It’s been a while, I reckon, since we’ve offered a Required Reading Assignment around these here parts. But then, I guess that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since we have a hard enough time just keeping up with the local beer news these. I mean, have you really looked at the Growlers and Tasting report, lately? The term paper I had to write as the culmination of research spanning most of my junior year in high school wasn’t as long as the weekly G & T.
Anyway, since today is November 1, I imagine most of us are probably waking up with at least a small dollop of remorse about that final (dare I say, over-the-top) pumpkin ale last night when the trick-or-treating dust settled, the kids were (finally) put to bed, and it was just you, a gross of leftover fun-sized Twix bars, and the remains of that six-pack in the dark.
In other words, there’s a potential for a slow start this morning, which means it’s probably a good day to do some reading.
Luckily, I have just the thing for you! My brother in the tweeting of beer-related things, @BradOnBeer tweeted a link to this Business Week article the other day about the merging of Anheuser-Busch and InBev: The Plot to Destroy America’s Beer. Honestly, I think the title of the piece is a bit melodramatic, but it’s pretty good nonetheless. You should read it. As usual, you can just go do that now (in a new tab, obviously) while I wait here.
All done? Great!
Admittedly, I suppose that to a large degree, this story is largely preaching to choir, especially for a blog that includes the subtitle, "Believers in Better Beer." But, still, there’s a point to be made here. For me, personally, as an advocate of craft beer, the hardest thing I find myself having to deal with is that idea that I’m one of those nefarious "beer snobs." The term itself, at least in my mind, conjures an image of a haughty fellow with a long, possibly pointed, nose – decorated ridiculously by a pencil-thin mustache, a monocle, and a sneer – who makes revolted faces and regularly waves away IPAs because everyone knows South American hops pass their floral-scented prime on Oct. 15th.
I don’t want to be that guy. No one wants to be that guy. At least no one I know. But when I occasionally crinkle up my nose at the thought of drinking a Bud Light, I’m nevertheless accused a being that guy, and should just shut up and let people like what they like.
By all means, I do think people should like what they like. But by that same token, I also think they should know what they’re getting in regards to what the like. And paragraphs like the one below illustrate exactly the point that many of the conglomerate brands are pretty much the modern equivalent of snake oil (in that they don’t care what’s in it, so long as they can convince you to buy it with a flashy sales pitch):
A former top AB InBev executive, who declined to be identified because he didn’t want to get in trouble with his old employer, tells a different story. He says the company saved about $55 million a year substituting cheaper hops in Budweiser and other U.S. beers for more expensive ones like Hallertauer Mittelfrüh. It is hard to say whether the average Bud drinker has noticed.
In other words, the executive team at AB InBev doesn’t seem to care much about the beer it makes, so long as you still buy it. And, in fact, if they can make it cheaper somehow and still get you to buy it, well, that’d be just downright awesome, and they’ll happily giggle and skip all the way to the Ferrari dealership. Oh, and when they’ve squeezed every drop of precious, precious profit imaginable out of a brand, they’ll just move on to the next brand (Pepsi, anyone?) like a swarm of cost-cutting locusts, until they’ve gotten all the cars, watches, and houses they can buy.
I realize, of course, that this seems to run counter to the post I wrote earlier this year in defense of Blue Moon, an SABMiller product. But, really, it’s not; it’s the same argument applied to a different topic in somewhat different light. Because, see, all indications are that Blue Moon actually cares about their brewing. They see it for both the biological science and the art that is. At AB InBev, however, many of the brands they’ve acquired appear to be tinkered with by financial and economic scientists, often without regard to how it might effect the end product.
And that’s where the line rests for me.
That said, by all means, I do now (and always will) encourage anyone to like what they like. Taste, obviously, is subjective. But if I can manage, from time to time, to help someone realize that there are brewers out there making other beers that they’d like just as much but who care much, much more about what they’re putting into it rather than just what they’re getting out of you, well, that makes me smile.
Because, at the heart of it, at least when it comes to beer, I don’t think anyone should be little more than a source of revenue.
There’re plenty of other ways to be taken advantage of in life, why not at least patronize a brewery that cares about giving its absolute best to its customers, not its share holders.
This post has not been revised since publication.