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1.3 billion Chinese don’t care about American beer

No matter how long I think about a story or how many times I might rewrite sections I know when I look at it in print that I’ll realize I could have or should have written some part more clearly.

Case in point, an article in the current issue of All About Beer magazine headlined “Ameri-Brew.” AABM paid me for my words, so it’s fair enough that I not post all of them here. Very briefly, the “nut graph”:

  • In one of the last essays he wrote in 2007, the introduction to Beer: Eyewitness Companions, the late Michael Jackson argued that “tomorrow’s classics will evolve from a new breed of American brews that are categorized by their admirers as ‘Extreme Beers.’ These are the most intense-tasting beers ever produced anywhere in the world.”
  • The story deals with the implications of that argument. What I should have written better:

  • Call it the Americanization of world beer or simply globalization, but the international beer landscape is changing. Not everybody agrees if that’s good, but few dispute America is at the center.
  • A better choice of words would have been “America is at the center of this change” or “America is the lightning rod.”

    To be clear, America is not the center of the beer world. You can say there is no center of the beer world or you can say the spot you are drinking in right now is the center of the beer world. Same meaning.

    I don’t care if Budweiser does sell for about eight times more than local beers in China. Discerning drinkers around the world are not going to look to Americans to supply all their beer needs, or even to beers that imitate those Americans brew.

    Want an idea of what change looks like in a traditional brewing nation? Read Evan Rail’s recent article from the New York Times.

    What my story in All About Beer didn’t get to is what specific beers Jackson might have been talking about when he wrote “tomorrow’s classics.” Or put another way, consider this comment regarding Jackson’s 1982 list of 5-star beers: “Given the evolution in beer and beer styles, as well as the explosion in American Craft Brewing creativity, I wonder how his list would be different if he were around to do it again.”

    I’m not going to suggest I have an answer, but after a little more research I intend to post a few dots you can connect yourself.


    12 Responses to 1.3 billion Chinese don’t care about American beer

    1. Deverie December 15, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

      Interesting take on this. Merchant du Vin, one of the bigger beer importers to the US, recently announced that they are moving in to the Chinese market. Here is a link to more information on their website:

    2. Mike December 16, 2009 at 8:47 am #

      Stan, Michael Jackson was a journalist, just like you and I and, also like you and I, he was capable of making mistakes. The quote from him strikes me as nonsense, nothing more. God save us from “intense-tasting beers”! Sure, a nice strong stout or geuze is nice every once in a while, but what do they have to do with American beer?

      If you want to consider the greatest impact US brewers have had on beer, let’s be realistic, it’s Anheuser-Busch, Miller and rest of their gang. Have you ever thought about why each and every US (dumbed-down) megabrewery has been bought by a foreign company? How many US craft breweries have been bought by foreign companies? Clearly these companies expect to make a truck-load of money from Miller and Bud.

      If the American craft brewers are so influential, why is it that only a handful of brewers in Europe are following them? It is further no small coincidence that theses few European brewers then turn around and distribute their beer in ….. the US!

      Enjoy your “intense-tasting beers” (or, more specifically, your triple imperial stouts and your quadrupel IPAs) and I’ll happily enjoy the un-intense, but highly drinkable and delicious beers of Europe.

    3. Stan Hieronymus December 16, 2009 at 9:58 am #

      I’m still not being clear enough, so I’ll cheat and lift another quote from the story. This from Dan Shelton, no fans of super-intense beers.

      “People had no model for modern small brewery success. Americans gave them that.”

      New (small) breweries are popping up everywhere – Scandinavia, the Czech Republic, Italy, South American and so on. Much of what success they have comes from offering something “different” – which doesn’t many it has to be crazy or “innovative.”

      That’s the model the US provides. It doesn’t mean that they have to copy the beers.

      Besides – and to your credit, you know this – the vast majority of “not Bud” sales are not intense-tasting beers.

    4. Mike December 16, 2009 at 11:19 am #

      Are you saying that any small brewery that opens anywhere and offers “something different” is doing so thanks to the US? What is “different”?

