Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Miller-Coors Merger

We admit to being a bit nonplussed at the news this week that Miller and Coors - numbers two and three in the U.S. beer market - were planning to combine their domestic operations. On the surface it seems to make some sense, at least business wise, in that they are better positioned to compete with the behemoth that is Anheuser-Busch; the combined MillerCoors now control roughly 28% of the market, while A-B commands 48%. Additionally, the portion of the combined $426 million marketing budget they spent competing against each other last year can now be aimed squarely at A-B (who alone spent $512 million on marketing last year) or utilized in other areas. You've also got the cliched reasonings that always pop up in these mergers between large companies: it will save millions through utilization of economies of scale, streamlining of production/distribution, elimination of redundancies, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Some of those things are, no doubt, true and this move shouldn't come as too much of a shock to the system of either company. Coors recently went through a fairly successful merger with Molson, and Miller has actually been a part of South Africa based SABMiller (one of the world's largest brewing conglomerates - the SAB stands for South African Breweries) since 1999. The bottom line here, to us anyway, is that this merger just doesn't work from a product perspective.

Miller Lite is the 3rd best selling beer in the country, followed closely in 4th by Coors Light. These two, obviously, make up a huge portion of the new company's sales. They are also disturbingly similar in another area - taste. Let's be honest, there's just not much difference between the two beers. Sure, you'll get some loyal followers who blindly swear allegiance to one brand or the other, but had this merger happened a couple of decades ago, either the Tastes Great, Less Filling Lite, or the Silver Bullet Light would not be in existence today. It will be interesting to see how MillerCoors markets their way around this.

The co-existence of the craftish brands of each brewer, Coors' Blue Moon and Miller's Leinenkugel will be a development to watch as well. Will a Sunset Wheat tap appear next to the Blue Moon handle at the local bar a grill? Will it be an either/or proposition? It does seem safe to say that this won't mean good things for fans or brewers of craft beers, at least in the short term. The most obvious initial development we see is the small guys getting squeezed out of a tap handle here and some shelf space there. You know, the things that these small companies really need to stay alive and sustain growth.

The best case scenario here is that the new MillerCoors puts a real scare into A-B and the two duke it out for pale lager supremacy for a few years, leaving the crafties to continue to do their own thing without interference from the big fellas. If you want a real dream scenario, how's this: Blue Moon continues its' rise in popularity while further developing it's seasonal line, Leinenkugel's solid offerings are expanded and more widely distributed, and Coors' recently announced line of "super premium" beers is rolled out to much critical acclaim. A-B responds by shifting their development of "craft" beers into hyperdrive and America is suddenly waist deep in the midst of a beer revolution, with all the big boys' watery yellow beers largely forgotten and these new brews serving as a gateway to the discovery of all the hundreds of wonderful beers that were right there in our backyards all along!

Realistically, our fear is that this move sets off another chain of acquisitions in the beer industry that eventually leads to the big players InBev, A-B, Diageo, SABMillerMolsonCoors, et al, madly buying up even some of the more successful craft brewers. With sales in the rest of the industry largely stagnant, and nowhere else to turn to acquire more market share, this may be a distinct possibility. The most successful craft breweries (we're talking in terms of overall sales and market share) like Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, may be able to resist the overtures, but everybody has his price. If it's not one (or more) of these big fish in the small craft pond, it is likely to be some of the many slightly smaller fish. This may prove especially true with the impending cost crunch as the prices of hops and malts is predicted to soar over the next few years.

No matter what happens, the beers scene has evolved enough that we are still going to see a fairly good selection of beers in an increasing number of supermarkets and even chain restaurants. It remains to be seen, however just how diverse that selection will be.

  • The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel offers a cautionary word on smaller brewer's being left behind in the wake of the merger.
Finally, we leave you with the wise words of the dearly departed Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson. This quote is actually in reference to the acquisition of Miller Brewing by SAB back in 1999, but the words ring even more true today.

"Quite simply, the bigger the major brewers become, the greater the number of consumers who feel left behind, even alienated. These people want the chance to exercise their individuality when they order a beer. They are potential buyers of imports, microbrews and the products of brewpubs."

Michael Jackson


Monday, October 08, 2007

Quick Takes: Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale

A running debate between myself and the executive editor/founder of this blog has been the content of a list that would contain our top-five all-time beers. Admittedly, I’m kind of terrible at this, largely because I never truly fall in love with beers. Don’t get me wrong - I like a lot of different beers, but it’s fairly rare for me to fall in love with one.

That being said, I’m absolutely head-over-heels, eyes-bugging-out-of-their-sockets nuts for Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale. I became introduced to this a few weeks ago, when I picked up a sixer of it over at Oliver’s, a local beverage distributor.

