Home / General / The war on drinkable beer

The war on drinkable beer


Elizabeth Flock at US News has a pretty good piece on the issues at stake in the Justice Department’s lawsuit against AB-Inbev last month. One omitted detail that seems important–AB-Inbev has been able to ‘lead’ MillerCoors on price changes, while Grupo Modelo has been stubbornly independent. (The Justice Department may also be an inadvertent beneficiary of the Republican Party’s war on functional government.) The lawsuit has already lead to access to chilling, rage-inducing internal memos, such as “We must slow the volume trend of High End Segment and cannot let the industry transform.”

As Tom Philpott and Tim Heffernan reported a few months ago, a key to any such strategy is distribution. Flock:

Both Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors employ “category space analysts,” whose job is to visit a store like 7-Eleven and consult them on the optimal placements of beer on the shelves.

“They are doing the sets, they [say to a store]: ‘We can do that for you,'” says Koch. “And then they can take my beer from eye level to the top shelf, which drops my sales rate in half.”

With thousands of small breweries in the works, beer buyers and brewers say the battle for shelf space may only get worse.

Koch says he has also seen Samuel Adams beer pushed out of airports and sports venues—two places where consumers do a lot of sampling. “We work very hard to get our beer into a sports venue, and then when the big brewer realizes we got in there… they buy out the bowl, and then we’re gone.”

Despite the theoretical independence of the three ‘tiers’–production, distribution, retail–AB-Inbev and MillerCoors own their own distribution companies. They have their own “crafty” brands (Leinenkugel, Blue Moon, Shock-top) that they’ll push to replace shelf space devoted to the craft market with these brands. In places like Seattle and Portland, where Craft beers have broken through and have considerable market share (roughly 25% and 30%, respectively) these strategies won’t work, but in smaller markets, where craft beer has room for growth, these strategies could be devastating. The story of craft beer in the last 35 years has been a success story–one of impressive growth, even as the industry behemoths have consolidated and worked to prevent or co-opt changes in the industry. But there’s no guarantee the happy story will continue. This lawsuit is a positive sign, but liberalizing distribution rules, which a few states have done, could really help as well.


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  • desertrat

    None of this is at all new. Go dig up a copy of “Beer Blast”by Philip van Munching (whose family were the US importers of Heineken for decades.)

    • Thlayli

      Great book.

  • Cody

    Damn. I didn’t know Blue Moon AND Shock-top had both been bought out. I love both those beers (they’re so similar). I don’t take it too hard that in-bev is buying up a ton of microbreweries and distributing them nationally. That seems natural.

    • sc

      i don’t think they were bought out; rather, that they were always the craft-lite product of their parent macrobreweries.

      goose island was bought out. i’m still not sure how i feel about that- but i also never seem to buy goose island unless i’m actually at the brewpub itself.

      • wengler

        I’ve boycotted buying Goose Island since they started making 312 in New York. I am not above sampling my friend’s Goose Island specials though- still made in Chicago and some of the best tasting drinks ever made.

        • Seitz

          I’ve actually talked to John Hall, who was still part of the ownership group until just recently, and I tend to agree with his decision. In my opinion Goose’s regular lineup is average at best, and nothing you’ll ever find in my refrigerator. Selling that stuff off and transferring production to a larger facility gave them a lot more capacity for things like Bourbon County Stout, which is probably the best bourbon barrel aged stout in existence. It was impossible to find last year. This year, it was all over the place, because they had the space and money to make a lot more.

          Goose’s regular lineup is craft beer for people who don’t like craft beer. But their stouts, belgians, and sours are top notch. They’re soon introducing a Bourbon County Brand Barleywine, which I’m sure will be fantastic.

          • djw

            Absolutely agree on your assessment of Goose Island’s offerings. I wonder, though, how long a company as focused on cost-cutting as AB-Inbev will go without meddling in the production of the good stuff.

          • cpinva

            i had that recently, at a local ale house my son dragged me to, just before he went back to school. it was exceptional: smooth, slightly smokey, bourbon flavor, not too sweet. it was “tuesday special” night, and a 12oz glass ran me $3. i had another version that was a tad too sweet for my taste. i have yet to find either of them outside the ale house though.

            • Seitz

              That’s a pretty amazing price. BCBS retails for $6-$7 per 12 oz bottle. It’s not easy to get through 12 ounces in one shot though. I usually break it up with a lighter beer in between.

          • sc

            i think Honker’s is a pretty solid beer, but the Goose Island IPA is a little wretched.

