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EDITORIALS & LETTERS 2000 » BACK TO EDITORIALS & LETTERS INDEX
 
December 2000/January 2001
That Was The Beer Year That Was

 
The millennium year of 2000 witnessed global consolidation of the beer industry on a grand scale as megabrewers like Scottish & Newcastle Plc and Carlsberg talked “alliance” or, in multinational corporatespeak, "joint venture distribution and marketing initiatives." The huge Interbrew IPO scheduled for the end of 2000 is expected to generate some $3 billion for the Belgian brewing family’s coffers, giving the heretofore privately held company plenty of ammunition in the global-consolidation wars. Indian multinational magnet Vijay Mallya expanded his United Breweries interests in India by acquiring 65 percent of his competition for nearly $11 million.

This year, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., achieved record U.S. beer sales volume, pushing relentlessly toward (or over?) the 100-million-barrel mark demanded by August Busch III several years ago. A-B market share is also growing toward the 50 percent mark, the realization of which could give credence to the many accusations of monopolistic trade practices that have been made. Meanwhile, stockbroker Paine Webber rated A-B a “buy,” and market analysts noted that when the NASDAQ goes down, Bud shares go up! A great (liquid?) hedge fund! Ah, global business — the stuff of which spawns huge profits, fewer choices and products pandering to the media-manipulated mass market.

This year Miller gave up trying to be funny in its commercials, fired the brass responsible and spent the rest of the year trying to clean up its confused international arrangements for distribution and contract brewing with Molson and Foster’s. Foster’s bought Beringer Wines for $1.5 billion, and Miller bought the rest of troubled Celis Brewery in Austin, Texas, freeing the Celis family from its Austin obligations and leaving the fate of this unique brewery in doubt.

Third-place U.S. brewer Coors disengaged from some cumbersome international arrangements and remained very profitable despite an occasional beer spill into Clear Creek and the concomitant fish kill.

Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch actually lost one when it got the bad news that it and Budejovicky Budvar, the Czech brewer, can both sell “Budweiser” brand beers in Great Britain. A U.K. court of appeals handed down a verdict that stated that both companies have legally registered trademarks in the U.K. The verdict ends a 21-year-old legal battle in the U.K. between the two companies with a Czech-mate. Lawsuits had been filed by both companies in courts around the world, trying to secure sole ownership of the Budweiser name — a battle that originally began in 1911 when Budvar attempted to sell its Budweiser beer in the United States.

And lest you think that only A-B and Corona (Barton Beers and Gambrinus) are profitable on the world beer stage, consider that Duvel Moortgat NV of Belgium reported profits up 21 percent, mostly on ales of specialty beers. The best-selling Blanche de Bruges brand contributed most toward the big profit surge.

Big beer businesses like Anheuser-Busch will smile while profits rise as U.S. inflation again raises its ugly head after a 34-year low. Having the ability to raise prices during inflationary periods is the key to profits going up as spendable income goes down, according to market analysts. There are only a handful of companies that can pass along higher prices during inflation and get away with it. Can you say “Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms”?

Meanwhile, this year the nation was asking the rhetorical question “Whassup?” The hugely popular Bud commercial became part of the language (and a T-shirt at J.C. Penney’s) thanks to relentless advertising including the spendy Super Bowl. Bud's "Whassup?" ad even added babes to the slacker crew, always a winning proposition, and then went on to win a medal for creativity at Cannes. (Hint: The French consider Jerry Lewis a “genius.”)

Also this year, Philadelphia, the home of independence, became home to a boycott of Guinness products by Guinness’s top-tier retailers: Irish pubs. Miffed that Guinness-Bass Import Company allocates significant resources to train companies that are building a network of upscale Irish-themed pubs, several traditional pubs in Philadelphia are simply refusing to carry its products. Welcome to Planet Ireland. Meanwhile, Diageo Plc, the megamorphed conglomerate that contains Guinness Brewery (heretofore known as a “cradle to grave” employer), laid off 100 Guinness workers and did a deal for distribution with Anheuser-Busch (Guinness contract-brews Budweiser for the U.K.).

