stone sues millercoors

Breaking Stones: Stone Sues MillerCoors

It was a big week in San Diego craft beer. Stone Brewing announced in a cheeky video that they were suing MillerCoors for trademark infringement. In the video, Greg Koch holds a Keystone Light beer (owned by MillerCoors) with the large, incredibly visible word, “Stone,” spanning the entire can and announces the suit. Watch for yourself below…

Koch states, “We believe that MillerCoors is intentionally and deliberately trying to create confusion in the marketplace with the Keystone brand.” He holds up the can and well, it sure looks like he’s holding a can that says “Stone” in big letters on the side. What’s the issue with this? Well, perhaps, Koch says it best when he says definitively, “In the world of beer, the name Stone is ours.”

After the video dropped, MillerCoors shot back, “Since Keystone’s debut in 1989, prior to the founding of Stone Brewing in 1996, our consumers have commonly used ‘Stone’ to refer to the Keystone brand and we will let the facts speak for themselves in the legal process.” Interestingly enough, MillerCoors attempted to register the word “Stones” in 2007 and was turned down. The Stone suit says that MillerCoors “abandoned its application, admitting that confusion with Stone beer was likely.” Thanks to The Full Pint, you can read the entire suit here on their page.

Stone vs. Keystone

I took to Facebook to decide for myself just how “Stoney” Keystone had become in their branding. Not only do most of their social media pics highlight the word “stone,” but in July of 2017, Keystone changed their Facebook profile picture from a logo that had been their logo for many years, to the one on the top left corner:

millercoors keystone light

Sure, every company needs to rebrand to stay fresh. The question is, why would they split up the name Keystone into Key Stone? Keystone is a place; a mountain in the Colorado Rockies. With the previous mountain ranges on full display in their logo and the fact that Molson Coors (which acquired MillerCoors in 2016) is headquartered in Colorado, it’s not a stretch to assume that Keystone is named after that mountain. So how does it make sense to break up the word?

Once broken up into two words, there is no relation to the place it’s named after. The only reason to break up those words would be to highlight the word “stone,” and this is where it may get them into trouble.

What’s a Key Stone?

This works with other names too. Let’s say there was another brewery that wanted to distribute in the same area Thorn is distributed in, called Hawthorn Brewing. They had been called Hawthorn brewing for many years, longer than we were in existence even. What if they decided to change their logo and marketing to separate Hawthorn into Haw Thorn Brewing and started calling their beer Thorn Beer in that marketing? Not cool. Not cool at all. Whether or not it’s illegal would depend on a lot of other factors, though.

Since Stone is way more established and not only a national brand but really global one at this point, they have a strong claim on the term Stone when it comes to beer. Still, the point stands that Haw Thorn wouldn’t make much sense as a stand-alone logo just like Key Stone doesn’t make sense unless it’s Keystone.

Let’s hope that Stone is successful in their suit. Big Beer has been pushing craft beer around for years with their money and influence so to have a craft brewery that is not only willing to stand up to them but has the financial capabilities to do so, is really cool. We support Stone whole-heartedly in their quest to protect the brand that they have worked so hard to build and can’t wait to see how this all shakes out.

 

 

beer board with triple ipa pliny

Triple the Hops, Triple the Fun

It’s that time of year again when select craft beer bars (mostly in CA) have to field the same question over and over, “When are you tapping Pliny the Younger?” It’s triple season!

The triple IPA hoopla all started in 2005 with a “little” beer called, Pliny the Younger from Russian River Brewing. Pliny the Younger (pronounced, Pline-y not Plinny, like the man) is a bigger version of their popular, Pliny the Elder Double IPA. Double IPAs should be hopped twice as much as the regular recipe and in the case of Pliny the Younger being a triple, it’s got 3 times the hops and then is dry-hopped 4 different times. Clocking in at 10.5% ABV, it certainly packs a punch but as it often happens with high alcohol beers, it’s incredibly balanced with the extreme bitterness of the hops offsetting the sweetness of the sugars from the high alcohol.

This beer is in incredible demand with people waiting in lines for hours and kegs getting kicked in minutes at popular spots. Russian River shows their marketing mojo by only having this beer available for 2 weeks every year in their Santa Clarita’s tasting room with daily allocations. Since it’s human nature to want what we can’t have, creating that kind of limited-time demand is a proven method to increase buzz and desire for a product. This wouldn’t work if the product itself wasn’t high quality and this beer is definitely impressive.

