Monday, October 18, 2010

Sam Adam's - Growing With The Times

From the Magazine
Jim Koch
The Icon Behind Samuel Adams Peers Over a Craft Beer Precipice
by John Holl

Of all the American brewers out there, Jim Koch is perhaps the most recognizable. Like Pavlov’s dog, TV viewers have come to expect him on the screen as soon as they hear the first electric guitar licks of George Throrgood and the Destroyers belting out “Who do you love?”
Those commercials – showing Koch strolling hop farms in Germany, employees smiling and drinking a beer on a Friday afternoon, or brewers talking about the creation of a new brew – have helped consumers connect with Samuel Adams, the flagship line of beers produced by the Boston Beer Company. And it has been accomplished without the very gimmicks that Koch rails against when talking about the big brewers. No slapstick humor, no barely bikini-clad girls or talking animals. Just beer and the people who make it.
Koch (pronounced “cook”), the famed founder of the Boston Beer Co., is credited with shepherding the brewery from a small operation that started in his kitchen and saw him walking from bar to bar with bottles in his briefcase to the largest American craft brewery, now making nearly 2 million barrels of beer annually. Spend some time in craft brewing circles these days and you’re likely to hear a lot of chatter about that number. Brewers, beer drinkers and even folks in Washington, D.C., want to know if when Boston Beer reaches that production milestone, will it still be considered craft?
For now, the answer to that question is no. That’s because the Brewers Association, the Colorado-based trade group that represents small American brewers, defines a craft brewery in part as one that produces no more than 2 million barrels a year. No brewery has eclipsed the mark since it was set back in 2006, and Koch knows that fact well, since he served on the association’s board of directors when the definition was created. Twenty-six years after starting what has become a true heavyweight of American brewing, Koch is poised to outgrow the label he helped define.
When the Boston Beer Co. crosses that 2 million barrels by sales volume threshold – something that could happen this year or next – under the current definition the Sam Adams line of beers would no longer be considered craft. That would be a huge blow to the industry as a whole.
In 2009, craft beer sales grew by 7.2 percent by volume and now account for 4.3 percent of the total beer market, according to the Brewers Association. Craft beer’s growth came as overall beer sales in the United States fell by about 5 million barrels. Samuel Adams accounts for significant chunk of that craft industry growth, and if they were to be lumped in with the big guys, it could mean an overall loss for craft beer sales.
However, all hope for redemption is not lost. The Brewers Association has long viewed the definition as a shifting line in the sand, according to board members and brewers familiar with the process. If a brewery was to get close to the 2 million mark the definition could be revisited, and there have already been discussions on the topic.  It is likely that it will be bumped up to as high as 6 million barrels, according to those in the know. Even that eye-popping number would still be a relatively small output in the brewing world, especially when you consider that the large breweries produce tens of millions of barrels each year, attempting to pass off brands such as Blue Moon, a MillerCoors product, as craft.
 Koch recalled in a recent interview with The Beer Connoisseur that the craft brewer definition was created at a time when his brewery was around 1.2 million barrels. Even at that point, 2 million seemed a long way off. And the thought was, according to Koch, if anyone ever got close to the line the board would reexamine the definition.
Jim Koch pulls a sample from a barrel at Boston Beer’s small Beantown brewery.Jim Koch pulls a sample from a barrel at Boston Beer’s small Beantown brewery.“The original intention was just to say that we’re different from Bud, Miller and Coors and Pabst,” he said. “They are who they are and we are who we are. I think that’s the way the consumer sees it.”
When you consider that the 1,600 or so craft brewers in the country these days only account for about 9 million barrels per year, it’s obvious that the craft segment still has a long way to go. But it has made tremendous progress in the last 30 years.

