Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beer News

A Manifesto (and a Polemic?):

Unlike Jack, I think beer is worthy of both appreciation and enthusiasm. Aside from being one of the oldest continuously consumed beverages in the world (second only to water and tea according to Wikipedia), beer offers flavors, smells and experiences that are unique among all other forms of sustenance. Compared with the fantastic variation, health benefits and relatively low alcohol content of good beer, wine is simply outclassed and liquor too fleeting and abusable.

With this in mind, I have spent a fair part of this summer researching beer. Haha, I know. But it isn't all fun and games: there's a long history and great deal of culture at work behind beer that can be intimidating, yet helpful for understanding what we drink. I hope my posts here will help me to collect my thoughts, motivate deeper research and share what I learn.

The history of U.S. beer is long and complex. After suffering near-extinction in the late '70s and early '80s, creative American brewing experienced a revitalization and is in the process of a downright revolution. While poking around the Brewers Association website, I came across the statistics for this last year of brewing: imports and non-craft beer (e.g., Budweiser) are both up 1.4%, which constitutes reasonably healthy growth. But craft brewing, the term used to designate small-scale, creative production of beer in the United States, is up a gorgeous 12%.

Yet, the beer industry is subject to the same sorts of conglomeration and corporate consolidation as any other major field. Even as microbrews and brewpubs become more numerous and more profitable, large beer keeps getting larger.

Joining the ranks of all of the other major U.S. brewing companies owned by foreign interests, Anhauser-Busch was acquired by the Belgian beer conglomerate InBev last month. Even aside from the fact that the takeover represents a $52 billion transfer of funds and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of employees, this is significant because InBev/Anhauser-Busch is now responsible for an astonishing number of familiar beers. Among many others, the list includes the American Budweiser, Michelob, Rolling Rock, Busch, Natural, and Stone Mill, and the European Bass, Becks, Boddington's, Spaten, Hoegaarden, Franziskaner, Löwenbräu, Leffe, and Stella Artois. Since Budweiser and Bud Light are the largest-selling beers in the world and InBev is no slouch itself, this makes the combined company the largest beer-producing conglomerate in the world (surpassing the previous record-holder, SAB Miller).

According to data released by the Brewers Association (PDF), the largest American-owned brewing companies are:
1. Anheuser-Busch Inc. St. Louis MO
2. Miller Brewing Co. Milwaukee WI
3. Coors Brewing Co. of Golden CO
4. Pabst Brewing Co. of Woodridge IL
5. Boston Beer Co. of Boston MA
6. D.G. Yuengling and Son Inc. of Pottsville PA
7. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. of Chico CA
8. New Belgium Brewing Co. Inc. of Fort Collins CO
9. High Falls Brewing Co. of Rochester NY
10. Spoetzl Brewery of Shiner TX

InBev's purchase therefore makes Boston Beer Company, of Sam Adams fame, the largest American owned brewery that brews its beer in the United States. While InBev has pledged to keep all of its newly-acquired American breweries in operation, neither it nor Coors nor Miller are U.S. companies any longer; and all beer produced by Pabst, now technically the largest American-owned brewery, is actually manufactured by SAB Miller in South Africa.

In spite of the dismay voiced by the many lovers of Budweiser, Boston Beer is more worthy of the title largest American brewery than Anhauser-Busch. Founded by 3rd-generation brewer Jim Koch, the company's business model is based on experimentation with actual taste and quality rather than Bud Light's watered-down concept of "drinkability." Although large, and although there are better breweries (there aren't many Sam Adams brews that I'm in love with), the additional focus on quality is certainly a step in the right direction.


  1. this might have been my favorite post ever for this site. can we make beer a regular topic here?

  2. Hooray!

    Yeah, let's talk about beer.

  3. Agreed. There will be more talk of beer in the future, and more tastings at future Train of Thought Board meetings. Awesome post.

  4. me and LSouth have been seriously discussing homebrewing, and I was reading in the CityPaper about a DC homebrewing society that meets once a month and trade tips and samples and stuff. I'm so down with that.

  5. me and LSouth have been seriously discussing homebrewing, and I was reading in the CityPaper about a DC homebrewing society that meets once a month and trade tips and samples and stuff. I'm so down with that.

    I've also been talking about getting into homebrewing with a friend of mine, and I think it's inevitable as soon as I get a place of my own (or maybe sooner). It doesn't sound so hard to do once you get the hang of it, and between making inexpensive "clones" of awesome beers and experimenting with different flavors – the more I think about it, the better the idea sounds.

  6. "Train of Thought Ale"