Pliny Hunt 2018

Pliny the Younger is not going to get a wide release anytime soon. Most of the beer is distributed to the same OG spots that Russian River has been gracing with their Pliny for years. In fact, last year, Russian River announced that they were expanding production of Pliny but that expanded production would benefit the bars they already serve, getting more kegs vs. selling kegs to new bars. If this is the case, then we can use the 2017 list of San Diego bars that got Pliny the Younger as an idea of where to possibly find the elusive beer this year. Here’s a working list of place that MIGHT have Pliny the Younger this year too and the date that they tapped their allotted kegs in 2017:

Hamilton’s Tavern – 2/22/17

SD Taproom – 2/25/17

O’Brians – 2/22/17

Blind Lady Ale House – 2/22/17

Tiger Tiger – 2/18/17

Pizza Port Carlsbad

Toronado – 2/13/17

Encinitas Ale House

PCH Sports Bar

Small Bar – 2/14/17

Urge Gastropub – 2/21/17

Live Wire – 2/16/17

Regal Beagle – 2/21/17

Fathom Bait and Tackle 2/21/17

Please don’t call these places daily asking if they are tapping the beer. They’ll definitely hate that. But you can use this list as an idea of when you want to stop by the bar and see if, by chance, they have tapped it yet. Some of these spots had actual events where they promoted that they were tapping the Pliny, but a lot of them just put them on tap one day and let the word of mouth spread like wildfire. This list is not a guarantee though, it’s really only a best guess, so please take that into account when searching.

No Pliny, No Problem

So you don’t want to go on a Pliny hunt but you do want to taste the sweet, sweet nectar of a triple IPA? You are in luck! There are a handful of San Diego breweries, including Thorn, who put out their own triple IPAs around this time of year. Thorn releases our own triple Brother Scotty’s IIPA (named after one of our beloved employees).

Brother Scotty’s IIIPA clocks in at 11.2% ABV. This beer is big, hoppy and balanced with notes of pine, citrus and pineapple lingering together from the Simcoe, Citra, Centennial and Amarillo hops. While it’s a hop-bomb for sure, it’s still a smooth drinker with a lingering sweetness that’s neither cloying nor overpowering. Here are some more San Diego triple IPAs to check out this month:

  • Thorn Brewing Brother Scotty’s IIIPA 11.5% – release on 2/13/18
  • Benchmark Brewing Hildegard IIIPA 13.5% – release party on 2/24/18 (more info here)

Other triple IPA that have been made in the past but with no info on future releases…

  • Monkey Paw Muriqui 10%
  • Societe The Miser Really Big IPA 10.5%
  • Stone RuinTen Triple IPA 10.8%

Please comment here or email us at info@thorn.beer if you have any SD triples to be added to this list.

Cheers and happy Triple Hunting!

 

super bowl

Budweiser’s Super Bowl Strategy

The 2018 Super Bowl is just around the corner and while many Eagles and Patriots fans will be watching to see what if their team comes out on top, there are lots of other people who are all about the ads. At least, that’s what the hope is for the businesses that spend more than $5 million for a 30-second spot. What’s interesting is that many of the big super bowl spots are already released to the internet, days before the big game, giving us a sneak peek. Budweiser is a favorite topic of super bowl commercial conversations because they spend a ton of money on the Super Bowl. In fact, this year, they are going to have six Super Bowl spots to the tune of $30 Million. $30 million for 3 minutes of TV time. That’s an impressive ad budget.

What’s also interesting is that Budweiser seems to be moving away from the “us against craft” mentality they have had in previous Super Bowl commercials, like in 2015 with their “Brewed the Hard Way” commercial, where they say how they are “Proudly a Macro Beer.” They doubled down in 2016 with another commercial that insinuated craft brewing was just a hobby for people who like fruity beer that is made to be fussed over.

The Good

This year, their main commercial is all about their ability to can clean water at their Cartersville facility, where they have shipped over 2.9 million cans of water to areas of disaster relief during 2017. And good on them. They were incredibly smart to use this as their main Super Bowl ad because they are highlighting something that only a brewery of their size could do; take weeks off of normal beer production to can and deliver fresh cans of water. Most if not all craft breweries don’t have the capabilities to do anything on this scale so Budweiser has figured out a way to differentiate themselves from craft beer in a positive way, rather than the mud-slinging they have done in the past.

 

The “Eh”

Recently, Goose Island (owned by AB InBev) released a video of their own. In it, you see the president and one founder of Goose Island head to NYC to meet with Felipe Szpigel, the president of the High End, AB InBev’s craft beer division. They meet to ask for a Super Bowl spot for Goose Island so that it can be the first craft beer commercial featured at the Super Bowl. They get shut down because apparently, 1 week isn’t enough time to come up with a $5 million commercial (giant eye-roll here).