Our own small breweries, meanwhile, were getting into distilling at a rapid pace that belied the lengthy process to get to market. Anchor, Sierra, Lagunitas and Portland Brewing have all gone public with distilling projects. Many other would-be spirit producers wait in the wings. Sierra had a busy year, with production up 15 percent to 500,000 barrels.

Internet sales of beer and wine continued to get slammed by the very forces that seek to limit access to the market — it’s the distributor, stupid! A few Internet companies have developed three-tier-compliant distribution, but other small wineries and breweries denied access to market by distributors are stymied in shipping to many states.

President Clinton, almost as an exit gesture, signed into law the controversial .08% BAC “national limit” that requires (extorts?) the 30-some states whose laws have the less strict .10% BAC to adopt the new standard or lose billions of dollars in highway funds. Democracy in action.

Let 2001 be the year that you single-handedly put your local brewery in the black. Vote with your wallet and support the artisan brewers that provide us with so much diversity and pleasure. Make next year the Year of the Beer!

October/November 2000
This Bud's For... The California Legislature

 
Where does the 800-pound gorilla sleep? Apparently, not in the California State Legislature. This gorilla is wide awake and doesn’t miss a trick when it comes to its legislative agenda.

Frustrated in its past attempts to raise the allowable limits for “freebie” giveaway items used to promote beer to consumers and retailers, industry leader Anheuser-Busch instead pulled in some markers and got a last-minute bill introduced two days before the end of the legislative session.

The bill, AB 2551, had previously addressed teacher credentials and was authored by Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Sherman Oaks. As the session drew to a close, Hertzberg stripped the contents of the bill, inserted the beer gifts wording on behalf of brewing behemoth Anheuser-Busch and let Helen Thomson, D-Davis, take over as author of the bill. Thomson’s district includes Fairfield, Calif., home of an A-B plant employing some 500 people.

The bill has been jokingly dubbed the “trinkets and trash” bill by lobbyists and legislative aids who are not strangers to such last-minute efforts in pursuit of special-interest legislation. Obviously, the makers of Budweiser, the largest-selling beer in America, have a keen interest in the competitive advantage such “freebies” can engender in the quest for greater market share. Small brewers with limited resources for marketing “giveaways” are justifiably worried.

“We wonder what public good is served by passing a bill for one major brewer that already has all the money in the world,” complained Bob Judd, a lobbyist for the Small Brewers Association of California. Judd warned that creating a carnival atmosphere around alcoholic beverage consumption by handing out novelty items is a direct contradiction to more serious efforts to promote moderate and responsible consumption. “No public purpose is served by this amendment — the only winner would be a single major brewer,” he added.

Anheuser-Busch knows its way around the California Legislature, and its campaign contributions are also major league. The company already gave more than $216,000 to various causes in the first six months of this year, according to state records, including $22,000 to Speaker Hertzberg, $1,500 to Thomson and $10,000 to Governor Gray Davis, who is now in a position to approve or veto the bill.

The bill is on the governor’s desk as we go to press.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Oct/Nov 2000)

Dear Editor:
We have a great little place near here called Santa Fe Hops. The beer is wonderful, and the guys there are excellent! Check ’em out at santafehops.com.

Russ Reabold
La Puente, Calif.

Dear Russ:
Thanks for the tip. We’ll be sure to get some coverage for them soon. We like “guys” as much as the next guy. — Ed.

Dear Editor:
I’d like to object to your L.A. reporter Don Erickson’s description that “L.A.’s Westside is mostly an overpriced trendoid wasteland” (“L.A.’s Top Taps,” June/July 2000). In his accompanying article on Belmont Brewery’s 10th anniversary, Erickson claims that “it has been my local since the very beginning.” Since Erickson must live in the southernmost part of Los Angeles County, one must wonder how much time he spends in West L.A. to base his gross stereotype.

L.A.’s Westside is home to the Los Angeles and immediate area’s largest homebrew club (Pacific Gravity, Culver City). Westwood Brewing Company and Angel City Brewing make their home on L.A.’s Westside, as does an outpost of BJ’s Brewery and Grill. There are no shortages of above-average alehouses — Father’s Office of particular note — here. In short, there are plenty of options for beer geeks such as myself that never make it into Mr. Erickson’s column because he obviously prefers to remain in the southern parts of the area. (Note that two of his Top Taps are not even located within L.A. County.)

