Friday, May 10, 2013

They just don't get it, do they?

When you hear the words "craft beer" or "hand-crafted beer," what comes to mind?  Probably a vision of a pint glass filled with beer from a locally filled keg that has body, flavor, aroma and is delicious.  If you ponder craft beer beyond that, you probably also get a vision of a small crew in or around a brew house, maybe mucking out a mash tun by hand, maybe smiling and drinking one of their own at the end of the day.  You might conjure up a bunch of words that you relate to craft beer, words like: local, committed, or passionate.  You have the vision of people working together with a common vision of making great beer, right?

When you expand your consideration of craft beer, you might also come to a couple of other words - authentic is one and I think environmentally conscious is another.  Both of these are important.  Authentic means really means that what you see, and what you think you see, is really what you are getting.  That's why people are suspicious of contract brewing or that the discussion of "crafty vs. craft" caused such a stir.  There is a lot of fun in the industry, but behind the pun names, the occasional drinking song or keg throwing contest, there are people who really care about making good beer and spreading the understanding of what we do.  That's one of the reasons I enjoy being part of the industry.

Another reason, beyond the camaraderie and commitment, is that the industry shows a genuine concern about the environment and our industry's impact on it.  We want to make good beer and make the world a better place at the same time.  Really.  Anyone reading these words has also read stories about breweries with solar and wind power generation investments, recollection of water or heat that can be re-used, burners using debris to generate power or heat to be used.  At our own brewery we give our spent grain to a pig farmer rather than throw it away, not only because it saves us the cost of disposing of it, but because it has food value and it would be wasteful to just throw away.  We use the cold water used for cooling wort on one side the heat exchanger for the next brew.  It saves resources and makes sense.

We are also looking at a bottling or canning line for packaging beer.  We are heavily inclined towards canning because the environmental impact appears to be more reasonable.  We want to be sure that the technology allows for the quality we want, but if so, we are willing to spend more on the front end to allow us to have a more reasonable and positive environmental impact over the life of the equipment and package.  There is no one forcing us to do this, but it is part of the ethos of our company and, I believe, our industry.

Which is why it was both dismaying but not atypical to read this headline recently, "Budweiser's new can has twice the aluminum." (  If it had been written by an internet wunderkind instead of in Waste & Recycling News, it might have had a subheadline of "Fail".

Wow, that's certainly worth double the aluminum and six years of research!
You may or may not have seen the new can before now, but assuredly you will, over and over and over on tv, magazines, online ads, billboard, bus sides, in-store promotions, hot air balloons, condom wrappers, bumper stickers, coffee cups, get-well cards, lunch boxes, on the judging table at X-Factor, basically where ever several million dollars of advertising will get it.  In-Bev will spend millions to tell "you," the beer buying public how wonderful it is, what an effin great innovation it is, how much better your experience will be.  And the ads will probably use American flags and first responders at barbecues and maybe Clydesdale horses, but for sure they will be very well done, very effective and very full of shit.  Because here is the next result of their can innovation - the can has twice as much aluminum and holds 0.7 ounces less beer.  Excuse my crass language, but who the eff thought that was a good idea?

Can you imagine any craft beer company of any size any where saying, "let's use twice as much material to hold less beer!"  But hey, don't worry, we will use smoke, mirrors and tens of millions of dollars selling 'merica on what great innovation it is!

No, sorry.  It might work for a month or a quarter or a year, but ultimate it doesn't.  Abraham Lincoln said that you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.  People are recognizing that this particular emperor has no clothes.  People are slowly, but surely, recognizing that there is a difference between the craft beer and macro beer and it is as simple to see as the difference between a pint of beer poured from a locally-filled keg and that new bowtie can of Budweiser.  It's the difference between authentic and not.  And they just don't get it.  And no amount of advertising can ultimately hide that fact.

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