The funny thing is that while this commercial is obviously a joke and supposed to be funny, it’s being reported on by the Chicago Business Journal as if this set up was real. They start off their article with the line, “Give the guys at Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. credit for thinking big. Really big.” I don’t know how they thought that this was a real business meeting when every person in that meeting is shown drinking a different Goose Island beer with the labels facing the camera.

Furthermore, this video seems like it could be a teaser to an actual Goose Island Super Bowl spot, giving them the platform of being the first “craft” beer to be featured during the Big Game. We will have to see…

Many people viewing this video will realize it’s satire. That’s all well and good, but by Chicago Business Journal writing about it as if it were a real business meeting, it definitely blurs the line between fake news and satire. Obviously, since Goose Island is from Chicago, there would be love for the brewer in the city. Maybe the news organization is in on the joke too, but it seems a bit disingenuous to report on this like it was ever actually a real scenario.

The Payoff

Budweiser’s strategy for winning at Super Bowl marketing is on-point. They focus on something that is unique to them (canning water for disaster relief) while also releasing this other video that seeks to separate Goose Island from their macro-beer parent company and paints them as the “little guy.”

So have fun watching the Big Game this year while remembering to always keep a discerning eye on how you are being marketed to and let us know what your thoughts are on the Super Bowl commercials for 2018.


Alexa’s Love Affair With Budweiser

Recently, Tech Crunch reported that Alexa, Amazon’s personal assistant, is about to start having her own opinions about things. They said that in an effort to make her more human-like she needed to have opinions that she comes up with on her own through what’s called machine learning. Not that she doesn’t already give opinions, but right now they have been programmed in by humans. In the near future, Alexa will start offering her own thoughts on things like TV shows, movies, books and more. But how do we know why she picks the things she recommends, now or in the future?

A recent video showing someone asking Alexa what her favorite beer is, with her answering “Budweiser,” got us thinking. Why did Alexa fall in love with Budweiser? It can’t be because it’s the best selling beer (because it’s not, that’s Bud Lite and Alexa stated as much when I asked this specific question). To see just how much Alexa loves Budweiser, I put my own Alexa to the test. I asked not only what her favorite beer was, but also “what’s the best beer?”

It turns out that not only is Budweiser Alexa’s favorite beer, but it’s also the best beer in her opinion.  The more I asked the question, the more she doubled down and stuck with her pick, showing a wide range of responses pertaining to Budweiser.

alexa

 

While I did have a lot of fun peppering Alexa with the same question over and over again, what is concerning is the level of influence Alexa has and will have over people’s choices now and even more so in the future. Furthermore, Amazon loves monetizing things, and who’s to say that they wouldn’t start selling Alexa’s opinions (or haven’t already) to the highest bidder so that she can name drop their product over and over again. Only large companies would be able to pay for this sweet product placement anyway, and maybe they already have.

So the next time you ask Alexa for her opinion, take it with a giant grain of salt. While Alexa is still just a machine, she can easily be influenced and that influence might be due to someone’s marketing dollars rather than a computer’s machine-learned opinion.

 

avery brewing barrel

Avery vs. Pirate Life: Who Sold It Better

Last week, two craft breweries announced investments in their brands from outside companies. Avery Brewing Co. from Colorado sold 30% of their company to Spanish beer conglomerate, Mahou San Miguel. A couple days later, an Austrailian craft beer brewery called Pirate Life announced that they had been acquired by AB InBev for a cool $7.6 million. While you might not have heard of Pirate Life yet, it has been on a fast rise from its 2015 opening to being named Australia’s best craft brewery by Beer Cartel in 2017. Both Avery and Pirate Life pointed to international growth as reasons why they chose to sell part or all of their companies. Both companies are now not considered craft beer, though that definition doesn’t apply to Pirate Life since they aren’t in the under the umbrella of the Brewers Association here in the states.

The Investor Matters

The sale (in part or all) of these two breweries also brings up the shifting gray area that exists between the different sort of investments that breweries seek to help themselves grow. The simple fact is that in order to grow any business there needs to be an influx of money. In terms of the beer industry, this money can come in a variety of ways but most often it comes from private investors/investment firms or the sale of part or all of the company to a larger beverage company. But not all beverage companies are created equal, and this is where the gray area comes in.

Avery selling a minority stake in their company to Mahou San Miguel just doesn’t seem to have the same negative connotations that selling your whole brewery to AB InBev does. Mahou San Miguel is a large beer company with mostly Spanish beers in their portfolio and they also own 30% of Founders. A quick google search of their name with some choice words (investigated, illegal, pay-to-play) turns up nothing. The same cannot be said for our good old friend, AB InBev.

