Silence and Secrets Have No Place Here

Anonymous sources are not unusual. In many cases, they are vital.

The contacts made by journalists, and the information they provide, are often pivotal for the success of the Fourth Estate. While Deep Throat is among our country’s most famous examples, there are daily reminders in all forms of media of men and women who circumvent risks and obligations to provide insight into the world around us we may not see, or share personal stories that can be too threatening to safety and well being.

But in some rare instances, anonymity is provided as a favor. The stakes aren’t as great and, under deadline or perceived necessity, names are retracted to appease. Maybe a story doesn’t seem as complete. Generally, this practice is frowned upon.

Among the many reasons why someone’s name needs to stay secret, the threshold was apparently crossed recently when an employee at Indiana’s Route 2 Brews didn’t feel comfortable talking on the record about overtly sexist branding created by the business.

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Addressing Diversity in Beer: Seeking Action

date-grape-beer

Note: This is a follow up to my Q&A with the Brewers Association’s Julia Herz.

Over the weekend, I listened to the latest Good Beer Hunting podcast with members of Indianapolis’ Central State Brewing. Among the variety of topics covered by host Michael Kiser was a lengthy discussion of the business’ commitment to social issues of equality and diversity. The Central State crew spoke with earnest about their interest in LGBT issues and Indiana’s political climate.

On Tuesday, I saw a brewery with a beer named “Date Grape.”

This contrast is not just the push-pull of today’s beer industry, but American culture as well. It’s easy to find wonderful examples of people, businesses and institutions doing what’s right for the advancement of human beings. Then you turn around and that 180 feels like more than a metaphor when you see downright ignorant acts.

The inappropriate beer name wound up being a sad mistake by Mobcraft, a crowd-sourced brewery that neglected to vet the names of beers submitted by fans, something that will now be corrected. Whoever the person may be who shared it was sadly “inspired” to make an ingredient-based pun out of “date rape.”

Even though the correction is welcomed, the incident still speaks to the larger problem of sexism and inclusion that hovers over the beer industry and beyond. The sheer fact that someone thought they were being smart and clever with such a wildly inappropriate name says a lot.

Then again, we are only 14 years separated from the “Sex for Sam” contest, which either seems like a lifetime ago or eerily relatable when we navel-gaze at the communities around us and what efforts in equality continue take place, in beer or otherwise.

There are real, tangible things happening on a regular basis that subvert what so many in beer try to champion: diversity and inclusion. In turn, we should start requesting real, tangible actions.

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Addressing Diversity in Beer: A Q&A with Julia Herz

judging

In May, while attending the Craft Brewers Conference, I was able to ask members of the Brewers Association administration about the organization’s efforts to address issues related to diversity and inclusion.

Following their responses, I wrote this piece, pointing out the rapidly shifting conversation about gender and race and why the BA should take the opportunity to be a leader in the effort. It was recognized by the North American Guild of Beer Writers with an honorable mention award for “Best Beer Commentary or Criticism.”

In the months since, Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, brainstormed and wrote the column, “Embracing Diversity in the Beer Biz,” pointing out what the BA currently knows, what it wants to know and what it’ll do in the coming year and beyond to better support and promote diversity in its many forms.

As a follow up to the coverage on this blog, I recently spoke to Julia Herz about her column and what she hopes it’ll do to advance efforts by the Brewers Association.

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The Not-So-Secret Secret of Beer Blogging: You Matter. No Matter What.

shovelThere’s a moment in the movie Caddyshack I can’t shake from my mind.

Danny Noonan, one of the film’s main characters, is trying to butter up antagonist and avid golfer Judge Elihu Smails in order to get an advantage for a college scholarship from the movie’s fictional country club. Danny can’t afford to go to college.

“Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too,” says the judge, playing up his well to-do lifestyle and feeling of superiority.

It’s a blow for Danny, but a salient point. The world does need ditch diggers, but the comment’s comedic purposes override the need to analyze it within context of the movie. What we’re expected to take away is that digging ditches is low, miserable work that should be avoided.

But what if it’s not so bad? What if there’s more to digging ditches than getting your hands dirty?

session_logo_all_text_300As basic as this task may seem, there should most certainly be an amount of pride – like any job – in wielding knowledge and skill beyond another person. Knowing the perfect depth with which to plunge a shovel into the earth and visualizing the right angle to make the task easier are skills, even if those abilities seem like low, miserable work.