Koch, 61, says he still enjoys coming to work each and every day and shows the same passion and spirit with new brewery projects as he did two and a half decades ago when he started peddling Boston Lager throughout Beantown. On days when he is at the company’s small research and development brewery in Boston (most of the brewing is actually done in Ohio and Pennsylvania) and tourists catch a glimpse of him, you’d think Mick Jagger had just shown up. People line up to shake his hand, pose for pictures, pepper him with brewing questions and ask for autographs.
Up close and away from the crowds, however, he comes across as a regular, aw-shucks kind of guy with a mid-tempo, gravely voice and a pleasant smile. He’s a natural salesman and has gotten his facts down to simple points that clearly illustrate both the importance and relative size of his brewery. “The big guys spill more per year than we make,” is one familiar Koch line.
He’s proud to talk about his brewing heritage. (In case you hadn’t heard, he’s a sixth generation brewer.) Boston Lager is based on a recipe that was in the family line and given to him by his father. He brewed it for the first time, like so many homebrewers before and after him, in his kitchen.
While it took hard work and determination to launch back in the mid-’80s, Koch had a strategic advantage over others who opened around the same time that helped propel him to the top of the craft sooner than anyone could have expected. The man is incredibly smart. He holds B.A., M.B.A. and J.D. degrees from Harvard University and has brought his keen business sense to the brewing world, watching as Boston Beer blossomed into a company now traded on the New York Stock Exchange. And while some might gripe about his shrewd business dealings – the documentary  “Beer Wars,” for instance, made him out to be a ruthless owner who would not help a former partner out – the fact remains that, at least publicly, his fellow brewers and owners hold him in high regard.
During the hops shortage a few years back, Boston Beer sold cones at cost to brewers around the country. Others are still talking about the generosity Koch and his brewery showed two years ago at the Craft Brewers Conference, where visitors were greeted with a belly-busting New England clambake and bottomless kegs.
Those are just two examples of how large and profitable the brewery has become. It got there through some smart investing, a strong marketing push and, of course, by making flavorful beer. Samuel Adams Boston Lager has led the Boston Beer Co. to become the largest craft brewery in the country and the fifth largest overall in the United States, behind behemoths like Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors and Pabst.
The success of Boston Lager in particular has helped the American craft beer scene overall. It has been a gateway beer, if you will, enticing those who previously might have gone for macrobrews that rely on Beechwood aging or triple-hops brewing to try something new. Liking what they tasted, consumers began broadening their beer horizons, trying other craft beers and digging deeper into the rest of the Sam Adams line to sample brews like the perennial favorite Summer Ale, the beer-geek inspiring Utopias and the wickedly delicious Imperial White.
Koch takes a break from his duties as C.E.O. to inspect some hops.Koch takes a break from his duties as C.E.O. to inspect some hops.
The brewery was ahead of the curve in releasing its own signature glass several years ago, and it even partnered recently with a New York City-based butcher to create a “new” cut of beef to pair with Boston Lager.
The company’s Boston brewery is one of the city’s top tourist attractions. Simply put, Sam Adams is one of the most recognizable beer brands in the country.
The 2 million number also matters to the bottom line of the brewery itself. For tax purposes, the Internal Revenue Service keeps track of the amount of cold wort in fermenters. Michelle Sullivan, Boston Beer’s spokesperson, said the amount reported to the government is not publicly disclosed and, as such, would not be released.
In 1976, Congress passed the small brewers tax differential. Those with less than 2 million barrels of wort pay $7 a barrel on their first 60,000 barrels. Larger brewers pay $9 per barrel. So, when Boston Beer passes the mark – and it is a question of when, not if – the company will owe more to Uncle Sam. In 1986 the government amended the amount for larger breweries to $18 a barrel. Last year Congressmen Richard Neal (D-MA) and Kevin Brady (R-TX) introduced House Resolution 4278, which would reduce the excise tax for breweries from the existing $7 per barrel to $3.50 for the first 60,000 barrels produced. The bill “would also provide a tax reduction from the current rate of $18 per barrel to a reduced rate of $16 for the first 2 million barrels for small brewers that produce less than 6 million barrels,” according to the Brewers Association, which is promoting the bill in Congress.
The company’s research and development brewery is one of the most popular stops for visitors to Boston.The company’s research and development brewery is one of the most popular stops for visitors to Boston.
To match the House bill, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced S. 3339 last May. Both bills have received strong bipartisan support from elected officials across the country, likely meaning good news is in store for the smaller breweries and their bottom line.
Koch, meanwhile, seems unbothered by all the 2 million chatter. “If we ever hit 2 million it would be a keg of beer,” he said. “And half of it would be craft beer? And the other half would be non-craft beer? Or a six pack that will have three bottles of craft beer and three that aren’t?”
For as successful as Boston Beer has become, Koch is determined to keep inventing, pushing boundaries and trying to remember where he came from. In the last few years the brewery has released its Barrel Room Collection, and three beers derived from a 7-percent alcohol beer Koch calls “Kosmic Mother Funk, or K.M.F.” were introduced last year. The barrel-aged beers – American Kriek, New World Tripel and Stony Brook Red – have received high praise from beer aficionados lucky enough to taste them (currently they are only available in the Boston area and in Colorado).
Perhaps the biggest thing to come out of the brewery as of late is the collaboration beer brewed with Germany’s Weihenstephan, the world’s oldest brewery. Koch has been talking about this beer for years and, as of this writing, it is expected to be available this fall. Called Infinium, it is brewed in the Reinheitsgebot tradition, or German Purity Law.  Koch poured samples during a recent event at the brewery, and the unique beer revealed itself to be champagne-like, with a sweet taste and a slightly spicy finish.
“This is a true collaboration. It’s our input, it’s their input,” said Koch. “No one has ever done this. It was a lot of fun. It was crazy.”

While others who played key roles in launching and promoting today’s American craft beer movement have begun to retire (Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing) or are talking about handing the reins over to the next generation (Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.), Koch said recently that he has no plans to step aside or slow down anytime soon.
“I love doing what I am doing,” he said. “I don’t want to work for anyone else.”
As for passing along the keys to the kingdom, Koch has several children, two of whom are now adults, one working as a high school guidance counselor and the other as a public defender. In fact, a beer first brewed for his daughter’s wedding later became the brewery’s recent spring offering, Noble Pils. But at this point, there are no plans for them to rejoin the family business. “I’ve always encouraged them to find their own path and they did,” he said. “They both worked here and they know how to brew. But they found their own careers.”
So the company will remain in his hands for the foreseeable future. Koch holds all of the Company’s Class B Common Stock, meaning that although there is a board of directors and shareholders to answer to, any decision regarding the brewery must receive his blessing first.
He tries to stay true to the homebrewing roots that got him to where he is todThe latest bottling of Utopias weighs in at 25 percent alcohol by volume.The latest bottling of Utopias weighs in at 25 percent alcohol by volume.ay,  a kind of show of thanks to the customers who kept the brewery afloat in the early years. The Samuel Adams Longshot Competition encourages homebrewers to submit beers that are judged by industry professionals, with the winners later brewed, bottled and released by Boston Beer in Sam Adams variety packs. (Full disclosure: This reporter participated in the final judging of this year’s contest.) Winners are announced each year in September at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
Amidst all the conversation about production numbers, Koch seems amused and bewildered at the same time that so much attention is being paid to the 2 million mark. “It’s both surreal and sobering,” he said. “When we first started I wanted to get to 5,000 barrels and eight employees. Obviously we blew that away.” Today the company employs nearly 800 people.
What will he do if the number is changed to, say, 6 million barrels and under to define craft, and then the brewery eventually reaches that lofty milestone? Koch lets out a hearty laugh.
“I guess the most important thing is, if the beer is still the same beer, made in the same way with the same ingredients, what does it matter?”

Original article here:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sierra Nevada Tumbler - Seasonal Brown Ale From Our Friends in Chico

New this season, our friends from Chico, CA developed a Brown Ale for us to enjoy.  This time of year, I'm used to malty Oktoberfests from German brewers, and of course, the local favorite, Sam Adams.  The maltier fall brews, are a nice foreshadower to the high gravity, winter warmer brews lurking around the corner that last us through the cold season until the warming breezes of spring bring us light and refreshing Lagers and Pilseners, that carry the bright outlook of a new year.

