The Full Bar - all my pages

Monday, December 19, 2011

Goldman Sachs misses a beat on Beam acquisition

Saw in my morning news round-up that Goldman Sachs' analysts don't believe Beam's acquisition of Irish whiskey maker Cooley will affect the chances that Beam itself will become an acquisition target. "Tuck-in acquisition in line with management commentary, does not alter our view of BEAM as a likely acquisition candidate - BEAM has been vocal in its willingness to acquire where appropriate and the scale of this purchase is very small. Given these factors we do not believe the acquisition alters the likelihood of BEAM ultimately being an M&A target." I think they're missing something.

Beam has been an acquisition target since before it was spun off as a pure drinks company earlier this year, a move that was tantamount to dousing it in warm cow blood and tossing it in the tiger cage at the zoo. The Jim Beam and Maker's Mark franchises alone -- and the huge wedge into the growing US bourbon market they represent -- made Beam the top item on the M&A menu for hungry drinks companies like Diageo, Pernod Ricard, and Campari. There may be problems with getting such a large chunk of the bourbon market -- US antitrust action has woken up from a long sleep, see the nixing of the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger -- but that would only affect Campari, with their Wild Turkey ownership.

But what about Irish? There are only three Irish whiskey distillers (and four distilleries, counting Cooley's newly re-opened Kilbeggan distillery; though there is strong speculation that William Grant will build a distillery for their new acquisition, Tullamore Dew), and Pernod and Diageo own the other two; Midleton/Jameson and Bushmills, respectively. Cooley is a tiny bit of that market, but may well have an outsize effect on anti-monopoly considerations.

Competition regulators were likely relieved when Pernod was forced to sell Bushmills in 2005 (as part of brand off-loading it had to do in order to buy up Allied Domecq); I suspect they're not going to be quick to allow even this much more concentration of Irish whiskey, especially when it's growing the way it is. Is it a deal-breaker? No. Is Beam still likely an acquisition target? Given the way things have been going the past 15 years, almost certainly. Does this complicate things? Yes, I do believe it does, especially for Diageo (which owns Bushmills and fast-charging Bulleit and the admittedly tiny George Dickel) and Pernod Ricard (ruling the Irish whiskey world with Jameson).

But does it mean anything to you? Hard to say. Did Campari buying Wild Turkey change anything? Not yet; the new distillery was a Pernod project the Italians simply completed, and they're continuing the brand extensions. Diageo buying Bushmills was probably a good thing, long-term.

But I can't help thinking about British brewing. Twenty years ago, there were about six large British brewers left. Now there are none. You can argue that they made crappy beer, but they're gone, and largely the jobs are gone. Do you really want to see American distilling go the same way? Beam is independent; Brown Forman is independent; Heaven Hill is independent; Buffalo Trace/Sazerac and Van Winkle are independent. Now Beam is in the hunt, and Brown Forman's been mentioned. Heaven Hill's probably safe as a family-owned company, but Sazerac? Hard to say.

And of course, it weakens the argument of keeping American distilling American when the company you're concerned about just bought the last independent Irish distiller. Kismet, anyone?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Race you to Christmas!

I am becoming a slave to my calendar...yesterday was a taping for American Beer Blogger at Porter's Pub in Easton, had a great time with Larry Porter, and found out about Weyerbacher's coming new graphics and logo, and talked to owner Troy Reynard about Two Rivers Brewing, a new brewpub coming to town soon. Good taping, good fun, good beer...and then on the road along the river back home to make dinner before heading to a dress rehearsal.

After the second of those evening rehearsals this week, my church choir's Christmas concert is tonight (and of course, I'd be happy to see any of you at St. Andrew's RCC in Newtown: it's a very good concert, with a small string ensemble). Tomorrow night I'm at Appalachian Brewing in Harrisburg for a book signing and fundraiser for the "American Beer Blogger" Kickstarter campaign (come out and pledge!).