      • Morbo

        Ohhhhh, that explains how Bourbon County got into that convenience store I stopped at. It was fun trying to explain to the clerk why they would sell a $22 four pack.

        • wengler

          That’s a good deal for Bourbon County. I’ve only seen it in the large single bottles for over 12 bucks if it’s in stock.

    • jmauro

      Bought out? They’ve always been brewed by AB and Coors as a response to the growth in non-lager beers. There was no parent brewery that they were bought from.

    • djw

      Unlike Leinenkugel, Blue Moon and Shock-top were not bought out. They were creatures of the MillerCoors and AB, respectively, from the beginning. They taste similar because Shock-top was introduced to compete for Blue Moon’s market share.

      Also: Oligopolies using antiquated distribution laws to squeeze out and control the competition may indeed be “natural” but it’s not inevitable and it’s terrible for consumers on price, selection, and quality grounds, and can be fixed through sensible government action, using existing anti-trust law at the federal level, and reforming antiquated distribution laws locally.

      • Also, Leinenkugel is terrible.

        • wengler

          It is of MillerCoors, how could it be good?

          Also I don’t get how people can like Summer Shandy.

          • limon

            ask the Spaniards

        • djw

          I don’t think I’ve ever had any of their beers. “Summer Shandy” seems to have some fans who are also fans of good beer, but it’s not really a style I care much for anyway.

          • wengler

            Just say no to Summer Shandy.

            • sc

              i hate to be the sort of dude that says this, but anecdotal evidence: summer shandy is a girlfriend’s beer. the same gf who in january will enjoy ommegang hennepin will put away a whole sixer of summer shandy in july.

              shiner ruby redbird, that’s a fruity summer beer worth drinking.

              • wengler

                It fits comfortably in the category beer for people who hate beer. It doesn’t even taste good as a fruity beer.

                Hell, when I go to a three tap bar around here in northern Illinois(those three taps being Miller Lite, Coors Light, and Blue Moon), I don’t even mind the Blue Moon much. But I wouldn’t be drinking the Summer Shandy.

          • witless chum

            Sunset Wheat is okay, I drink that when I’m feeling frugal. I think the selling point of Leinies is that it’s cheaper than really good beers, but tastier than really cheap beers.

        • Halloween Jack

          Didn’t used to be. (Fun fact: the local annual Irish Fest apparently awards exclusive beer rights to the highest bidder, which means that one year Guinness was displaced by Bare Knuckle–AB’s attempt at stealing Guinness’ thunder–and one year by Leinie, of all the fucking things. And, yes, I know that there are better Irish stouts out there than Guinness, but still.)

          • Is there an Irish stout on the market that isn’t better than Guinness?

            • pint of plain

              Yes, the majority of them

            • Halloween Jack

              Yes, although I couldn’t tell you the brand.

        • Kurzleg

          Since Leinie’s was bought out they’ve been offering some pretty good four-pack seasonals. Last one I saw was Baltic Porter, but they’ve also done a Russian Imperial Stout which was quite good (8.5% too!).

          Thing is, Mpls has finally allowed brewpubs, and now I have 2 of them within five minutes walk from my house. The beer at the one is average, but the other does an incredible job on all of their brews. I suspect brew pubs are the future, where shelf space is a non-issue.

          • Pooh

            Which one is bad? I’ve had recent up and down experiences with Mpls brewpubs.

            • Kurzleg

              Indeed Brewing wasn’t anything special, though I haven’t been back since the summer. Dangerous Man has been great no matter which brew I’ve tried. The brewer/owner – Rob Miller – really has some talent.

              • MAJeff

                My parents and my sister left Minnesota in the last six months (for various reasons). As someone raised in Minnesota, it seriously pains me that my personal connections to the Twin Cities have basically evaporated. I still have some friends there, and will return for the occasional conference, but my direct personal relations to the Twin Cities are gone. It makes me sad.

                • Kurzleg

                  Worth a visit in summer to take in a Twins game. If you do, lots of restaurants in walking distance in the North Loop (basically Washington Ave north of Hennepin) that are pretty good. Venture further east and north (Nordeast neighborhood) and you’ll find Dangerous Man Brew Pub. If you’re a beer lover I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

  • Jay B.

    Sam Adams is about the top-shelf beer available in 7/11, you might find Sierra there too, but the real counter trend is happening in the supermarket — craft beers are everywhere, right down to the Ralph’s and Von’s level. Koch might be pissed about the mini-market and AB-InDev is a disgustingly apt industrial monopoly for industrial-tasting “beer”, but he bet wisely a long time ago. He’s winning the war, even if he’ll take a hit now and again.