From the website:

"As the nights grow cool, the leaves on the valley oaks begin to turn and fall. In honor of this yearly dance, we bring you Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale and invite you to enjoy the show. We use malt within days of roasting at the peak of its flavor to give Tumbler a gracefully smooth malt character. So pour a glass, and grab a window seat to watch as the leaves come tumbling down."

Cool.  Couldn't have been a timlier introduction of a new Brown Ale for me.  Lately, I've been putting in a lot of work investigating the family of Brown Ale's.  I've kinda overlooked them for some time.  I've started seeing posts on blogs and message boards by Brown Ale lovers, that really have a passion about Brown Ale's, and I thought it was time to see what the hoopla was all about.  I have had a Newcastle now and then, and maybe it's my geographical location, or just that it was a slow seller then, but I couldn't honestly say I had consistent experiences with "Newkies".  I don't ever remember a bad experience with one, but just not consistent.  I recall Diacetyl every now and then.  Sometimes sweetness, sometimes dry.  Sometimes biscuity.  Never the same beer twice.

I should take the time to say this now.  In reality, I should probably re-write my about me post.  I was scared witless for my initial blog posts, but now that I have a couple under my belt, I'm getting more and more comfortable with posting, I feel the need to have an over-reaching story arc.  Again, I'm going off the beaten path here.  Since the eighties, I've been "the guy" in the group of friends that always likes "the better" beers.  I'd show up at a house party or football game with a twelve pack of Newkies, Molson, Pacifico, or what have you.  Craft beer wasn't available as it is now, so imports ruled the beer aisle.  Local purchasers at the stores were more apt to order imported beers to bolster their beer case with "high end" offerings.  I'd run the gamut of the brands available.  Searching for a brand to identify with, but really couldn't.  Throughout all my searching, I found something out.  By diversifying my beer palate, I had the freedom to make a choice at the beer case on a Friday night, and it all depended on what I had a hankerin' for.  I wasn't shackled to one particular American Light Lager brand.

I knew nothing of styles.  I didn't know how a certain beer was supposed to taste.  What to expect when I drank it.  Was it strong?  Mild?  Or a session beer?  Was it supposed to finish dry?  Or finish sweet?  Why were Heineken and other green bottled beers skunky?  I didn't know.  I simply didn't understand or know what the heck a Pale Ale was, nor why it wasn't pale when poured in my glass.  My first Bass, I expected something the color of  Michelob.  You can imagine my surprise when I saw and tasted one for the first time.  No one around me knew anything about "fancy" beers.  Fans of Bass couldn't speak as to why it was called a Pale Ale.  No one I knew could explain the difference between an Ale and Lager.  Is a Stout always to be poured from a Nitro tap?  I knew none of this.  So when I had my Craft Beer awakening so to speak, I've had to go back, and start all over again.  I approached familiar beers armed with a critical eye and palate.  Where once I might have dismissed a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale for it's taste, I'd now learned to look at it from a critical point of view.  Educate myself on how it's supposed to taste, and deconstruct it on my tongue.  Decide if I like it, and more importantly, learn from the experience.

I'd learned to approach a drink critically, somewhere around '01.  I had been introduced to Single Malt Scotch.  I couldn't see what all the fuss about "hooch" was.  So I set about educating myself as to what it was exactly that I was supposed to taste or experience while sipping a Scotch.  Applying this method to beer, opened up a whole different world for me.  In a way, it pissed me off because I've apparently squandered many good years on crappy beer or under appreciated "good" beer, that could've been better spent delving deeper into the diversification of styles.

Which brings us to this little gem.  Lately, since I've been focusing on Brown Ales, I stumbled across the Lost Coast Brewery's offering, "Downtown Brown".  A little hoppy, but a nice lactose sweetness on the finish.  It sits really well with me and my tastes.  Unfortunately, for the competitors, Lost Coast hit a home run with me right off the bat, and I've had to stack them all against it.  To me none comes close.  Until, I tasted Sierra Nevada Tumbler.

Not to say the Tumbler is going to knock Downtown off the number one spot in my scorebook, but it's a worthy second.  If not only for taste, but the sheer availability of Sierra Nevada.  I can get a Sierra Nevada in a local chain grocery store.  Lost Coast, I have to map a strike attack to whichever bottle shop I can remember had it.

When I cracked the bottle and began the pour of the Tumbler.  I saw the expected rich, dark colors fill up the pint glass.  A tight brown tinted one finger head formed, and managed to stay intact, with nice lacing being left on the sides of the glass.

The aroma was very, very, very enjoyable.  Slightly sweet smelling, a bit of a hint of nut in there as well, and of course fresh malt.  It was so enjoyable to smell, I was afraid to actually drink the brew for fear that it would ruin my initial impressions.

The first taste wasn't memorable.  It wasn't what was expected.  The beer, freshly poured, seemed spicy, and the disappointingly the roasted malts were too sharp.  The spiciness I could live with, because as opposed to the normal Sierra Nevada way of doing business, this ale was not overhopped.  Instead of showcasing the hops, they, I believe, were looking to showcase the malt in this beer.  As I tasted it some more, I wrote in my notes, "not a knockout".  "Just average".  I remember feeling a bit of disappointment.  I still told myself to reserve final judgment until I have a couple under my belt.  I reminded myself that Brown's are supposed to be sessionable, and each one is probably not supposed to knock your socks off with an over the top brew in each bottle.  I'm finding, that when I come across a beer like that, I don't tend to finish a sixer of them.  I think we're getting so out of focus looking for the next big thing, that we're missing the point of a solid workhorse of a beer that you don't get sick of after a couple.