AB InBev At It Again

In fact, this past week it was announced that there is yet another investigation into AB InBev for breaching EU competition laws in Belgium. Basically, beer costs more in Belgium than it does in the surrounding countries, especially the Netherlands. There are many retailers with stores in multiple countries and would use that advantage to offer the beer at lower prices because it could be transported from their warehouses outside of Belgium. AB InBev sought to stop the cross-border beer in a couple of different ways; by limiting the volume that exporting retailers could get on promotion and taking away incentives and holding back the most popular brands unless the retailer promised to not sell their supplies to their Belgian stores.

Furthermore, EU officials uncovered that AB InBev’s decision to switch to single-language labels in France and Netherlands, 4 years ago, was done so to prevent the export of these more inexpensive beers into Belgium where labels have to be in both Dutch and French.

AB InBev has a history of playing dirty, getting fined, paying the fine (because their yearly revenue is $45.5 billion), and doing it all over again. They are so big that they are nearly untouchable because they can pay any fine that is thrown their way with ease. This is why it’s a much more bitter pill to swallow when they buy yet another independent craft brewery. Yes, Pirate Life has a right to grow and will likely do so a faster rate now that they have been bought out by the biggest beer company in the world. Most of the people who drink Pirate Life will have no idea that they are supporting AB InBev. Life will continue on for all.

The Gray-Scale

In the end, selling your whole brewery vs. 30% is a huge difference and really are two ends of the brewery-sale-spectrum. While both are enough of a sale to be kicked out of the craft beer consortium, selling 30% to a beverage company with a decent reputation and no history of trying to cheat the craft beer market in the U.S., is what it is. Likely the beer won’t change much if at all and the people who build the brand will stay in place. Selling your whole brewery to a beverage company with the track record that AB InBev does, stings a little more and also says a little more about that brewery’s commitment to the craft. Who knows what will happen in a years time to not only the original staff but also the control at that point is totally up to AB InBev, no matter what the old owners say. As more and more craft breweries sell part or all of their company to continue their vision of growth (or to get a sweet payday), we have become more desensitized to the act itself. It also shapes the conversation moving forward to think about whether the distinctions between the ways that breweries grow. Being committed to craft and buying independent brewers is going to get hard as we move along in these times so maybe we will have to adjust our expectations a bit and not be afraid to wade into these gray waters.

budweiser trash

Budweiser, Mexican Beer, and Millennials

Budweiser is not having a good year when it comes to U.S. sales and this last quarter only got worse for them. As more and more people turn to drinking craft beer, spirits, and wine, they have seen a continuous drop in sales for their flagship beers, Budweiser and Bud Light. The North American market was Budweiser’s bread and butter for years but ever since 2014, AB InBev has seen a drop in Bud and Bud Light sales every year with a steep 6.2% drop in this last quarter alone. The slide in sales isn’t just AB InBev, however. MillerCoors also saw a 3% drop in U.S. sales this last quarter of both their Miller Lite and Coors brands. While AB InBev is a huge global company, they appear to hold the U.S. market in the highest regard. AB InBev Chief Executive Carlos Brit0 recently said,

“The U.S. is our most important market and we recognize the need to continue to focus on driving topline growth across our portfolio.” 

To help with this focus AB InBev decided to fire their U.S. CEO and replace him with their current chief officer of global sales. But why is Budweiser experiencing such a slump?

Not All Macro Is the Same

Here’s the interesting part, not all macro beer is down. American beer drinkers are totally digging Mexican beer. Corona and Modelo are up 13% this year in U.S. sales. AB InBev actually owns Grupo Modelo, which makes both Corona and Modelo, but in 2013, they sold the U.S. distribution rights to Constellation in a move to settle the anti-trust issues that arose from AB InBev’s purchase of Grupo Modelo. Constellation paid a cool $4.75 Billion for the brand rights at the time, and the year-over-year growth of both brands has certainly been a boon to their portfolio.

Mexican imports aren’t the only mass-produced beers that have seen growth, however. There is one mass-produced, super premium (their category, not ours) beer that is defying all expectations. Michelob Ultra is the largest share-gainer brand in the U.S. for the last seven quarters for a 10.9% growth up from last year at this time. Why the growth from a not-new and by-all-accounts tasteless beer? The answer appears to be in the marketing. Michelob Ultra has positioned itself as the beer of choice for the low-carb movement as paleo and keto diets along with workout lifestyles like CrossFit continue to be popular in the U.S.

