Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beer Sales Down in British Pubs

Not good news.

What, oh what, is the world coming to??

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Finally, Science Gets Something Right

The year is 1955. Gasoline (leaded, thank you) costs 23 cents a gallon. America finally breaks its unholy alliance Satan by adding "In God We Trust" to all U.S. paper currency. Rosa Parks becomes the unwitting inspiration for an Outkast song. James Dean's tragic death draws him comparisons among the highly prescient to the unborn Heath Ledger.

And science is on a roll – Atomic power. Velcro. Legos.

But how about this doozy, from Yale professor Dr. Leon A. Greenberg: Beer cannot get you drunk.

Ah yes, 1955. The good old days of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, James Dean (until Sept. 30, of course), and good, sound science. Let's go back to those simpler times, please.

Monday, July 14, 2008

This Bud's Pour Vous

It's a done deal. American brewing giant Anheuser-Busch will be sold to Belgian brewing giant InBev for $52 billion. Ka-ching.

Details here.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Pokal Pilsner Glass

Toss the word "pokal" into any Internet search engine and see what comes back. If Google et al. are to be believed, the pokal is little more narrowly defined as a beer glass than is, say, the pint glass. (In the case of the latter, do you mean a tumbler? A nonic? A tulip?)

Beeradvocate offers this: A pokal is typically "tall, slender and tapered" ... "a European Pilsner glass with a stem."

That's descriptive and potentially helpful, but how "slender" is this offering from Kulmbacher? This and other examples (how about this beauty from Sierra Nevada?) suggest that the pokal as a category is a flexible one – accommodating relative diversity in terms of height, roundness, stemmed-ness, and so on.

Let's go ahead and (OK, arbitrarily) take the glass at the right as our standard pokal. You'll note its tall, narrow body, footed design (in this case, no real stem per se, though it does offer a thick, narrowing base), and tapered mouth. On this last count the pokal differs from other Pilsner glasses you may have seen that feature a distinct flare at the top. (We'll discuss those at a future date.)

Certainly, Pilsner and other lighter beers are most logical choices for the pokal. Anything that is not too heavy on flavors or aromas, or color if you're interested in aesthetics, will find the pokal a comfortable fit. The more delicate the better. (But please – to a point. Let us say unequivocally that it's better to drink a Pils from this glass than an O'Doul's.)

The pokal's design is meant to show off a Pilsner's bright color and clarity. (That may sound like an obvious thing to say about a vessel made of glass, but in this case the pokal's elegant look serves to compliment the Pilsner's brilliance, delicate color, fluffy white head, crisp flavor, and so on. In this way, the refined-looking pokal is a proper match for Pils, which had historically been regarded as a beer of tantalizing luxury.) Also, the glass' tapered top should help gather up head and aromas.

Whatever its precise form, the pokal is likely to make just about any beer look good. And who can deny the allure of a well poured Pilsner (tall, blonde, and available), beckoning the prospective drinker from its elegant vessel?

MillerCoors is Up and Running

MillerCoors, the combined U.S. effort of Molson Coors and SABMiller, has begun operations as of this month.

Here's a press release.

The merger effectively leaves the U.S. with two major brewing behemoths. (The other, of course, being you-know-who.) It's funny – at a time when The Big Boys are seeing their sales drop while imports and craft beers continue to grow, the answer is to consolidate, consolidate, consolidate. (Actually, under that framework, InBev's proposed buyout of A-B is, somehow, both typical and ironic at the same time.)

The big brewers' insistence on More of the Same in the face of shifting consumer preferences is the industry's way of battening the hatches, digging in the heels. Too often the "solutions" these guys come up with – merge distribution channels to increase efficiency and create greater economies of scale; ramp up marketing efforts on behalf of core brands – betray either a tremendous ignorance of the real reasons behind BMC-types' struggles, or an astonishingly dismissive posture toward that reality, or both. Here's what it boils down to: If consumers are increasingly reaching for higher-end, more flavorful, and – saints alive! – pricier brews, the big guys' answer is always (a) find ways to streamline distribution (to what end – improve upon nearly 100 percent market saturation?) and (b) find a way to "reinvigorate" the marketing apparatuses behind brands that already are what they are thanks to years of very effective navigation of the highly competitive world of beer marketing.

And all this will ultimately serve the consumer how? Or respond to changes in the industry (really, changes in consumer tastes) how? Or, in MillerCoors' own words, "build the best portfolio of beer brands in the business" how?

In this last case, I hate to rain on Pete Coors' corporate flimflammery parade with a rational line of thought, but I fail to see how one gigantic macro-lager brewer whose portfolio consists largely of giant macro-lagers merging with another gigantic macro-lager brewer whose portfolio also consists of giant macro-lagers will represent a progression toward "the best portfolio of beer brands in the business." The most homogeneous, perhaps.

Oh, well. Let MillerCoors do what they want. I suspect they'll find this marriage, though unlikely to end in disaster, will not bear the fruit promised by their fanciful mission statement. But it's also unlikely that beer industry executives will stop viewing this kind of move as anything but another in the long line of highly successful maneuvers that have seen 80 percent of U.S. beer market share now consolidated in the hands of two players. It is, on some level – a very significant one, in fact – hard to argue with that kind of success.

It may be tempting to compare this mergers-and-acquisitions game to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but to do so would be exaggerating these companies' challenges, and clichéd, besides. A percentage slip here and there might be millions of dollars off the balance sheet, but there's plenty of space between today's stock price and rock bottom. The icebergs are small and negotiable yet.
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