Most of all, what are we to make of someone who enjoys digging ditches? Heaven forbid, according to Judge Smails.

In a very roundabout way, this has stuck in my head all week as I considered joining this month’s Session, a regular effort by beer bloggers around the world to collectively share thoughts on a single topic. Presented by the writer known simply as “DING,” this month’s prompt asks us to consider our place in the beer industry:

Are you simply a cog in the commercial machine if you work for a brewery, store or distributor? Are you nothing more than an interested consumer? Are you JUST a consumer? Are you a beer evangelist? Are you a wannabe, beer ‘professional’? Are you a beer writer? All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above? Where do you fit, and how do you see your own role in the beer landscape?

The more I thought about it, the more I considered these questions in other terms: Why do we write? What do we want out of writing?

Or rather, if we write, must we be above “ditch digging?” Is there a standard we must set for ourselves and others and cast out those who don’t meet those expectations?

I kept coming back to the same answer: who cares?

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The Road Ahead for Boston Beer: Where They’re Going, They Don’t Need Definitions

flames

Over the last few posts, we’ve tried to take a deep dive into Boston Beer to better grasp their business practices and more important, highlight how their decisions are influenced by a beer-loving culture established by chairman Jim Koch.

Depending on your level of beer nerdom – *points at self* – there may be a question underlying all the business talk and expansion and product creation: is Boston Beer too big to be craft beer?

My answer: who cares?

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Diversifying Boston Beer: How a Company Mindset Leads Growth, Innovation

sam lineup-boston beer

“They all want to grow, but the more they grow the less crafty they are,” he said. “They are getting fairly large and they are getting into each other’s space. They are having a hard time defining themselves as craft brewers because of their size.”
Pete Coors

You may recall the above foolishness of the MillerCoors chairman in May, when he made some rather wrong misguided surprising comments about the beer industry – especially the craft segment. Throughout Coors’ gripes, it was clear he has a disconnect from the state of the industry, but especially a misunderstanding of his main competitors in craft.

While a definition of “craft beer” may be bestowed upon companies like Boston Beer, there is little difficulty for these breweries to adhere to their own roots and belief systems. Especially when product diversification continues to play a pivotal role in daily operations.

Today’s plight of breweries isn’t just making good beer, it’s making a variety of beer that is also good.

When it comes to marketing and production, a brewery may focus on the biggest demographic of craft beer drinkers: Millennials. If the largest group of potential customers takes a laissez-faire attitude toward brand loyalty, a brewer needs to focus on variety:

Craft beers appear to be the biggest beneficiaries of that adventurous character. Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, says 46% of new craft beer drinkers are Millennials. Even when craft beer drinkers do “commit” to a brand, that “adventurous” character seems to mean they’re still interested in variety.

jim-koch

Jim Koch and his … variety.

But this post is not about Millennials. It’s about Boston Beer. If the idea of new discovery is pivotal to your brewery’s fan base – increasingly so for all demographics – what are you supposed to do when you’re a successful company nearing $1 billion in annual revenue?

You either double-down on what you have, stay satisfied and minimize your overall potential or you recognize the opportunity to grow, innovate and continue to push. Which one do you suspect Boston Beer chariman Jim Koch would learn toward?

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Marketing Boston Beer: When Ad Spending Is About More Than the Ads

tv with sam

Believe it or not, Sam Adams is kind of small in the world of beer.

Yes, on the continent of craft, it’s the largest country around, exporting about 3 million barrels of beer, almost 2 million more than second-ranked Sierra Nevada. But put that into the context of a globe filled with nuclear powers of AB InBev, SABMiller, Heineken and more, and all of a sudden Sam Adams annual output doesn’t seem so powerful.

It’s not clear cut, given that Sam Adams six-packs and boxes of seasonal releases adorn the shelving at supermarkets and convenience stores across the country, but Boston Lager, Rebel IPA and all their friends only hold 1.3 percent of beer market share. In the grand scheme of the industry, that’s quite a lot, but it’s also roughly the same as Bud Light Platinum.

Which is why Boston Beer has been upping its advertising game. But it may not be as simple as a perceived land grab to take up more space on TV or radio, leading to the annexation of of space in your beer fridge.

Rather, there are hints that the Sam Adams’ marketing strategy simply adheres to co-founder and chairman Jim Koch’s outlook on the beer industry and where Boston Beer sits among it all.