It was love at first sip. The pour from bottle into pint glass revealed the color of the brew to be a deep, clear copper – it simply looked inviting. I inhaled deeply, taking in a delicious blend of maltiness and hops. When I took a sip, I couldn’t believe that this was an imperial style – it was far lighter than I expected, which is not to say that it’s a light beer by any stretch of the imagination. It’s smooth, rich, and creamy – and when you consider that it’s a 7.60% ABV beer, that seems like quite a feat. As I let the beer warm up some, the high ABV did become more apparent, but it never became overwhelming (although I could see this becoming a factor if I consumed more than, say, three in an evening). One thing that I really, really like about this beer is that it’s neither too malty or too hoppy; malt and hops both play a significant role in this brew, but neither dominates this beer’s taste.

Fortunately, this beer has been featured on tap at a couple of Albany-area establishments (most notably, the Lionheart Tavern at the intersection of Madison Avenue and Lark Street), so I was able to try it as a draft. As it was served to me, in a 20-oz imperial pint glass at Lionheart, I fell even more in love with the beer. The creamy texture of this beer was strongly accentuated in this style of serving, and the beer’s depth opened up as it warmed (I was able to catch a bit more citrus-y undertones, which I can’t say that I got from the bottled version).

I’m going to go ahead and say it: this may be a top-five, all-time beer for me (personally). It’s pretty amazing, and I recommend it highly.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Session #8: Beer and Food - Eat Locally, Drink Locally!

(This is our contribution to the October Session: for more information and to read some previous Sessions posts from around the world, please check out the blogroll to the left...)

We here at Beerjanglin' are not, generally speaking, a socially conscious lot. I mean, we like beer. That's what we do. Anything else is - basically - extra. That being said, every now and then, we keep our ears open for social trends.

One of the more intriguing social developments of the past few years has been the growing push for people to “eat locally” – that is, make a conscious effort to purchase and consume goods produced within a certain radius of your home (generally, 100 miles is an acceptable radius). In thinking about this movement, we’ve read a few things in magazines like “Men’s Health” and on the internet, but haven’t really seen a centralized take on this that we’ve found to be particularly clarifying, so we’ll do our best to explain the tenets of this ethos.

Eating locally is the “right” thing to do because when you buy from regional food producers (the more that you buy directly from them, the better), your money stays in the local economy and helps better the towns and neighborhoods in your proximity. Beyond that, the reasons for eating locally are myriad; proponents of doing this cite reasons raising from the standard “it’s better for the environment because the more people who do this means the less energy is spent in transporting food on planes and trucks” to the simpler thought of “local food is generally fresher.”

Here in the Capital Region of New York, there’s a lot going on that makes “eating locally” an intriguing and delicious prospect. If you were to take a compass and map of the region and place the compass’s center point on Albany, and then draw a circle to approximate a 100-mile border, you’d create an area that included a lot of farms (the full four seasons of the area lend themselves nicely to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and even a surprising variety of meat and dairy-related products, including a farm in Rensselaer County that produces fresh buffalo meat). You’d be doing all right at the dining table.

What we’d love to see as part of the “eat locally” movement would be an increased push to “drink locally,” which I will define as making a conscious effort to purchase and consume beers produced within that same 100 mile radius. It falls into that same ethos: better for the local economy, less energy is expended in transporting beer from place to place, and oh, the freshness of local beer!

With that same 100-mile radius around Albany in mind, there’s a lot of phenomenal beer-making going on locally. A quick visit to reveals a vast number of breweries and beer pubs that makes even the hypothetical proposition of “drinking locally” supremely appetizing.

There are a couple of larger-output breweries in this area which put out a great variety of craft beer. Most prominently, on the western outskirts of this radius sits the FX Matt Brewing Company, which produces a variety of beers, from the unfairly-maligned Utica Club Lager to a wide range of beers under their Saranac brand, as well as doing a great deal of contract brewing for quality brands like Brooklyn. Additionally, to the north, there’s the Olde Saratoga Brewing Company, which produces a great line of beers both under the "Olde Saratoga" name as well as Mendocino beers, while contract brewing quality beverages from companies like He'Brew and Blue Point. If these two were the only breweries in the radius, the area would already be awash in phenomenal beer.

However, there are several brewpubs in the area that satisfy this way of thinking doubly so; by creating a number of fresh beers while cooking and using a variety of locally-produced foods. Some of these even cross their streams, so to speak, creating local beers while using locally-grown produce in the process. Two of these are particularly notable.

C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station, which we’ve highlighted earlier in this blog, is located in downtown Albany and offers a menu that includes locally-produced food. One of their recent beer offerings, however, demands special highlighting – the Cherry Brown, a Belgian-style strong Brown Ale brewed with more than 250 pounds of handpicked sour cherries that came from area farms. We were fortunate to sample this recently, and we were pleasantly surprised – the cherry taste was far from extraneous in the beer, serving as an integral part of the taste and making for a remarkably pleasant drinking experience.

