Why Reporters and Journalists Should Not Participate In The Beer Journalism Awards…

Entering its fifth year, the Beer Journalism Awards is a program sponsored by the Brewers Association trade group that seeks to recognize “outstanding media coverage that increases beer enthusiasts’ understanding of the diversity and flavor of American craft beer.â€? Originally started by Ray Daniels, the original Director of Craft Beer Marketing for the former Association of Brewers, the program has proven a popular conduit between the association, which represent small American craft brewers, and the writers who cover the trade. According to the Brewers Association, the program has grown in submissions by 156% (58 in 2006, 136 in 2007), with a greater number of entries expected in 2008. The program has also been newly renamed in honor of legendary beer writer Michael Jackson, who passed away in 2007. Past winners include Lisa Morrison, Stan Hieronymous, Julie Johnson Bradford, Fred Eckhardt and several others.

The 2008 awards is sponsored in part by the Boston Beer Company, the Brooklyn Brewery, and the Rogue Ales Brewery. The program highlights the work three journalists each year in the following three categories:

  • Consumer Print Media: For work appearing in general circulation consumer print publications such as daily newspapers, as well as consumer-oriented news, food, and lifestyle magazines. Any publication that is not routinely focused on beer qualifies for inclusion in this category.
  • Consumer Electronic Media: Eligible work includes coverage which runs on broadcast or cable television or broadcast radio as part of a program aimed at a general consumer audience. Content that appears on the Internet on a general interest consumer site in which the site name and the preponderance of content are not concerned with beer will be considered in this category.
  • Trade and Specialty Beer Media: This category includes work appearing in publications and on programs that routinely focus on beer in their editorial content. This would include newsprint “beeriodicals,â€? and magazines concerned primarily with beer or brewing as well as programs that routinely concern themselves primarily with beer. Internet sites where beer is the primary focus will be considered in this category. Internet radio programming dedicated to beer is also included in this category. Please note that these awards focus on beer appreciation, so content that is significantly concerned with “how toâ€? aspects of brewing beer as a hobby or profession will not be considered. Should a question arise regarding the proper classification of an entry according to these categories, the Brewers Association will be the sole and final arbiter.

Entries can be advanced by the journalist or by a member brewer with the permission of the journalist.

The three winners of the competition, the closing date for which is July 31, are expected by the Brewers Association to attend the awards ceremony at the Great American Beer Festival held in Denver, Colorado, in October. The association pays the airfare from the recipient’s home state (up to $350), two nights in a hotel, Denver-area ground transportation (up to $50), $23 per day food per diem for each recipient, and an honorarium of $500. Winners of the Beer Journalism Awards are excluded from entering the category they won in for three years after winning.

I have entered the competition in the past, as well as a predecessor competition sponsored by the North American Guild of Beer Writers. In going over my work for the past year, I began to take a closer look at the somewhat vague and indefinite criteria listed in the Brewers Association’s guidelines. Over the past year, I have mainly written columns and news pieces for BeerAdvocate Magazine, columns and feature articles for Beverage Magazine, and a miscellaneous assortment of pieces for this website. And while I have generally been happy with the quality of this coverage, and it has attracted interest from both consumers and the trade, I initially wondered more about the criteria behind the judging of the Beer Journalism Awards. My interest was also piqued by the inclusion of a guideline, which I believe is new this year, that “only coverage/stories on ‘American’ craft beer will be accepted.� Considering the controversies raised over the Brewers Association’s definition of ‘craft brewer’ and its deliberate announcements that it was not trying to define ‘craft beer’, I started to think a bit more about the competition in general terms.

As readers of this website are aware, I’ve written a few times (a few too many some have said) over the past year about the ethics of beer writing and their importance in plying the journalism trade. After pondering the subject and doing some additional research, I went back and reconsidered my work over the past year. Avoiding too much self-reflection, suffice it to say that much of my work, especially in the Unfiltered column for BeerAdvocate and on my website, is contrarian in nature and hardly the kind of pro-industry prose that one would assume to fair well in a competition sponsored by a trade group. And in fact, I have written several articles about the Brewers Association itself or touching upon its policies and actions, some of which I agree with and others that I do not. And that is when I stopped to reconsider the Beer Journalism Awards and whether writers and journalists, on an ethical level, should be participating in them.