I get to spend the weekend with the family, then Tuesday 12/20 I'll be visiting Valley Malt in western Massachusetts to see their custom micromaltings operation, dropping in to check out Element Brewing, and checking in with Will Meyers at Cambridge Brewing to sample some beers he's made with Valley Malt...and then over to Craft Beer Cellar for a Kickstarter fund-raising event with Suzanne and Kate, and Chris Lohring will be there with plenty of Notch Session beers (including the new Černé Pivo dark lager), and brewer Nate Heck will be joining us from Harpoon with their latest 100 Barrel release; come on out, 4-6, get some Notch and fresh Harpoon, and make a pledge to bring great beer (and some real fun) to TV! (I then pick up my son and drive home...should get in around 1 AM...)

Thursday 12/22 is the Book Singing Party at the Grey Lodge! It's not a typo: have a beer, pick up a signed copy of Pennsylvania Breweries or New Jersey Breweries, and join the surprisingly musical crowd at the G Lodge in singing some Christmas carols. We just had a great time at the family's annual caroling party, and my pitchpipe's all warmed up. It's an old-time a bar! We'll be harmonizing from 7:30 to 9:00, and remember, we all sound better after a couple drinks. 

After that? Well, next Friday, the family's going to do our usual last-minute Christmas shopping and lunch and wandering around Bethlehem, PA (and maybe grabbing a couple quick beers at Bethlehem Brew Works and the Hotel Bethlehem). After's into the Christmas/New Year's week, and a chance to relax before I start on a round of Kickstarter fundraisers...more about that later!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Half Acre Daisy Cutter

I've got another 16 oz. can from Half Acre Beer Company (and again, thanks to regular reader (and buddy!) Steve Herberger for the trade): Daisy Cutter Pale Ale. You know...15 years ago, we'd have said this was an IPA (even at 5.2% ABV) and whistled at how bitter and hoppily aromatic it is. Now? Definitely a pale ale in the sliding scale that is today's Hoppy Ale Continuum, and definitely perky and tasty. There's a serious snappy bitterness on the end, too. I recommend this to my buddy who thinks pale ales "have nothing to say anymore." Listen up, fathead.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas at Max's in Baltimore

If I posted everytime Max's on Broadway had a great beer event, you'd think this was the Max's blog...but I had to stick this one in. Really makes me wish Baltimore was less than 2.5 hours away; actually, I wish that pretty often. Been too long since I've been there, and this proves it!

TOMORROW DEC, 6, 2011 @6PM
It is that great time a year again. This Year we think we are putting out one of the best line ups, for the holiday social. So here it is.........
Struise Tsjeeses Reserva
10.0% Belgian triple aged 8 Months on Stone Fruits and 6 Months on Oak.(Belgium)
Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva 2005
10.0% Belgian Strong Dark Ale. Aged 24 Months on Oak barrels. The Last 10 Months are aged on Calvados Oak Barrels.(Belgium)
Hebrew 15:15
13.5% Hybrid Barleywine w. Pomegranates, Dates & Grapes(US)
Firestone Walker XV
12.5% Barrel Aged Blended Beer. 76% Barleywine style Beer, 19.0% Stout 5% Imperial IPA(US)
Evil Twin Soft Xmas
10.9% Imperial Stout w/ Vanilla & Sour Cherries(Denmark)
Evil Twin Christmas Eve At a New York City Hotel Room
10.0% Imperial Stout(Denmark)
Van Steenberge La Biere Du Boucanier Christmas
9.5% Belgian Holiday Ale(Belgium)
Emelisse Winterbier
9.0% Quad Style w/ Pils, Munchener & Abbey Malt w/ Candi Sugar(Netherlands)
Mikkeller Ris A La M'Ale 2011
8.0% Dutch Ale Based on a Traditional Dessert.(Denmark)
Plus Maybe one More Surprise Beers....

Friday, December 2, 2011

More on the Kickstarter

I'm taking the TV fundraiser on the road...WAY out on the road. The first event is set: I'll be joining the wonderful Kate & Suzanne at the Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, Massachusetts on December 20, from 4 to 6. Please come on out, see the video, ask me any damned question you want, and pledge some money to the Kickstarter.