    • wengler

      Supermarket shelf space has been reduced by about 3/4ths in the past week for craft beer at the Jewel near me.

      It would irk me if there weren’t still great Chicago-made beer available.

      • Jay B.

        So I spoke too soon! Those bastards.

      • djw

        I couldn’t find the article that describes it, but the big AB-Inbev and MillerCoors affiliated distributors have been pushing industry funded research on consumer behavior relative to choice level at grocery stores, trying to sell them on the idea that too many choices increases labor costs and reduces sales.

        • wengler

          One thing I have noticed is they are pretty poor at cycling their inventory. Maybe it’s just that grocery store, but people who buy craft beer are much pickier about choice. This leads to a lot of situations where one beer is constantly sold out and another is sitting there for about a year.

          Pity the person that goes out on a limb and gets a skunky light-struck beer that just ends up in the sink.

          • Cody

            My wife likes Newcastle a lot, and often gets it in the bottle from restaurants.

            It’s always skunked.

            Like always.

        • Jay B.

          djw, I don’t know if this is the one, but I read it in the hard copy of Bloomberg’s late last year:


          It’s an excellent primer for all the other awfulness that InBev inflicts on the world. A funny lede though: The guy who was disappointed that Becks is actually now brewed in the US, like it was once good or something.

        • ChrisS

          There’s a documentary on NetFlix, Beer Wars, that describes the marketing behind big beer, including the supermarket shelf. There’s limited space and the big companies influence what goes where. They introduce eleventy new products a year and crowd out other products by volume. No supermarket is taking Bud off the shelf, but they’ll take a slow selling craft beer off the shelf to make room for InBev’s new faux-craft beer.

    • John

      Here in Pennsylvania, nothing is going on in either 7/11 or the supermarket.

      • MAJeff

        Well, there are a couple Market District’s here in Pgh, but otherwise it is fairly depressing.

      • Marek

        Go to the Whole Foods. Bring empty containers.

        • Western Dave

          I’d rather go to the beer distributor in Mt. Airy. Great selection.

          • Hogan

            Aw yeah.

            • Western Dave

              Hogan, do we pass each other everyday and not know it? It’s getting ridiculous. Next time I go to Earth, I’m flagging you in a comment for a meet up. Or maybe, McMenniman’s. Hell, I’ll even do a meet up at the Trolley Car once the ice cream stand opens in April. Bring the kids.

  • Hogan

    Finally, something that makes me appreciate buying beer in Pennsylvania.

    • Cody

      Why can’t we have Yuengling in Indiana?

      • Because Indiana hasn’t done anything so bad to deserve that swill?

        • djw

          When Yuengling arrived in Ohio last year, with much absurd fanfare, my neighborhood bar advertised “17 great beers on tap. And Yuengling!”

          • Ha ha.

          • rea

            I thought Yuengling was a Chinese import, like Tsingtao. Apparently not.

            • BigHank53

              No, it only tastes like it was brewed by a dodgy manufacturer using suspect ingredients.

              • PBF

                Yuengling porter is a decent beer especially on tap.

        • Cody

          Must be a high bar set for doing bad things. We elected Mitch Daniels, that has to count for something?

          • Bill Murray

            but yo didn’t vote in Mourdock, so Mitch has been cancelled out

      • djw

        Because Yuengling doesn’t currently have the production capacity to expand beyond its current markets.

        • Malaclypse

          Thank the Lord for small mercies.

          • MAJeff

            I might be able to convince a few Pittsburghers to forego it in order to let Indiana have the experience. At least I hope I’d be able to.

            • Western Dave

              The city that produced Iron City Lite should not be busting on Yuengling.

              • Hogan


              • MAJeff

                I have never heard of that, but I’ve only lived here six months.

              • wjts

                I honestly prefer Iron City to Yuengling.

        • They’ve also had trouble with the Teamsters, after busting a union.

      • Uncle Ebeneezer

        I don’t get all the hating on Yeungling amongst beer snobs. As an everyday beer, it was a million times better than the alternatives back when I lived in Philly. I still like the taste, though I’m less a fan since I read about their union-busting history.

        • John

          When I was 22 and first moved to Philly and didn’t have much of a taste for beer, Yuengling was pretty great – better tasting than Bud Light, et al, cheaper than good beers, and easy to drink for someone without much of a taste for beer. After about three or four years, though, I kind of got tired of it – more of a taste for better beers, plus it’s a bad beer for hangovers. But still not terrible by any means, and it’ll do in a pinch.

          Speaking of union-busting, is it appropriate for liberals to support non-union craft beers – especially ones from fairly large companies like the Boston Beer Company or Sierra Nevada – ahead of union-made beers like Bud and Miller?

