September Beer Roundup

Here are some articles about beer that I thought were interesting.

“September 9 Day of Action Planned to Urge Passage of Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act.” The Brewers Association  and other allied trade associations such as American Mead Makers Association are spending today lobbying  for passage of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, S.362/H.R. 1175. The bill would make the temporary tax benefits that brewers, distillers, and other actors in the liquor industry received from Trump’s tax cuts of 2017 permanent Those tax cuts flowed mainly to very rich people and corporations while poor and working-class people received little benefit. Brewers did not complain since they were also beneficiaries of the law.

The liquor industry like other businesses has suffered during the pandemic. If the tax cuts go away, it could worsen their economic situation. This article reports that two breweries with beer gardens and beer-to-go in Everett Massachusetts have closed because a customer went bar hopping while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.

The Great American Beer Festival has been held for thirty-nine years. This year it will be virtual. I have always wanted to go but I haven’t made it out to Denver yet. The upside of everything being virtual during the pandemic is that you can attend events that in real life you might not have been able to go to. It runs October 16–17. On the 17th Marcus Baskerville, Weathered Souls Brewing Co. , will be speaking about the Black is Beautiful brewing project that I wrote about here.

Magic Hat

Last month, the owners of Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewery, FIFCO USA, a subsidiary of Florida Ice and Farm Co. announced it was moving all Magic Hat production to the Genesee Brewing headquarters in Rochester, N.Y. This move, during COVID-19, meant that forty-three people lost their jobs. Magic Hat had employed forty-six people in Vermont.

Bob Johnson, the original brewer, and Alan Newman co-founded the brewery in 1994. Newman sold the company to North American Breweries in 2010. He feels that was the end of Magic Hat as an innovating craft brewery. KPS Capital Partners formed North American Breweries to manage its beer investments.

Companies like KPS buy breweries as an investment; they do not really have any interest in running the company or building the business. They cut expenses, which usually involves cutting jobs, extract value and then sell the company. That is what happened to Magic Hat. In 2012, Magic Hat and the brewing investments were sold to FIFCO for $388 million dollars.

In 1994, at the time of Magic Hat’s founding, there were only a few other breweries and a few brew pubs in the state. Greg Noonan founded Vermont’s first brewpub in 1988. Today, Vermont has 61 breweries. In 2018, Vermont breweries produced 350,000 barrels (61 gallons per barrel) which had a value of $362 million dollars.

Magic Hat’s story of being a pioneer in craft brewing, seeking to expand and then being sold for investment value could be the tale of many of the country’s over 7,000 brewers as they faced the economic consequences of COVID-19.

For more information about Magic Hat’s move, click here

 

 

Methylated Spirits Revisited

On Sunday my site got 155 views. On Monday  121. That is a lot more views than I usually get. Most of them were to read my post on methylated spirits which is almost seven years old. I don’t really get it since when you google “methylated spirits” my post doesn’t come up.

I was going to tweet about this, but since Twitter still won’t let me tweet my URL, I decided to write a short post about it instead. The problem with Twitter is over 2 years old. I don’t think it will ever get fixed.

I am little afraid that the sudden increase in views  was some kind of hack, but everything seems okay. If anyone knows why there would suddenly be so much interest in methylated spirits, please let me know.

Denatured alcohol

The Liquor Industry and COVID-19

At the beginning of the year, thing were looking pretty good for all segments of the brewing industry. Local and state municipalities see craft beer as an important economic driver, That’s why a tax cut was part of Trump’s disastrous tax bill and why this year the industry got an one year extension for that tax reduction. Then COVID-19 happened.

Most states have closed bars and prevented restaurants from providing in house service. They are allowed to provide grab and go service. How has this affected brewers and distillers?

Here is a roundup of articles about how the liquor industry is faring during the pandemic. Like everything else in our society, regulations surrounding certain practices are being  loosened or abandoned. When this is over, many thing will be different.

Deschutes Brewery has laid off  over 300 workers and is not presently offering any to-go services.

The governor of Rhode Island  issued an executive order  that allows limited sale of beer and wine when people are getting takeout from restaurants.

Last Saturday, some Milwaukee brewers had a pop-up  brewery drive-through in a parking lot.

Before the virus, only  twelve states allowed  delivery of all  kinds of liquor while thirty-one states allowed  delivery of beer and wine. This article is arguing for a permanent change in these regulations.