In trying to make up my mind, I decided to speak with Julia Herz, Director of Craft Beer Marketing for the Brewer Association and the person in charge of running the Beer Journalism Awards. Ms. Herz has done a very effective job of refocusing the association’s once scattered approach to marketing. From the outset, it is easy to understand why the association and its trade members would want to sponsor an awards program for journalists who cover their business efforts. In this respect, the awards, which “help our members acknowledge and recognize coverage of American craft beer,� serve as another marketing tool that helps court favor from the journalists. It encourages positive coverage of craft beer and brings journalists into the association’s fold. In short, it’s smart business for the association and its members to embrace those who cover their business interests.

While the Brewers Association and its staff would not likely deny this goal, they also speak about reaching out to writers who often toil in anonymity and rarely receive much compensation or attention for their efforts. “In our business, there is not a lot of time for brewers, who get a lot of love from the media, to say ‘thank you’ directly to the journalists,� said Julia Herz.

Ms. Herz was also able to answer some questions I had about how the judging process works. After the entries have been received, approximately 20 to 30 judges will receive copies a select number of entries for their review. The judge panel is comprised of Brewers Association staffers and member brewers who have not nominated any entrant. The top three or five entries are then provided to a new set of judges in a final round of judging.

The association provides an evaluation sheet that lists the judging categories and criteria, which include accuracy, quality of writing, and whether the entry overall “meets the objectives� set forth by the competition. According to Ms. Herz, these objectives include assessing whether the entry “increased consumer understanding of the diversity of American beer, whether it discussed the 1400 plus small breweries in America, whether it educated consumers about various beer styles produced in the U.S., and whether it discussed beer flavor characteristics or pairings with food.� In determining whether the entry focused on ‘American craft beer,’ the association does not define the term according to Ms. Herz. Instead, the Brewers Association allows judges interpret the guidelines in their own, personal ways. Accordingly, an article focusing on Blue Moon or Michelob Porter could be considered as coverage of American craft beer, depending upon the judge’s interpretation.

In discussing the possible ethical issues facing writers who are considering participation, Ms. Herz noted that “certain journalists cannot accept the awards due to the rules of their organization or publication.� She also noted that participating journalists can decline any part of the remuneration offered as part of the contest.

From my perspective, I see several potential ethical problems with participating in the Beer Journalism Awards. As many contest participants may be only occasional journalists, let’s start with the note that certain journalists are actually prohibited from participating in the awards. At the Kansas City Star, all editorial employees, full or part-time, freelance or contract, regardless of their position, title, beat or personal circumstance, are covered by the newspaper’s Code of Ethics. The Kansas City Star’s policy starts with this caution.

If we expect readers to view us as credible, then Star editorial employees must aggressively seek and fully report the truth while remaining independent and free from any legitimate suggestion that their independence has been compromised.

After detailing a litany of possible situations and the prescribed ethical actions, The Star then covers ‘contests.’

CONTESTS

Staff members may not enter articles, photographs or graphics published in The Star in contests that are not sponsored by professional journalistic organizations. An exception would be a contest of journalistic excellence sponsored by a foundation, university or organization deemed by the managing editor or Editorial Page editor to be free of commercial, partisan or self-serving interests.

No awards of significant value may be accepted from any organizations other than those just described. In cases where a staff member’s work was submitted by some person or group outside The Star, the employee should check with a supervisor to make sure the award can be accepted.

No staffer may use The Star’s name to enter any contest without the approval of the managing editor or Editorial Page editor.

I believe The Star’s policy and guidelines describe a traditional approach to journalistic ethics. A quick review of the policies of news media outlets across the country confirm this general prohibition to be a standard in the industry.