          • dl

            Good question.

          • djw

            My own personal position on this issue is as follows: when faced with a choice between supporting a union and non-union product, I’ll often pay a bit more, or endure some degree of inconvenience, to support the union product. This simply doesn’t apply here; the unionized product in question is actively and significantly unpleasant to consume, and I’d rather spend the rest of my days sober than drink it. Through no fault of the union, of course, they’re making a product I don’t want, any more than I would want, say, a union-made 12 MPG giant pick-up truck.

            • Scott Lemieux

              But if I’m in a context where the only choice is a yellow lager, I’ll take the union one.

            • witless chum

              Leinenkugels is not only union, but brags about it on the bottle. For whatever that’s worth.

        • Richard Hershberger

          You have hit on it. We tend to think of the beer market as Bud/Miller/Coors horse piss or lovingly crafted specialty beers, with nothing in between. This is actually a really weird situation having more to do with the peculiarities of American beer history than with the nature of beer itself.

          Yuengling(or, for that matter, Shiner) doesn’t fit into this paradigm and people don’t know what to make of it. If you think of it as a mass market beer, it is fantastic. You can walk into any dive bar in eastern Pennsylvania secure in the knowledge that whatever undrinkable hideousness it has, it will also have Yuengling. But if you think of it as a craft beer, it is mediocre. If the store selling it thinks of it as a craft beer, the customer can justifiably be annoyed at the poor use of space.

          Then there is the snob appeal. We are decades past the point where you can win any points by dissing Budweiser. Dissing Yuengling establishes a higher place on the beer hierarchy.

          Finally, there is the cost factor. Craft beer is rapidly becoming a venue for conspicuous consumption, providing the opportunity to spend as much as you want to. Yuengling is ideal for the beer drinker of limited means, who wants something decent at a reasonable price. It is pretty much the opposite of conspicuous consumption, and therefore to be despised in some circles.

          Oh, and hops. If you buy into the idea–apparently widespread in the American craft beer market–that the sophistication of a beer is directly proportional to the amount of hops dumped into the vat, then you certainly will turn up your nose at Yuengling.

          • dl

            Is Yuengling all that different from MGD or something? I am honestly not sure I could tell in a blind taste test.

            • Western Dave

              You’ve warped your palate. Seriously. It’s like certain folks who diss fruit driven wines because all the want to taste is big oak.

          • Uncle Ebeneezer

            That all makes sense. I definitely have more refined beer taste now than I did when I was in Philly. It was just-out-of-college and we drank a lot of beer. Price was a concern, but there also weren’t nearly so many craft beers available at the time (’96.) It was Bud, Coors, MGD, some Ice Beer and Yuengling on most of the local taps.

            Nowadays I drink mostly local (Los Angeles) craft beers, and imported Belgian Ales. But if I lived in Philly, I think I would still keep Yeungling (or something similar) in the fridge regularly for things like watching football, where I want to drink numerous beers over several hours without getting too wasted or tired of the stronger flavor that many of my favorite craft beers have.

            • djw

              I’m certainly open to the possibility that my preference for and regular consumption of “big” beers shapes my perception of the size of the gap between a mediocre yellow lager like Yuengling and something like MGD. I can tell there’s a difference, it just seems trivial.

              What are the good LA beers? I can think of a half dozen outstanding breweries from San Diego, but LA is a blank space on the map for me.

              • Jay B.

                LA is getting there — and basically bringing up the SD beers is part of the local scene (Stone just opened a bottle room in Pasadena and Port is now found just about everywhere serious).

                As for the local/local brews, I’m not much of an Eagle Rock Brewing fan, but they are good guys and I still think they have a lot of potential, Strand is awesome, but are hamstrung by their size. Beechwood in Long Beach makes great beer (for dine-in only, I think) and Congregation is putting in kettles in their Azuza location. Angel City, if that still exists, is mediocre, but Bruery and Bootlegger out of Fullerton are excellent.

                • Humulus

                  The Bruery tasting room on a Friday afternoon is a good place to be.

  • First they came for the Sam Adams, and I said nothing because I’m a Bear Republic drinker….

  • Robert M.

    I live in southwestern Michigan, where we’re blessed to have a handful of world-class microbreweries close enough that it’s impractical for the big guys to push them out. (Even the 7-11s around here have six-packs of Bell’s.) But my wife and I are both facing the academic job market soon, and I’m afraid we’ll end up in some terrible place where it takes a lot of work to find good beer.