I didn't have to wait too long before I had another change of heart.  I was watching my Rays fight their way to the Major League Baseball post season, and was engrossed in the game, which allowed me to slow down my drinking of the beer, and allowing it to warm up some.  When it warmed up, the harshness seemed to fade a little, and the complexity of this beer really started to show.  The bitterness and sharpness yielded to hints of dark fruit, and a bit of lactose sweetness that was really enjoyable.  The nose changed slightly as well, but before I could get my head wrapped around the change.  I was done with the beer and got up and poured another.

Which of course, led to another, and another, and another.  A few in, my judgment got a little clouded, but another realization struck.  This is a sessionable beer!  What seems boring or a bit of a let down with just one bottle, becomes a welcome brew to drink one after another while watching a game or whatever with your friends.  At 5.5% ABV, it's not a hammer that'll put you out, but it's still got a sneaky little punch to it that can take the unwary by surprise.  After a few, I became pleased with the beer, and soon found I was out, and immediately started looking forward to the next time I get to try these.

This solid workhorse of a Brown Ale is one that improves or changes with temperature increases, and does not become cloying or annoying the more you drink in a session.  Thank you Chico!

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Chicken in Every Pot, and a Bell's in Every Glass!

With video: Bell's Brewery announces $52M expansion over next six years

Published: Friday, September 10, 2010, 11:30 PM     Updated: Saturday, September 11, 2010, 6:53 AM
bellsBell's Brewery founder Larry Bell raises a toast to all the people who have touched Bell's over the years. Bell announced a $17 million expansion to his Comstock brewing facility during a press conference Friday. The announcement coincides with Bell's 25th anniversary celebration.
KALAMAZOO — Kalamazoo craft beer-maker Larry Bell has announced plans for a $52 million investment over the next five years that could eventually add 50 new jobs and boost his Comstock Township plant’s  production capacity five-fold.

An initial $17 million will be invested largely in 2011 to expand the Comstock Township brewhouse, add fermenting capacity, enhance employee care areas and  provide space and equipment for some new specialty fermentations, Bell said Friday.

That work is expected to be completed by early 2012.

Bell said another $35 million will be spent through 2016 to build out and equip the additional 60,000 square feet of floor space at Bell's Brewery Inc., 8938 Krum Ave., Comstock.

The projects are aimed at accommodating the company’s goal of  20 percent annual growth, Bell said.

The plans were detailed at a press conference Friday at the beer garden behind the brewery’s Eccentric Cafe, 335 E. Kalamazoo Ave., the site for the company’s 25th anniversary celebration this weekend.

While business investment in Michigan has suffered during the economic downturn, Bell credited an “on fire” craft beer market for his expansion plans.

“We’ve seen a 24 percent increase in our Michigan sales,” said Bell.  “We do business in 18 states, but Michigan is our No. 1 state” for sales.

The Kalamazoo entrepreneur said craft beer remains an “affordable luxury” for people who are squeezing their budgets.

“For $10, you can buy a six-pack of what is the world’s best beer,” he said.  “A bottle of the world’s best wine can cost you a thousand bucks.”

Bell's BreweryView full sizeBell's Brewery on Krum Avenue in the Comstock Commerce Park in Comtock Township.
Nationally, Bell said beer sales have been good both for the least expensive brands and craft beers produced by small breweries.  He said large, established brands have seen sales suffer during the recession.

Bell told about 50 employees and Bell’s Beer loyalists that the downtown Kalamazoo cafe expansion underway now is expected to cost about $3 million when it’s completed in early 2011.  The original budget was about half that, according to Bell.

“It’s going to be an awesome space,” he said.

Bell began brewing beer as a lone entrepreneur 25 years ago in a 15-gallon soup kettle.
This year, 115,000 barrels of Bell’s brands will be sold, an increase of 167 percent in the last five years. 

“In this business, if you’re not growing, you’re dying,” Bell told Friday’s anniversary crowd.
The company now employs 115 people, who operate the 33-acre Comstock Township brewery or work at the downtown Kalamazoo cafe or an Isabella County farm where the company grows barley used in its brewing.

Bell said architectural plans for the next phase of Comstock Township expansion are ready and brewing equipment is expected to be lined up when company officials attend a November trade show in Germany.

The initial $17 million phase is expected to be competed in six months.

It was an emotional Bell who raised a cup of his beer in a toast Friday to “everyone who has touched the brewery,” from Kalamazoo municipal workers who keep the water supplied, to the bottle and label makers, to the delivery drivers and pub owners.

Bell’s Beer T-shirts dotted Friday’s crowd, representing a progression of apparel the company has hawked with its libations over 25 years.

The owner admitted he had conducted an “archeological dig” to unearth his own, original circa-1986 T-shirt.

“The only problem is, it’s a medium,” Bell said, acknowledging his shirt size has expanded with the business.

Contact Kathy Jessup at or 269-388-8590.

Original Story Here

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Pabst Blue Ribbon Renaissance

New owners hope to cash in on Pabst's cachet

Big plans for beer that has evolved into an unlikely hipster favorite

Advertisement | ad info
By Matt Schwartz
updated 2 hours 37 minutes ago
On a July afternoon, Evan and Daren Metropoulos, the new owners of Pabst Brewing, showed up at the lounge on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental in midtown Manhattan. They had come to discuss their plans for Pabst, which their father and co-owner, C. Dean Metropoulos, bought in May for about $250 million.
The Oriental does not serve Pabst Blue Ribbon, the company's flagship brew, so the brothers ordered a lemonade and an iced tea. A hotel like the Mandarin may seem an unlikely meeting place for the owners of a beer that has long traded on its working-class image — the Lutz Tavern, a dive in Portland, Ore., is more like it, where 16-ounce tallboys go for $1.75. But the Metropoulos brothers were very much at home. They were passing through on their way to a wedding in Rhinebeck, N.Y., of an old friend from Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where they have summered since they were boys. Evan, 29, divides his time between Miami Beach, Los Angeles, and New York City. Daren, 27, lives in Los Angeles, in Hugh Hefner's old residence, a 7,300-square-foot English manor house he recently bought for $18 million.
Evan, in a green polo shirt and gold necklace, has a generous build and gregarious manner. Ideas for the future of Pabst's portfolio of brands spilled out of him in an entrepreneurial stream of consciousness. Daren, who occasionally interrupted, was in a navy blazer and button-down shirt. He is narrower, quieter, and cleaner shaven than his effusive brother.
Evan had been thinking about Red White & Blue beer, one of the company's roughly two dozen defunct brands, which they hope to revive. "What if we made that the military beer?" asked Evan. "What if we gave a huge portion of the proceeds to military charities — a grassroots program with military families? Why shouldn't Red White & Blue be the absolute American beer for the American soldier? We'll bring, you know, the Rotary Club, the veterans."
"To help collaborate and get involved," added Daren.
"To support our troops," Evan continued. "We could develop a whole beer brand around our troops. So that when you see Red White & Blue at your barbecue, you know that money's supporting people who have died for our country. Those are ways that Budweiser will never be able to relate to. They're not American, like us."
"This is an American company serving the American people," noted Daren.

