Brew Biz: Werts and All

Written by Ken Carman for Professorgoodales.net

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

The Topic: Beer Statistics

Is it because I’m on the hunt for beer related stories to write about and pass on to the Professor that I find so many, or do they hunt me down? Not sure. Sometimes it seems to be both.

I was in the gym and wanted to read some of the on hand copies of Newsweek to distract myself from the grinding tasks of pumping legs, pulling at weights. On page 29 I found the October 10th “Bottoms Up” article that listed stats on beer consumption in America.

Bad news… and good news.

Coming in at 47.9%, Anheuser-Busch/InBev shipped the most barrels: 101,725,000. Miller Coors, at 28.9% and 61,485,000 barrels, did almost half of that: not good news for the closest American brewer, competition-wise. However, this is as expected. AB is into everything and has had the greatest propaganda for years. And comparing their output to even Sams is like judging a perpetual car race while ignoring the fact that the winner and second place both left the starting line well over 100 years before Sam got into the race.

Not exactly fair, and a bit beside the point… surely Boston (Sam) would love to have ABs barrel stats, but they sell to a different kind of crowd: those with actual active taste buds. I know that’s a bit unfair, but it certainly is true that your average Bud-only fan probably couldn’t tell a real Kolsch from a Dortmunder. And, to be fair, your average craft beer drinker might have trouble telling slightly tainted, carbonated, water from an Ultra.

In the case of craft beer, isn’t it more about who serves a select market best, not who pumps out beer bland enough that it satisfies those with not much more than a preschool palate education? Craft beer drinkers vs. those who may not have made it past the 9th grade, and whose idea of drinking includes bar fights, squeezing passing buns at Hooters and “babes;” preferably bars including all three: bar fights, barely covered boobs and “babes” with bills stuck in their skimpy apparel?

Barf.

This survey is also more than a bit deceptive. Coming in third place is Crown Imports: clumping a whole lot of brands together that have nothing to do with each other. Crown brews squat. They just export/import brands like Modelo, Tsingtao and Corona. Since Crown also imports the brand, why didn’t why didn’t they include Heineken, which came in 4th: 5.3 for Crown, 4 for Heine. I suspect because Heine USA may be a different beast, corporate-wise and import-wise in America, but consumption is consumption, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we be comparing beer to beer, not distributors to brewers?

#5: Diageo, which is Guinness, Tusker, Smithwick’s, Red Stripe, Harp Lager and Kilkenny. Obviously Guinness is most likely the largest part of this stat: 1.3%/2,259,000 barrels. Not bad for a beer that was hard to find a few decades ago and went against the “dark beer is too damn strong” grain embedded in American beer culture by the likes of, oh, gee, who? Oh, yeah: Miller and AB. I think credit should go to those who helped conquer the “beer is only fizzy water with a tad malt and corn or rice in the background” giants who dominated and crushed all meaningful competition for years. It took brews like Guinness and Fritz Maytag’s Anchor Steam to start to crack that trend, and I give far more credit to Guinness because a Steam is actually an attempt to mimic that lighter than light lager style. Just with more class.

  Now Old Foghorn and Anchor Porter? …I give tons of credit to. But what was Fritz to do? As any decent salesman knows, you have to at least get an unslammed toe in the door first, right? In mid 60s America Anchor was revolutionary. A first in many ways. So no “slam” on Mr. Maytag intended, though for a short while he must have felt as lonely as the other Maytag man.

North American Breweries: 1.2%/2,481,000 barrels. They own four breweries: Genessee (They basically own the rights to brew it. The original brewers are long since gone, but they did buy the brewery itself), Dundee, Pyramid and Magic Hat. Seems more a holding company in many ways.

Boston (Sam): I’m amazed they’re so low at 1.1% and 2,259.000 barrels. Sam brews, true, but also vends out the brewing process. Matt Brewing in Utica, NY, also known as Saranac, brewed for Sam for a while. I’m not sure, but I think they still do.

Once again, this kind of mucks up the stats offered by the Newsweek piece. Are we comparing brewers? Then why shouldn’t Matt get the credit for some of Sam’s barrels? Sam didn’t actually brew it. Why should we include distributors at all?