    …as a side benefit to living in a place with good beer: any time I’m in a bar and a conservative friend or colleague starts spouting off about the genius of the Invisible Hand, I can ask them they feel about the InBev- MillerCoors duopoly. Then I get to savor the uncomfortable silence.

    • wengler

      You underestimate the number of people that will only drink shit beer. They don’t want anything that tastes different from what they’ve been drinking since 14.

      • JKTHs

        There is also the cost issue and the college party demographic where you’re getting beer for the purposes of other people drinking it so you don’t really give a shit what you’re getting.

    • I’m afraid we’ll end up in some terrible place where it takes a lot of work to find good beer

      Nah. Good beer is not only easy to find in Worcester, Mass, but it’s easy to find in my shitty little corner of Worcester, where the name of the neighborhood liquor store is just PACKAGE STORE. That should bode well for practically anywhere.

    • djw

      I think Michigan the best beer state East of the Mississippi, and I don’t think it’s a particularly close call.

      • wengler

        Illinois is headed up the charts. Wisconsin is horribly overrated and should be marked down for having MillerCoors.

        • ploeg

          I wouldn’t mark Wisconsin down for MillerCoors. I would mark Wisconsin down for its minibreweries (the small town breweries that survived Prohibition and then ever since basically did the same things that the big breweries did, only better (arguably) and less expensively). So the stores have shelf space for Miller and Bud and Coors, and then also need room for Point and Huber and LaCrosse, and that tends to crowd out anybody else.

          • nixnutz

            OK, I haven’t been to Madison in almost 25 years but if I could still get $7 cases of Huber I’d never touch a microbrew again. Well worth the extra dollar over Point.

        • Gus

          Wisconsin has New Glarus, Tyrenena, Oso, Furthermore, Central Waters and more. New Glarus alone makes it virtually impossible to overrate Wisconsin as a beer destination. Can’t disagree about marking down for Miller, though. And my home state of Minnesota is on the rise as well (though technically, Minneapolis breweries are west of the Mississippi).

      • AAB

        Bell’s, Founders, New Holland, Jolly Pumpkin (one of the best breweries a lot of people don’t know about). Wonderful beer state.

        • djw

          Also, a recent discovery for me is North Peak, out of Traverse City. Some excellent beers. The Wanderer is one of my favorite low-ABV IPAs.

          • Morbo

            There’s also Shorts out of Bellaire. Be aware that they use fruit in almost everything they brew, with varying degrees of success.

          • Seitz

            North Peak is the same brewery as Jolly Pumpkin, basically. If you go the Jolly Pumpkin restaurant on the TC peninsula, it’s full of North Peak stuff.

            Short’s is great, and I always stop in New Buffalo on the way back to Chicago from my golf club in Traverse for a couple six-packs. Another great one that opened recently is in Sawyer called Greenbush. Between Founder’s, Greenbush, and picking up sixers of Short’s, my Michigan trips are pretty productive. Hoping to try out Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids this summer.

        • witless chum

          Tried Keweenaw Brewing’s Scotch Ale a while back. That was very good, despite being canned rather than bottled.

          • Gus

            Cans are very much the new trend. Surly Brewing, one of the more highly rated craft breweries does most of their packaging in cans. Keeps the beer fresher longer supposedly.

            • ChrisS

              canning lines are expensive … not every craft brewer can afford one.

              However, mobile canning lines have started popping up and breweries have taken advantage of them.

        • Jolly Pumpkin (one of the best breweries a lot of people don’t know about)

          I absolutely love Jolly Pumpkin, they make some really great stuff. One of my favorite holiday beers this year was their “Noel de Calabaza” — delish.

    • Malaclypse

      You can also point out that the opening of a market for good beer was something done by History’s Greatest Monster.

      • Cody

        I somehow had the awkward feeling this was going to be similar to a “You know who else drank craft beer…”

        I had a hard time imagining how Hitler invented craft beer.

    • Richard Hershberger

      Keep in mind that there are two stories to be told about craft beer, and these doom-and-gloom stories only tell one of them. They tell about how hard it is for a craft brewery to get shelf space, particularly in supermarkets and the lower end of the liquor store market. This has only a tenuous connection with the other story: how easy it is for the consumer to find craft beer. You might have to drive to the one good liquor store in town, but so what? You might not have a selection that includes extremely small breweries that market their beer in all of three counties. On the off chance that your county would have had something genuinely different, that is a shame. But it more likely means that you have a similar pretty good selection of craft beers to that in the good liquor store three counties over. Every time a retail outlet stops selling good beer, that is an opportunity for its competitors to get your custom. At some point this balances out and retail outlets stop giving away market share.