Reminiscent of Prohibition, distilleries are producing hand sanitizer. The relief bill passed last week allows distilleries to do this without having to pay the excise tax.

I hope everyone is safe and stays well.

Social Drinking

Can you be a social drinker? I recently read an article in The New York Times that would suggest the answer was no. The article itself was interesting and the comments were even more interesting. The vociferousness of the comments that defended drinking indicates that drinking in America has been normalized. The recent Atlantic article that asked why there is no anti-alcohol movement explored some of the reasons for that normalization. When I was at my writing retreat this fall, one of the other attendees was a woman who has recently stopped drinking and has a blog about it.

Prior to Prohibition, the temperance movement saw drinking as being both a moral and societal issue. They sought a civil response to the problems of drinking. Although prohibitionists counseled individuals to have the moral and individual strength to stop drinking, the movement sought to remove drinking from society through political and legislative means.

Since Prohibition, the liquor industry has been very successful in framing drinking and the serious issues it can cause as an individual disease. There have been some moments where the public health analysis of alcohol and the society-wide problems it causes, have been in ascendance. Both the movement to decrease drunk driving and the 1991 tax increase on alcohol had public health components.

Today the liquor industry is completely in control and health information detailing problems with liquor go nowhere. On television you see public service announcements on tobacco and vaping. There are none about drinking.

Here is a picture of a cirrhotic liver as one example of the damage excessive drinking can do to your body and health.

Cirrohotic Liver

Maine Beer

I recently read an article about Maine beer. The state is second, after Vermont, in the number of breweries per capita. Maine has over 80 breweries.[1]  Maine’s love of beer is a recent development. Here is an explanation from Brewing Battles.

“In Jacksonian America, the various states regulated the retail sale of alcohol, placing license fees on dealers as a minimal control on consumption. The growing temperance movement attacked the license system as inadequate and advocated new legislation. By 1850 reformers had moved from local control of liquor sales to statewide prohibition.[2] In every northern state except New Jersey and Pennsylvania legislators enacted or popular referenda passed “inclusive prohibitory or constitutional measures.”[3]

“In the 1850s, no state had the police capacity to enforce the provisions of this legislation, known as the Maine Law. As a result, advocates of the legislation created extra-legal groups, ostensibly to gather evidence and swear out complaints. Unfortunately, the “leagues” often overstepped these boundaries, generating violence. Both retailers and drinkers refused to accept the legitimacy of prohibition legislation. Liquor sellers organized to fight the Maine Law and the extra-legal enforcement “leagues,” and German and Irish immigrants opposed the law for cultural and economic reasons. The working class as a whole also resisted state intrusion into customary behavior.”[4]

Maine was the first state to pass such a law. Most states repealed the legislation by the 1860s. Maine repealed its law temporarily but reinstated it in 1857 and didn’t repeal it until 1934.[5]

Today, however, Maine is a poor state and beer is a source of reliable revenue. You can go on a Maine Beer trail and visit some of the over 80 breweries. We will be in Maine in August and I plan to visit at least of few of the breweries on the trail. I’ll let you know about the results.

 

[1] https://www.craftbrewingbusiness.com/news/infographic-what-states-have-the-most-breweries-per-resident/

[2] Tyrrell, Sobering Up, 226.

[3]; The Cyclopaedia of Temperance and Prohibition, (New York, 1891), 275–361.

[4] Tyrrell, Sobering Up, 290–307.

[5] William L. Downard, Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980), 17.

Happy July 4th

In honor of the Fourth of July, here is an article about the top twenty-five beers in America, according to home brewers. I haven’t drunk many of them so the article has given me a goal.

Apparently today is  “National Independent Beer Run Day”; a day that the Brewers Association made up to get consumers to buy  independent, that is not macro beer, for the holiday. Marketing schemes like this are not new.

After Repeal, brewers attempted various campaigns The most prominent one was for bock beer in the spring. Here is another post from my pre-WordPress blog. It was for the Session, which was a blog carnival, which stopped publishing in 2018.

July 4, 2008


The Session #17: Going Against the Grain: Drinking Anti-Seasonally 

In my book, Brewing Battles,I explored the attempts of the immediate post-Prohibition brewers to develop a marketing strategy that would cover all seasons. The centerpiece was bock beer; for the journal, Modern Brewery Age,  this beer was the epitome of spring.

In the years before beer marketing was national and also before wide spread air-conditioning, the summer months usually saw an up surge in beer sales. However today it is not clear if increased beer drinking is so synonymous with warm weather.