A touch of objectivity from your Los Angeles reporter and a few more frequent reviews of beer establishments that are actually in Los Angeles would be refreshing.

Kevin Barry
Santa Monica, Calif.

Dear Kevin:
Please don’t feel slighted. Don has reported many times on Westwood and The Library and on the rejuvenation of Father’s Office, which for some time had been a mere shadow of its former greatness. We include Orange County in our L.A. coverage. — Ed.

Dear Editor:
I felt compelled to write to you after reading your interview [with Vijay Mallya of Mendocino Brewing Co.] in the Celebrator Beer News.

In short, I wanted to express to you my most sincere disagreement with [his] opinion regarding the micro industry. As marketing coordinator of Mad River Brewing Company, it is my job to assess and analyze trends in the general and specific markets in which we distribute. You may want to refer to some of the reports from Robert Weinberg & Associates, which point to continued growth in the micro-beer markets.

Yes, there will continue to be consolidation and failures in this and all industries. [His] assertion that in time there will be only five craft brewers left is absurd. If this were true, we would have seen this in all categories of both beer and wine.

Take as an example the California wine industry. The industry truly began to flourish in the mid-1980s and continues to grow at a double-digit rate. This proves that people want both product quality and diversity. There will always be a place for a quality product from companies that watch their bottom line. We have been here for 10 years and had double-digit growth last year. We anticipate the same for the year 2000.

Hard work and quality ale will always have a place.

Sincerely,
Brian A. Baku
Mad River Brewing Co.
Blue Lake, Calif.

Dear Editor:
A whopping (or hopping) right-on to Mr. Dalldorf’s comments concerning craft beer and the scan-back scam of chain-store retailers.

A pox upon these greedy “you-know-whats” for charging rent for these handmade items. We’re not talking a penny a bottle actual cost here, as with Coca-Cola.

Thanks for shedding some light on these corporate jerkwads who wouldn’t know good American ale if their lives depending upon it. Leave the merchandising of craft beer to those who go home and drink it.

Cheers and good health,
Todd Giesler
Boise Co-op
Boise, Idaho

August/September 2000
Good Beer Industry Blossoms Despite Popular Press

 
“When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.” — Anonymous

You may want to give up reading as well, given the extraordinary nonsense published by the “popular press” on the demise of the specialty beer market. Most recently, the Associated Press put an article on the wire titillatingly titled “Specialty beer market fizzles.” AP included a downloadable photo of David Geary sitting pensively among a mass of cases of his Geary’s Summer Ale and London Porter. The caption read, “A few years ago connoisseurs thought small breweries and their tasty ales, pilsners and stouts were going to turn the beer industry on its ear. But the demand for those specialty beers has never fulfilled expectations.” Whose expectations???

Try telling that to Sierra Nevada, FX Matt, New Belgium, Widmer, Pyramid, Deschutes, Gordon Biersch, Alaskan, Portland, Harpoon/Mass. Bay, Mendocino, Goose Island, Summit or Long Trail Brewing companies. These are 14 of the top 20 domestic specialty breweries that had positive growth in 1999. But local daily newspaper editors, eager for trendy words to wrap around their ads, grab whatever seems to be the prevailing take on any given subject without questioning the validity of the story. Dot com Internet companies, once the darling of the business page editors, are now the subject of doom and gloom articles portending the end of the dot com era. Please.

The Institute for Brewing Studies recently published a massive statistical analysis of the brewing industry in the May/June 2000 issue of The New Brewer. Among the top 20 specialty breweries, only Pete’s Brewing showed a significant decrease in shipments, down by some 30 percent. Pete’s was sold to the Gambrinus Company, and its sales and marketing force was absorbed into the Texas-based company. Five other companies among the top 20 producers were off only 2 to 3 percent — hardly front page business news. However, eight companies among the top 20 were up by double digits! New Belgium (+41%), Mendocino (+31%) and Gordon Biersch (+30%) led the way. Where’s the AP story on that?

