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Archive | August, 2010

Last Call? Not as long as America drinks

Last CallDuring a recent episode of the television series “Mad Men” newcomer Faye Miller told the iconic Don Draper, “I don’t know how people drink the way you do around here. I’d fall asleep.”

Miller serves as a proxy for those of us in the twenty-first century who are astonished at the amount of alcohol consumed during working hours on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. But why would we be? After all, as Daniel Okrent explains in Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition president James Madison drank an entire pint of whiskey daily. America and booze have always been on a first name basis, even during Prohibition.

Prohibition books come along quite regularly, but Okrent combines the sense of a historian with a great eye for detail and and ability to to entertain. For instance, one story about a sequence of events in the remote upper Michigan mining town of Iron River ultimately makes it clear why many hard working, middle class Americans would never obey the laws of Prohibition. It’s a little long to recount in detail here, so one paragraph from page 123:

Mostly, though, the press contingent got indoor pictures of Dalrymple staring down the thrity-four-year-old Mcdonough in the lobby of the Iron Inn or exterior shots of him out in the frigid February weather, sledgehammer in hand, smashing open the barrels of wine his men had managed to intercept. As vivid gouts of Dago Red saturated a nhearby snowbank, turning it a deep, grapy purple, a camerman from Pathé News gave a local man called “Necktie” Sensiba fifty cents to drop to his knees and eat the snow. The high school kids who joined him didn’t have to be paid.

His is a tale of politics — every beginning political science class should study how a collection of minorities managed to get a congressional amendment (nothing as simple as a law) passed that a clear majority clearly opposed — and thus politicians and other bigger than life characters. Grade schoolers today may not learn about Anti-Saloon League honcho Wayne B. Wheeler but Philip Seymour Hoffman would be mighty fine playing the part in a movie.

(The cover of the book says, “To be featured in a forthcoming Ken Burns documentary on PBS,” and that Okrent uses these characters to advance the plot surely appeals to Burns.)

Last Call is all encompassing — though it’s greatest strength is the chapters describing what happened during Prohibition itself — with plenty of before, during and after.

This seems almost like an aside, but although there’s plenty of beer inside it’s not really a beer book. Yet it fits quite neatly on the shelf next to Maureen Ogle’s Ambitious Brew. Okrent doesn’t detail how beer changed because of Prohibition, since, as Ogle explained, it didn’t. The road toward consolidation and a beer monoculture (dramatically reversed in the 1970s and ’80s) was paved before Prohibition.


If you followed Ray Daniels’ tweets earlier today you know that a presentation by Symphony IRI to members of the Brewers Association confirmed that “craft beer” sales are kicking butt, that mainstream beer sales are in the dumps and that IPAs seem destined to rule the world.

You also know that Blue Moon Belgian White Ale from MillerCoors and AB InBev’s Shock Top Belgian White grew 27 percent and 34 percent respectively (Shock Top off a much smaller base). But because the numbers fly by rather fast during a 55-slide, one-hour presentation some things take a while to sink in. Like that Stella Artois outsells Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but not Blue Moon Belgian White.

Since I seem to be in numbers mode these days I assembled a chart that mashes up the top 15 selling craft (IRI does not include Blue Moon in that group, but does include beers from the Craft Brewers Alliance although those aren’t craft beers according to the BA definition), super premium and imported beers. These are all beers consumers pay more for.

The IRI figures are based on scans at grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores, some liquor stores and a few other locations. Signature IRI does not capture every sale, or include draft sales, but more than enough to paint an accurate picture. They are for the first six months of 2010, and — just for fun — compared to the first six months of 2006. Sales are in millions of dollars.

   2010    2006
Corona Extra    $207.0 $224.5
Heineken    $129.7 $132.4
Michelob Ultra    $106.8 $106.7
Corona Light    $64.5 $60.1
Bud Light Lime    $61.3 ***
Tecate    $44.5 $36.9
Blue Moon White    $40.2 $14.1
Modelo Especial    $32.3 $23.4
Stella Artois    $31.2 ***
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale    $27.8 $24.8
Heineken Light    $27.7 $18.8
Newcastle Brown    $26.9 $21.1
Samuel Adams Boston Lager    $26.3 $21.8
Samuel Adams Seasonals    $25.7 $10.8
Guinness Draught    $23.9 $24.2

*** Bud Light Lime did not exist in 2006. Stella Artois was not among the top 15 selling imports (No. 15 on the list sold $12 million).

