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Man Laws vs. Here’s To Beer

It’s fair to say that Anheuser-Busch’s “Here’s To Beer” campaign has not exactly been embraced by the craft beer community, and certainly not blogs (like this one) that have commented on it.

But compare it to Miller’s “Man Laws” commercials and website. Which is about beer?

First, in defense of both “Man Laws” and the “Here’s To Beer” spots like the one with Mike Imperioli and Bogey, these commercials remind us that when you drink a beer it’s not always just about the beer. For instance, I have an uncle who considers Beck’s Dark about as good as it gets – and by golly it happens to taste pretty good to me when I have a beer with him. My father, rest his soul, didn’t ask me to drink Miller Lite with him. That might have been the real test.

But when I watched the “Man Laws” commercials or visited the website (with the most obnoxious age verification ever seen) I see no mention of flavor [although it appears that Miller with be attacking A-B on that front using another set of commercials.]

At least the “Here’s To Beer” site is about beer. On the last visit – speaking of age verification, how come the site can’t rememeber me and I have to log in every time? – I saw a suggestion to serve an imperial stout with a chocolate stout. Last time I looked A-B didn’t brew an imperial stout, to they weren’t just pimping their own beer.

Now here’s why I’m writing about this. The Milwaukee Journal Sentintel (yes, Miller’s hometown newspaper) had a story about the success of “Man Laws” that’s appeared in several newspapers.

It reports that since being activated in May, www.manlaws.com has recorded nearly 14 million visits, including more than 542,000 unique visits.

Meanwhile, a press release from A-B in late July stated that since February www.herestobeer.com received “more than 300,000 hits.”

Looks line “Man Laws” is a pretty clear winner. Can’t see why I would think that is good.

What’s good for Sam . . .

Speaking of the “big picture,” news today from Boston Beer bodes well for the craft beer segment.

The brewer of Samuel Adams beers reported core shipment volume increased 22.8% in the second quarter. It also indicated distributor sales of the Boston Beer brands to retail (depletions) increased approximately 17% from the second quarter 2005.

In a company press release, founder Jim Koch said: “We are once again pleased with our quarterly depletions growth. The continued growth of the craft beer category, in which Samuel Adams is the leading brand, demonstrates the consumer trend of trading up to more full-flavored, richer-tasting beers.”

Sam Adams commands about 19% of the craft segment (Sierra Nevada is second with about 8.7%) and its sales were up 8% in 2005 while craft sales grew 9%.

You shouldn’t be surprised if more small breweries report similar results.

Beer is back in the news

Gee, I’m not sure the article was that bad.

Both Jay Brooks and Beercraft Blog take a piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to task for an article headlined “Beer sales falling flat as wine, other beverages grow in popularity.”

Granted, the story had its problems, but having just returned from a couple of weeks of grabbing newspapers and magazines I don’t often read I was impressed by the amount of positive attention craft beer is getting. I didn’t see anything comparable for wine or spirits.

In Champaign (Illinois) a local newspaper story offered kudos to the Blind Pig, an old/new bar who owner has shifted his emphasis from music to beer.

In St. Louis, Sauce Magazine’s Readers’ Choice 2006 poll featured the results of Favorite Local Brewery (Saint Louis Brewery/Schlafly beers) and Favorite Beer Selection (Growlers Pub) on the same page with Favorite Butcher and Favorite Coffee Roaster.

In Chicago, Where Magazine – stocked in hotel rooms throughout the metropolitan area – reported on “Beer, Glorious Beer.” It included four breweries and four brewpubs.

The Chicago Reader, a leading alternative newspaper, supplemented a feature on ice cream floats with a piece about beer floats.

In Milwaukee, Travelhost Magazine, another hotel supplement, reviewed several beer friendly restaurants.

That’s a lot of positive coverage.

And it’s not on the business pages. Business writers have long grouped big beer and little beer together when it comes to spotting trends or comparing beer sales to sales of spirits. That’s not going to stop.

Business stories report on what has (or is) happening. These other stories help influence what (is or) will be occuring.

