Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Miller Time

Confession time! It annoys me when people slander the quality of beers produced by the megabrewers. It's almost impossible to not make fun of their marketing, and I often do. Plus, considering all the "we can pay to play" political obstacles they throw at craft breweries, some of their corporate higher-ups are downright evil. However, the quality of their beer - i.e. the fact that they can nail their product specifications despite numerous brewery locales and variabilities in ingredients, equipment and water supplies - is mind-bogglingly impressive. I can understand not enjoying their beers, but it's simply wrong to accuse them of being poorly made.

I imagine that being a brewer or a scientist at a company like Miller must resemble living in a country where the characteristics of your nutcase leaders are projected onto you by the rest of the world because most people don't know anything about you. Having met a few of the Miller folks, I can vouch for them not being a bunch of ignorant cookie cuttings. They even drink craft beer! At the end of the day, though, people need jobs and Miller pays well. In addition, the company is on the forefront of brewing science and technology. Hell, I applied for a brewing job there a couple of years ago. I wasn't qualified because I don't have a degree in chemistry or chemical engineering, but imagine how much I could have learned! I like to think that I could have taught them a few things as well, but that's probably a common fantasy among craft brewers. The bottom line for industrial breweries trying to enter the craft market is that until they build dedicated facilities which trade efficiency for flexibility, or buy existing craft breweries and leave their core processes alone (the verdict is still out on you, GooseBev), they'll never be able to pull it off. Which is a shame, because some of the most flavorful beers I've ever tasted have come from a Miller pilot brewery. I don't know if they actually do this, but I find it funny that an experimental Chocolate Bock could account for 0.1% of the volume of any given batch of High Life.

Anyway... whether they brew Imperial Nut Oregano Braggots in souped-up 1/2-barrel kegs or brew MGD on the 1,000-barrel pinnacle of German brewhouse engineering, I enjoy the company of other brewers and I appreciate their work. My war is with the corporate executives and their lobbyists.

14 comments:

  1. "My war is with the corporate executives and their lobbyists"

    And their entire monopolizing business model. You can't separate beer from the process that makes it. Very literally, in the ingredients/technique/craft sense of process, but i think (and that is what makes craft brewing even more attractive) the socio-economico-political milieu that frames and enables its existence.

    There are some good geological engineers working at Exxon and some great theoretical physicists on Wall Street. But at the end of the day, they gave their sweat to an awful cause. Part of the hidden cost in their wage is the cost of putting their livelihood in counterhumanitarian purpose.

    If you have to spend a billion dollars to convince me what a brewer accomplished with state of the art american-german-south-african equipment is actually a beer i should consider drinking, maybe they aren't really brewing beer.

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  2. If Miller was a band they’d be Nickelback: nationally successful even though no one can figure out why. I got a few questions: Speaking of large major companies what is going to happen next year when InBev mergers with MillerCoors? Will Scott Walker flat out outlaw any beer whose brewers didn’t donate to his campaign? What’s the deal with Tenth and Blake buying a stake in Terrapin?

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  3. Hooray for beer! They are brewing beer....it's just not beer that you like.

    I'll even go further and say they are brewing good beer, but I'm using an objective definition of 'good' not a subjective definition.

    There are a lot of 'good' beers in the world that I don't enjoy or drink on a regular basis. And although I like a bit of craft variation in my beer, it's not so nice when I grab a 6 pack of a particular 'craft' beer and find I've purchased 6 different beers that are all supposed to be the the same beer. inconsistency can kill a brand and ABINBEV and SAB-Miller don't want to die so they take the safest path...consistency. Yep, it leads to a decrease in overall flavors (except the ones people like and want), but they stay in business.

    Don't like it...don't drink it. Showing your opinion by modifying your spending is a great way to influence companies (even mega-international industrial brewers). Watching beer industry sales numbers over the last decade has been interesting and how the big players react is even more interesting.

    For the record: I enjoy Miller High Life and given no craft options I'll order it in a bar.

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  4. I don't think it's fair to compare big breweries with Exxon and Wall Street. I agree that they all exploit the money = power nature of our political system to stifle competition and increase their profits, but the breweries aren't throwing the environment or the nation's financial health under the bus to do so.

    Plus, both Exxon and Wall Street provide essential services in addition to harming the population. Is the overall balance negative? Maybe or maybe not, and very few people are well-enough informed to accurately make such a judgment. That's why I'd rather try to prevent specific actions and expose known guilty parties than assume an entire organization is evil.

