admits.
What Is A Lager?
Lagers are a family of beers that use a bottom-fermenting yeast at cool (48-55°F) temperatures. After primary fermentation, lagers are usually moved to a conditioning tank to age for 4 to 6 weeks. In fact, the word ‘lager’ comes from the German word meaning ‘to store’. The flavor profile of lagers becomes smooth and clean with extended cold conditioning.
Fermenting beer at cooler temperatures with lager yeast suppresses esters. These compounds cause fruity flavors and aromas which are not desirable in lager. The cool fermentation produces a very clean beer with minimal yeast-derived flavors. Quality ingredients and high attention to detail are required to make a great lager. Any flaw in the process is accentuated due to the clean nature of the fermentation and yeast profile.
Within the category of lager, there are many different styles of beer and a wide range of flavors.
Best Wheat: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Alkoholfrei
Region: Germany | ABV: Less than 0.5% | Tasting Notes: Wheat, Yeast, Citrus
Oktoberfest staple Weihenstephaner, based in Germany, dubs itself the world’s oldest brewery. It offers nonalcoholic versions of its classic brews, like the Nonalcoholic Wheat Beer and Nonalcoholic Original Helles.
The former is the better of the two: a very light and refreshing Hefeweizen with a touch of hops and the overall feeling that you are, indeed, drinking beer and not some barleyed version of White Claw.
Best Low Carb: Lagunitas DayTime IPA
A high-grade craft IPA that's also light on carbs, Lagunitas' DayTime IPA boasts full flavor with a very modest 3g of carbs and 98 calories. It checks an impressive amount of desired boxes: easy-drinking, hoppy, balanced, and bursting with citrus and tropical fruit. This California-based ale also has a low, 4 percent ABV, making it the ideal, fresh summer beer.
12 Not-Bad Non-Alcoholic Beers
You can find a good-tasting, alcohol-free brew from a handful of craft breweries&mdashand a couple of the big beer brands.
There are quite a few old jokes about non-alcoholic beer. That one about listening to porn on the radio. Or the vibrator without batteries. Ugh. They only get worse. Fitting, because non-alcoholic beer is bad. Or is it?
For the longest time, non-alcoholic (NA) beer was pretty cruddy, because only cruddy breweries were making it. In other words, it was the big brands' lightest "lite" beer&mdashthe O'Doul's and Sharp's of the world. But many craft breweries are starting to finally produce non- and low-alcohol offerings, especially in Europe and particularly Germany, which has a long history of "alkoholfrei" products. If you can find these imports, they're worth taste-testing. Some of them come pretty damn near to near-beer.
Still, there's a scientific reason why NA beer isn't as good, no matter the effort a craft brewery puts into it.
What is non-alcoholic beer?
Believe it or not, non-beer begins its life as beer beer, before the alcohol content is stripped by heating it. But alcohol is a flavor itself, adding dryness and a boozy heat. Without it, you get many NA beers that are sweet and syrupy, with a cloying mouthfeel. Smartly, today's top NA producers have combated that flabby sugariness by adding bittering spices and plenty of hops. Still, all that effort may not be enough to get serious beer drinkers to try it.
Which non-alcoholic beers are worth drinking?
There are a few intriguing brands making NA beer, both abroad and here in the States. To be clear, NA beer does contain some alcohol, though it's generally less than 0.5% ABV. Whether you're pregnant, can't drink, won't drink, need to operate heavy machinery, or simply don't want a hangover tomorrow morning, here are 12 bottles of near-beer to try.
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Flashback Friday: The Firehouse Brewing Company in 1993
RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — There are a couple days left in American Craft Beer Week. One KELOLAND brewpub has been making beer for 30 years. In this week’s Flashback Friday, we take you back to 1993 with KELOLAND’S Perry Groten as he shows us how they made beer 2 years in.
The beer served at The Firehouse Brewing Company tastes imported, and it is imported, sort of. Imported all the way from upstairs. John Kelber makes beer on location at South Dakota’s only brew pub. A brewery and bar under one roof. Kelber checks his mega kegs to be sure the 5 types of beer are just right before they go downstairs and down the hatch.
“Beer can either be malty and have a sweet flavor or it could be hoppy and have a bitter flavor. And I try to put a little variety of everything in my recipes so that not all our beers taste the same.”
Kelber specializes in European style ales because they ferment faster than domestic beers. Much like a master chef preparing a gourmet meal, Kelber mixes his own secret ingredients of grain and yeast to produce a batch of 200 gallons. Each batch is then taste-tested.
“I don’t drink a whole lot of beer. Its maybe an occupational hazard that you can over indulge real easy.
Temperatures can climb into the 80s during the brewing process, so Kelber wears a t-shirt and shorts. Because beer has to get plenty hot before it becomes a tall cold one. In Rapid City, Perry Groten, KELOLAND News at 10.
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Why your favorite craft brewers are selling out to big beer
Craft brewers — we think of them as the sanctuaries from the Budweisers and Millers of the world. But as you defiantly sip that grapefruit cactus, octuple-hopped chili ale, know it might actually be property of the big guys.
Quiz time. Which of these is a fully independent brewery?
Actually, none of them are.
It's not the end of small beer. There are still thousands of independently owned breweries, but a few each year get snatched from the flock.
Case in point: Elysian Brewing is in Seattle, a city where craft brewers account for about a third of the market. But after nearly two decades of operating independently, Elysian sold to AB-InBev in early 2015, becoming one of several acquisitions in just the past five years or so.
In 2011, AB-InBev swallowed up Chicago-based Goose Island. In 2014, the macrobrewer snatched up Blue Point Brewing in New York and 10 Barrel in Bend, Oregon. And in 2015, it bought Four Peaks in Arizona, Los Angeles-bred Golden Road and Elysian — to name a few.
So why, as Budweiser seems to dis the little guys by calling them "small," "a hobby" or "imported," is its parent buying them up?
It's simple. Craft brewers are the new "Kings of Beer" — when it comes to sales growth, anyway. So if you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.
Bud and Bud Light's market share has been slipping, but their parent company's niche brands — like Goose Island — are trending upward, like most of the indie market.
So it's no surprise it pays to be small-ish. If you're looking at revenue per hectoliter (that's metric for a lot of beer), the largest independent of the bunch, Samuel Adams, has outpaced its much bigger rivals for years, though some recent forecasts are a bit gloomier.
Which means we're hearing the old rumors again — that bigger operations might buy out billionaire Jim Koch, head of the Boston-based brewery. But why would somebody like him ever give up such a seemingly sweet gig?
Put yourself in the shoes of the smaller brewers. If you get bought out, things get easier for your baby — the business you built with your blood, sweat and tears. It gets a wider distribution, and your swill is cheaper, so more people drink it. And we haven't even touched on finances, supplies, property, equipment and other headaches that are now someone else's problem.
Founder of Bell's Brewery Larry Bell kinda summed up what many smaller brewers like him are feeling when he told Bloomberg: "We are in the middle of the end of the beginning of craft beer. All the pioneers who started it off are getting older, and they have to look at an exit strategy."
So the next time that you're annoyed that your favorite small brewer just took that exit and "sold out," remember it's nothing personal. It's just business.