Evan began to get worked up, saying: "If you knew that 25 percent of your proceeds from Red White & Blue Beer were going to support these charities, then shame on you for drinking Bud Light! What the hell are you drinking that for? To support some foreigners?"
The brothers went on to lay out the Metropoulos strategy — a series of grassroots campaigns targeting regional markets. Celebrities, musicians, and local festivals would figure prominently. Lone Star, their Texas label, might sponsor rodeo riders. Primo, a Hawaiian beer, might build relationships with big-wave surfers. These campaigns would be supported by their father's knack for winning over distributors, as well as new product and flavor launches to build out Pabst's portfolio of brands.
Not present that evening, but central to the plans, was their father, 64, a billionaire known as "Mr. Shelf Space" for his ability to boost the sales of supermarket brands. The senior Metropoulos started out with a feta cheese business in Vermont and has established a long record of turning around names like Bumble Bee Tuna, Perrier-Jouët, Chef Boyardee, Duncan Hines, Aunt Jemima, Vlasic Pickles, Swanson frozen dinners, and Ghirardelli Chocolate. He bought Pabst from the charitable trust of Paul Kalmanovitz, the company's late owner, acquiring a trove of musty American beer brands, among them Colt 45, Old Milwaukee, Primo, Rainier, Schaefer, Stroh's, Schlitz, Schmidt, Lone Star, National Bohemian, and the flagship, Pabst Blue Ribbon. The company, based in Woodbridge, Ill., has about 200 employees and more than 80 trademarks and 42 beer brands, fewer than half of which are active. The beers are brewed through a contract with MillerCoors, according to Pabst's specifications, many at factories once owned by Pabst.
With the acquisition, Metropoulos has taken control of a murderer's row of brand names — if it were 1973. Of the 10 best-selling U.S. beers that year, Metropoulos now owns the brand names for the second, third, sixth, seventh, and eighth slots: Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schaefer, Stroh's, and Falstaff, respectively. None is in the top 10 now. Metropoulos sees that as a tremendous asset. "Americans are beginning to be drawn to nostalgia," he says. "They want brands that they remember being identified with their community and region."

In most of his previous deals, Metropoulos entered into partnerships with private equity firms and investment banks, and later sold out. With backing from the Texas-based buyout firm Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, Metropoulos bought International Home Foods in 1996 for $1.3 billion and sold it to ConAgra for nearly $3 billion in 2000. Along with J.P. Morgan and J.D. Childs, he bought Pinnacle Foods in 2003 and sold it to the Blackstone Group for $2.2 billion in 2007.

Pabst, says Metropoulos, is different. It's the first purchase Metropoulos has made without outside capital or an exit strategy. With Evan and Daren at the company's helm beside their father, the Metropouloses see Pabst as a platform for possible future acquisitions, and the foundation of the family's legacy.
"This is a trophy property," says Evan. "This is like an antique, unrestored Duesenberg, which we'll own for the rest of our lives."
If it is like an old car, Pabst Blue Ribbon has performed the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-like trick of restoring itself, and the challenge for the Metropoulos family may be to stay out of the way and let the miracle keep happening. Over the past eight years, Pabst Blue Ribbon has reversed decades of slowing sales. After bottoming in 2001, sales of Pabst began to rebound, flattening out briefly in 2005, and then rising again with an increase of more than 20 percent in 2009.

The PBR renaissance can in part be traced to the marketing practices of its former owner, Kalmanovitz, who did no marketing at all. He oversaw a hostile takeover of the company in 1985 and quickly cut the company's advertising budget, bled the company of cash, and focused on developing the brewer's real estate. This led to a generation of beer drinkers who hadn't heard from Pabst, and who liked that. If they had any impression of Pabst, it came through the remembered refrigerators of their fathers and uncles, or Dennis Hopper's character in Blue Velvet expressing his strong preference for the brand. But it didn't come from the kind of messages that companies like Budweiser and Miller spent three decades slapping on every leasable surface. When the children of the late 1970s and early '80s reached legal drinking age, Pabst Blue Ribbon was waiting for them, a beer that offered the same inoffensive pilsner flavor as the mass-market brews but at a lower price, and without any marketing baggage.
"It was serendipity," says Kevin Kotecki, Pabst's chief executive. "There were a few wise people here who recognized the trend and started to slowly capitalize on it." Pabst marketers gave the brand a few careful nudges — like sponsoring bike messenger events and inviting artists to produce Pabst-related works. Gradually, with the brand's image being crafted not by the company but by its consumers, the beer spread into the hands of the hipsters who flock to neighborhoods like Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Silver Lake in Los Angeles. Along with Chuck Taylor sneakers and fixed-gear bicycles, Pabst became one of a handful of badges for a subculture that prides itself on its contempt for convention.
The Metropoulos brothers marvel at the beer's heritage. "A lot of blue-collar workers I've talked to say 'I've been drinking a six-pack of Pabst, every single day, seven days a week, for 25 years,'" says Evan.
"It's, like, habitual," says Daren. "It's part of their life. It's their lifestyle."