A couple of other notes: New Belgium Fat Tire sales are up more than 14 percent to $18.2 million (compared to $11.4 million for the first six months of 2006. Michelob Amber Bock outsold Blue Moon White in 2006 ($15 million to $14.1), and now it outsells Shock Top ($9.9 million to $8.5 million).

Consolidation started long before Prohibition

Here’s what the beginning of brewery consolidation looks like.

Last week I dug up a bunch of figures about the number of breweries and how much beer they made more than 100 years ago. Mike asked for a little perspective. So this chart starts in 1870 (the number of breweries peaked in 1873) and includes how much beer each brewery produced, on average, as well as per capita consumption by a growing population.

It tracks until 1920, the year Prohibition went into effect and picks up in 1935, a couple of years after repeal. The number of breweries steadily declined after 1935, while per capita consumption eventually surpassed 1910, peaking at 23.8 gallons a head in 1981. By 2000, of course, the three largest breweries produced more than 80 percent of American beer.

Year     Breweries    Barrels    BBL/Brewery    Per capita
1870       3,286 6.6 million       2,089 5.3 gallons
1875       2,783 9.1 million       3,414 6.6
1880       2,741 13.3 million       4,852 8.2
1885       2,230 19.2 million       8,610 10.5
1890       2,156 27.6 million       12,801 13.6
1895       1,771 33.6 million       18,972 15
1900       1,816 39.5 million       21,751 16
1905       1,847 49.5 million       26,800 18.3
1910       1,568 59.5 million       38,010 20
1915       1,345 59.8 million       44,461 18.7
1920       478 9.2 million       19,312 2.7
1935       776 45.2 million       59,008 10.3

Data from the History of the Brewing Industry and Brewing Science in America and the U.S. Brewers Association.

Session #43 announced: The new kids

The SessionThe Beer Babe has announced the topic of The Session #43 (Sept. 3) and “Welcoming The New Kids” challenges bloggers “to seek out a new brewery and think about ways in which they could be welcomed into the existing beer community.”

How does their beer compare to the craft beer scene in your area? Are they doing anything in a new/exciting way? What advice, as a beer consumer, would you give to these new breweries?

Take this opportunity to say hello to the new neighbors in your area. Maybe its a nanobrewery that came to a festival for the first time that you vowed to “check out” later. Maybe it’s a new local beer on a shelf on the corner store that you hadn’t seen before. Dig deeper and tell us a story about the “new kids on the block.” I look forward to welcoming them to the neighborhood!

All bloggers are welcome to participate. Just leave a link below The Beer Babe’s announcement.

What the heck is a Nano Brewery?

I was tempted to type the headline, add (eom) and see what happened . . .

I understand the concept of nano brewery (or nanobrewery). But if we are going to have a rule about when a brewery is too big to be called micro shouldn’t there be one for nano?

I ask because the Green Dragon in Portland, Ore., is sponsoring its second Nano Beer Festival next week — “25+ nano breweries and food from Portland’s food cart scene.” Referred to as Nano Food Carts (a nice touch) on this poster.

If you give the poster a good look you’ll notice Upright among the breweries. We visited Upright last year and there’s a 10-barrel brewhouse at the heart of that system. The guys at Berkshire Brewing in Massachusetts cranked out 6,000 barrels one year on their seven-barrel system. Granted, they had to be crazy, and microbrewery has been defined on the basis of production rather than size of each batch, but nano generally refers to something very, or even extremely, small.

A nanosecond is a billionth of a second. Feel free to check my math (because it is probably wrong), but the amounts get too small if we try this with billionths. Start with a 700-barrel brewhouse — mega breweries make even bigger batches but consider of the Anheuser-Busch plant outside of Fort Collins, Colo., which is gigantic. Divide 700 by 1,000,000, then multiply by 31 (that’s how many gallons are in a barrel). Multiply that by 128 (ounces in gallon) and we’re at a batch size of less than 3 ounces. That’s a millionth of 700 barrels. Divide that by 1,000 for a billionth.

Screw it. Let’s just call them craft breweries. Much more concise.

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