  • LeeEsq

    I’m really not sure if liberalizing distriubtion is a good idea even if it gives macro-breweries serious and unfair advantages against craft breweries. America’s three-tier distrubution system has some seriously good side effects when it comes to drinking culture, it seems to prevent binge drinking in people above college age. The UK has a much more liberal policy towards distribution with a much worse drinking culture as a result. Plus, I can’t really say if the smaller breweries do better against the bigger ones in the UK.

    I like craft beer, although I’m leaning for towards wine as my alcohol of choice these days, but most Americans seem fine with the big breweries and don’t really care. Given that, we should have alcohol regulations that prevent binge driking rather than favor the craft breweries.

    • Malaclypse

      America’s three-tier distrubution system has some seriously good side effects when it comes to drinking culture, it seems to prevent binge drinking in people above college age.

      Honest question: what is the link between the distribution system and binge drinking or lack thereof?

      • djw

        The argument is made in my Tim Heffernan link, and persuasively rebutted in the Tom Philpott link.

      • djw

        Short version: the only causal mechanism offered in favor of the theory is that the extra layer is a ‘deliberate inefficiency’ that keeps prices high. But, in fact, for a variety of reasons UK prices are actually higher.

        • Malaclypse


        • rea

          Not to mention–comparing the rates of drinking among British and American teenagers without taking into account the fact that a 16-year-old in the UK can drink in a pub (21–no teenagers–in the US) is a tad misleading . . .

        • witless chum

          Even if you want the price to be artifically high, seems like you could accomplish that through a sin tax rather than the insane, rube goldberg type set ups.

    • wengler

      Giving John McCain a 13th house is not a good reason to have a deliberately costly distribution system for beer.

  • bobbyp

    Demonstrating that there sure are a lot of big capitalists out there who don’t really like capitalism.

    • wengler

      On the contrary, destruction of less powerful adversaries through the wielding of monopolistic power is part of the capitalist system. The power is retained by those with capital.

      There is nothing in capitalism theory that says you have to play fair. Those are artificial constraints on the free market.

      • Kurzleg

        Good point. Capitalism and free markets are not interchangeable terms.

        • wengler

          There’s ‘free’ and FREE. And just another word for nothing left to lose.

  • montag2

    A good synopsis of the production/distribution/retail problems created by the majors for craft brewers is “Beer Wars,” a documentary that came out a few years ago. Quite revealing of tactics that have been in use for some time.

  • anomomouse

    As far as distribution in Washington state, the regulations helped micros, in my opinion.

    No free stuff helped level the playing field between craft breweries who can’t afford to give away stuff and big brewers who at least had to keep a lid on their largess.

    No quantity discounts means that there is nothing to be gained by a retailer for concentrating on selling on brand or family of brands.

    No credit for retailers means that self distributed micros have excellent cash flow.

    No pay for play means no cash offers for tap handles or shelf space.

    The former reg that a hard alcohol licensee had to have 50% (or something) of their gross revenue from food sales meant there were a lot of beer and wine only venues, so more beer sales.

    I’m not saying changing the laws might not be a good thing for craft beer, but craft brewers are likely not to have the ears of their legislators and regulators when the new rules are drafted.

    • djw

      Yeah, I didn’t want to imply that simply getting rid of that layer of regulation would necessarily solve the problem. (I worry, for example, that reforms that would allow the larger craft beer makers to set up their own distribution could have a negative impact on really small breweries). But it’s noteworthy that the demand for craft beer in Washington is orders of magnitude greater than most of the country. There are a lot of shenanigans the current system empowers the big 2 to engage in that simply won’t fly in Washington/Oregon, and retailers know it.

      • Orange

        That seems to be happening in SoCal already with Stone.
        The bar/beer store I frequent the most has a great selection but almost all their local microbrew comes through their Stone rep.

      • There are a lot of shenanigans the current system empowers the big 2 to engage in that simply won’t fly in Washington/Oregon, and retailers know it.

        Agreed and, as with a lot of things, education of the consumer is probably the real key to the difference. People here know that there are good local beers available, and expect them to be. It took a long time for that to happen though.

        And I swear these days the biggest problem here is the new small crap breweries that are sprouting up in every town with brewers that have no fucking idea what they’re doing. A couple local-to-me places are perfect examples of this — I’m really hopeful they get their shit together.

  • thelogos

    Once again, I am glad to live to Colorado, the micro-brew Mecca. There are at least 20 micro-brew pubs in Denver alone.