Unlike Kalmanovitz, the brothers take their marketing seriously. In the three months since the Metropouloses acquired Pabst, the brothers have personally brought the beer into more than 250 new restaurants, supermarkets, and bars. Among them is Avenue, a $2.5 million "gastrolounge" in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan with a nearly impenetrable guest list. The brothers have Hollywood connections, and they are working them. There are talks with Snoop Dogg to get the rapper behind the launch of new Colt 45 flavors, which Evan described as "colorful, ripe, tasty, vibrant flavors that will incorporate 5 percent juice into the malt liquor."
"Snoop's mother drank Schlitz," Evan added. "He told me so himself!" In the coming months Funny or Die, the comedy website founded by Will Ferrell's production company, will begin producing sketches incorporating Pabst products. "The brothers' energy and positivity are just infectious," says Martin Lesak, an agent at Creative Artists Agency who helped put together the Funny or Die deal. "Evan said to us, 'We want to win. We want to blow these brands out, explode them, and make everyone lots of money.' I was down with that."
The Metropouloses are betting that the authenticity of the brand, when properly managed, can be scaled up and even exported. In China, a Pabst licensee already sells "Blue Ribbon 1844" for $44 per bottle, a special formulation using German caramel malts and aged in oak whiskey barrels. The Chinese vendor is emblematic of the Metropoulos ambition — to replicate the PBR resurgence and turn Pabst Brewing into the last grand old beer company owned by Americans and known worldwide.

Even as Pabst has grown over the past few years, consolidation in the beer industry has made it a comparatively smaller player. Two giants, Belgian ABInBev, which owns Anheuser-Busch, and London-based SABMiller, which operates MillerCoors as a joint venture with Molson Coors Brewing, control 80 percent of the $100 billion U.S. beer market. The two giants have had success pushing American-branded macrobrews overseas, but in the domestic market they've been losing share to niche players. Among the new offerings are "malternatives," which include sweet drinks like Mike's Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice; and ultra-premium craft brews from companies like Full Sail and Sierra Nevada. Craft brewing sales rose 12 percent during the first half of 2010, pointing to a seventh consecutive year of outpacing the beer industry as a whole.

This flight from mass-market beer is especially dire in the so-called premium segment — the heavily advertised macrobrews like Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Genuine Draft, and Miller Lite. Sales of Budweiser fell nearly 10 percent between the second quarters of 2009 and 2010, and only four of the country's top 30 brands, PBR among them, are growing. Drinkers looking for quality are buying craft brews; those looking for a cheap buzz are switching to nearly identical "sub-premiums" like Busch, Keystone Light, and Pabst Blue Ribbon.
"For PBR, any market share growth is going to come from premium lights — Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light," says Harry Schuhmacher, publisher of Beer Business Daily. "Pabst's taste profile is similar — a light lager. It's in a sweet spot. It costs less, but you're not ashamed to bring a 12-pack to a party. Pabst is cheaper, but it still has cachet."
"They need to keep doing what they've been doing," said Anthony Bucalo, an analyst who covers the beer industry for Credit Suisse. "Keep the brands local, hip, and organic. They can't screw that up and lose the core hipster drinker that's brought Pabst so much success."
Keeping advertising below the radar could be essential to the brand's continued growth, says Ted Wright, who worked on the team that managed the Pabst resurgence. "PBR was authentic because they were broke," he says. "When you're a salesman and you don't have money, then ipso facto you are authentic. There's no radio, no TV, no guy up there saying 'Hey, kids, PBR is cool!'"

Pabst Blue Ribbon sales totaled $165 million in 2009, according to SymphonyIRI Group, 42 percent of Pabst Brewing's total revenue and enough to offset laggard brands in the stable, such as the No. 2 and 3 brands, Old Milwaukee (down 11.8 percent this year) and Colt 45 (down 2.7 percent). Total company sales growth was 4.7 percent. With Pabst Brewing accounting for less than two percent of the U.S. beer market as a whole, a tiny sip of Anheuser-Busch InBev's market share would mean huge gains for the Metropouloses.
On a conference call with all three family members a few weeks before the meeting at the Mandarin Oriental, Evan sounded eager for competition. "Failure is not an option," he said. "We're going to look at this as a war."
His father gently reprimanded his son, then set forth a softer approach. "The world is a big place," Metropoulos said. "We have a wonderful portfolio that has a place in the heart of Americans across the country. Now, it's all about nurturing."

A few weeks later, father and sons drop by the Breslin Bar & Dining Room adjoining the Ace Hotel in New York, a restaurant resembling a vintage hunting lodge, with dark wood and nostalgic knickknacks. Evan bustles right over to the bartender and introduces himself. As Dean stands back and looks on approvingly, Evan pitches Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz, and McSorley's, which Pabst markets on contract.
When the brothers were young, says Dean, they were nearly thrown out of an A&P on Martha's Vineyard for rearranging the tuna display. "But they own the company!" Dean told the manager, who finally agreed to let the boys move Bumble Bee to the front.
Evan trades cards with the bartender, then joins his father in a booth. Dean has senatorial hair and frank blue eyes. He is dressed impeccably in a gray suit with a fine check and a subtly patterned tie. He orders tea and shows off congratulatory e-mail for his purchase of Pabst. He notes that a young descendant of the Schaefer Beer dynasty sent along a copy of a family photo album with shots of the brand's old brewery on Fifth Avenue. The son of a friend told him about Pabst's following among Harvard students. "Every day I get these," says Dean. "People go wild. I've never had a brand talk to me like this."
One of the secrets to marketing, Dean says, is to "live the brands, to experience them, to feel them myself, and then make the consumer a part of that. Paying someone to say 'Oh, I'm P. Diddy and I'm drinking Perrier-Jouët' — that's not us. If we happen to know a celebrity and they happen to appreciate our brand, that's different. But it needs to be organic. Authentic."
As an example he cites Jeremy Shockey, another friend of the brothers. On the celebrity-tracking website there's footage of Shockey, a tight end for the New Orleans Saints, leaving a bar with the brothers, his arm over Daren's shoulder, wearing a PBR T-shirt and giving an impromptu tribute to the beer.
At the Breslin, Dean points out a sign hanging on the wall, a brass bull with glowing red eyes framed by the words "Schlitz Malt Liquor." Like Pabst, the sign had probably gathered dust for years before being recommissioned to authenticate the Breslin, which opened in 2009. "That's our bull," says Dean. "That's history."
Copyright © 2010 Bloomberg L.P.All rights reserved.

