Friday, December 18, 2009

How Things Have Changed

Saw this piece in Slate's The Big Money (thanks to a tweet-link from Beer Business Daily's Harry Schumacher (who just started following me on Twitter, so I returned the favor...and immediately reaped more benefit than I suspect he ever will)) about Bud Light Golden Wheat buying up all the ad time on an SNL episode back on October.

Old news, right? Wrong. Here's the little bit of relevance that makes this a year-story rather than a week-story. Blogger Dan Mitchell says this about the description of BLGW:
The campaign, like so many campaigns aimed at drinkers of mass-produced American beer, emphasizes the brew's "drinkability," which can be translated as "wateriness."
Now...can you imagine seeing that kind of flippancy in the news ten years ago? I couldn't, so I checked (thanks, Google): Bud Light and watery. The only hits I got were three: a taste test of Bud vs. Budvar in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a piece by my good buddy and fellow beer writer Ron "The King" Givens in the Daily News where he says old-time ballpark suds were "the cheapest, most watery stuff that could be poured into a cup" but doesn't actually tag Bud Light as that, and, well, a piece by St. Michael Jackson about how not all American beers are watery.

Sea change time. The whole paradigm has shifted. Smart, bright journalists now say mainstream beer is "watery." Do we call this the "Arrogant Bastard Effect," or the "Sam Adams Shuffle"? How about The Great Awakening? How about Truth Setting You Free?

American mainstream beer. I still do drink it, if only from regional brewers: I'll definitely still drink a Lager or a Straub, and I've said here I enjoyed slamming a 16 oz. Narragansett. But...is it flavorful? No. Is it something I drink regularly? No. Is it refreshing? Yeah, for the most part, it is. And is it sweet to hear a mainstream journalist casually refer to it in terms of 'wateriness?' Yeah. Definitely. One more indication that we've hit that tipping point.

14 comments:

Rob K said...

The fact that Bud Light is making a "Golden Wheat" is in itself all the proof anyone needs that indeed things have changed.

Anonymous said...

I just saw on TV that bud light is not too heavy NOR too light that really put me at ease because I was concerned about finding it too heavy and was delaying purchase.

jp said...

In my opinion, 4-6% of US beer volumes represents a repsectable niche market not a sea change.
http://www.beertown.org/email/ba/2008_craft_numbers_release.html
I would not be surprised in Inbev moves more of this wheat beer in volume than the entire philly craft beeer market combined.

Lew Bryson said...

jp,

Numbers aren't the point; it's about perception. I'm not one who runs around shouting that craft beer is taking over the market; I'm very much on the side of calm assessment, and I've pointed out the small numbers of craft many times. But I've been part of the, what, 'different beer community' for a long time, almost 30 years. What I'm talking about in this post is how the image of craft and specialty import beers and the image of mainstream beers have changed. Craft/specialty import are no longer weird and fringey; mainstream beer is no longer "real beer". I find that to be a significant change, and one that will only serve to accelerate the change. As craft beer shows up in more places, people will see it more places: chain restaurants, large hotel bars, airlines. That will make it less 'different' and more likely to be sampled.

ABIB will be selling more beer than the crafts for a long time to come. It's the change that's interesting.

Anonymous said...

Well in all honesty Lew I assume you are doing the majority of your drinking IN craft beer bars WITH craft beer geeks and in a major urban area (philly).

To most of the country craft beer is still weird, or elitist, and Bud type beer is still real beer. The numbers reflect that. Fact that there are now a couple of 6 packs of craft in take out places in mainstream, USA, is akin to seeing a bunch of turkey gizzards for sale next to ground turkey at the supermarket. Sure, it's there, but it's "weird" and doesnt get bought much in comparison. And the majority of kids I see drinking in bars are drinking Miller Lite, and that INCLUDES craft beer bars all over the country.

jp said...