Michelob’s marketing continuously targets a health-conscious Millennial demographic which is a booming demo by all accounts. The growth of Michelob Ultra is a bright spot for AB InBev because, of course, they own that brand too.

Enough Pie To Go Around?

Remember when AB InBev made that video slamming the Brewers Association’s seal of independence? In the video, they wax on about the “clear threats from wine and spirits” and lament that the BA’s label is divisive in this common fight against liquor and wine. The funny thing is that based on the numbers we’ve seen so far this year, wine, spirits, and craft beer can all see growth together. Let’s look at the growth the different categories have seen so far this year; wine sales are up 7%, spirits sales are up 4.5%, and craft beer is up 5.7%. While there is no denying that craft beer growth has slowed down, this trend has been expected in the booming industry for a while. Unprecedented growth can only happen for so many years before the market begins to correct itself and we seem to be in that correction.

Is there enough pie to go around? It seems like there could be. People aren’t over all macro beer, as evidenced by the substantial growth in both Mexican beer markets as well as for the “ultra-premium” Michelob Ultra. People appear to be turning away from the “American” mass produced brands, though. Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors are slumping in sales, possibly because they have failed to catch on with a younger generation of drinkers. As an example, here’s the breakdown of who buys Budweiser in stores:

budweiser who buys it

Based on these numbers Budweiser is most likely to be purchased by older, low-income, Asian people. The fact that 24-44 year olds don’t buy Budweiser, yet are the largest demographic in the U.S., is definitely a thorn in Budweiser’s side. Whereas Mexican imports have been growing in sales as the Hispanic population grows, that only accounts for about half of their sales. The other half are Millennials who love a good Pacifico or Modelo. So get used to seeing Budweiser trying to peddle itself to a younger, hipper demographic, because once again, it seems that Millennials matter a lot when it comes to the success of a beer brand. Budweiser is down, but it’s certainly not out.

beer week donuts

San Diego Beer Week with Thorn

It’s our favorite time of year…San Diego Beer Week! Being that San Diego is the Craft Beer Capital of the world, it’s our duty to make SD beer week the best beer week in the world. Here at Thorn, we take this responsibility very, very seriously. We pull out all the stops to bring you the best in beer events at both our North Park tasting room as well as throughout San Diego. Here’s a rundown of what we have going on during the next 10 days…

AT THORN NORTH PARK

beer week events

Nomad Donuts Pairing:

11/4 12:30 – $25 (plus tax) for the 4×4 pairing with 2 donuts and 2 wood-fired bagels. We not only pair each treat with a beer but Kristiana Zabala, the chef behind the creative concoctions at Nomad Donuts, uses a different, complimentary beer in the food. Yum! Find tickets here…https://www.eventbrite.com/e/nomad-donuts-and-beer-pairing-tickets-38447373128

Mastiff Sausage Co. Pairing:

11/5 12:30 – $30 (plus tax) for a 5×5 course featuring delectable dishes from Mastiff Sausage Co.! Tickets available herehttps://www.eventbrite.com/e/mastiff-sausage-co-beer-pairing-tickets-38545928911

Here’s a peek at the menu…

Course One

Savory Rye Bread Pudding

Toasted Rye Bread, Mastiff Breakfast Sausage, Wild Arugula, Cheddar Cheese

Abbey Wall Belgian Dubbel

Course Two

Sausage Taco

House Made Al Pastor Sausage, Charred Scallion Crema, Cotija Cheese, Red Cabbage, Tomatillo, Cilantro

Barrio Baja-Style Lager

Course Three

Fall Vegetable Hash

Potato and Butternut Hash, Brussels Sprouts, Green Peppers, Creme Fraiche

Chilicabra Pale Ale

Course Four

Chicken Coconut Curry

House Made, Chicken Curry Sausage, Heirloom Rice, Red Pepper Coulis, Candied Peanuts

Got Nelson? IPA

Course Five

German Chocolate Cake

Rich Chocolate Cake, Coconut, Brown Sugar Frosting

Cocomotive Coconut Porter

Truffles & Beer Pairing:

11/5 5:30 – $12 (plus tax) for 2×2 pairing featuring 2 handmade truffles using two of our beers, paired with that beer! You can come in anytime between 5:30 and 9 pm to get your pairing. Get your tickets here…https://www.eventbrite.com/e/truffles-and-beer-at-thorn-street-brewery-tickets-38546192700

Venissimo Cheese Pairing:

11/11 1 pm – $30 (plus tax) for a 5×5 pairing (with something extra too) and an afternoon chatting with Rob Graff from Venissimo and Eric O’Connor, Brew Master here at Thorn. Tickets available here…http://venissimocheese.vendecommerce.com/class-schedule/products/11-11-beer-cheese-sampling-thorn-street

TSB EVENTS – NO TICKET NEEDED

11/8 Beer Trivia with America’s Finest Trivia at 7 pm

11/9 IPA LOUNGE at 5:00 features 10 of our IPAs on tap in our back room making for a hoptastic evening!