Brewers vary in their focus on bock beer as a harbinger of spring. On a personal level when it is very warm I prefer a lighter beer such as a heifenweizen with a lemon. I also like a shandy or panache but I have been told that brewers dislike such combinations.

The Session is a blog carnival originated by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer.  For a summary of the Sessions thus far, check out Brookston’s handy guide

 

 

Light Beer

Recently the New York Times had an article about craft brewers trying to create new  craft version of light beer. This is a bit like trying to square a circle since low calorie beers are generally also low in taste  and represent the largest selling beer in macro brewers product lineup.

Here is an excerpt from Brewing Battles about Miller’s creation of lite beer.

Following the purchase of Meister Brau, Miller began working on its own low calorie beer. In 1975 Miller unveiled Miller Lite and made history. John Murphy, the McCann Erickson advertising company, and Miller Brewing, using the resources of Phillip Morris, unleashed an advertising campaign on an unprecedented level for the brewing industry. With their clever, sports-driven television commercials, Miller created a new product and greatly accelerated the consolidation of the brewing industry. Miller expended vast sums to market and promote Miller Lite which eventually prodded Anheuser–Busch to develop its own light beer, Bud Light, and match Miller’s advertising spending. Ultimately most of the country’s other brewers could not keep up. Miller steadily and rapidly gained market share, not at the expense of Anheuser–Busch but by incapacitating Pabst, Schlitz, and others.[1]

Miller wanted people who liked sports to drink Miller Lite; the company’s advertising used sports heroes to drive home the point that men drank the new beer. Matt Snell, a New York Jet who had played in Super Bowl III in 1969 when the Jets beat the favorite, the Baltimore Colts, was in the first Miller Lite commercial. This first ad was not funny and used the tag line “new lite beer from Miller is all you ever wanted in a beer and less.” The focus was on carbohydrates; eventually “less filling” became the key message.[2]

The second commercial was with Mickey Spillane, the crime writer, and Lee Meredith, a Playboy Bunny of 1973. Meredith was “the doll” in the commercials that tried to be funny about athletes and their unsuccessful flirting with a beautiful woman. The appearance of the athletes in the commercial legitimated the masculinity of drinking Miller Lite and indicated that the market for sports was nationalizing as was the market for beer.

The final tagline for the commercials became “Lite Beer from Miller. Everything you wanted in a beer . . . and less.” Many of the spots featured athletes and other figures debating between “tastes great” and “less filling.” It took Anheuser–Busch over a year to respond. The company essentially copied Miller’s advertising strategy and lured away several of the athletes including Mickey Mantle.[3] Ironically, Mantle would die in 1995 following a liver transplant that was necessary due to advanced alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver.[4]

Figure 20: Lite Point of Sale, 1976. Photo courtesy of Miller Brewing Company Archives.

[1] “150 years of Miller beer”; Frank Deford, Lite Reading: The Lite Beer From Miller Commercial Scrapbook (New York: Penguin Books, 1984), 30.

[2] Deford, Lite Reading, 31.

[3] Ibid.,  34, 43, 49.

[4] Joseph Durso, “Mickey Mantle, Great Yankee Slugger, Dies at 63,” New York Times, August 14, 1995, A1.

Mergers

Yesterday, Mammoth Brewing Company announces that it will acquire Great Basin Brewing Company. The sale will be final  some time this summer.  Great Basin is the oldest and largest craft brewery in Nevada while Mammoth is the oldest in Eastern Sierra. Both are fairly small breweries; the sale will enable the new company to brew 40,000 barrels. Previously each produced about 15,000. You can read more about this merger here.

In the 1950’s and 60’s small and medium size breweries sought mergers and combinations to better compete against  Anheuser-Busch and the other large brewers. Here is a an excerpt from Brewing Battles about the various mergers.

From 1950 to 1980 there was much movement among the top ten producers of beer as the industry continued its trend towards greater concentration.

