Jan 1, 2007

Free Beer!

2007 already offers plenty of changes on the beer front: California lawmakers say it's now legal for brewers to offer free samples to restaurant- and bar-goers. While some claim it's just a way for Anheuser-Busch to muscle in on beer sales by outspending smaller craft breweries, I think this argument is a little absurd. Artisan winemakers haven't suffered from the nationals' ability to offer samplings, so why would this pose a problem for brewers? If anything, it gives them the ability to convert consumers of macro brews who aren't willing to spend the money to educate themselves. The best way to sell a good product is to offer it free to the right folks.

But the Sacrament Bee's coverage of this story reveals a more insidious problem in beerdom... (To read the article in the prveious link: try bugmenot21/bugmenot21 as a user name and password to log in.) Apparently, some folks still insist that beer is a simpleton's drink. Fred Jones, legal counsel for one of the groups opposed to the legislation, had this to say:
"What is the reason behind giving someone 8 ounces of beer free? One could argue that with wineries, each winery is different and every bottle is different depending on age or season. But we're talking about beer here."

You don't even need to like beer to recognize the ignorance of such a statement. There are dozens and dozens of beer styles, and each exhibits its own range of flavors and aromas. With so many variables, from yeast strain to water filtration to brewing temperatures and beyond, it's a wonder that breweries are able to produce such consistent products from one batch to the next.

And this seems to be where the fallacy of beer, plain and simple finds it legs. Because breweries are faced with a far different challenge then winemakers: to produce a consistent product from batch to batch and year to year. This stands in stark contrast to the wine industry's celebration of all things unique: this vintage, that region, this vintner, that bottling are all celebrated as unique modifiers to a particular bottle's taste.

Why is it so difficult for both consumers and non-consumers alike to wrap their heads around the concept that hops, yeast and malt all come in multiple varieties just as grapes do? Oh yeah, because the breweries don't tell us that. The big boys go about talking about ice-cold this and refreshingly light that, but they don't talk about actual, real beer flavor. They cultivate the idea that beer is for simpletons with simple taste.

Which brings us back to the bars. Allowing brewers to face their customers and provide free samples means that folks can find out for themselves that beer actually can taste like something other than corn and rice. Smart brewers—large or small—will recognize this as the advantage it is and start putting their beer into the hands of the folks most likely to buy it: bar and restaurant patrons.

1 comment:

Captain Hops said...

Great post. Well said.