Original Article Here. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale

I've seen this beer around for years now, and never had the gumption to give it a try.  For one, a pumpkin spiced beer ain't my bag baby.  Two.  It's a Shipyard product.  I'd had given Shipyard a go at a Beer Fest, and was summarily unimpressed.  So much, to the point I'd never go out of my way to purchase their product.  It was that bad, and I couldn't see where they would charge such a high price for such a spectacularly awful beer.

Last night, I was at my local Mellow Mushroom Pizzeria, enjoying a Mighty Meaty with my wife, and I decided to try out a seasonal ale.  I only started tasting seasonal pumpkin flavored ales last year.  I'm not one for anything with pumpkin flavor, it just doesn't sound appealing to me.  I believe I tried a Dogfishhead Pumpkin Ale last year.  It wasn't that strong in the pumpkin flavor, so it was a good door to open and try out the style without scaring me off.

Having trepidation about ordering a Shipyard product over a beloved local beer (Cigar City Maduro Brown).  I rationalized away the Shipyard choice by remembering all the cases and sixes of the stuff I'd seen clogging up the local bottle shops the last two weeks, and the smiling clerks, trying to foist this crap on me by saying it's one of the biggest sellers this time of year, and just positively flies off the shelves.  Oops, I kinda tipped my hand there didn't I?  I digress though.  So I weigh out what has been told to me, and figure it's only one draft.

The waitress brings me my draft.  Zero head.  Can't blame most pourers though, they're trained to serve Bud/Miller/Coors in other establishments to folks who see beer foam as being cheated out of an ounce or two of beer.  The color looked good.  I couldn't tell that well though.  The lighting was off in the venue, but the beer itself seemed to have a bit of a reddish tint to it.  The beer was served in a Sierra Nevada Glissade pint glass, which allowed me to get a whole noseful of aroma.  Which, I have to admit.  It wasn't bad.  A wholesome scent of Pumpkin Pie spices.  Nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon et-al.  They were all there.

The first sip was another story entirely.  Unlike my recent Miller adventure, where the foul smell of the beer foreshadowed the bad flavor to follow, the Shipyard brew made a liar out of my nose.  It smelled good and inviting, but the underlying beer, was no where close in taste to what I thought I was going to get.  It wasn't.........bad.  It just wasn't good.  There was a taste of the spices that could be smelled, however, it seemed, if possible, that there were two separate things going on.  It's like two separate liquids were poured into my mouth at the same time.  One being carbonated water, the other being something with a hint of Pumpkin Pie.  It was a weird experience.  It's almost like there was a dividing line that could actually be discerned between the added flavor and the base beer.  Not a carefully crafted beer with exotic spices allowed to meld into the character of the beer.  No not at all.

I started to plough the pint in order to get rid of it, and move on to something more enjoyable, but something happened.  My pizza arrived.  With the pretzel dough crust, tomato sauce, cheeses, and rich meats, the pizza provided a perfect dance partner for the subpar base beer.  It actually erased the flavor of the base beer, and what was left was the mixture of holiday spices.  Which alone, blended beautifully with whatever was going on in my mouth from the pizza and its ingredients.  And sadly enough, I'd gone through it fast enough, but now I was enjoying the hell out of it with the pizza, and I wanted more!  By the time the waitress got around to getting back to us, we were finishing up with eating, and one of our sons had called needing a ride somewhere, so we had to leave.  I was not going to be able to get another pint of anything with this meal.

Granted the experience changed vastly when paired with food.  It still didn't make up for the fact that it seems to be a badly made beer, and is not enjoyable when consumed alone.  A beer should be able to show it's strengths when it stands alone, and sadly, this beer has no strength whatsoever.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Budweiser Losing Sales and Image Sinking


"With its brand sales sinking and its image losing ground, Budweiser is launching a new marketing campaign to freshen its image that involves pushing free beer and a more up-to-date Bud image to younger beer drinkers, according to a report in USA Today.
In order to appeal to the prime under-30 beer consumer group that has ignored the Budweiser brand, starting Monday the brewer plans to launch its biggest-ever national free-sample effort in bars and restaurants under the slogan “Grab some Buds,” the newspaper reports. The beer giveaways will culminate on Sept. 29, when Budweiser will host the “Budweiser National Happy Hour.”
Unit sales of Budweiser are down 9 percent this year and fell by the same amount last year, the paper reported, citing data from the Beverage Marketing Corp.
Beer drinkers have lost loyalty to Bud over the past seven years, according to the article. Upscale consumers have turned to craft beers, while price-conscious shoppers have traded down, and others have switched to light beers, USA Today said.
© 2010"

This reminds me of a discussion some motorcycle friends and I are having about Harley.  While Harley has immediate brand recognition, and are woven into the cultural fabric of America, as well as Budweiser, it seems that both have ignored the key younger demographics that will keep their brands relative as their core consumers age.

Let's face it.  Alcohol and motorcycles are not something everybody can continue enjoying after a certain age.  Though I don't profess to know the strategies behind Anheuser-Busch's marketing teams, it has seemed to this humble writer that they didn't have a plan.  Hubris ruled.  They were the biggest baddest cat in the jungle, pretty much synonymous with "beer".  Being that, they didn't have to exert much effort to maintain brand loyalty.