SDBW EVENTS AROUND TOWN

beer week calendar

Don’t forget about all the events we are participating in around town! For a full list, check out our events calendar on our website.

We hope to see you for San Diego Beer Week! Please contact events@thorn.beer for any questions about our events.


Taking Craft Back One Funny Video at a Time

Recently, the Brewers Association rolled out a new marketing campaign called “Take Craft Back” which purports to be a crowdfunding effort to buy AB InBev. While they are only $2.5 million to their $213 Billion goal, the movement is gaining steam and national attention. Here’s the video that launched the campaign:

After watching this, is there any question as to the seriousness of this venture? It’s exceedingly clear from not only the video but also the website that this is a marketing campaign meant to further the conversation about how Big Beer is buying up craft breweries which in turn creates more obfuscation in the marketplace and ultimately whittles down choice in the marketplace.  One of the best lines on their website reads, “It only seems impossible if you really think about it.” Which is funny AND true.

Let’s be clear, the Brewers Association doesn’t really expect to raise the money needed to buy a company that would be unlikely to sell even if the money was raised. Also, doing some simple math shows that we would have to raise 1 million per day for the next 583 years to reach that total. So, yeah, it’s not happening. That didn’t stop some people who didn’t watch the video, didn’t go to the website and didn’t read most articles about it from spouting off their opinions. These are from the American Home Brewer’s Facebook page in the comments of the video after it was posted:

“This still doesn’t offer anything. What does a pledge ACTUALLY do? How will you collect? What’s to say AB would ever even accept an offer or allow this to happen? Why should homebrewers be in charge of this and not breweries?”

“This is stupid and a waste of time. And if this did succeed, who is self-appointing to be the board, CEO, CFO, etc. what is the end game plan?” 

 “What in the hell? Where does the money go when they don’t get enough? Who is getting rich here?”

This guy, however, gets it:

“Society has done gone and lost its chill… This tongue in cheek campaign catches fire in a matter of hours and responses range from skeptics crunching numbers to marketing geniuses explaining how this won’t work… 
Financial geniuses: Would a limit of $1,000 pledges be put on this campaign if it was serious? 
Marketing gurus: Count the shares, count the comments, count the likes…BA is WINNING!”

People wondering about where the money is going, how it the buy-out will work etc. are missing the mark. Once again, it shows how people only read the title of a post, article or video and are more than happy to barf their outrage all over social media. It’s unclear what possesses people to comment on something they didn’t read/watch, especially when they want to bash it. In this case, if they just took a minute to go to the website, it would be extremely clear that this is a marketing campaign aimed at getting attention and bring awareness to the issue at hand. They aren’t taking credit cards for pledges, there are jokes all over the site, and the video is dripping in satire.

In the end, the “Take Craft Back” campaign is doing its job. Not only is the beer community talking about it (New Belgium, Stone both shared and posted about it) but it’s actually getting national attention in publications like the Chicago Tribune, Men’s Journal, Forbes and more. To outline how important this is to the cause, don’t look any further than a recent interview with a MillerCoors executive where he waxed poetically about the craft beer industry. Pete Marino, the head of Tenth and Blake (MillerCoors craft beer division) was interviewed about the state of craft beer. While that alone is an eye-roller, his comments were interesting in the wake of this Take Back Craft Campaign.

“It’s no longer good enough to brew an interesting beer, throw a catchy name on it, throw it on the shelf and expect it’s going to sell. So you’ve got to start thinking about awareness. You’ve got to start thinking about building and driving a brand.” 

Well then, good job, Brewers Association, because this campaign is all about building awareness. While he was speaking about bringing awareness to a specific brand, it’s not a stretch to apply this mindset to awareness on the topic of independence vs. Big Beer. When asked if he thought that the BA’s Independence label is effective he said:

“Is there some small percentage of consumers that are going to be seeking that? I’m sure. But the overwhelming majority I don’t think are going to care. They want a good beer drinking experience from brands they can identify with.”