The Orlando Sentinel’s Editorial Code of Conduct provides:

Contests and awards. Staffers should not enter contests sponsored by trade or advocacy groups – even if those contests are administered by a journalism organization or school – because they may exist primarily to promote those groups’ agendas. The Editorial Department maintains a list of approved national, regional and state contests whose central purpose is to recognize journalistic excellence. Staffers who want to enter contests not on the list must first obtain the permission of the Managing Editor or Editorial Page Editor. Staff members also should refrain from accepting unsolicited awards from trade or advocacy organizations.

The Fort Worth Star Telegram’s code of ethics counsels

CONTESTS:
Staff members should not enter contests without approval of managing editors or the editorial director. With approval, they may enter contests sponsored and judged by selected journalistic and professional organizations. Entry fees for a select number of contests will be provided by the Star-Telegram.

The Los Angeles Times requires:

Awards

Staff members should enter their work only in contests whose central purpose is to recognize journalistic excellence. The Times does not participate in contests that exist primarily to publicize or further the cause of an organization. Under no circumstances may staff members accept awards from groups they cover. A staff member who is offered an award should consult his or her supervisor before accepting it.

New Hampshire Public Radio informs its employees:

XII. Miscellaneous

1. We do not enter journalism contests or competitions when they are sponsored by groups that have an interest in influencing our coverage. All entries for contests or competitions must be approved by the Managing Editor or designee.

And finally, and more comprehensively, the New York Times provides:

Entering Competitions and Contests

45. Staff members may not enter local, national or international competitions sponsored by individuals or groups who have a direct interest in the tenor of our coverage. They may not act as judges for these competitions or accept their awards. Common examples are contests sponsored by commercial, political or professional associations to judge coverage of their own affairs. Senior newsroom managers may make exceptions for competitions underwritten by corporate sponsors if those are broad in scope and independently judged by journalists or disinterested public figures.

46. Staff members may compete in competitions sponsored by groups whose members are all journalists or whose members demonstrably have no direct interest in the tenor of coverage of the field being judged. Staff members may act as judges for such competitions and accept their awards. For example, a staff member may enter a university-sponsored competition for coverage of foreign affairs but not accept an advocacy group’s prize for environmental coverage.

47. Each newsroom’s management should maintain a current list of competitions it has approved. Staff members who would like to enter others should consult the responsible news executive. A critical factor in approving a competition, whatever the sponsorship, is a record of arm’s-length decisions, including a willingness to honor unfavorable reporting. Staff members who win unsought awards from groups that do not meet the criteria established here should decline, politely explaining our policy.

A problem that occurs within the beer writing and journalism community is that many reporters operate as freelancers for publications that do not clearly set forward their ethical requirements. Worse yet, as I have written before, many editors ingratiate themselves in to the beer industry they cover to an extent that their employees and contractors would not otherwise know any ethical issue was raised.

Even though the publications that I write for generally do not have written ethical code, I have decided not to participate in the Beer Journalism Awards for a number of reasons. First, as noted about, participation in a competitive event that allows a reporter’s work to judged by the subjects of the work is professionally inappropriate and has a chilling effect on the reporter’s objectivity and independence. It allows the association, with a vested interest in a particular type of positive coverage, to pick and choose the pieces they believe best fit their interests. The Beer Journalism Awards, however well-intended, is not a journalism contest but a competition to determine which journalists can best portray and market the Brewers Association and its brewer members. Second, it is clearly inappropriate for a reporter to accept financial remuneration from the subject of his or her work. I believe this to be a core and irrefutable ethical guideline for journalists and reporters. And finally, I’m troubled that a journalist or reporter can be nominated by a member brewer with the permission of the journalist, a recent addition of the contest that the Brewers Association has heavily promoted on its electronic listserv and to brewery members. This all-too-cozy partnership between the reporter and the subject, which occurred 40 times last year, threatens a journalist’s independence. I personally do not believe that reporters can ethically participate in the Beer Journalism Awards and would counsel fellow journalists to either decline to participate or to withdraw their already provided submissions.

Be Social:

You Think You Know IPA?