Yuegling comes in 9th (1%/2,159,000) and Mark Anthony 10th (.6%/1,205.000). Anthony doesn’t really deserve to be on the same page, in the same survey, because they distribute: period. Plus: are we counting malt bevs that basically aren’t beer at all; Zima like products with fruit in them that simply have some malt in the base? You may be more familiar with Anthony as the distributors of Mike’s.  Are we including the lemonade in this stat? Even if malt is used, it’s more on the order of how it’s used by a distiller, not a brewer of beer.  Malt, in this case, is being used as an adjunct: and an unimportant adjunct. One could use a different base and have the same basic kind of “malt based” beverages. Sam’s Jim Koch may claim hops are to beer as grapes are to wine as much as he wants: it’s not true. But “not beer without malt?” That’s closer to the absolute truth, with few exceptions: if you count everything we judge as beer judges… like mead and cyser.

I understand that a distiller does brew a beer/wort like base, but if we’re going to include them why don’t we just open it up to Jim Beam?

Hardly seems fair. 

Other stats: beer is the third fav drink in America, beat out only by soft drinks and bottled water. Highest consumption of beer states: NH, MT, ND, SD, NV, WI, VT, IA, DE, NE. Lowest: UT, CT, NY, NJ, MD, KY, CA, GA, TN, AR.

Comments…

It’s a bit sad AB hold such a stranglehold on the market, true, but I think craft beer has made great inroads. It’s hard to tell when the researcher: Lauren Streib, insists on including distributors instead of just brewers in the stats. If we’re talking barrels brewed and sold alone, I’m sure it would look far worse for craft if she followed my suggestions, but that’s not the point: honest and fair stats is the point. To put companies who distribute many things far from beer related, and semi/sort of/not beer related like malt bevs or hard lemonade, side by side with actual brewers is deceptive: intentional or not. I like my stats apples to apples, not apples to Monpruvians from the Gilgagor galaxy.

And, once again, given such a head start and past business practices of companies like Miller/AB when  it comes to craft beer, the comparisons are unfair. Miller and AB fought craft beer for years, and still are to a certain extent: giving money to pols so they legislate in such a way to crush craft beer… threatening distributors with a loss of AB, or Miller, products, if they even let craft beer in the door. Execs responsible for such decisions should have been jailed long ago. Only recently have they come around to actually attempt to compete.

To be a bit political for a moment: I hear so much about free market and “letting the market regulate itself.” Such practices prove regulation is necessary and letting it regulate itself is like giving the OK to a tribe of cannibals to feast on everyone but the most powerful people on the island. Free enterprise might be a bit Survivor-like, but allowing big biz to commit immoral, dishonest, acts with the intent of crushing competition is the antithesis of “free enterprise.”

I was surprised at the states with the highest and lowest beer consumption. Tennessee is one of the lowest? Really? I’ve lived here since 78. Could fool me. NY one of the highest? Well, since they changed the drinking age to 21, and no one in college under 18 ever drinks, that can’t be true, can it?

Yes, that’s sarcasm. The stat may be more on the mark than we think. But NY does have more of a wine and cocktail culture than Tennessee, so maybe it has more to do with the population levels of both states?

Just a guess. I do know that I have found drinking every bit as prevalent here as I did in NY. I still do. In fact, I would think given an adjustment for population differences it would be higher in Tennessee: especially when it comes to hard liquor, moonshine, antifreeze and shaving lotion.

I’m not kidding.

Did you notice so many Midwest states high on the list? So much wind, so damn cold, I’m not surprised. The Scots have their sheep, the Midwest has beer, when bored out of your friggin mind in the dead of winter. Thank God it’s not the other way around for the poor sheep. Or do Midwesterners do that too and this stat just pulls the wool over their… oh, never mind.

Utah is low, however. Mormons never drink. Any beer just magically appears like the tablets, then disappears… like the tablets. And of course found in NY like the tablets, which goes back to New York’s high consumption. Mormons must go to NY on pilgrimages to find more tablets, get drunk, then go back to Utah to claim they’re still pure. “What goes on top of an upstate New York hill stays in New York.”

Even if it includes waking up in the morning and finding yourself sober again, but snuggling a sheep.

After typing that, if Romney gets elected will I need to watch out for the IRS, the FBI or The Men in (Magic) Black (Underwear)?

Seriously now: lessons learned…

Stats and pretty graphs shouldn’t be taken for granted. You never know when they’re comparing apples to aliens. And craft beer is actually doing better than the researcher’s work suggests… her name was Lauren Smith, in case you’re curious. Proof? What she doesn’t mention is that these days AB and Miller are actually attempting real hard  to compete with craft beer, rather than just trying to crush them. They’re a lot of money behind this. Though some of this competing is deceptive, due to packaging that hides who brewed the product, mega corps like AB/Miller don’t do that unless they believe there’s serious competition.

But you’d never know that if you just took stats like this for granted. Or thought these stats mean much of anything at all.

Common Lauren, you can do better than this.

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Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”

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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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