Liebmann Bros owned and brewed Rheingold Beer, which was sixth in 1950. After Repeal, the company expanded through acquisitions, but Pepsi Cola United Bottlers purchased it in 1964. At that time, only the Brooklyn and New Jersey plants remained in operation. Chock Full O’Nuts, the coffee company, bought Rheingold in 1974 and closed the Brooklyn brewery in 1976. In 1977 C. Schmidt and Company, tenth in 1980, bought the brand.[1]

In the 1990s, and again in 2003, the owners of Rheingold Brewing Company attempted to revive both the company and its famous Miss Rheingold contest. In 2005, Drinks America bought the brand; the company also distributes Willie Nelson’s Old Whiskey River Bourbon and Trump Super Premium Vodka.[2]

Although in 1953 Schlitz lost its number one ranking due to a Milwaukee strike, the brewery continued to expand, purchasing four breweries that all went out of business between 1949 and 1964. The biggest acquisition was, in 1961, Burgemeister, located in San Francisco and the third largest brewer in California. In 1964 Schlitz also purchased a thirty-four per cent share of Labatt of Canada which controlled General Brewing Company, San Francisco. Burgemeister and General were responsible for twenty-seven per cent of the California beer market.

Following Schlitz’s purchases in the early sixties, the federal government filed an anti-trust suit against the brewery. At the same time the government was also suing Pabst for its acquisition of Blatz in 1958, Falstaff for purchasing Narragansett, and Rheingold for buying Jacob Ruppert.[3] In the 1950s the government had pursued anti-trust action against Anheuser–Busch for its purchase of the Miami Regal Brewery.[4] In 1965, Norman Klug, president of both the USBA and Miller Brewing testified at the Schlitz trial that the company’s acquisition of Burgemeister had adversely affected Miller’s sales. In 1966 United States District Judge Stanley A. Weigel ruled that Schlitz had to divest itself of Burgemeister and could not acquire any new United States plants for ten years.[5]

In 1958 Pabst bought Blatz Brewing, which was the country’s eighteenth largest at the time. The company had been ninth in 1950; Schenley Distilling owned it. Because both Pabst and Blatz were Milwaukee brewers, the federal government sued under anti-trust laws, seeing their combination as monopolistic. Pabst denied the government’s claim, stating in its defense that the company was “a failing firm at the time of the acquisition and that therefore, there was no adverse effect on competition.”[6]

Although the combination of Blatz and Pabst would have created a concentration of brewers in Milwaukee and the surrounding states, it would have also created a larger company to compete with Anheuser–Busch and enabled Pabst to stay more competitive on a national level. Over ten years later, Pabst sold Blatz to Heileman following completion of litigation. Pabst Brewing currently owns the brand; Miller brews the beer under contract. It is for sale in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota. Blatz was one of the big three of Milwaukee brewers in the nineteenth century and was the first to go national.[7]

Blatz Beer. Photo courtesy of Pabst Brewing Company.

[1] Downard, Dictionary, 159; Will Anderson, The Breweries of Brooklyn: An Informal History of a Great Industry in a Great City (New York: Anderson, 1976), 100-111.

[2] Patricia Winters Lauro, “Advertising,” New York Times, February 2, 2003, C8; “Rheingold Beer,” http://www.drinksamericas.com/brands/rhein.htm. (accessed January 24, 2007).

[3] Leonard Sloane, “Problems Are Brewing in Beer Industry,” New York Times, December 14, 1966, F1; Tremblay, Brewing Industry, 86.

[4] Anheuser-Busch Companies. Annual Report (St. Louis, Mo: Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc, 1958).

[5] “Sales Cut Cited,” New York Times August 18, 1965, 45;”Schlitz Ordered to Drop Holdings,” New York Times, March 25, 1966, 59.

[6] “Pabst Suit Revived By Court,” New York Times, June 14, 1966, 65.

[7]; “Advertising: Blatz Goes to Campbell-Mithun,” New York Times, August 18, 1969, 52; www.pabst.com  Pabst Brewing Company, (accessed January 1, 2007); Downard, Dictionary, 23.

In the News

Here is a look at some articles about beer and distilled spirits that I have read recently.

George Lenker, the Beer Nut, writes about a new craft beer bar opening in Northampton. It is in my neck of the woods so I will definitely try it and let you know what I think.

Mankato, Minnesota was the home town of Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy-Tacy Books. I loved the books when I was growing up and last year I re-read them all. This article is about a brewery in Mankato. I hope to visit Mankato some day and see Lovelace’s house.  Now I will also plan on visiting the brewery.

The final article looks at craft beer and distilled spirits across the country. The author picks a local beverage for each state. The pick for Massachusetts is Mystic Brewery’s Table Beer which is a saison . Some of the other choices sound really good. I will keep them in mind when I am traveling.