As the nineties deepened into the new millennium, craft breweries started taking a foothold, and consumers have been given choices.  Faced with those choices, consumers are voting with their wallets, and those opting for craft beer are eroding the stranglehold the big breweries have had on the markets.  In my opinion, this could have been reversed by spotting the trend earlier, and either bolstering the flagship brand by reworking the recipe to be close to the original, or developing other new and exciting flavors under the parental umbrella.  It can be argued that American Ale, BL Wheat, and BL Lime fit that bill.  It is true, but, it is a little to little, a little too late.  The ship had already sailed, and now they are scrambling to catch up.

I'll be so bold to make a prediction and you'll read it here first.  My prediction is that InBev and the Budweiser team start to tweak the formula for Budweiser in a bid to gain back some market share.  If they do, only time will tell if the experiment will be a home run, or a New Coke.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Miller High Life - The Champagne of Beers

Last year during the summer, I made a point to make the rounds of  the beers of my elders.  I wanted to find out what was or wasn't good about these beers, and I'm getting ahead of myself here.  I'll save that story for another time, but the whole idea was to find out why or what the appeal was of what we are taught to be "cheap" beers.

I can actually remember my first taste of beer.  I was four years old, and it was my grandfather's Schaefer.  He was enjoying it in a proper pilsener glass.  I can recall being drawn to the brew by the way it bubbled in the glass, and it's golden color.  I thought I'd be drinking something akin to Ginger Ale, and the adults were more than happy to get a laugh at my expense, for the sure to be made face at the bitter flavor in the stead of the expected sweetness.

I know some of you may find this notion preposterous, but that first sip always stuck with me since that age.  It was fresh, bitter, and clean all at once, and the mental file it created immediately, was used to compare all subsequent tastings of beer from there on out.  As well as my first Budweiser.  Occasionally, I'll have a crack at a Bud, and even rarer, every once in a while, depending on the situation, the first whiff of that brew, and it takes me back to a chill autumn night in Upstate New York, standing around a bonfire at age thirteen, and I was handed an ice cold Budweiser from a cooler with beads of water running down the side, and a fresh, clean tasting beer on the inside.  Up to that point in my life, I'd never had a finer beer, and replaced the Schaefer as the standard to judge all beers moving forward.  It was a damn fine beer, made in another time (Fall of '81), and I'd suspect the recipe has changed over the years, but occasionally, I get a hint of my first memorable taste of that beer.

There were many other opportunities to try beer as I got older, and as I mentioned, I'll save that for another time.  My household, was an Anheuser Busch household.  Most beer related products brought into the house were branded within' the company's umbrella.  No my dad wasn't an employee.  He just preferred their products.  My Uncle on the other hand.  He was a Miller man.  His beer of choice was Miller High Life.  The Champagne of Beers.

Given my past penchant for wrangling beers as a minor.  I of course had to get a sample of this strange looking beer in a clear glass bottle.  I can't recall any earth shattering aha moments on my first drink.  No mind and sense burning epiphany's that would follow me well into adult life to use as a measuring stick against all subsequent beers.  I can't recall any negativity in the flavors.  It was just, there.  A beer.  As I got older (and legal), I would notice that anything brewed by Miller that I would consume, would cause me to get a sour stomach.  This caused me to have a bias towards Miller products through the late eighties and early nineties.  This bias formed an habit to avoid Miller products as they were deemed unworthy of me due to the side effects.

Fast forward to last summer.  A new saloon had opened within' my immediate neighborhood.  Of course, it has to be checked out.  The tap selection was uninspiring, but one obscure tap, off to the side bore the name "Miller High Life".  According to the bartender, that was their "slum tap".  At two dollars a pint, I couldn't argue either.  I'd ordered a couple here and there.  It wasn't bad.  A little too sweet sometimes seemingly due to adjuncts which I'm guessing would be corn.  This taste from last year, prompted me to give the old workhorse another shot, at home, in the bottle. 

I pour a bottle into a pint glass, and take my first sip.  First impression was okay.  Nothing major going on here, and again, a hint to sweet from adjuncts maybe.  Continuing to drink, I noticed the weak head went away early on, but there seemed to be a bit of carbonic bite going on.  The beer was bubbling wildly in the glass, and the aroma was fair.  In addition to the sweetness, towards the end of the glass, the aftertaste seemed to be metallic.

This would all be forgivable in the price point, but to be honest, Old Milwaukee, and Pabst are a better tasting and put together beer in the price point.  What happened next was unforgivable.  I poured a second beer into the same glass, and sat back down in my chair.  As I brought the glass to my lips, my nose rankled at the smell coming out of the glass.  Pure sulfur.  No exaggerations either.  I remembered the old jokes when I was a kid, that I'd hear the adults say about a cheap beer.  "Brewed from the sewage treatment center."  "Brewed from (insert the name of any polluted and fetid body of water near you here)!"  Etc.  This smelled like it was brewed from a dirty diaper.  Tasted like such too.  The smell of sulfur was so strong, the beer of course tasted like it as well. 

I choked as much as I could down and dumped the remainder in the sink.  I grabbed a piece of cheese out of the fridge to get the taste out of my mouth, then rinsed with water.  After about twenty minutes.  I grabbed a fresh glass, and poured another Miller.  Again.  The sulfur thing going on.  This is not good.  My home brewing experience tells me a couple things.  Sulphur odor can be a by-product of Lager yeast in the fermentation process, but should dissipate with age.  Or it's a by-product of an infected beer.  Either way, it's not good in the finished product. 

Being a glutton for punishment.  I decided to go back to the well.  This time, instead of pouring into a glass to "enjoy" the wonderful fecal aroma.  I kept it in the bottle.  While this kept the aroma from tainting my taste immediately, the hint of sulfur was still present in the flavor.  As the beer warmed up, it became pronouncedly worse.  This of course, ended up being a dumper as well.

All-in-all, I gave it a shot.  I tried to be a trooper and see if the flaws of the beer were just limited to one bottle by trying multiple beers different ways.  I've seen enough out of one batch, that I won't be giving The Champagne of Beers any further chances to redeem itself.  Champagne of Beers?  Eh, rather Champagne of Sewage.