      Stan, as you well know, there are many small breweries all over the world and not all of them make the “same” beer. So, does that make it different?

      The quote from Dan Shelton is almost laughable. There have been small breweries in Europe for almost two thousand years and it took the Americans to show the modern ones how to do it?

      I also don’t understand what the article by Evan Rail has to do with this topic. New breweries opened in the Czech Republic – is that thanks to the US as well?

      Breweries have and do open all the time. Most try to make something that people will like. How has the US craft beer movement changed that?

    5. Stan Hieronymus December 16, 2009 at 11:46 am #

      Something different than Heineken (or Bud or Krombacher or . . .).

      Opening a small brewery has became easier anywhere in the world because vendors, fabricators – an entire industry – sprung to life to supply more than 1500 (some since closed) breweries that opened in the US in just 20 years.

      Plus, of course, the availability of Cascade hops ;>)

    6. Ron Pattinson December 16, 2009 at 12:05 pm #

      Stan, I think you’ll find that the small brewery explosion in Europe started independently.

      In the UK, it began in the 1970’s. In Holland, the 1980’s. In Germany around the same time with new brewpubs. France had to wait a little longer. In none of these cases was the US an inspiration.

      New European breweries aren’t the result a single cause or a single source of inspiration. What’s happened in France and Germany, for example, hasn’t taken its cue from the Anglo-Saxon world at all. In the case of the former, Belgium was the catalyst.

      In Europe, if there was a country that demonstrated new breweries could succeed, it was the UK. And it was CAMRA that inspired other European countries to start beer consumer organisations, which also played a crucial role in encouraging brewery startups.

      These are what I’d say was behind the new wave of European breweries:

      David Bruce with his Firkin chain of brewpubs
      Belgian beer
      increased consumer interest in quality products

      The influence of the US scene on most European countries is too small to measure. Denmark, Sweden a fair bit. The UK and Norway a bit.

    7. Ron Pattinson December 16, 2009 at 12:09 pm #

      There have been specialist European producers of brewpub and small brewery equipment manufactures for a couple of decades.

      More new breweries have opened in Europe than in the USA. Around 600 (still open) in the UK alone.

      The US is not at the centre of new brewing in Europe. Yet.

    8. Mike December 16, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

      “Something different than Heineken (or Bud or Krombacher or . . .).” In both Europe and the US, the megabreweries number a handful and the small brewers are the vast majority. Here in the Netherlands plenty of tiny breweries opened in the 1980s and 1990s. I can’t think of a single one that tried to emulate Heineken or any other megabrewer. Did they open because of anything to do with the US?

      And thank you very much for those god-awful hops! I had a de Molen bokbier brewed with them and asked the pub for my money back (they declined). However, I saw Menno (de Molen’s brewer) and asked him about it. He said it was sort of a joke. He wanted to make a bokbier that wasn’t sweet (like a lot of the Dutch ones). So, yes, here’s a Dutch brewer using US hops (to make a point). You know, there are some mushrooms that are poisonous. People don’t eat them, do they?

    9. Stan Hieronymus December 16, 2009 at 12:53 pm #

      To go back to the top I didn’t say that the US is the center (or centre) of new brewing – in Europe or elsewhere.

      Otherwise I appreciate the perspective.

      And Mike, well at least I didn’t call you a “total, total, total bastard.”

    10. Mike December 16, 2009 at 1:12 pm #

      Well, that’s not far from what you wrote: “the international beer landscape is changing. Not everybody agrees if that’s good, but few dispute America is at the center.”

      And while it’s true you didn’t call me a t.t.t. bastard, neither did I you. Truce before we start?

    11. Stan Hieronymus December 16, 2009 at 1:28 pm #

      Sorry, Mike. I just wanted to point to Ron’s whimsical post.

      Of course we are back to the sentence I already wrote should have been better constructed. And which is how I got in trouble from the get go.

    12. Mike December 16, 2009 at 1:51 pm #

      Stan, my apologies – I didn’t mean it to sound so serious. I meant it in a light way. Funny how words sometimes don’t say what the author means.

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