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Archive | February, 2008

Soft jazz, folk, Blue Moon White and Miller Lite

Today Don Russell compares the Miller Lite Brewers Collection to Kenny G.

I’ve previously written something similar about Coors Blue Moon White Ale and Peter, Paul & Mary.

The difference would be that I was arguing Peter Paul & Mary are authentic, and Don is making no such case for Kenny G. Just that his stuff sells. So a more parallel analogy would be to pick an “folk” artist similar to Miller Lite Wheat since the press material compares it to Blue Moon. Perhaps Trini “If I Had a Hammer” Lopez. (He’s in the Latin Music Hall of Fame, but what the heck was he doing singing Pete Seeger’s stuff?)

But that’s not the question of the day.

The question is what music genre does that leave for Anheuser-Busch’s Shock Top Belgian White?

Don Barkley, micro pioneer, returns to his roots

Don Barkley, arguably the closest active link to America’s original microbrewery, is returning to small-scale brewing. The North Bay Business Journal has the scoop.

Visionaries from Mendocino County are looking to break down the walls between fine wine and craft beer in wine country. Don Barkley, a legend in U.S. craft brewing, left his post as master brewer at Ukiah-based Mendocino Brewing Co. in November and is preparing the inaugural releases this spring from a rare winery-brewery in south Napa.

Barkley worked for Jack McAuliffe in the 1970s at New Albion Brewing in Sonoma County shortly after McAuliffe started the first “built new” (it wasn’t really new) microbrewery. Last April when the Brewers Association honored the reclusive McAuliffe it was Barkley who accepted the award.

Barkley retired from Mendocino Brewing in November after nearly 25 years at the brewery. Mendocino acquired much of the new Albion equipment as well as the house yeast after New Albion closed.

He said he is looking forward to returning to smaller batch brewing, working in a 15-barrel brewhouse instead of with a 100-barrel system.

“Jack McAuliffe’s favorite comment was winemakers are poets and beer makers are industrialists,” Barkley said. “We’re going to see whether an industrialist can become a poet.”

This sounds like a discussion we’ve already had.

Slicing up the beer brewing pie

No surprise. The Brewers Association announced craft beer sales we up 12% in 2007, pretty much the same numbers that IRI revealed last week.

The story is here, but I wanted to draw your attention to this nifty looking chart. Much cooler than my photo with pieces of change earlier this week.

Beer pie chart

We can niggle about the definition of craft (click and scroll down), but moving around a few breweries out of 1449 isn’t going to change the percentages much.

What you see is a lot of choice (put it all in caps, if you want, and speak slowly).

But also that 97% of the breweries in the country make just 3.8% of the beer. Meaning 3% of the breweries produce 96% of the beer.

Make of that what you will.

Miller Lite Collection: Which one is the ale?

Continuing from yesterday, you and I will not determine if one or all three of the beers in the Miller Lite Brewers Collection survives testing and ultimately thrives or not. Light beer drinkers, or consumers not currently drinking beer, will.

Presumably it will be on flavor, but certainly marketing will be a factor. The other day I saw an ad for “Craft Beer. Done Lite” pop up on a San Diego website. (Speaking of the marketing, Neal Stewart of Flying Dog has interesting thoughts on this as a line extension.)

And if it’s flavor, I’m the wrong person to ask. So I’m not going to give you drinking notes (but I will provide links at the bottom). Instead, via email and through a public relations representative, I asked some of the questions I would visiting a brewery of whatever size. I didn’t get answers to every one, and some weren’t all that illuminating, so we’ll stick with the highlights. All the information was provided by Miller brewmaster Manny Manuele.

The beers were developed at Miller’s 10-barrel pilot system in Milwaukee. They are intentionally priced between mainstream light beers and the typical craft beer. The suggested retail price for a six-pack is $6.99.

Now, the ingredients (summarized from a couple of exchanges) and other basics.

Blonde Ale
Fermentables: Pale and caramel malt; maize
Hops: Willamette, Galena, Cascade, Chinook
IBU: 14
Ale fermentation

Fermentables: Pale, caramel and wheat malt; maize
Hops: Willamette, Galena
IBU: 6
Lager fermentation

Fermentables: Pale, dark crystal malt; maize
Hops: Willamette, Mt. Hood
IBU: 15
Lager fermentation

How long was spent developing these beers? Where did the idea originate?

Miller Lite Brewers Collection is targeted at mainstream light beer drinkers and capitalizes on two trends driving much of the current growth in the U.S. beer industry.

