Here’s a multiple choice question:
a) Beer is an industrial product.
b) Beer is an artisanal product.
c) Wine is a pastoral/agricultural product.
d) Wine is an industrial product.
Which if these choices do you think Field Maloney chose in a story that appeared the web magazine Slate? I’ll give you a hint. The headline read: Beer in the Headlights. Sales are flat. Wine is ascendant. How did this happen?
He wrote about a) and c). We know – and I’m pretty sure he does, too – that the correct answer is “all of the above.”
I’m hoping that Jay Brooks gets around to a complete critique of this story (looks like he did), because a beer guy can find a lot to object to – whether it is the way that he uses a genuine beer expert like Lew Bryson to add beer cred or the less-than-accurate description of how beer is made.
(Or the fact that he writes “A Google search of beer and passion yields 1.48 million entries, while wine and passion yields four times that.” When I did that a minute ago the numbers were 1.7 million and 2 million.)
Much of what Mr. Maloney writes is correct. The largest American breweries have an image problem, although projects like Anheuser-Busch’s Here’s to Beer may be helping. Connoisseurship, passion and lifestyle are increasingly important.
However, I’m not buying into the wine/hand-crafted and beer/industrial premise. Consider these facts:
– Two Buck Chuck, called Charles Shaw wines in better company but still selling for $1.99 in California and a bit more elsewhere, last year accounted for 5 million cases of sales in 274 Trader Joe’s across the country. In California, wine heaven, eight out of 100 bottles of all wine sold are Two Buck Chuck. So growth hasn’t been fueled only by the “fine-wine industry.”
– The ascendance of fine wine and fine dining is generally linked to Northern California in the 1970s. That’s when Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley and vintners from Napa and Sonoma scored their victories in the “Judgment of Paris.” It’s ALSO when Fritz Maytag modernized Anchor Brewing, effectively making it the first American microbrewery. Soon Jack McAuliffe founded New Albion Brewing, then Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi started Sierra Nevada, and we were off and running.
Last year the breweries we call craft produced comparable to 100 million cases – all less generic than Two Buck Chuck.
Hey, Slate, how did this happen?