A few months back I wrote about a gang of revolutionary brewers who knowingly disregard style guidelines in favor of less restrictive pastures. These “free-form” radicals, as I called them, challenge tradition and history in order to expand the way people think about beer. As a lover and defender of brewing history, I somewhat disdainfully shook my head at the whole, disorganized practice.

Countless breweries around the world tout their allegiance to strict style guidelines and traditional ingredients as the basis for their claims of quality and character. In doing so, They vaguely point to hundreds of years of brewing heritage, often in particular styles, to justify their place in the international brewing pecking order.

But what if those beer styles that many others and I have so lovingly written about only exist in our modern imaginations? What if Michael Jackson, Fred Eckhardt, and the other present day keepers of the guidelines’ bible actually had it wrong about the styles we accept as gospel and without question?

Enter Ron Pattinson, a beer writer, historian, and bon vivant who writes a quirky and curiously titled blog called Shut Up About Barclay Perkins. While most beer lovers who give a moment’s thought to beer styles may know nothing of official style guidelines, Ron has developed a passion for debunking beer style myths. He scours old brewing textbooks in a range of languages to discover long hidden secrets about the world of beer. Reading his posts, which often include detailed accountings of brewing ingredients, grist ratios, gravities, and how they have ebbed and flowed over decades upon decades. For beer and history geeks, Ron’s historical research offers a rare glimpse opportunity to gain greater appreciation about the development of beer, recipes, breweries, and the changing palates of beer drinkers over the course of centuries of brewing.

This historical research, and other recent similar efforts, also offers students and guardians of beer styles a chance to rethink the work of those who set the definitions that we have come to know so well in the last thirty years. Think you know the story about India Pale Ales? Of course you do. It’s the one where British brewers sent highly hopped, high alcohol versions of their pale ales to the country’s outpost in India, right? While we can agree that the IPA style started in Britain, a batch of historic evidence suggests that the original versions sent to India were actually a form of beer concentrate, which local brewers then watered down. The old brewing and news texts do not make the well-worn story seem so sturdy. The actual numbers from several British breweries in the 1800 and 1900s suggests that IPA was a relatively weak beer when compared to pale ale.

When IPA traveled from Britain to the United States, Ballantine’s IPA, weighing in at 75 IBUs and 7.5-percent alcohol at its peak, became the standard bearer for America’s version of the style. From that point, the nature and definition of IPA changed and few hopheads have bothered to look back at history. As an example, the Beer Judge Certification Program, which certifies and ranks more than 2500 beer judges for local and national competitions, has developed its own very detailed style guidelines. In its definition of the IPA style, the BJCP instructs judges that “The term ‘IPA’ is loosely applied in commercial English beers today, and has been (incorrectly) used in beers below 4% ABV.” Incorrectly? While the IPA style is now less common in Britain than it is in the United States, does that make our modern take on the original the correct one? That seems a depressingly bold assertion of brewing hegemony by a country that can only boast the creation of a handful of beer styles older than a decade or two.

It is hard to say what should be made of style autocrats who demand rigid adherence to current, written descriptions. It is also sometimes difficult to see the relevance of modern style guidelines when old brewing texts tell us enticing tales of extinct German fruit ales, smoked Berliner ales, and about weiss beers that did not originally contain any wheat at all.
Despite our best marketing efforts and our convincing storytelling, our modern interpretations on the traditional styles cannot be said to be the definitive representation of the historic offering. And while I’m not convinced that free-form brewers decided to reject styles because of a few charts in a dusty, old Eighteenth Century German brewing manual, even the strongest proponents of style adherence have to acknowledge that sometimes its impossible to truly know living, breathing things.