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There’s Craft in Your Beer: A Giant, An Industry and a Definition

sam adams-dictionary-beer-definition-craft-crafty

Something that has always struck me about the beer industry is its white-knuckled grasp on definitions.

We have BJCP guidelines to tell us how a beer should look and taste, but we also have a definition of beer itself. Or, at least, what constitutes the artisanal aspect of beer production, better known as “craft.”

All the “little guys” earn a title of “craft brewer” depending on a variety of standards set forth by the Brewers Association. Namely, that breweries be independently owned (or at least 75 percent so), they create beers whose flavor comes from “traditional” or “innovative” brewing ingredients and they produce 6 million barrels of beer or less, approximately 3 percent of annual sales in the United States.

That last marker – size of production – might also be recognized for its relationship with the Boston Beer Company, the largest member of the Brewers Association. In 2010, the Association upped its threshold of allowable barrel production from 2 million to 6 million as Boston Beer, maker of Sam Adams, was preparing to break through that cap, thus nullifying its existence as a “craft brewer.”

As it stands today, Boson Beer produces about 3 million barrels of Sam Adams annually, and that number is going up. Fast.

For beer enthusiasts, defining the difference between Big Beer (AB InBev, SABMiller) and everyone else has been a hot topic in the past year, as the Brewers Association works to inflate craft’s market share in order to sell 20 percent of all beer by 2020.

But the thing is, these definitions come across more fermentally-challanged than anything, especially when you consider they are placed upon businesses in an industry that thrives on bucking trends and setting their own paths. Even if a brewer is producing 3 million barrels of beer, they are more than the definition we provide for them. They are not a descriptive term, they are a story.

Instead of focusing on Boston Beer’s place in terms of the definition of craft, we should instead train our eyes (and livers) on the company’s commitment to the industry. As a profit-driven company, the growth and business acumen of Boston Beer is kind of amazing, but if you look hard enough, you’ll see that owner Jim Koch has never lost sight of his roots as a plucky, upstart brewer.

Which is why I’m devoting a few posts this week to a deeper look at Boston Beer and what they’ve been doing in recent years. To some, the company may seem to be a giant in the beer industry that simply is adorned with the title of “craft.” Their ever-expanding profits and ad dollars certainly create that point of view.

But ultimately, the flexibility of the company and commitment to its homegrown culture is what drives its products (and company) forward. But don’t just take my word for it:

“We are reminded every day that we are still a small business,” [Jim] Koch told Entrepreneur.com in Washington D.C. during National Small Business Week. “We have to compete with these enormous global companies that are 50, 100 times our size, and you have to bring the small business game to that — just innovate, try to think of a better way to do things, try to be more nimble and smarter about all your decisions.”

I hope you’ll join me this week to share your own impressions of Boston Beer, Sam Adams and why being nimble is valuable when you have to wiggle out of a definition thrust upon you.

Posts in this series:

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

Is the Fastest-Growing Domestic Beer a Key for Beer Marketing?

michelob key hole

Despite ongoing problems with going up against the craft beer sector here in the U.S., AB InBev recently announced it had an OK start to the fiscal year.

In fact, its three core brands – Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois – actually grew 8.3 percent gobally. It’s just that the company is still having a rough time here at home.

But all is not lost.

In one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” occasions, Michelob Ultra is riding a hell of a wave in sales right now – one that is now into its third year. From 2011 into May 2014, AB InBev-owned Michelob Ultra has seen sales growth of 10.3 percent or more each year. That’s a trend, even if it is easy to ignore as craft beers fly off the shelves.

While Michelob Ultra won’t ever knock off Bud Light as the top-selling domestic beer brand, it is currently the fastest-growing large domestic beer brand at a time when our attention is appropriately focused on the innovation of craft.

In today’s beer industry, I realize that sounds like Michelob Ultra is the senior captain on a high school’s JV football team, but it still counts for something, right?

Even more so, the way this has happened for Michelob Ultra suggests this kind of growth may be sustainable and could even be taken as a “best practice” for others.

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Big Beer is Wounded, Here’s How They’re Trying to Heal

This is how we know craft beer is winning.

It’s not necessarily the almost 8 percent (and growing) market share or the nearly 2,800 operating breweries or craft’s cornering of the IPA, the style for which people have an insatiable demand.

It’s because if you look around, you can see signs of wavering confidence in Big Beer’s marketing.

In recent days, I found two such examples.

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