Sunday, April 20, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Point of Brew: ABInbev and the Brotherhood of Brewers

MichaelLewisW

By
From page A9 | February 27, 2014 | Leave Comment

Some years ago, I gave a talk at the Craft Brewers Conference that suggested too many craft brewers were making what I called extreme beers. I suggested they were catering to a few devoted and vociferous aficionados who were pulling the craft industry in a dangerous direction toward the highly alcoholic, extremely bitter and sour end of the flavor spectrum. I thought (and still think) this was counterproductive to the long run to the growth of the craft segment.

After nearly 40 years, the craft penetration of the beer market is about 6 percent and one company owns one-quarter of that volume. Is that really success?
Predictably, a well-known and successful brewer took umbrage at my characterization of some craft brews and went out of his way to tell me so in no uncertain terms. I replied that his beers in particular were the poster boys for my point and should carry a red-flag warning to potential customers. Neither of us liked this conversation (and perhaps regretted it); it has taken some years for friendship and cooperation to be re-established.
However, I am sure that neither one of us has changed his mind; we are just willing to give the other guy space to hold his own opinion and our brotherhood in beer and brewing remains intact.
I was therefore intrigued by a headline in the Sacramento Bee Ticket section at the end of January that read “Brotherhood of craft beer threatened?” Turns out that Tony Magee, owner of Lagunitas Brewing Co., had lambasted Jim Koch, owner of Boston Brewing Co., on Twitter (of course!) for targeting Lagunitas IPA draft beers. Jim had brought to market a copycat beer called Samuel Adams Rebel IPA and specifically identified as “West Coast style IPA”; Tony thought this put Jim’s Rebel into Lagunitas’ territory.

Now, it seems to me perfectly normal for brewers to compete head-to-head for sales based on beer quality; brewing companies, even quite small ones, employ marketing personnel to do exactly that. Fair competition is one thing, but unfortunately, there are many underhanded schemes that tilt the playing field and that is quite another matter; perhaps there is more to this squabble than meets the eye and that fuels Tony’s rage. We don’t know.

However, there are thousands of IPAs out there; I can assure Tony that every brewer making an IPA, not just Jim Koch, is trying very hard to take away Tony’s tap handles in bars all over the country. At the end of the day, Tony’s only true defense in the competitive marketplace is the truly splendid beers that Lagunitas makes under the direction of head brewer Jeremy Marshal, a Davis brewing student.
The author of this piece, Justin Grant, goes on to speculate that with the drastic increase in competition in the craft industry, now with some 2,700 breweries nationwide working with a small slice of the market, there is bound to be more conflict among craft brewers that will undermine the cohesiveness and strength of the community; that is the brewers’ brotherhood.

That is possible because most craft breweries actually have passionate red-blooded owners who might well take personally the struggle for sales in the marketplace however fair that competition might be. Craft breweries are personal fifes, not large, faceless, emotionless, calculating, international, corporate entities with chief executives.
There is nothing to prevent the chief executives of large, faceless, emotionless, calculating, international, corporate entities making each other’s lives a misery. Contemporary with the article mentioned above I stumbled on this headline, “Warsteiner shares $145 million fine; ABInbev escapes.”
Turns out that ABInbev’s German operation ratted on their fellow brewers. To put it in the words of the magazine article: “The investigation was launched (by the Federal Cartel Office) on the basis of information from the German branch of Anheuser-Busch Inbev SA, which wasn’t fined as a result of its cooperation.”

This implies that ABInbev had some culpability but, by coming clean, saved its own bacon. Apparently, the five major German breweries fined (with six more under investigation) were caught fixing prices; they conspired to push up the price of a hectoliter of draft beer by between 5 and 7 euros (maybe $7 to $10) and the price of a 20-bottle case by one euro.
I think shopping one’s colleagues to the tune of $145 million might well threaten the brotherhood of brewers; indeed in this case there are a number of high-level executives who appear to have personal responsibility because the price-fixing arrangements were made informally, almost casually, doubtless over a glass or two of beer. I’m sure they are upset!
In any human endeavor in which there is competition, success and failure, there will inevitably arise personal enmities; it cannot be all wine and roses. Indeed given the vigorous, inventive, intensely alive folk who are drawn to risk everything to make craft beer, it is amazing we can even think in terms of a brotherhood of brewers.
But remarkably, and for the most part, we can.
— Reach Michael Lewis at cymro@sbcglobal.net. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Tom Adams seeks Davis school board seat

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1

     
    Hub of activity: DHS newspaper keeps evolving

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    A springtime ritual

    By Wayne Tilcock | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Holy fire ceremony draws thousands in Jerusalem

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

     
    Tour renovated YCCC facility Thursday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Tour Davis Waldorf School on Wednesday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    The fifth annual Tour de Cluck is soon to be hatched

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    Ortiz lawn signs available

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Sign up soon for spring cooking classes

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Robb Davis team to rally on Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Steadfast in their support

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A4, 11 Comments | Gallery

     
    Yolo Hospice offers free grief workshops

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Sign up for Camp Kesem caterpillar crawl

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Quilters gear up for annual show

    By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A4

    League hosts a series of candidate forums

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    KDVS launches fund drive on Monday

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A5

    Calling all Scrabble fans

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5, 1 Comment | Gallery

     
    Hub webpage is seeing traffic increasing

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A8

    Hotel/conference center info meeting set

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

     
    Lescroart welcomes all to book-launch party

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A16 | Gallery

    DEVO set to serve up 14th annual Winkler Dinner

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16, 1 Comment | Gallery

     
    Learn Chinese crafts at I-House

    By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A16

    Preschool open house set at Davis Waldorf

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

     
    Birch Lane celebrates its 50th anniversary

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

    .

    Forum

    Take ownership of your health

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

     
    Keep your baby safe

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

     
    Not thrilled with lack of symmetry

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

    Reliving the agony and ecstasy of spring

    By Marion Franck | From Page: A7

     
    Road diet? No, city diet!

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12, 5 Comments

    We’re reveling in our equality

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12, 1 Comment

     
    Vote no; it’s fiscally responsible

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12, 3 Comments

    Rick McKee cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

     
    Core values on campus

    By Our View | From Page: A12, 3 Comments

     
    Don’t want to sit in Fix 50 traffic? Consider alternatives

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13, 1 Comment

     
    Bill is an affront to UC Davis ag biotech and local farmers

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13, 3 Comments

    .

    Sports

    Devils burn up the track

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    UCD softball shut out by Santa Barbara

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Aggie men shoot 9-under, lead own tourney

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Stars shine in Woody Wilson Classic

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1, 1 Comment | Gallery

     
    UCD roundup: Aggie baseball swept away by Highlanders

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

    A’s score 3 in ninth, rally past Astros 4-3

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

     
    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    Yolo Federal Credit Union gets WISH funds

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    PG&E pays taxes, fees to county, cities

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9, 1 Comment

    Will Davis get an Old Soul?

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A9

     
    Pediatricians, nurse practitioner hired at Woodland Healthcare

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    Asian stocks mostly higher after mixed U.S. earnings

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

     
    Davis Roots will showcase its graduating startups

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14

    University Honda wins another President’s Award

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14 | Gallery

     
    Dutch Bros. raises $19,000 for girl with leukemia

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14 | Gallery

    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, April 20, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B8