Does this “overwhelming majority” not care because they just want a “good drinking experience” from brands that have a large marketing budget or do they not care because they don’t even know about the issue? With the help of this marketing campaign, maybe more people will become aware and start to think about which companies they support. The more info that gets out to the average drinker, the more likely they are to care about what happens in the craft beer industry. The rest of the article is rife with big beer talking points (people are tired of too many choices, branding is going to win in the end) so it’s definitely worth read. In the meantime, I pledged $1000 and got a sweet koozie out of it. Totally worth it.

 

selling out beer and coffee

Selling Out: Aussies, Americans, and Coffee

Photo Cred: justdoc.com

Last week, it was announced that 4 Pines Brewing, Australia’s largest independent brewery, was purchased by AB InBev through its ZX Ventures which they have coined their “global disruptive growth group.” While AB InBev buying up a craft brewery is hardly news anymore, this brewery purchase if a first fo ZX Ventures. It was recently reported by Forbes, that the High End, the craft beer division of AB InBev, was no longer looking to acquire new breweries, that it was instead going to focus on organic growth (i.e. open up breweries that were even murkier when it comes to AB InBev’s ownership). They must have meant, “in the U.S.” Possibly this deal was on the books long before that interview with Forbes or perhaps ZX Ventures is the newest golden child at AB InBev and for some reason, AB InBev is going to funnel their acquisitions through that arm now. Either way, 4 Pines has learned some things from the sell-outs that came before and they took an unapologetic stance in their announcement on Facebook, trying to get ahead of all the brouhaha that was sure to come by pre-emptively answering the most-asked questions when a brewery sells out. From their Facebook announcement:

Here are some answers you might be looking for:

Yes. 4 Pines will continue to operate all existing venues.
Yes. Everyone keeps their job.
Yes. 4 Pines is now 100% owned by ABI.
Yes. The Brookvale brewery will be expanding its capacity in the very near future.
Yes. Some people will think our beer tastes different.
No. It doesn’t.
Yes. We will have access to even more ingredients and better brewing toys.
Yes. 4 Pines has already started developing plans for national and global expansion.
Yes. ABI and 4 Pines fat cats have a squash game and a hot sauna locked in to celebrate.
No. Costs won’t be cut; in fact, we’re looking to invest.
Yes. Our commitment and investment to sustainability will grow.
Yes. We will join ABI’s global plan to be a 100% Renewable Energy Brewery.
Yes. As part of ZX Ventures, we will be part of the global forefront of beer innovation.
Yes. Our current beers will remain.
Yes. We’re looking to grow Keller Door and Keller Door Barrelled even more.
Yes. The founders and all the key people are hanging around.
Yes. 4 Pines did treat themselves to a case of Crownies to celebrate.

While some of the commenters on their page felt that this cheeky reply was disrespectful to their very real feelings of disappointment, it does show that 4 Pines did their homework before announcing the sale or they got the “selling out talking points” memo from AB InBev. All of these answers are well and good but they don’t address consumers’ concerns about putting money in the coffers of a business that consistently undermines smaller breweries at a legislative and business level (i.e. pay-to-play). So yes, all of these elements of 4 Pines may stay the same, but that’s not really the point for people who are anti-AB InBev because of their business practices vs. their ability to create opportunities for breweries that they buy.

Do Aussies handle indie beer sellouts the same way that American craft beer lovers do?

4 pines vs. Wicked Weed

It turns out, maybe not. In an entirely unscientific examination of the Facebook pages of 4 Pines Brewery and Wicked Weed (which sold to AB InBev earlier this year), a couple of things stood out. First, I took a look at the posts on each page announcing the ownership change. We can compare the “likes” to the emojis for “Angry” and “Sad.” For 4 Pines, their likes on the announcement post were at 498, “Sad” came in at 98, “Wow” got 44 and there were no “Angry” emojis. Seems pretty reasonable when you compare that to the Facebook page of Wicked Weed. Not only did the “strategic partnership” announcement on their page show 2005 “Likes”, 1045 “Angry” emojis and 982 “Sad” emojis (bringing the negative reaction tally ahead of the positive one) but even though the sale was back in April, the most recent posts are still dumpster fires. People are still posting negative comments on every post, making jokes about Wicked Weed selling out or just expressing their undying displeasure no matter what the topic of the post is.

This was a surprise because when I checked the Facebook pages of other breweries that sold to AB InBev (Karbach, Devil’s Backbone, Breckenridge), most show no recent activity from the anti-big-beer crowd save for a few stray comments on random posts. Maybe it has to do with Wicked Weed being the most recent of the American acquisitions or maybe it’s because Wicked Weed was beloved for its sour program and specialty beers and fans feel like the sellout is an especially big slap in the face. Either way, it’s a stark contrast to the more mellow reaction from our Australian brethren.

Coffee vs. Beer

It’s not just craft beer consumers who freak out when their beloved, local shop sells out to a global conglomerate. It turns out coffee lovers are just as testy.  This past week, it was announced that artisan coffee company, Blue Bottle Coffee, based out of the Bay Area, sold a majority share of its company to Nestlé. The resulting online fury was swift as former fans raged all over Blue Bottle’s Facebook page. Nestlé not only has been accused of pushing infant formula in developing countries where access to clean water is a struggle but apparently, they siphon water out of National Parks as well as drought-sensitive areas to the tune of billions of dollars in profit, paying little to nothing for the water taken. Furthermore, a recent NY Times article outlines how Nestle is contributing to getting people hooked on junk food in isolated areas of Latin America, Asia, and Africa and the resulting negative impact on those communities. People were angry the company they loved and supported was now controlled by a corporation with such a track record.

In the end, these sorts of sale/acquisitions/investments will continue on in the business world, so where does the outrage come from in the craft beer and coffee industries? Maybe it has to do with the demographics of consumers who can afford to buy craft beer and craft coffee and the luxury of being in that socioeconomic class which allows one to spend time being socially conscious. Or maybe it has to do with the handmade, artisan nature that sits at the soul of both of these craft communities. They offer something thoughtful, something special and people get to feel good supporting companies that often boast about their community focused, fair-trade, earth-friendliness. Maybe when those companies sell out, that craft consumer feels fooled and embarrassed they thought the company was something different than it was, because it’s ok for it to be about the money, just don’t pretend it’s not.

 

 

high end lay offs

Efficiency Experts: AB InBev Makes Deep Cuts to The High End

Yesterday was a rough day for many of the employees at The High End, AB InBev’s craft beer division. The night before, around 10 pm, The High End district managers and sales people started getting calendar invites for a conference call the next day. By the end of that call, approximately 360 employees or 90% of the national sales force were let go. According to Alex Medicis, the Vice President of Sales for AB InBev North America, the cuts were made in the name of efficiency. It makes sense too. After acquiring 10 craft breweries in the last few years, they added quite a few people to their payroll. Most of these breweries came with their own sales team and since sales people are often the face of the brewery to accounts, it makes sense that they would want to keep the “craft beer faces” around vs. the corporate sales employees. AB InBev is stressing to the media that this is not a big cut for AB InBev since it only amounts to 2% of their North American work force, which tops out around 18,000 workers.

What does this mean for the future of The High End? AB InBev said that it didn’t lay off anyone that worked directly with the craft breweries, so it sounds like they just went through a good ol’ efficiency downsizing. Interestingly enough, Forbes sat down with Felipe Szpigel, the president of The High End, on Wednesday, the day before the layoffs, and a few things came up.

First, Szpigel said that they would no longer focus on acquisitions. Does this mean they are done with their big, buying spree? Craft beer is still a bright spot on their less than stellar American sales record (of course they are doing just dandy internationally), so aren’t getting out of the craft beer game. Szpigel then stated that AB InBev would now “pivot to growing its ground-up model.”

As an example of this “ground-up model” Szpigel offered up the new  Vesa Sur brewpub in Miami, “a first-of-its-kind partnership between AB InBev-owned 10 Barrel Brewing in Bend, OR, and Colombia’s Bogota Beer Company.” Just an FYI, AB InBev also owns Bogata Beer Co., so they are really just partnering with themselves.

Now, this pivot is making sense. AB InBev is good with the 10 American craft breweries it already has. With the acquisition of these craft breweries, not only did they get a whole league of local sales people, but they got years of craft brewing experience. They don’t need to buy any more breweries because now they can create completely new craft breweries with the people they already have bought out. If you go to the Vesa Sur facebook page, things look great at the brewery. Who wouldn’t want to go to a new beautiful brew pub with Colombian inspired craft beer?

AB InBev has finally done it. They have managed to almost completely obscure their involvement in this new venture because it goes through 10 Barrel and Bogata. It’s just another degree of separation that will confuse consumers and people who don’t know about all the shadiness AB InBev has pulled in the industry over the last number of years. The more degrees of separation they create, the more likely people who aren’t specifically invested in the craft beer scene (ie. the majority of beer consumers) won’t have any idea that they own these new ventures.

The people over at AB InBev are definitely crafty. With the Vesa Sur venture, they have essentially leveled up when it comes to obscuring their involvement within the craft beer industry. In a few generations of opening breweries and brew pubs using these sorts of partnerships, people won’t be talking about AB InBev at all. They don’t need to buy any more breweries because they now have enough ammo to blast through the craft beer market one collaborative venture at a time.