Sunday, November 18, 2012


I'm not sure how to take this article. Part of it is fact; part is conjecture, part I know to be false and part is He Said WHAT?

And I tend to see a bit of anti-business bias; well, the author does write for the Atlantic and lives in New York. I am assuming City, otherwise they would have said State. I have never heard of the Washington Monthly before, and some of its other promoted articles seem to have a bit of a leftward tilt. At one point our author refers to the 'Reagan regime'; that right there sounds like a commie buzzword to me.

But still, the article is worthy of review; if for nothing else the brief history of corporate brewing shenanigans. He does give a fairly complete history of who bought who and who joined who to bring us to our current sorry state of national brewing.

Oh, and I disagree with almost every one of his conclusions.

Basically, the author, a Mr. Tim Heffernan, seems to believe that the entire world is about to become alcoholics because of a flood of cheap beer, and uses England in the 1980's as an example. Well, I was in England in the 1980's, and my experience was completely different than the facts stated in the article.

Mr. Heffernan talks about cheap beer in the supermarkets. If there was, it was after I left. Nothing was more expensive that a 6 pack of English beer. A pint of almost anything in the pub was a Pound/Pound and a quarter; around 2 bucks, depending on the exchange rate. At the off-sale a 6 pack was about 8 Pounds; 16 bucks. A case of Michelob on base was about $9.00; a case of PBR (cans) was $5.00.

Maybe things changed after I left; I don't know. For some reason I lost interest in the cost of British beer when I quit drinking it.

And then our author drifts into the use of law to control alcohol, and fondly looks back on Prohibition (pardon while I pause for an involuntary shudder) as the only reason, almost 80 years after its repeal, that the entire country isn't full of drunken stumble-bums.

He also seems to believe that every law passed to control the use of alcohol has been co-opted by the brewing industry, so that its final result is nowhere near the intent of the law's design. Never mind that very few laws actually do exactly what they were intended to do, right? Well, except for the law of Unintended Consequences.

According to the author's conclusions, Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors control about 94% of the beer market, by owning or controlling the distribution of every beer but Sam Adams and local brew-pub down the block. And it is this control that will allow them to turn us all into drunks, by selling us cheap beer. For the record, I have been known to turn down even free Budweiser. Pay me 6 bucks a can and I might be tempted to have one or two, but only if I am allowed a couple of Dunkels in between to cleanse my palette.

But I digress.

Our author also attacks the English system of brewery owned pubs. When I was there a few years ago (early 80's if you must be specific) there were three types of pubs; Brewery owned; Brewery affiliated and Free Houses, that could sell any brand of beer. The pub would include that information on it's sign; 'The White Hart- Green King' or 'The Bird in Hand- Free House' Some of the Brewery owned places I remember visiting were just stores for the beer; brightly lit, antiseptic, uncomfortable places to drink beer. Usually a newer building, they were the corporate interpretation of a pub.

The affiliated pubs were nicer. Usually older- in a country where old is a thousand years- and well-kept, they were great places to have a pint. As long as you enjoyed the products of that brewery. Green King was a big East Anglican brewer, and a lot of the locals were Green King at the time. I recall liking a pint or two of their Light and Bitter, a mix of a light lager and a darker Bitters beer. But ask for a Carlsberg and you're out of luck.

The Free Houses were a mixed lot. Usually they were less well kept; one; because of the lack of brewery support adding to the profit margins, and two; because they usually attracted a younger, more raucous crowd.

Personally, I think there a lot to be said for the practice of a vertical monopoly. Each step in the distribution chain takes a little profit out of the process; if all steps are owned by the same entity, then that little bit of profit is rolled into one bit of profit. For instance; assume Coors brews a beer, and makes a penny on each can they sell to a distributor, who makes a penny on each can they sell to a bar, who makes a penny on each can they sell to a customer; total of 3 cents added to each can. If Coors sold the beer to the customer, they could still make their penny, and the customer saves two cents.

Face it; there are two trains of thought in this country; One; you are an irresponsible lout, and the only thing keeping you from a life of intolerable errors is the government controlling every aspect of your life. The other side of the coin says we will make all sorts of things available to you; your use or abuse of those things is your responsibility. Personally I am a member of Camp B.

Our author is most definitely a Camp A person. I would think that a flood of cheap beer would be a plus for the country; especially since we are facing a second Obama Administ.... 'Regime' (hey; sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, right?), where as he seems to believe we couldn't handle cheap beer without sinking into alcoholism.

Remember how I said I disagreed with almost all of his conclusions? Well, I do agree with his conclusion that having only 2 entities controlling the entire brewing industry could be a bad thing. Which is why I drink local craft beers every chance I get. To much control in too few hands is always an issue. And what if MillerCoors fails somehow; maybe though a Union strike?

I might have to quit drinking beer.


engelj06 said...

When I was in London back in the early 2000's I would define beer as being cheap. I think after the exchange I was paying about 5-6 a pint at most places. About what a beer cost here if not a dollar or so more. My memory is a little fuzzy and I was by no means the beer expert I am now but I think most pubs were free houses. I think in the late 90's the old system started dying out and most pubs went the free house route.
I would think cheap beer would help the economy. If the price for me to get a beer dropped $2.00 I'm more likely to go out for dinner and grab a drink.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

A cheap anything always helps an economy, especially a cheap necessity, like beer, bread or gasoline.

With the demise of Hostess, you can say goodbye to cheap bread too.

engelj06 said...

I doubt it. I get Kroger bread cheap as well as other brands. Hostess's bankruptcy won't hurt anything, ppl are lining up to buy the names and recipes. You'll see twinkles being sold be little Debbie for roughly the same price in 3 months.

My problem is always going to be cheap beer is available but taste like crap. Good beer like Sam, Moerlein, mt Carmel etc will always cost more

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

But who baked the Kroger bread, locally?

And even if it was Kroger, can they ramp up to meet the missing supply from Hostess/Wonder disappearing?

Long term is not the issue; short term is. And Twinkies are not the problem; bread is. Already the shelves are empty of rye bread in a couple of different stores.

Or you a modern day Marie Antoinette? They have no bread so let them eat snack cakes? ;?)

engelj06 said...

Lol that was a good one. No I'm just sure other companies like Klosterman will jump at the chance to increase production to make up for the shortfall from hostess. The rye issue is noticible because cincinnati eats more rye bread than most states combined.

Just like with beer if Budweizer thankfully died a quick death other brewers would make up the short fall.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

Increasing production may or may not be easy; it depends on if there is excess capacity that can be utilized to meet the demand.

If Hostess had just say 30% of the market, and there were 4 bakeries, then each bakery left would need to have a 10% over capacity in order to be able to meet demand, and they would also need the raw materials on hand. Everything from flour to bags; some of which may have extensive lead times.

The next few days will be interesting bread wise.