–Article appeared in Volume II, Issue V of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

Be Social:

Welcome to Portland, Maine, the Best Beer Drinking City in New England…

When I was giving talks and doing press interviews in support of The Good Beer Guide To New England, I would inevitably get asked about my favorite New England beers, breweries, and brewpubs. A less frequent question that I spent little time pondering was what city is the best for beer drinking in New England. As with my selections of Great Beer Bars, a few ground rules are necessary in this intellectual exercise. Of beer bar greatness I have written,

These places excelled in several crucial respects, including “extraordinary selection of craft beers, respect their clients in terms of keeping prices fair, hold events promoting craft beers (from beer dinners to brewer meet-and-greets), make craft beer key to their business, and also offer true character as pubs.�

When it comes to defining a great beer drinking city, many of the similar criteria apply (and it certainly helps to have some great beer bars in your pocket). In addition to possessing a few great or good beer bars, a great beer drinking city will support a few to several local breweries and brewpubs. You should also look at how well craft and better beers in general have integrated into your local scene. When you patronize a local restaurant or even a chain, how is there beer selection? In cities, such as Portland, Oregon, where integration of better beer into the local scene is seamless, you can find excellent craft offerings even at the most pedestrian restaurants, say a hole-in-the-wall Chinese place or even a TGIF’s. You’d also like to see a host of beer related events throughout the year, from larger festivals to smaller, more locally oriented events. Pricing is of course importance. Better beer doesn’t do you much good if you can’t afford it. And finally, proximity and size of the town itself are factors to consider. Of course, cities such as Chicago and New York by their sheer size have a larger volume of drinking establishments to offer. Quantity doesn’t mean quality and an unscientific weighting has to take place to give smaller cities a chance to compete. Obviously, this whole process is hardly a quantifiable pursuit. I also have to take into account that I simply prefer the beers produced in certain towns and the general feel of the drinking vibe of some as compared to others. Now there are inevitably other criterion I have missed and I’m happy to reanalyze with your suggestions but I think we’re off to a good start.

Here in New England, several cities vie for the title of Best Beer Drinking City in the region. While listing my top cities, I think its important to do some geographic arithmetic. Of the top cities, the Massachusetts nominees include Boston (including Brookline), Cambridge (including Somerville, i.e. the near North of the River communities), and Northampton and Amherst. Maine offers Portland. New Hampshire offers Portsmouth. Rhode Island offers Providence. Vermont offers Burlington. Connecticut doesn’t really have a competitive offering but I’ll be polite and suggest New Haven.

Without extolling the virtues or decrying the flaws of particular places or breweries and pubs in each city, I’ll cut to the chase. The top three nominees are Boston, Burlington, and Portland. While I love Amherst/NoHo, the scene is just too small to sustain the title and they offer no breweries. The same fate befalls my home town of Cambridge and nearby Somerville. Portsmouth offers both a brewpub and a brewery but no beer bars and again is too small to compete. Providence is of sufficient size but its two brewpubs do not provide enough substance to rise to the competition. While a good stop for a night, New Haven really shouldn’t even be competing here.

That leaves Boston, Burlington, and Portland. While it may be a bit surprising, I think Boston places third on this list. I’ve done the city a real favor by tossing in Brookline, which includes the Publick House and soon the Road House, even though it’s not at all part of it. While Boston offers three brewpubs, a brewery, and two Great Beer Bars and two good beer bars, it’s actually not a great drinking city for other reasons. Boston is a city dedicated to the average, pedestrian bar experience. Walk into nearly any bar in the city and you will see the same 6-10 taps. Harpoon IPA, Harpoon UFO or Blue Moon, Bass, Budweiser, Bud Light, Sam Adams Boston Lager, Sam Adams Seasonal, Stella Artois, Guinness, and then a shortlist of other stand-ins, be they Smithwick’s, Harp, Old Speckled Hen, Miller Lite, or Coors Light. With its predisposition towards prefabricated pubs, such lists are not surprising. In a city the size of Boston, it’s not surprising that you would find some solid beer bars. When I start to ruminate on Jacob Wirth’s and Doyle’s Cafe, I start to rethink a third place slot. But when you really have to search for them, the city deserves to be docked a few points. The presence of Beer Advocate and its beer events (of which I am usually a part) add back to the positive side of the ledger. But that a city so well known for beer offers three brewpubs, all of which are part of chain operations, is troubling. And while Harpoon is certainly a consistent, serviceable, and solid craft brewery, the brewery’s products don’t offer a lot of inspiration to consumers (although the upcoming Leviathan series may change that). And no, the limited presence of Boston Beer doesn’t add much when gauging the city’s place in the region’s beer scorecard. The city would seem ripe for a small, inventive brewpub or brewery to target niche consumers, similar to the way the Surly Brewing Company has successfully competed in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market.