    • dave3544

      There are 10 microbreweries in Eugene/Springfield, Oregon, pop. ~200K, so I wouldn’t go engraving that trophy just yet.

      • djw

        I believe Bend, OR wins on a per capita basis. Boneyard is one of my favorites.

      • Is it really up to 10 now? Wasn’t it like 7 last summer?

        • dave3544

          Two new ones and apparently Track Town brews a beer. My source of info is some free beer mag passed out in the brew pubs, so grain of salt.

          • OK, well I demand a tour of the new places this summer.

            • If you do a full tour be sure to get your “passport” stamped at each location (the passport/free map is available at each brewery in Bend). You get a free pint glass from the Bend Visitor Center if you do. And you can walk the whole distance (or at least the last two thirds after you should only be walking anyway). Here’s the full deal.

              • To be clear, that tour is in Bend, not Springfield. I think I got confuzzled about which town you guys were talking about. Even lowly Corvallis is up to 5 breweries, with a couple more in the works (if only they were all good). Oh, we do have a (pretty decent) cidery too.

          • swoof

            Does that count include Plank Town Brewing in Springfield at 4th & Main which isn’t officially open yet but should be within two weeks or so?

  • KadeKo

    Hey, if reading books about beer is a neverending quest like finding good beer, I recommend Bitter Brew.

  • Jesse

    I think it’s Elizabeth Flock vice Elizabeth Frock. Great article.

    • djw

      Thanks; corrected.

  • Socraticsilence

    So does anyone know the actual story behind “Montucky cold snack” it’s a macro fewer light beer with a microtargeted marketing approach– just curious as to whether this is a national pattern or just a MT thing.

  • Rob

    This is usually when Daniel Davies shows up to say Budweiser is a fine beer. Which then makes me think the UK palate really is as bad as the stereotype suggests.

    • Jay B.

      The last time I was in London, I noticed they were attempting to get in on the craft beer movement, but English style. So it was still all tepid, cask conditioned, low-carbonation brews that were practically indistinguishable from your run-of-the-meal flat Bass. Maybe he likes Bud if for no other reason than it has bubbles. Gah.

      • Sherm

        The last time I was in London (the late 1990’s), it seemed that most everyone except the old men were drinking Budweiser, but it was the original from budweis in the Czech Republic. And many of the northern german beers were quiet popular as well.

  • JustMe

    Blue Moon is not so bad. ShockTop is below-average, but I know what to expect. I haven’t had a Leinenkugel for a while, but I don’t remember it being particularly offensive; I might even have enjoyed it. All are better than the generic lagers/pilsners that make up the flagship products of AB InBev and MillerCoors.

    • MAJeff

      Yeah, those things turned me completely off to lagers…until I had Great Lakes’ Dortmunder Gold. That shit is good.

    • ChrisS

      Blue Moon was originally brewed as a fun experiment at Coors. They started a craft brew-pub at Coors Stadium and needed some interesting beers to round out the taps. Blue Moon was born, some people really loved it and it started morphing into the beer that’s sold now. Much like how Killian’s Irish Red is not Irish, but French, and has since been Americanized by Coors. Pete Coors loved it, bought the recipe and turned it from an ale into a lager and toned down the flavor.

  • Lige

    So there’s been a big push of a new version of Henry Weinhards here in Indiana. It has all new flavors without any of the classic varieties – I haven’t had the heart to try it.

    • Weinhard’s is another beer bought up by the big corporations–SAB Miller to be precise. They made a deal with Full Sail to produce it in Hood River so they can mass market it as an Oregon brand. Whether this suggests some push in the future to buy Full Sail I don’t know, but it’s one of the only Oregon beers available in Rhode Island. Anyway, they’ve just done a national push. It’s ridiculous. There’s no reason to try it.

      • lige

        I haven’t been able to drink it since they shut down the Portland Brewery.

  • Carbon Man

    Nothing can touch my Pabst Blue Ribbon.

    • Jay B.

      Because you think you are giving yourself a precious award?

    • Malaclypse

      Liberals hate when you drink horse piss. I am filled with a powerless rage.

      • Carbon Man

        Some people want to pay $12 for a six pack of super-bitter overpriced, marketed crap.

        Others just want something ice-cold and smooth to wash down some pulled-pork BBQ or a double cheeseburger.

        • This. Plus there are a lot of beer drinkers who drink a lot of beer at once. They like the piss-water because they can put ten of those suckers down without bloating.

          • You do realize that you are agreeing with this person, no?

        • Halloween Jack

          Protip: chilling a bevvie until it’s ice-cold is usually a way of disguising how shitty it tastes.