The domestic specialty beer industry (da good stuff!) is here to stay. The tremendous growth in the late ’80s and early ’90s plateaued in the late ’90s but seems on track for continued prosperity for companies with great products, consistent and focused marketing and solid distribution. Our job, should we choose to accept it, is to support these fine producers with our purchases and by evangelizing the good beer movement to everyone we know. Friends don’t let friends drink boring beer.

By the way, D.L. Geary Brewing finished in 44th place, with a 16,133-bbl. production, an increase of some 5 percent for 1999. Tell that to your local newspaper editor.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Aug/Sep 2000)

Dear Editor:
First of all, thank you for the Celebrator Beer News. Your publication serves a very important role in our industry.

In addition, I want to let you know that your editorial in the December/January issue of the Celebrator covered issues that I feel other publications have failed to address or did not know how to articulate. Your comment on how “it seems we beer lovers are notorious for searching out the ‘bargains’ and distress sales of marginal players to stock our refrigerators rather than exhibiting our exquisite taste and knowledge by buying up-market and compensating artisan quality” has motivated all of us at AleSmith to work harder.

Keep up the good work!

Sincerely,
Justin White
AleSmith Brewing Co.
San Diego, Calif.

Dear Justin:
Thanks for the feedback. Keep those great AleSmith ales flowing, and we’ll keep looking for them at retail. Can’t get enough on just the samples you send us! — Ed.

Dear Editor:
It’s a pleasure to re-up! How come you don’t offer a lifetime subscription? I’d be willing. Come to think of it, at my age, maybe two years is a lifetime subscription!

A glorious new issue of the Celebrator Beer News just arrived. I can’t wait to get into it — probably with a Liberty Ale at my side!

All the best,
Andy Musser
Wynnewood, Pa.

Dear Andy:
A lifetime subscription better be more than two years for you! What would the Philadelphia Phillies do without their “voice?” Thanks for the kind words, and keep on being America’s foremost “brewscaster”!
— Ed.

June/July 2000
The Scan-back Scam

 
In the intensely competitive world of beer retailing, the playing field has changed for the worse. It is no longer a case of various brewery reps trying to convince chain buyers that their beer is better and worth the money the brewery wants (needs) to charge for its products. That was last week.

Enter the era of scan-backs. The buyers, naturally, would prefer to call them “electronic couponing.” The brewery agrees to “kick back” money for each sale (scan) in return for being featured in the chain’s set and advertising. Since the stores are not allowed to charge “slotting fees” (what they charge vendors to be on the shelves) for alcoholic beverages, the scan-backs have become a slick way to circumvent the law. Ask yourself: “Why are there multiple facings for macro-beers and a minimal selection for microbrews?”

Safeway, the store that developed the Club Card — whereby it raises its prices, “discounts” the price to cardholders back to the regular price and then tracks their buying habits to sell the information to vendors — is a major player in the scan-back game. A small brewery finds getting shelf space at Safeway to be difficult, if not impossible, unless it is willing to “post off” its regular price to the chain and participate in the scan-back program. This often results in reducing what little margin of profit the brewery might have under normal pricing to the point where the brewery makes little or no profit at all.

Why do breweries participate? For volume (to increase sell-through and maximize production) and to enhance their presence in the marketplace. Safeway has even gone so far as to insist that a brewery reduce its price to be in line with other breweries if its product is to be sold in the chain at all. Why doesn’t Safeway make a similar demand on wineries, to all make $10 chardonnay? Why the double standard with wine and beer? Do Safeway buyers actually believe that wine is priced by the perceived value to the consumer but beer is not?

This kind of “corporate thinking” is obnoxious and must be confronted. Various state departments of alcoholic beverage control should be taking action regarding these shady deals, which are cutting the heart (and profit) out of the craft beer industry.

If you don’t see your favorite beers at your retailer of choice, ask why they don’t stock them. If they seem disinterested, let them know they have lost you as a customer. Bottom line: Money talks.