Brown’s Brewing Company, located across the mighty Hudson River in Troy, also does a remarkable job of combining a fine menu (that emphasizes the cuisine of Upstate New York nicely, from southwestern New York-style chicken spiedies to Buffalo wings) with a great variety of beers. Of note: the brewers recently released a limited batch of a Wet Hopped Imperial Pale Ale, made with hand-picked hops from the area. This is a tremendously exciting development, to say the least.

In general, Upstate New York is awash in microbreweries and brewpubs that all make a consistent effort to use local ingredients in their brewing process. Whether it's Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse, Rohrbach Brewery in Rochester, Flying Bison in Buffalo, or the phenomenal Davidson Brothers in Glens Falls, there's a lot of wonderful things happening in this fine state of ours.

Some websites advocate having people pledge to eat and drink locally whenever possible; we’re going to shy away from going that far. To be honest, there’s way too much good stuff being made outside our little 100-mile-radius to avoid that altogether. What we would like to advocate, however, is that when you’re at the beer store the next time, wherever you are - whether it's southern California or northern Wisconsin, the mountains of Colorado or the Mississippi valley - stopping to take a look at what’s fresh and local, and maybe trying something new from that group. It’s not much, and it probably won’t save the polar ice caps from melting, but hey, it’s not a bad start.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Ten Worst beers ECP has ever had

I rather enjoyed Bill's look at his favorite beers. But with every action, there is a reaction. So while Bill shows you "The Best" of his beer drinking experience...I will show you my worst.

We all love beer here at Beerjanglin. But lets admit it...there was a time when we didn't. Beer of course is an acquired taste. And while acquiring this taste, we had some bad beer...and some rough times. And even today, we still occasionally have a really bad beer...or an even worse experience.

So this one is dedicated to those early beer drinking days when slugging down beast ice was worse than Castor oil, and even the thought of beast ice gave you an upset stomach. And heres to today when even sometimes a "craft beer" is a

1. Piels - sometime in the early 90s.

This was my first real taste of beer, and I promptly spit it out as fast as it came in. I accidentally thought it was a soda, but it was really my Dad's brew. It was god awful. I remember thinking "people drink that crap? Why?!" I think a lot of people still say that about Piels. ECP doesn't.

2. Moloson Ice (I think) - again sometime in the early 90s.

Another early experience with beer. After a night of raiding my parents liquor cabinet of 30 year old scotch, I soon ran out and moved on to stolen beer. Already in an inebriated state from the scotch, I decided to have a few beers. At the time they didn't seem so bad, it didn't seem like razor blades slicing my mouth. But after passing out and later waking up on my parents front lawn in someone else's clothes, I re thunk my position that said beer tasted good. I have stuck by that observation to this day.

3. Moosehead Ice- 1998

This was the first beer I had in college. It was terrible. As I struggled to finish what tasted like moose piss, and sat around surrounded by hippies at my first college bar I thought "This is going to be a long 4 years". How wrong I was.

4. Busch Ice- 1998

What is it about freshman year of college and Ice beer? Even today this is still the worst beer I have ever had. I couldn't finish my second. I still get a headache thinking about it.

5. Tequiza - 1999

On an trip to Baltimore at the end of the worlds greatest decade, I made the mistake of having one of these beer like beverage. I'm not sure if it is even considered beer, and have no urge to investigate further. This flavor would rear its ugly head almost a decade later, with similar results.

6. Genesee - Various ill-fated nights

Don't get me wrong...I love Genny. But sometimes, it doesn't love me. Sure it goes down smooth, but coming out is anything but (no pun intended). Word of advice, limit this to 1 pitcher at a sitting.

7. Heineken @ the Van Dyke- 2005

Towards the end of the Van Dyke's run, its quality wasn't up to snuff. I can remember me, along with others, feeling cheated even after paying 1.50 for their own brew. But the worst was when they would be out of their own stuff, and sell only Heineken. No wonder that place has been forclosed on.

8. Labatt blue -2007

Numerous Labatt blue pitchers, fried food, and watching the NFL draft for 9 hours are a recipe for a very, very cranky ECP. Not recommended.

9. (Tie) Miller Chill and Michelob Ultra Raspberry Pomegranate - 2007

The Miller Chill oddly reminded me of Tequiza. Bad. I think my penis fell off when I drank the Mich Ultra. Worse.

10. Oktoberfest - SBC Brewery - 2007

Usually a beer that is 10 percent wouldn't make the list. Because even if it is bad, hey at least you get a bang for a buck. But after drinking this sub par excuse for an Oktoberfest, I developed a wicked hangover. What made it worse was driving hungover for 3 hours the morning after this and then as soon as arriving home, Tom Glavine proceeds to give up 7 runs in about 3 minutes. A bad day made worse by a bad beer.

Thank You Bill for bringing back these terrible memories.