1. Light beers continue to provide the greatest sheer volume growth as American beer drinkers reaffirm their desire for drinkable, refreshing products.

2. As demonstrated by the continued growth of craft beers, we’re seeing an increasing interest in variety. American beer drinkers are more willing than ever to try different styles and brands.

At the intersection of these trends is Miller Lite Brewers Collection, which provides beer drinkers with the best of both worlds. Only with Miller Lite Brewers Collection can you get real craft-style taste and true light beer refreshment.

Were there different versions? In which case, why were these settled on?

Throughout the year or so we spent developing Miller Lite Brewers Collection, we considered several different styles. By selecting three styles with broad appeal to mainstream beer drinkers interested in trying a craft beer, we’ve significantly increased the likelihood that everyone will find a Miller Lite Brewers Collection variety to enjoy.

Where are they brewed and what is the batch size?

Miller Lite Brewers Collection is brewed in Milwaukee in relatively small batch sizes — less than 500 barrel brews.

Are the Brewers Collection beers all malt beers?

No. We’ve also brewed with wheat and corn for taste, lightness and refreshment.

All-malt is at the core of how “craft” brewers define their products. Would you say you disagree?

First, it’s important to note that these are not intended to be craft beers and are not targeted at craft drinkers. These are craft-style light beers. Additionally, “all malt” is one, but not the only, criteria that defines craft beer. The Brewers Association describes craft as beers brewed with a traditional process using malted and specialty grains, hops, water and yeast to deliver the aroma, taste and appearance characteristics not typically found in mainstream beers. That’s what we’re delivering — a unique consumer taste experience not typically found in light beers and consistent with craft-style beer.

The abv, calories and carbs are the same for all three beers (but different than Miller Lite). Was that intentional?

Yes. Our intention is to deliver more flavor and a more enjoyable taste experience for beer drinkers looking for variety, taste and drinkability in true light beers — in this case, at 4.2 percent ABV, 110 calories and 6.2 grams carbohydrate per 12-ounce serving.

The disclaimer: I received a package with these beers that went out to a variety of media. Here are Lew Bryson’s thoughts, notes from A Roughneck’s Take on Beer (you’ll have to jump between posts), and good marks from a Modern Brewery Age panel.

You’ll also find more opinions at the beer rating sites (but, again, the regulars there are not the target market). Both links are for the Blonde Ale: Rate Beer, and Beer Advocate.

Miller Lite craft-style: Fish where the fish are

Beer pie chart

That’s us on the right. The nickel, if for some reason you can’t see the image.

Those are the light beer drinkers on the left. The two quarters.

If you had something to sell which group would you market to?

The context for this question is that tomorrow I’ll have details about the Miller Lite Brewers Collection (being marketed as craft-style beers). The sort of stuff listed in the mission statement, like about the ingredients and the brewer’s intent. (That’s not in this post because in total there are too many words.)

In 1972, the year that Miller bought Meister Brau and the rights to Meister Brau Lite (which would be launched as Miller Lite the next year) American brewers of full-calorie beer pretty much had a big old silver dollar to themselves. Imports accounted for 1% of the market. There were no low-calorie beers. There were no “micros,” just Anchor selling a few thousands barrels.

Today light beer accounts for half of beer sales. Imports claim 15% (and more in terms of dollars spent). Budweiser is the only full-calorie beer in the seven top-selling domestically brewed beers. And that nickel on the right keeps getting bigger.

Although definitions of “craft” beer vary everybody agrees it amounts to about 4% of overall sales. Throw in non-industrial imports and “craft” is more like 5%. Just as important, for people selling beer, is price. “Craft” and “super premium” (Blue Moon White, Leinenkugel, Henry Weinhard, et al.) together account for 15% of dollar volume (that’s why I dropped a dime in the middle).

The point is that most of the beer drinkers who in 1972 were consuming full-calorie pale lagers have gone elsewhere. More to low-calorie beer than any other category.

Miller BlondeSo if you were fishing for beer drinkers who might “trade up” where would you fish?

Not on the right. Those of us over there have made the trade.

Where the full-calorie drinkers hang out? Importers and and craft breweries have been there for 30 years.

Maybe the best spots are on the left. Those are drinkers who traded over to low-calorie beers, not up. Of course you have to give them a reason to spend more. That would be flavor.

Does the Miller Lite have a plan for that with its Brewers Collection? That’s the question for tomorrow.

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