The Brooklyn Growler

"Life is all skittles and beer." — Tom Lehrer

Without Victory There Is No Survival

Pilsners, to me, are a distinctly summery beer, which is why I was happy to have a Victory Prima Pils on a recent September afternoon.

The Prima Pils from Downington, Pa.’s Victory Brewing Co. is brewed in the classic German style. Pilsners are a lager beer – historically stored in caves as a form of cold conditioning – that have a straw-like color and a nice but mild bite of hops with a refreshing finish.

Victory’s pilsner is all that and a little more. This pilsner has a 5.3 percent ABV and is double hopped to give it a sharper bite than most pilsners. The Prima Pils a strong-bodied pilsner that is full of flavor that fully embraces the pilsner style.

Pilsners often get a bad rap from craft-brew aficionados due, in part, to the proliferation of American-style pilsners such as Budweiser, Miller, and the like.

It was in the 1870s that pale lagers like Budweiser began to take hold in America, shifting tastes away from the heavy amber Bavarian beers. These new pilsners were made with corn or rice and were, at the time, more expensive to make than the all-malt beers – and these beers satisfied American beer drinkers more than any other beer. (The process for making them grew cheaper as time passed; at the time of their inception, though, it’s important to note that a Budweiser was actually an expensive beer to produce.)

These pilsners formed the backbone of the industrialization of the brewing industry. And as Maureen Ogle notes in her book Ambitious Brew, many local beers of the nineteenth century were made of poor quality and had an inconsistent, sour, or nonexistent flavor. It was Budweiser and its competitors who produced consistent-tasting beers at a high enough volume to break into markets throughout the U.S.

These sweeter-tasting beers came to dominate the market and thereby defined what a beer was to many beer drinkers.

But German pilsners always remained the same – Pilsner Urquell, Jever, and Spaten to name a few – retained that crisp bitter flavor without the sweetness. They’re mass produced in Germany and imported to U.S., sure, but the style is distinct from a Budweiser, which is a sweet, watery beer that doesn’t offend.

I always find it bold of craft brewers to take a shot at a pilsner. The style might not excite many hop enthusiasts. In my mind at least, the first thing I think of when I think about a craft beer is an amber-colored brew with a strong hoppy flavor and a rich, malty taste. While a golden pilsner seems like the antithesis of craft brewing. But it’s all about the ingredients and Victory doesn’t skimp on the Prima Pils.

And so with that said, when a craft pilsner works out – it’s a victory.

Filed under: beer history, beer reviews, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

MillerCoors: Same Beer, Different Bottle

Is Blue Moon the biggest craft beer in America? That’s the idea put forth by Tom Long, president and chief commercial officer, of MillerCoors today.

Speaking to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, Long said, “We have the biggest craft brand in America with Blue Moon and another one in the top five with Leinenkugel’s.”

Previously the company reported that second-quarter sales of Blue Moon and Leinenkugel’s saw double-digit growth amid flat or declining profits from Miller Lite and Coors Light. These sales figures are what have led MillerCoors to expand into the craft-beer market with Tenth and Blake.

In 2009, shipments of craft beers rose 4 percent to 4.3 percent, with companies like the Craft Brewers Alliance, which produces Redhook beer, and the Boston Beer Co., seller of Sam Adams, leading the charge of the craft-beer brigade.

So, it’s perhaps more accurate to say that Blue Moon is the biggest craft beer produced by MillerCoors and anything else is hyperbolic marketing speak.

One last thought. The most salient point made by Long was in regards to producing new products. “There are a lot of consumers out there that are serial triers,” he says to the Journal Sentinel. “So, in light beers, we have to use new packaging.”

Which is to say, it’s not what’s in the bottle that matters but just the bottle itself, thus spake Vortexathustra.

Filed under: news, , , , , , , ,

MillerCoors Cruises for Craft Beer at Corner of 10th & Blake

MillerCoors today announced it is going to launch a craft and import beer business that will remain independent of the main MillerCoors company (see The Business Journal of Milwaukee story).

The new craft/import company will be called Tenth and Blake Beer Company. The name comes from the two successful craft breweries where Leinenkugel‘s and Blue Moon are brewed. Both breweries are now owned by MillerCoors.

Leinenkugel’s is brewed at Miller’s Milwaukee, Wis. brewery located at 1515 N. 10th St., while Blue Moon is brewed at a brewery (the Sandlot) on Blake St. in Denver, Colo.

The article also states that –

The crafts and imports business have been performing well for MillerCoors of late. In the second quarter, the business was led by a strong performance of Blue Moon and Leinenkugel’s, and the segment delivered double-digit growth. Crafts and imports are outperforming MillerCoors premium flagship brands like Miller Lite and Coors Light, which are posting flat or declining sales.

So now that Blue Moon and Leinenkugel’s are outselling Miller Lite and Coors Light, MillerCoors is following the money and seeing where it will lead. In addition to being a standalone company, Tenth and Blake will also have its own marketing budget and sales organization.

It will be interesting to see how this affects existing craft breweries.

The distribution might of MillerCoors means whatever beers are created and branded by Tenth and Blake will be spread widely through supermarkets and convenience stores. It also means that unlike Budweiser – which has released craft-style beers such as its American Ale and Bud Light Golden Wheat brands – MillerCoors intends to put all of its craft-style beers inside of a different bucket than the main MillerCoors bucket. You’re not going to see a Coors Light Amber Bock or an MGD Farmhouse Ale, basically. Instead, it will be Olde Timey Eccentric Craft Beer Name’s Lager.

Long and short of it, Tenth and Blake could shove existing craft beers off the shelves.

The one positive is that, as the Biz Journal article states, MillerCoors is having much more success selling hefeweizens, ales, and bocks over light beers in gimmicky bottles and cans – when the mountains turn blue this beer vortex manipulator is gonna get you drunk faster.

Hence, the average American beer drinker is seeking more flavorful and interesting beers than the old standards, while the big, industrial, mass-market beer-makers of yore are looking to take advantage of that. Can craft beer win out with its historically smaller market share or will it be shoved into becoming a niche market for beer snobs alone?

This is the part of the story where we wander our way into the very tip of the inverted triangle. Ahem.

Some assistance could arrive in the craft brewing bill S. 3330. The bill, which was introduced by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), would enact a reduced, graduated tax rate for small, American brewers (see Brewers Association for more info). The bill would free up money for craft brewers by cutting the Federal excise tax from $7 a barrel to $3.50 a barrel for the first 60,000 barrels a brewer produces. More cuts would be enacted as more barrels are produced.

In other news, earlier this week Vermont’s Magic Hat craft brewery was purchased by Genesee Brewing Company and Dundee Ales & Lagers, which distributes Labatt beers and Seagram coolers (see AP story).

Photo of the Miller Brewing Co. in Milwaukee, Wis. via Conspirator/Flickr/Creative Commons.

Filed under: breweries, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


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