        • ChrisS

          Some people also are content to eat baked skinless boneless chicken breast.

          That certainly doesn’t make a rib-eye overpriced marketed crap, does it?

    • Frank Booth

      Heineken?! Fuck that foreign shit!

    • Your union-made Pabst Blue Ribbon!

      • old timey

        I use to pick up a six of Pabst once a summer in homage of ye olden days putting in hay. Now that they are owned by a billionaire with two douche bag sons I will need to find some Genesee to reminisce over.

        • ChrisS

          I never knew that the growth of PBR was the result of a viral marketing campaign.

          Interesting. The best part in that Beer Wars doc are the blind taste test of american lite beer among their hardcore drinkers. The taste is nearly non-existent, marketing is the only thing that differentiates the brands.

    • wjts

      Fucking hipster.

    • witless chum

      Is there no Busch Light where you are?

    • Gus

      Pabst is pretty bad, but it’s still beer. I’ll drink one if that’s all there is, and if it’s cold enough I’ll even enjoy it.

      • Western Dave

        Cold PBR is pretty decent when it’s 95 out with 95 percent humidity. Of course cold water is also pretty decent then, but I like a hint of flavor with my water. You know, lemon slices, a splash of fruit juice, or whatever it is in PBR that makes it sorta taste like beer. Plus it’s excellent in chili, really the best beer to use for it.

        • Sherm

          After watching Gran Torino, I was craving a six-pack of PBR and figured I’d get one on a hot summer day and drink them ice cold just for shits and giggles. But when push comes to shove, I just can’t bring myself to buy that shit.

      • Sherm

        Gus — Exactly right. I don’t buy shit beer. I don’t serve shit beer. And I don’t order shit beer. But if shit beer is the only beer around, then I’ll have no choice but to drink it. My motto — All beers are good, some beers are better.

        • PBF

          Where is the point that good beer you had to purchase
          is better than free beer? Somewhere above Sam Adams/New Belgium?

  • PSP

    I love me a good IPA. However, “quantity has a quality all of its own” occasionally applies to beer too. On those days, American premium lager (NOT lite beer) fits the bill. The idea of them further watering down Bud could cause me to do something horrible like buy Coors banquet beer.

    On the other hand, Budweiser doing a Schlitz implosion imitation would definitely result in a schadenfreude field day.

  • ChrisS

    Me? I brew my own. I started a few years ago. I’m legally allowed to make 200 gallons of beer and wine, per year, in my house. And, of course, I would never make more than that. Most of the craft brewers are former home brewers.

    The evolution is:
    1) I like beer, I’ll make my own!
    2) Here’s my three-vessel, gas-fired all-grain system and my temp-controlled lagering chest.
    3) I’m starting a brew pub!

    I’m at Step 2 (but my system is electric). I figure I need to make another 1,000 gallons before I would consider myself a capable brewer. Also starting a brewpub/brewery is tremendously expensive and fraught with land mines at every step (Fed/State laws, local codes, packaging/sales/distributing, etc.). I calculated that to sell my beer and make a living, it’d have to be at $7 a pint wholesale. And it’s not that good.

    Where bud/coors/miller make their money is that they use cheaper grains (corn & rice) and hops to make beer with little flavor. Craft beer is expensive because they make small batches (economies of scale) with higher end ingredients.

    • The evolution is:
      1) I like beer, I’ll make my own!
      2) Here’s my three-vessel, gas-fired all-grain system and my temp-controlled lagering chest.
      3) I’m starting a brew pub!

      There’s a lot of truth to that — I’ve been brewing for 15 years and am solidly into step 2. Currently figuring out how to retro-fit my lagering chest for larger 15 gallon conical fermenters. If it was easier to actually be a licensed brewery — say as easy as getting a fucking assault rifle — I’d be selling my beer already. As it is, it take so much up front work and expense it’s barely worth it.

  • rea

    Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
    Or why was Burton built on Trent?
    Oh many a peer of England brews
    Livelier liquor than the Muse,
    And malt does more than Milton can
    To justify God’s ways to man.
    Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
    For fellows whom it hurts to think:
    Look into the pewter pot
    To see the world as the world’s not.
    And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
    The mischief is that ’twill not last.
    Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
    And left my necktie God knows where,
    And carried half way home, or near,
    Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
    Then the world seemed none so bad,
    And I myself a sterling lad;
    And down in lovely muck I’ve lain,
    Happy till I woke again.
    Then I saw the morning sky:
    Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
    The world, it was the old world yet,
    I was I, my things were wet,
    And nothing now remained to do
    But begin the game anew.
    –A. E. Housman

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