That leaves us with Portland and Burlington. Perched on beautiful, opposite ends of New England, these twin Queen cities really offer the beer drinker a range of offerings. Despite their small sizes, neither forgoes quality or makes excuses. At nearly 40,000 people, Burlington is by far the smaller of the two (Portland clocks in at 65,000, compared to 650,000 for my Boston/Brookline hybrid). Despite its size, Burlington is all about the beer. It is the home of the quirky Magic Hat Brewing Company, one of the nation’s fastest growing craft breweries. Magic Hat sponsors an annual Mardi Gras parade down the snow covered streets of Burlington and offers some seriously odd tours. It also can’t seem to grow content with any one flagship product, constantly switching up their available beers and keeping it interesting. The old standby, #9, remains to this day an interesting pint and the recently released Lucky Kat is an unusual IPA anywhere in the country. Burlington’s downtown is perhaps the only place in the world where you can visit three brewpubs in a three block walk (with two of them, the venerable Vermont Pub and Brewery and American Flatbread-Burlington Hearth, directly across the street from one another). Greg Noonan of Vermont Pub has helped push craft brewing in Vermont and beyond and his smoked porter helped reinvigorate a dying method of adding flavor to beer. At American Flatbread, Paul Saylor produces some of the region’s best beers and has also selflessly promoted other better beers, from Vermont and beyond, in his own pub. Down the street, the funky 3 Needs remains the town’s bad boy brewpub experience, although a littles less so without the smoke. Burlington also hosts the fantastic Vermont Brewers Festival on the banks of beautiful Lake Champlain.

On the other side of New England, the City of Portland is an eclectic mix of different elements and interests. Portland is home to a surprising number of breweries, five in total. I am including Sebago in this list even though it is located in nearby Gorham as Sebago still owns two tap rooms in the city where its beers are delivered for fresh consumption right out of the tank. The others include Allagash, Geary’s, Shipyard, and Stone Coast. Even with the loss of the Stone Coast Brewing Company (and its excellent Knuckleball Bock), which is rumored to be closing August 1, the city remains a tough competitor. Add to that the presence of Great Beer Bar The Great Lost Bear and things look good for Portland. The city also hosts the long running Maine Brewers Festival and the Bear hosts a series of fun beer events throughout the year, including a competition among the city’s brewers in a consumer poll.

Needing to confirm my feelings, and because of a trip with friends, I visited Portland again this past weekend. While Gritty McDuff’s, a brewpub that serves classic English-style ales, remains a great place to spend a snowy, Winter afternoon, and Sebago’s Old Port pub is the perfect place to end an evening, I was most interested in stopping by two new places that could seal the deal for Portland. Well, we went one for two which isn’t too bad. The Prost International Beer House is located right in the Old Port and promised a German themed beer experience, an angle sorely missing in most of English-oriented New England. I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up because these things don’t usually work out very well. That was the case with Prost.
We stopped by late in the afternoon, but before it grew dark (beware the nightclub crowd after dark). Prost felt like a German themed Bennigan’s or TGIF, with a sterile environment where the theme made little sense. In a bar where women were made to wear tartish dirndls, you shouldn’t be surprised that the place only serves two German beers. The plastic encased German themed menu was ridiculous both in presentation and content. It’s a German restaurant in theory but it serves Italian and Spanish sausage? And just because you add a German name or reference to a pedestrian American food item does not make it German (waffle fries called Luft Waffle Fries, the Zimmerman Nachos) and why is Shepherd’s Pie on the menu again? The skull and crossbones on the menu designating the higher alcohol beers notations would make good evidence in a lawsuit for over-serving or make you think the beer is poison. The waitress immediately apologized for several missing beers despite advertisements that “Yes, we really have 100 taps.” Just don’t expect them to be filled.

