Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wolves Dressed as Sheep, Sheep Dressed as Wolves--Beer Ephemera

My brother, Stephen, and I often chat about the local beer distribution scene. As a general manager of a locally owned restaurant, Stephen is privy to the coming and going of beers into and out of the market, and he has a pretty good take on how trends within the industry affect us locally.

One trend we discussed recently was the diluting of the craft beer market by giant commercial brewers. As craft breweries are enjoying increasing success even as larger breweries are reporting slumping beer sales, the latter have begun to introduce faux-micros, beers that are intended to match--or at least intended to convince consumers that they match—the quality and variety of beers crafted by local and regional breweries. The marketing and branding of these beers range from the up-front (think of the recent batch of Michelob-branded specialty beers) to the deceptive (micro “imposters” brewed by the macrobreweries but without obvious disclosure of their origin, such as Blue Moon, Killian’s Red, even “Memphis Brown”; see this article for a great write-up).

To be fair, some of these imposters taste pretty good; I’ve enjoyed a nice Amber Bock as an alternative to watery lagers more than once. But the move is a deceptive one, aiming to capitalize on a market trend (and charge near-craft prices to boot). I’m not going to assume that the goal is to Wal-Mart the smaller breweries out of business (and there are too many upstart craft breweries making great beer for that to happen, I think), but the trend does raise an eyebrow.

Conversely, I’ve also recently tried beers sold only at Costco and marketed under the ubiquitous Costco “Kirkland” label. Enjoying the beer way more than I thought I should, I looked at the label and noticed Kirkland beer is brewed in Utica, New York—which just happens to be the city in which Saranac beer is brewed. A little Internet research confirmed that, sure enough, Saranac (more specifically, the FX Matt Brewing Co, which brews Saranac) brews the Kirkland beer sold in the eastern US (Gordon Biersch brews the beer sold in the western half of the country). I only recently tried and enjoyed Saranac beer, which has just recently entered the Memphis market. Since it’s sold for around 7 bucks a six-pack, and since a case of Kirkland beer is available for about $18 (roughly $0.75/bottle), the latter is obviously a much better deal.

So am I contradicting myself by eschewing the macros-sold-as-micros while embracing the semi-micro disguised as a macro? Perhaps, though if the choice is between a cheap tasty beer and an expensive not-as-tasty one, I’ll choose the former every time.

Fortunately, though, options other than those two exist, and the best option—buying fresh, locally brewed beer—is readily available to me in the Ghost River family of beers. Cheers to them!


discourse said...

I didn't know your brother managed the Half Shell. One of my fav restaurants. It's been too long since we've been there.

Dunkel Weiss (Michelob) is fairly good.

David T said...

Yep, he's been there for many years now. It's one of our favorite places as well--nepotism aside. Maybe we could meet y'all there some evening?

Thanks for the tip on Dunkel Weiss...I never know what'll strike me in the beer aisle.