American Beer Month

Remember, July is American Beer Month. Get involved and do your part to encourage local good-beer venues to do special promotions during July to celebrate the richness and diversity of American beer. Encourage your friends to pledge to “Drink American” for the month of July. If that means giving up Corona for Bud Light, so be it. The import category continues to be the fastest growing segment of American beer consumption. Let’s turn those numbers around in July. Think global but drink local. And turn a friend on to the fresh taste of a good old American brew!

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Jun/Jul 2000)

Dear Editor:
Congratulations on the Celebrator's 12th year! Just got the latest issue, and it looks like the party was a blast. It's about time you finally got your bride and legal-beagle daughter in some of the photos. I'm tired of seeing your ugly puss in there! Keep up the good work.

Randy Willig
Portland, Ore.

Dear Randy:
It’s about time you wrote a letter to the editor. You’ve been reading this rag for 10 years with nary a peep. Feels good, donut? — Ed.

Dear Editor:
Had a great time at the Boonville Beer Festival last Saturday. I appreciated the excellent transportation provided by you via bus to Anderson Valley. Given the distance, it is truly a benefit to us for you to provide the service. Your staff was very helpful, and the bus was comfortable and on time. Serving beer was a great touch for the ride. Great festival and great crowd, even in the light rain.

My only critique of the festival is that there didn't appear to be that many master brewers attending the event. Maybe I just missed some by not asking more. It was great seeing Dave from Magnolia [Pub & Brewery in San Francisco]. He is incredibly helpful and available for questions in his pub and on the road. I will implore him to brew "Proving Ground Pale" for next year.

Bruce Davis
Via e-mail

Dear Bruce:
Glad you liked the event and the Celebrator bus trip. You must learn how to identify brewers at beer festivals. Usually they are hanging out watching the crowd, grooving to the tunes or getting food. Rarely are they found in their own booths. — Ed.

April/May 2000
Ch-ch-ch-changes...

 
A little reflection is appropriate as we head towards our 13th year of publication. The industry is still growing, but at a much slower rate than just a few years ago. Consolidation is taking place in all sectors of the beer industry. The scramble for market share remains, and a few breweries are resorting to cut-rate prices to generate sales, to the detriment of profits. A consequence of this short-term assuagement is a painful depreciation of the brewery’s own brand value.

Many marginal breweries have closed, benefiting the remaining breweries but diminishing the vitality of the micro category. Growth is proceeding in the brewpub sector, with well-managed and well-funded chains continuing to expand and lead the way. The fight for retail shelf space goes on, and some retailers are asking for and getting “promotional funding” for sales. It is increasingly harder for some breweries to survive, let alone profit in such a business climate.

Our ongoing theme of “drink better” has never been more important. Paying a little more for quality brewing sustains the industry and richly rewards the knowledgeable consumer. You can help by encouraging your local retailer to carry quality brands and by following up with your own purchases. You might also suggest that they carry the Celebrator Beer News and help us spread the word about good beer.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Apr/May 2000)

[Full Sail responds to Vijay Mallya interview from CBN, Feb/Mar 2000]

Dear Celebrator:
After reading the Celebrator's interview with Vijay Mallya [February/March 2000], it is tempting to dissect and disprove his assertions about our company one by one. Fortunately for Full Sail, Mr. Mallya's reputation in the craft brewing industry precedes him, and we don't find it necessary to give credence to his claims. What we would rather discuss is what Full Sail means to us and how we conduct our business.

First, we are proud to say that Full Sail Brewing Company has been named one of the "Best 100 Companies to Work for in Oregon" by Oregon Business Magazine (the only brewery on the list) for the last five consecutive years. We base our operating philosophy on treating our employees as partners — and as a consequence of Mr. Mallya's withdrawal, we were able to fulfill our personal dream of providing our employees the opportunity to own the brewery for which they work.

The entrepreneurial nature and pride in ownership translate directly into even more involved employees and therefore a higher-quality product and a greater commitment to our customers at all levels. Every beer that is brewed has the full involvement of all of our employee/owners: from packager to brewer to office staff to bartender. Each employee has a direct effect on our success.