Disappointed, we traveled to Novare Res, a place run by Eric Michaud, formerly of the Moan and Dove in Amherst, Mass. You can immediately sense the connection upon entering the small, oddly shaped space. The tap list is straight out of the old M&D playbook, with a solid range of Belgian ales and German lagers tossed in for good measure. Beers were properly presented and served and tasted clean. The large and spacious outdoor deck more than doubles the size of the place and is a bit of a novelty in downtown Portland. Having only recently opened, the place is still experiencing some hiccups but nothing it won’t overcome. Add to the mix occasional events with breweries and you’ve found an excellent addition to the Portland scene.

Digressions aside, despite its small size, Portland offers a whopping number of good beer choices. With its diverse beer offerings, from breweries producing a wide-range of world class beers to homey beer bars and a Belgian beer cafe, reasonable prices, welcoming drinking vibe (except very late on weekend evenings), Portland is my choice for the Best Beer Drinking City in New England.

Be Social:

Anheuser-Busch Sold To InBev; Boston Beer Becomes Largest American Owned Brewery…

With the recently announced sale of the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company to Belgian-Brazilian brewer InBev, which creates the world’s largest brewery, it’s interesting to take a second to consider one of the unusual side effects of the deal. Anheuser-Busch has long been the largest American brewery and it has spent a lot of marketing time since the sale of Coors Brewing to Molson Brewing and Miller Brewing to SAB in promoting its ties to America. From Budweiser, the Great American Lager, to other nationalistic appeals, the American in Anheuser-Busch has been a strong selling point for the brewery and its brands. With its sale to a multinational corporation, these appeals will quickly drift away.

In looking to the list of America’s largest breweries, it’s interesting to note that with the recent sales, Boston Beer Company is left as the largest American owned brewery. I am excluding the Pabst Brewing Company, which has a larger production volume than Boston Beer by several million barrels, because it is a beer marketing company with no actual brewing facilities of its own. And while Boston Beer does a fair amount of contract brewing, it owns several of its own facilities and its percentage of in-house production continues to climb. I’m not sure if the achievement of a craft brewery becoming the country’s largest American owned brewery is something to celebrate or just behold. In any event, it is certainly telling of the hyper competitive state of the international brewing scene.

One other consequence of the deal, if it survives regulatory review in several countries and shareholder agreement, is that breweries such as Old Dominion, Widmer Brothers Brewing, Redhook, and Goose Island (less directly through its part ownership by Widmer) will become distant members of the global InBev family.

How the deal will affect distribution channels and craft breweries in particular is going to debated for months to come.

Edit: After reviewing the web a bit, it appears that Jay Brooks has scooped me on the above point, kudos to him for similar thinking.

Be Social:

Anheuser-Busch’s Latest Appeal To Your Xenophobia…

Anheuser-Busch wasted no time today in crafting a response to potential suitor InBev’s preliminary move to replace the American brewer’s existing board of directors with InBev’s own nominees, including several friendly members of the Busch family. Among the expected discussions about a low-balled asking price and how the company would restructure was this curious tidbit.

Shareholders also should be aware that InBev, through a subsidiary, has a significant partnership with the government of Cuba to produce and distribute products in Cuba. InBev has not commented on how that would impact business with Anheuser‑Busch’s customers, nor on its ability to complete an acquisition under U.S. laws that affect acquisitions of U.S. companies by foreign companies.

Hmmm, that was a little unexpected. A little research shows that the offending, Castro loving beer brand is Bucanero, the second largest brewer in Cuba. The brewery was part of a joint venture between Labatt, which later became part of InBev, and the Cuban government in 1997. That’s right, InBev bought a brewery that several years earlier had set up a brewery in Cuba.

Helms-Burton legalese aside, one would hope that A-B has more defensive options in its pocket than a flat nationalistic appeal to its shareholders, which include many institutional investors. One trade paper suggests that InBev’s Cuban beer business represents a little over three-one thousandths (.0003) of a percent of InBev’s global beer volume.

This may be easier than Carlos Brito first thought.

Be Social: