|Belgians Buy U.S. Beer
U.S. beer makers exported nearly 160,000 gallons
to this kingdom of 10 million people in the last 12
months according to the latest figures from Belgian
Brewers Trade Group. Although impressive, those
sales are still dwarfed by the more-than-50-million
gallons of Belgian beer heading the other way
across the Atlantic. However it shows how new
American brewers are gaining a toehold in the
country that was an inspiration for many of them.
To the surprise of some American beers have
beaten many Belgium offerings on their home turf in
serious competitions. Last year, Hopvine India Pale
Ale — a beer "brewed in a post-modern Northwest
IPA fashion" by Seattle’s Schooner Exact Brewery
— clinched the top award at the annual Brussels
Beer Challenge which purports to find the world's
best brews as selected by blue ribbon panels.
U.S. beers also won 15 category gold medals for
the likes of Baltic porters, strong bitter and brown
ale. That's five more than the host nation picked
up, a fact bemoaned by the local news media while
still giving due respect to the American winners.
Dangers In The Big Deal
$107 billion bid by the world’s biggest beer company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, to buy the world’s
second-biggest beer company, SABMiller, received the federal government’s blessing recently.
The question now is whether American beer lovers ought to be concerned. And the answer is
unsatisfying: nobody’s sure yet.While a can of Bud will likely cost about the same next summer as it
does today, beer insiders say the real impact of this acquisition—nicknamed the Megabrew deal
on Wall Street—on the robust American industry could come in the form of fewer locally-owned
breweries, and therefore fewer consumer choices: fewer craft brews, fewer imports, and less
innovation on tasty new products.
In order for the deal to go through, the Justice Department has required that ABI sell its U.S. stake
in one, giant U.S.-based beer conglomerate, MillerCoors, to another company that meets the
same description: Molson Coors. (By the end of 2016, Molson Coors is expected to control Coors
Light and Millers Light, two of the top-four best-selling beers in America.) In the wake of that
corporate shuffle, ABI’s total U.S. market share, post-merger, will remain at roughly 44%—more or
less where it is now. But market share is only part of the problem facing small brewers. How beer
makers actually get their product to market—to bars and restaurants, and onto store shelves—is
the real the challenge behind the scenes. According to most state alcohol laws, brewers are
required to sell their product to a middle man, an independent distributor. Those distributors then
act as liaisons to consumer-facing sellers—bars, restaurants and stores—which then sell the
products to consumers.
This unique, three-tier system has been remarkably effective at preventing any single brewery from
gaining total control of the market. (By contrast, just two companies, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have
cornered the vast majority of the soft drink market.) As a result, there’s been explosion of
small breweries, micro-breweries, and locally-owned restaurants selling their own beer.
But this distribution tier is also vulnerable to exploitation. In recent years, the ever-more-giant
brewers, including ABI, SABMiller, and Molson Coors, have used access to an independent
distribution network as a tool to keep competitors at bay. For example, most of the big companies
use special “incentive programs” to extract favorable terms from an independent distributor or force
it to drop competitors’ products. To further up the stakes they have used their own prices to
ace-out any distributor who doesn’t play along.
At the same time, a handful of the biggest beer makers have also begun to blur the once-bright
lines in that three-tier system, quietly becoming small, wholly-owned distributors themselves in
about ten states. ABI, for instance, which is both the biggest brewer and the biggest distributor by
volume in the U.S., now owns roughly 9% of its own distribution network. Most craft brewers,
meanwhile, can’t begin afford the refrigerated trucks, warehouses, drivers, and regional expenses
necessary to distribute their own product.
the crossroads of the beer world
|Wanted: Beer Historian
The world’s largest research and museum
complex is looking for scholars who know their
beer. And you don't even have to drink it.
From America’s earliest days, beer has had a
place in cultural history. Now, the Smithsonian
National Museum of American History wants to
make sure that history is well documented
through a new position: official beer historian.
It’s a three-year position, funded by the Brewers
Association and equipped with a $64,000 salary
plus benefits, according to the job posting, which
also notes a specific desire for those involved in
the trendy industry of craft breweries. But make
no mistake. The Smithsonian is not looking for
just any beer drinker -- applicants are en-
couraged to come prepared with an “advanced
degree” in American business, brewing, food or
history, and must have “proven experience in
scholarly research, organizing and conducting
oral history, interviews, writing for both scholarly
and general audiences, and knowledge of
material culture and archival materials,”
according to the job posting.