Okay, I know, that's not real exciting. So Chris Lohring is going to be there too, with plenty of fresh Notch Session Beer for us to sample (and buy, folks: buy some, because I'm going to be and I hate being alone on things like this!). I'd love to do more events in the area, but I'll be visiting Valley Malt earlier in the day to find out what's going on there, then stopping in at Element Brewing on my way east; you know, it's just work, work, work.

There might be some stuff going on in Portland, Maine the night before, too: I'll keep you apprised.

Paying it forward

An open letter to craft brewers, importers, wholesalers, beer bar owners, beer store owners, and the other great people in the craft beer industry (and yes, you drinkers, too!).

I’ve been excited about beer for over 30 years, since I took my first sip of German pilsner in 1981. It opened my eyes to what beer could be, and eventually opened my life to a new career: writing the romance and beauty of beer to help bring that eye-opening moment to others. I’ve hosted, and taught, and spoken about beer to similarly excited people in bars, to dining rooms and halls full of people, and to radio and television audiences. I do it for a living, but as you probably know — and can empathize — it’s not a great living. It is a wonderful job, though, a calling, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other.

Over that time, I’ve talked to many of you, from the early days when people like Steve Hindy, F.X. Matt, David Geary, Carol Stoudt, Gary Fish, and Dick Yuengling took the time to answer my questions, through the exciting times when guys like Rob Todd, Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet, Sam Calagione, Tomme Arthur, Greg Hall, and Hugh Sisson talked to me what they were building. Then came the books, and I traveled all over Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland — thousands of miles and hundreds of four ounce samples — visiting every brewery in those states.

I took pictures, I blogged, I tweeted, and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. I loved what I saw, the people I met, and the beers I drank. I was part of it, helping spread the word, because that was what we did, from the start: when you found a place that had great beer, when you tasted a beer that stopped you in your tracks, when you met someone who turned you on to new beers…you shared it, you paid it forward. Someone told you about something great, so when you found something, you passed it on

For almost 20 years, I have tried to spread the word, to educate, and to even-handedly present the great stories all of you have to tell. Now I have a chance to amplify that word. Green Leaf Productions contacted me about hosting a television show they call “American Beer Blogger.” I agreed to take a swing at it, and we did some taping at Stoudt’s earlier this year that they used to make a short promotional video. You can see it here on the Web.

As you can see, that’s a Kickstarter page. Green Leaf is trying to raise $60,000 to shoot and edit six episodes, and then sell the series to a cable channel. Without that money, the show probably won’t go forward, and that would be a loss, because this show is going to be the real thing. It's going to be me, calling a brewer, or bar owner, or beer store owner/manager, and setting up a visit — just like I’ve done with many of you — going there and looking around and asking questions and tasting some beers and having some fun. The only thing I may do differently is some of the stuff they had me doing in the teaser: actually working, if only for a little bit, because that's fun, and it's something I'd like to do anyway. But we'll talk beer, we'll get our facts straight, and it won't be boring.

If I’ve helped the business, your business, in any way in the past, you know I couldn’t take money for that. I had to stay separate, stay independent, and that’s for the best. But if you’d like to help your business by having this show on the air, talking about beer in a fun, real way, here’s your chance. I still can’t take your money — it goes to Green Leaf, I’m just working for them — but if you sponsor the show, we can all do what we do best: better the image and recognition of good craft beer. A pledge of only $1,000 gets you an Associate Producer credit on the show, and there are other rewards for larger pledges. 

Maybe best of all, you’ll be paying it forward. I wrote about the industry — because I loved it, and found it fascinating, and still do — and this will give me a chance to tell more stories to lots more people. More people who will maybe get excited about beer, and turn into proselytizers of the word of craft beer. Give me this chance to spread the word even further! 

Thanks. It’s been a great ride, and it’s just getting better.

Lew Bryson