Oh I understand that, and I appreciate your work and dedication as much as anybody probably more than most. But citing an article from Slate (on-line none the less)as evidence of a 'sea change' in the American society sort of smacks me as 'group think' syndrome. When Reader's Digest, TV Guide or Family Circle starts ripping into Inbev I will buy into a sea change, until then it is just a small sub set of smart, educated people with above average disposable income enjoying a luxury that vast majority people in this country are indifferent if not oblivious to. Pretty much the same people that might read slate on line

Lew Bryson said...

I do a fair amount of drinking outside craft beer bars, actually, and I grew up rural, and still like to drink out in the country; more to the point, what I do kind of depends on getting the whole picture.

Craft beer is being sold in places it never has before: ESPN Zone, Sheraton hotels, UNO Pizzerias, and Ruby Tuesday restaurants have craft beer programs now, fairly savvy ones at that. More people are still drinking mainstream beer? Well, yeah! I mean, those are the numbers. Again, I'm not saying everyone everywhere is drinking craft beer. But it is showing up a lot more places, and it's not the two-headed oddity any more. Do some still see it as elitist? Probably, and probably the same people see wine as elitist. But it's changing, and it's changed a lot in the past five years.

Lew Bryson said...

Understood, jp, but here's the thing: five years ago, that same guy would have been making fun of craft beer, not mainstream beer. I know, I've read a lot of those pieces. I see more newspapers with regular beer coverage (Gannett offers a syndicated beer column to their papers), there are 'beer guys' on classic rock radio, craft beer is exploding in the midwest.

It's like imports. 30 years ago, imported beer was about 1.5% of the U.S. market, and drinking imported beer was seen as elitist, or snobbish, an affectation. Now it's 10 times that, and nobody thinks twice about someone having a Corona. I think craft is reaching the point where it becomes more ordinary.

Anonymous said...

Oh, that's right, Corona IS imported. Not exactly the same taste profile as the classic european beers.

Hey Lew, I'd be interested to read more about your experiences in non-craft beer bars both what you are drinking and what the places are like. I may be in the minority here but I bet it would make for a a good contrast to a lot of the craft beer writing that is around.

Lew Bryson said...

Oh, that's right, Corona IS imported. Not exactly the same taste profile as the classic european beers.

Which is why we've all gone to saying "specialty imported beers." It's kind of circuitous.

As for my drinking in non-craft bars, here's a taste:
http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com/Articles/26_637_Hunting_on_the_holidays.html

Lew Bryson said...

Oh, and there's this one, too.

http://www.lewbryson.com/nepahotdog.htm

Anonymous said...

Good reads, thanks. Good to know The taproom in Fleetwood is still there. Been years since I was there. WOuld have liked a little more embellishment on the chilly reception in Mahanoy City. You should have asked for a Kaiers, that might have gotten you a better reception.

Lew Bryson said...

Ah, well, Mahanoy City. We had asked at Yuengling where they got the Postie's Birch Beer they served in the taproom. They sent us up to a beer distributor in Mahanoy City. There was a young woman behind the counter, kinda cute, and an older guy who looked -- and acted -- a lot like Charles Bronson (who was a Pennsylvanian, but from western PA).

The girl was bored, but the guy kept following us around the store, not saying anything, glaring at us and keeping his hand in one pocket of his coat. Unnerving. The birch beer? They mixed it in the back room, she said, nothing to see here. The guy followed us out onto the sidewalk -- hand still in his pocket -- and stared at us as we got back in the car and drove away. Thanks, we'll be sure to come back!

Anonymous said...

haha. I've had similar encounters with some beer distributors. Some of those guys get VERY uncomfortable if you come in and look around... not just go up to the bud lite pile and grab a case right away. I had a job pre-internet on the road with a buddy and we had lots of time to kill so we would go into every beer distributor we came across just to check out their selection. After talking to one guy he said he thought we were casing the joint. Told him, nah, we're just bored and killing time. Did make me realize there are some real characters running distributors.

As for mixing it in the back room, may be the dept of ag should be checking into that one...