Some of the elements of our culture that we strive to preserve are that every employee has the right and responsibility to stop the process if something is not right — from malt quality to bottles on the line. Everyone plays a part in ensuring that our beer is the highest quality. Our philosophy has always centered on the belief that people want to do a good job, taking pride in their work and in the company's success. We have brewed on a four-day-per-week schedule for more than eight years. Every production employee has a three-day weekend every week, resulting in employees who start the work week with renewed passion and intensity.

On July 2, 1999, Full Sail Brewing Company became employee owned: with that ownership comes the ability for all our employees to share in the success as our business grows.

There is nothing like working for yourself and having 54 other partners who love what they do and who take responsibility and tremendous pride in the beers that are brewed.

Irene Firmat, general manager
Jamie Emmerson, brewmaster

February/March 2000
Visions of Brewing's Past, Present and Future

 
Our 12th anniversary issue of the Celebrator Beer News features a millennial look at the "20th Century's Best in Brewing." We asked many industry leaders, writers, brewers and thoughtful consumers for their comments, observations, reminiscences and/or predictions for good beer and the industry that makes it. We asked that the observations be short, pithy, retrospective, insightful -- something personal from them to our readers on the subject of beer.

The goal was to give educated beer lovers (i.e., Celebrator readers) a broad palette of themes in the key of beer honoring the past, acknowledging the present and praising (or fearing) the future. You will find the results of this exercise scattered throughout this issue. We are delighted with the responses from some very busy beer personalities and regret that not everyone we asked could participate.

We would also like to hear from our readers on the same subject and will print selected replies in the next issue.

When the Celebrator Beer News changed hands in the summer of 1990 (seems like a lifetime ago), no one was quite sure where this publication or the industry it covered would be in 10 years. The extraordinary growth of craft brewing in the early '90s increased the Celebrator's page count (and ad base) and afforded us the opportunity to publish writings from a large contingent of knowledgeable beer journalists from all over North America and beyond.

The industry's "stuck fermentation" of the late '90s has resulted in only minimal growth for craft brewing, with fewer new brewing projects and a sickening attrition in brewery failures. This has resulted in fewer ad pages and reduced space for talented beer observers to share their enthusiasm for our favorite beverage. Sadly, we also witnessed many beer publications folding in the last few years, further reducing the opportunity to develop beer culture.

We hope to be around for another dozen years bringing the message of good beer to those who so passionately love the diversity and quirkiness of the brewer's art. We hope our readers will continue to support their favorite breweries and pay an extra few dollars for truly great beer.

The 21st century is a wonderful time to be a beer lover. Never have we had more great beer being made and distributed throughout the country. Growth of the industry depends on your enthusiasm and your ability to excite your friends regarding the life-enhancing rewards of good beer appreciation. "Drink less, drink better" might be a mantra for the new millennium. And bring a friend.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Feb/Mar 2000)

Dear Editor:
You can imagine the joy we felt when we discovered that the first annual Orlando Beer Festival was going on while we were on vacation in Florida. The festival, however, was a very poorly organized event. We waited one hour in line just to get our drinking glass. Apparently, they were checking IDs not once, but twice (just to make sure no one under 21 got through). Then they would put your ID in a necklace and take your money. When we finally got up to the front of the line, the computerized cash register broke and they did not have a backup plan.

Why should drinking beer be such a frustrating experience? I hope the Orlando Beer Festival gets its act together for next year's event. It could be a lot of fun.

Sincerely,
Sue Hullen
via Internet

Dear Sue:
Thanks for your comments. Remember, first-time events are always a challenge, and there will usually be problems. As Mr. Fine points out, this even was a significant improvement over several that have taken place in the Florida region. Hopefully, next year's festival will offer more great beer with fewer exasperating glitches. — Ed.

Dear Editor:
I picked up one of your issues in a pub in the Cincinnati airport, and I would like to know if it is possible to subscribe as a European. Do you mail to Belgium as well? Thanks for your soonest reply.

Stijn
Via email

Dear Stijn:
At the Celebrator, we recognize no boundaries. Here you can subscribe as a human! Only $28 in U.S. funds (OK, we recognize SOME boundaries). VISA and M/C accepted. — Ed.

 

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