Drinking notes: Brother Thelonious

Brother TheloniousLet’s cut right to the chase. Forget, at least for a moment, how Brother Thelonious pours, the various aromas that rise from the glass, the flavors, the finish. Instead go directly to the pairing: vinyl. Yep, serve this one with vintage jazz LPs (or even 78s).

North Coast Brewing in California wrote the recipe before giving this beer its name, so it wasn’t crafted with the idea it would be served in jazz clubs or that consumers at home might listen to Thelonious Monk or Monk compositions or jazz in general will sipping this strong dark Belgian-inspired ale.

But now it has the name, the fabulous label with piano keys circling Monk’s head, and the context in which you might drink this beer has changed.

It was more than 10 years ago that Stephen Beaumont wrote a story for All About Beer magazine about matching musical styles to beer styles. In revisiting the idea in A Taste for Beer he admitted that this was at time “a bit of a stretch” before deciding “sometimes a particular tune cries out for a specific beer.”

That connection begins in the head of the drinker. For instance, Beaumont wrote “I paired the deeply spiritual sounds of Bob Marley’s Uprising Album with the equally pious and reflective flavor of Chimay Grande Reserve.” Instead I might point first to the multi-level layers that Marley and the Wailers create and that Chimay Blue somehow finds similar depth (or did in 1995).

But what if we think about beer as music?

Consider another recently released beer: Avant Garde, the first offering in the new Lost Abbey line from Port Brewing. After all, Monk was a trailblazer for the jazz avant-garde. Though inspired by biere de gardes first brewed in French farmhouse breweries, Avant Garde also blazes a bit of its own trail.

It delivers the toasty/bready aromas and flavors we expect in a biere de garde – including a haunting earthy element – in playful harmony. It also provides surprising spicy notes that grab your attention without raising the volume. Perhaps not as riveting as the back and forth between Monk and John Coltrane in a composition such as “Sweet and Lovely,” but drawing upon the same sort of tension.

For that reason you might not want to drink Avant Garde while listening to Monk. You could prefer a beer that asks for less attention. (Personally, given that Avant Garde makes an excellent pairing with a variety of dishes, deferring to other flavors when need be, I think it works well with something like “Monk’s Dream.”) Avant Garde speaks to you without raising its voice.

Back to Brother Thelonious. The label and name give the beer – it is being released in conjunction with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz), and the brewery will make a contribution to the Institute for every case sold to support jazz education – a chance to speak to new customers. These are drinkers who may not usually order beer, and certainly some who wouldn’t consider a beer as bold, fruity (plums and raisins) and what many would call funky as a Belgian-inspired dark ale.

Brother T. is complex and challenging, though not nearly so much as a Monk composition. At 9% abv and packaged in a 750ml (wine-size) bottle, it’s a beer to sip and share – and probably one to stick in the cellar and see how it evolves.

As quickly as the dark fruits, some caramel and roasty flavors come upon you they are whisked away by a surprisingly dry finish. Sweetness and alcohol become a memory you can consider, or not – concentrating instead on the music (remember, that’s why we’re here).

This beer is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t assign numbers or try to rank beers. What’s inside the bottle is good enough, but there’s much more to Brother Thelonious.

Beer: Simple or complex?

French wine philosopher Pierre Boisset once said:

“Wine is at the same time simpler than people say and more complex than they think.”

Pretty easy to plug in the word beer for wine and make as much sense.

The quote comes from Hugh Johnson’s delightful memoir A Life Uncorked and he bring it up to make a point.

“Any fool can make a subject complex and any fool can say it is simple. But how much do you have to understand to grasp the essentials?” Johnson asks.

He goes on to write that most people try either too hard at wine or not hard enough, that it is an all-or-nothing passion.

“So what does the reasonable, perfectly balanced person need to know? That wine is not one thing, but many. To appreciate it you don’t have to swallow an encyclopaedia, but you do have to pay attention.”

Again, the analogy holds up well, just as it would for cheese, jazz or … pick your passion.

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