Showing posts with label sabmiller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sabmiller. Show all posts

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bigger Business As Usual

I rarely post on brewery mergers, quite possibly because I don't believe that the corporate structure of a brewing company really has that much of effect on the quality of beer being produced. If it did, every honest craft beer drinker on planet earth would love for their favourite local micro to be purchased by one of the big boys so that they could have access to superior quality control processes and equipment and thus make consistently tasty beer. but Stonch put out a challenge, and so I will attempt to rise to it.

All too often in the craft beer side of the beer scene (strangely some craft beer fans remind me of the Catholics in Dave Allen's wonderful joke about going to heaven, they seem to be convinced they are the only people who drink beer), we forget that the brewing business is exactly that, a business, subject to the same rules of the market as other industries, supply and demand, blah, blah, blah. Just because you are a little business doesn't make you some kind of special case or immune to the realities of every day business life - as such those small breweries making shit craft beer (and there are a fair few of them in my experience) will, and deserve to, go to the wall, where no-one will lament their passing other than 'investors' hoping to cash in on the bubble.

Anyway....this post is not about ABInBev buying some little brewery and igniting a veritable caterwaul of 'sell out', 'I'll never buy your beer again', and other declamations from love-struck and jilted fanboys. It's about ABInBev (random thought, why isn't it InBevAB? InBev bought AB not the other way around) having agreed to purchase SABMiller in order to go from being the world's biggest brewing company to being the world's biggest brewing company by a wider margin.

It may sound strange, but this deal doesn't really bother me, and for many of the same reasons as InBev's purchase of Goose Island, 10 Barrel Brewing or Elysian didn't bother me. It is very unlikely to actually affect the beer as it is being made, though admittedly there is part of me that looks over at Pilsner Urquell and worries that the same people that fucked up Staropramen are likely to own the brewery that started the whole hoppy pale lager craze back in 1842 (side note, screw 'India Pale Lager', and morons that think Bud Lite is in some way a pilsner just because it is pale and bottom fermented). As long as the beer stays the same, and this goes for all the brands likely to be owned by whatever this new behemoth will be called, then I am happy with that, because from an American side of the Atlantic perspective the control of the factories producing the beer is frankly a secondary matter.

With the daftness that is the three tier system, whereby brewers need to sell to distributors in order to have their beer in the pubs and shops of a state, the power is with neither the producer or the retailer, but with the blood sucking middlemen, and it is those purchases by ABInBev that bother me the most. Rather than opposing huge brewing companies, the craft beer world, if it truly wants to revolutionise the industry in the US, needs to focus on destroying the three tier system and introducing a genuine free market in the beer world, whereby the middle man is cut out and maybe even, and I realise I am likely being idealistic here, prices can go down because the additional cost of the mddleman is cut out.

Big brewing companies are a very useful straw man/marketing device for the chattering classes to rail against, much like the faceless bureaucracies of the civil service, and ABInBev getting even bigger really changes nothing on that front. So my response to this news is to shrug my shoulders and carry on drinking beer primarily from my local breweries, preferably at their tap rooms so all my money goes directly into their pockets. That is the power the consumer has, deciding where his or her money goes, and someone will always exist to be the supply to meet the demand for beer from small breweries, it's called business and it will keep on going.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Difference Does It Make?

Giving a tour of the Starr Hill brewery a couple of Sundays ago, I was asked the following question:
  • What do craft brewers do that industrial brewers don't?
Difficult question as I am sure you can imagine. I think at the time I answered that in terms of pure process, there is probably very little difference between an industrial brewers and craft brewers other than, of course, scale.

When you look at the websites of major industrial brewing companies, you do get the sense that the brand is of primary importance rather than the beer. That is an understandable reaction when you look at sites for companies such as AB-Inbev, who have a multiple of brands within their business, and in some cases they own only the brand, and leave the brewing up to someone else. But I am not talking here about business procedures, after all, only an idiot starts a company with no intention of making a living out of it, either that or someone with enough money not to care. I am talking about their methods of making beer.

Unless they are hiding something, AB-InBev claim that only 5 ingredients go into Budweiser. Again, unless they are hiding something, their process for making Budweiser looks exactly like the process used by every single craft brewer on the planet, apart from the beechwood aging that is. Now, you can argue until you are blue in the fact about the use of rice in beer, from my understanding it came about because American consumers in the mid 19th century wanted a paler, lighter bodied lager. The fact though remains that for the beer drinking masses of that time, Budweiser was what they wanted, just as for many a beer drinker today, a hoppy IPA is what they want. You could almost argue then that Budweiser, and pale lager in general, was the 19th century equivalent of the modern American IPA - all the rage among the beer drinking classes (by the way, that was everyone, not just "middle class tossers" to quote from this excellent post here).

Ah yes I hear some say, but craft beer uses traditional ingredients. The question then becomes, traditional to where? The use of rye is traditional in German brewing traditions, of course German brewing being so much more than Bavarian brewing, though sometimes you have to wonder (and yes I know that the enforcement of Reinheitsgebot was a pre-requisite for Bavaria joining the single German nation state in 1871). But using rye in British brewing? There isn't much of a tradition to go on there, though I am sure that if I am wrong I will be told soon enough. Tradition is such a nebulous concept as to be irrelevant, at what point do you decide something is traditional? You could argue that rice in American lager is traditional, so should craft brewers be making American lagers that use rice, rather than co-opting a tradition from Germany or Bohemia?

We won't get into the whole use of various extracts and adjuncts thing here, especially as so many of the Belgian beers beloved of the craft beer cognoscenti use hop extract and sugar.

So, the ingredients are by and large the same, the processes are same, so what differentiates craft brewers from industrial brewers? In terms of something objective, the only difference is the size and scale of operations, and even that is up for debate. Sometimes this whole craft vs industrial debate sounds like kids in the playground and when one kids says "my dad is bigger than yours" the craft kid replies "but my dad punches with artisan style".

Thinking this all through has given me a new appreciation for the likes of AB-InBev and SABMiller, because for all their failings, they do produce well-made, quality products. Sure, they may not be the kinds of beer I want to drink on a regular basis, but you would have to be exceptionally pig-headed to claim that Budweiser  is a poorly made product. They may not be putting the ingredients together in a way that I enjoy, but there are an awful lot of people out there who like what they are doing.

I guess for me, at the end of this pondering and pontificating, it is simple. I drink the beers that I enjoy, regardless of the producer. So I will still drink Guinness on occasion, Pilsner Urquell in the right circumstances and something from Michelob when the mood strikes. Sure, mostly I will drink what is labelled "craft beer", but is it necessary to be fanatical about it? I think not, it is, after all, just beer. The important thing is to enjoy what you are drinking, who are drinking it with and where you are drinking it.

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