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Beer as green as they come

Today is the day everybody – thank goodness, not everybody, but a lot of body – drinks or at least talks about green beer.

Kudos to Wired magazine for writing about the environmentally friendly, if not truly green, beers of Brooklyn Brewery and New Belgium Brewing.

Brooklyn recently followed the lead of New Belgium in committing to wind power to provide 100% of the brewery’s energy needs. “It’s the right thing to do, and not too many years down the road it will be a common choice,” said Brooklyn co-founder Steve Hindy.

New Belgium gets 70 percent of its power from wind-powered turbines, producing the rest with an innovative in-house system.

New Belgium puts its waste water inside closed pools filled with anaerobic bacteria. The microbes feed on the water, rich in nutrients from the brewing process, and produce methane gas, which is then pumped back to the factory where it becomes electrical and thermal energy.

CEO Kim Jordan indicates that New Belgium doesn’t plan to stop at 30%, although the system cost $5 million.

“It’s a gratifying way to use money, to try and push the envelope and the practice of alternative energy,” she said. “It’s our goal to completely close that loop, so all our energy use comes from our own waste stream.”

Beer investment funds? Hope not

Let’s hope that this doesn’t happen with beer.

Bloomberg.com reports that a boom in fine-wine demand means business is booming for wine fund managers. One example of a new fund that is seeking to attract larger institutional investors into the wine industry is the Dumbarton Group’s European Wine Investment Fund.

The New York-based fund is looking to raise $400 million to invest in vineyards in Bordeaux and Tuscany. Managing Partner Brooks Miller told the Wine Invest 2006 conference in London last month that the fund has $50 million committed so far and plans to raise another $150 million to $200 million this year.

An interesting look at a strange world. One man quoted is chairman of the wine committee at Mansfield College, Oxford. He is in charge of a 4,000-bottle cellar.

Beer, bourbon and barrels

The Lexington Herald-Leader profiles the efforts of Tom Griffin to convince microbrewers that they can make great beer with used bourbon barrels from Kentucky.

“We’re selling bourbon country,” he said.

The entire story is worth your time, but make sure to take time to think about Griffin’s idea presented in the last paragraph:

“This is getting to be another indigenous flavor,” he said. “Here we have something from America, developed in America, done nowhere else in the world and it gets its start in old Kentucky.”

It may get its finish in California or Michigan, perhaps a cult beer like Cuvee de Tomme from Port Brewing or as a different beer that’s still the kernel of an idea in a craft brewer’s brain.

Fun to think about.

No thanks, we don’t want better beer

You may recall that SABMiller CEO Graham Mackay recently discussed how beer consumers in the developing world are “trading up” from lower quality, cheap beer.

Granted, we may be talking apples and oranges when comparing beer in the United States and developing countries, but you still gotta wonder if Norman Adami, president and chief executive of Milwaukee’s Miller Brewing (a subsidiary of SABMiller), got the “trading up” memo.

In examing the flurry of new products from Anheuser-Busch, the Chicago Tribune quoted Benj Steinman, editor of Beer Marketers Insights: “The beer industry has been declining for years,” and “(the) high-end is really where it is happening in the beer industry.”

Adami then seemed to disgree.

“The key determiner of success or failure for every major beer brand in America will be its ability to stake out a differentiated positioning,” he said. “It’s not that people want to trade up. . . . but they are looking for brands that are distinctive.”

You’ve got to give the guy credit. He’s saying Miller Genuine Draft – which is now being promoted as “Grown Up” – is already good enough. But to me “better” is distinctive. The same old beer, no matter how much you spend on marketing, is not distinctive.

Small, the New Big – and beer

The cover story of February’s Inc. magazine tells us “Small is the New Big,” a phrase that’s been batted around for the last year, meaning small can be part of a successful business model.

Given the recent success of small-batch breweries versus larger mainstream brewers it would seem that idea extends to beer.

Sure enough, the Inc. article is adapted from the book Small Giants, and one of 14 businesses featured in the book is Anchor Brewing. In the sidebar, author Bo Burlingham writes:

With another capacity crisis looming in the early 1990s, (founder Fritz) Maytag made plans to raise capital for expansion by taking the company public, but he pulled back at the last moment. “I realized we were doing the IPO out of desperation – because we thought we had to grow,” Maytag recalls.

“It occurred to me that you could have a small prestigious, profitable business, and it would be all right. Like a restaurant. Just because it’s the best around doesn’t mean you have to franchise or even expand. You can stay as you are and have a business that’s profitable and rewarding and a source of great pride. So we made a decision not to grow. This was not going to be a giant company – not on my watch.”

As a bit of background, here’s more about Small is the new big.

When it comes to beer there are practical reasons to wonder about small and big. Fred Eckhardt wrote a wonderful column for All About Beer magazine about 10 years ago where he asked “What is craft beer?”

Among the answers was one from author-brewpub pioneer Greg Noonan of Vermont Pub & Brewery:

“Craft brewed (should) mean pure, natural beer brewed in a nonautomated brewery of less than 50-barrel brew length, using traditional methods and premium, whole, natural ingredients, and no flavor- lessening adjuncts or extracts, additives or preservatives.”

Is that true today?

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