    If Miller was the only brewery in the world producing light American lagers, I don't think they'd need to spend billions on advertising. For the most part, it's not to convince you their beer is worth drinking but to convince you that their beer is better than the nearly-identical products made by other large breweries.

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  5. I wouldn't be so sure that they aren't throwing the environment or fiscal health under the bus in order to extract a profit on such a large scale. Thats the economic dimension to InBevAnheiserBuschMillerCoorsMolsenSouthAfricanBrewingCompany. Centralization and industrialization lead to monocroping, with more and more petroleum used in the farming process.

    As far as fiscal health, the IABMCMSAB market share is enormous. I'd love for someone with the macroeconomic chops to determine what sort of democratic-economic productivity could be achieved with quarterly dividend payouts on Miller stock, other than padding the pockets of institutional investors.

    Arguments about balance, such as, "well, nanotraders massively selling naked shorts do provide market liquidity for long positions. And since I'm not a physicist who can dissect algorithms, let's just throw up our hands and say we don't know if its good or bad," don't cut it.

    Evil might be above my pay grade, but bad for working men and women, and bad for craft beer isn't.

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  6. You make good points about environmental and fiscal impacts, but I think the overall goodness/badness of a company or industry - and this is the only reason I brought it up - should be an important consideration if you're going to condemn somebody for working there (as opposed to condemning, for example, a particular hedge fund manager for knowingly screwing people). That's all I'm sayin'.

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  7. Don't forget that many smaller liquor stores wouldn't be in business if it weren't for the cash flow and profits generated by selling Bud, Bud Light, and Miller Lite. Because they know that they can sell these, they can also stock slower turning microbrews.

    Plus, let's not forget some of their lesser brands have impressed "experts"...at the GABF this year nonetheless:

    Category: 32 American-Style Lager, Light Lager or Premium Lager - 55 Entries
    Gold: Old Milwaukee Light, Pabst Brewing Co., Woodridge, IL
    Silver: Busch Light, Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, MO
    Bronze: Pabst Blue Ribbon Light, Pabst Brewing Co., Woodridge, IL

    Category: 33 American-Style Specialty Lager or Cream Ale or Lager - 31 Entries
    Gold: Red Dog, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, WI
    Silver: Rainier, Pabst Brewing Co., Woodridge, IL
    Bronze: Old Style, Pabst Brewing Co., Woodridge, IL
    source:www.gabf.org

    ...so while their flagship brands get the volume, their secondary brands excel for their style.

    Lastly, the micros have surrendered the "light/lo-cal" category (save Gray's which, AFAIK, only sells their light at their Tied House, and Sam Adams), so, when looking for a session beer for parties in the summer, the macros represent a good offering.

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  8. The big breweries do brew high quality consistent beer. The style they make will show any flaw so they have to do a very good job. Add in that they are brewing high gravity beer in many cases and it is even more impressive.

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  9. I'm sure they do a great job at churning out mass quantities of adjuncted lager. It's just not what I'm looking for in a beer. The quality of brewpubs in Milwaukee is sorely lacking thanks to Miller's presence in town.

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  10. There is nothing wrong with adjuncts in beer. I don't like lager in general very much.

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  12. I agree with Joe. Sometimes I even think about the term "craft" beer or brewer. I met some mega brewer's once who kind of resent that the term because they feel it implies that they are less capable when just the opposite is true. They preferred "microbrewery" as being more accurate. I think craft is used to point out the greater diversity and uniqueness of beers produced by smaller brewers. I suggest to take into account the lack of diversity produced by microbreweries, perhaps we could start to call them "Monobrewers".

    There's lies, damn lies and then there's semantics!

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  13. Monobrewers... I like that.

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  14. They may be more capable but they are the ones who are responsible for the stereotypes of mega breweries being less innovative and doing little but pumping out the same tasteless beer in mass quantities while smaller breweries are trying different styles. There are much more stringent requirements for making what they do but they are seriously behind in innovation. They are not really making many new styles for the most part. Up until the last several years their strategy has seemed to be leveraging their market share with distributors to keep the smaller guys out instead of trying to get better and compete. Now they are making some progress but they are still leaning more towards profiting by buying up the competition instead of doing anything new. I wish they would try new smaller regional breweries instead. That probably isn't as profitable though. Bottom line I guess is that they care more about profits than innovation.

    Budweiser, Miller and Coors are the pinnacle of consistency. They lack creativity or probably more accurately don't think it would be profitable to start new breweries. Sorry that was so rambling.

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