Up or Downmarket? Michelob make up your mind

is getting a makeover, but A-B still doesn’t get it.

The brew, long dubbed as “a beer for connoisseurs,” has been made with imported hops, a high percentage of two-row barley malt and adjuncts like rice and corn. Those adjuncts will be gone from the new recipes. A new embossed teardrop bottle is intended to give Michelob a “worth more” look as it tries to stay in the super premium niche among imports and specialty brews. A-B had adopted the microbrew practice of creating seasonal beers—such as Michelob Seasonal All Malt Lager in 2004-05—and sample cases. Yet the redo is not intended to align Michelob with craft beers, say wholesalers. Rather the strategy is to bring the brand closer to its original roots and target, which is older consumers. Product literature describes the target as 28 to 54-year-old drinkers who might be drawn to a beer with “more robust malty body and distinctive hop character.

First of all, it’s awesome that this venerable American brew is returning to an all-malt formula, losing the corn and rice adjuncts. I think this will really give the brewers a chance to demonstrate high quality in what’s traditionally perceived as a low-qual market. We’ll definitely be trying this one when it launches.

But their brand concept, as reported in the story, is schizophrenic. It’s great that the beer is being aligned as super-premium, with appropreate media support, packaging, and the other trappings of sophistication, but how the hell can you do that in 2007 without aligning the product with craft beers? Isn’t it because of craft beers that these changes in production and marketing become necessary in the first place?

Michelob’s brand managers will say they want to compete with import Eurolagers, not domestic micros. Fine, I’ll give them that. But then they shouldn’t count on “bringing the brand closer to its original roots and target.” Michelob is an American beer, positioned higher up the chain than Busch, Stroh’s, or Bud, but still available in $5 pitchers at the local watering hole. It’s not a beer people drink to savor. They quench with it. They chug it. They bounce ping-pong balls into it, and that’s just the way it is.

Michelob is making a mistake with a two-pronged branding strategy. Either consolidate the brand as super-premium, pushing the reversion to all-malt brewing, or go retro and appreal to the more ironically minded.

Shooting for both is likely to get them neither.

-Mark

Bad beer

A random google search for “bad beer” revealed this fun little site. It’s nice to know someone’s paying homage to the swill you used to drink in college.

While this site pulls no punches in calling out sub-premium American lagers, I’d like to see it expanded to include bad craft beer (of which there is an unfortunate abundance). So c’mon, Satan165 and Mark Blackout, grab your trusty thesaurus and let it rip.

Let me know if you need some suggestions. I try to be nice on my own blog.

It’s the ritual, stupid!

For a while, it looked like the Saints would rally. Although committing turnover after ridiculous turnover, the Bears’ impotent offense, led by Rex “I swear, this has never happened to me before” Grossman were unable to put the game out of reach during the first half.

I’ll spare the gory details of the game’s latter parts. You already know them.

The point is, I once again found myself hanging out at a buddy’s house in front of the big-screen TV, watching the violent committee meeting that is NFL football, and it made me think about ritual.

It’s a term we tend to associate with church, but the fact is that people like structure, and they use the trappings of ritual in all parts of their lives: How they get ready in the morning, how they operate at work, how they shop, and even how they play.

A sport is, after all, a ritual. It follows rules, uses iconography and uniform, and (usually) takes place at predefined times and places. Therefore it shouldn’t be a surprise that fans find their own way to participate in the ceremony.

For me, and many others, beer factors prominently into the event. If I’m watching German Soccer, I’m drinking German lager, usually a beer from the city where the game is being played. English soccer might see me slurping down a Boddington’s, and, for American Football and Baseball, I prefer macrobrewed American lagers; the very stuff most beer geeks rail against.

Are they the best beers? No. But Budwiser and its ilk are part of the ritual. You don’t have a 1996 Ducru Beaucaillou as the wine in church communion. Likewise, high-end beer just seems inappropriate and it screws up the ritual.

Hmm, maybe if Gatorade marketed a sports beer, we’d have the best of all worlds. It sure would look good being foamily poured all over a Super Bowl-bound coach.

Beercraft newspaper column #32- Mainstream import lagers

Imprted Lagers- it’s a premium bland!
By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

It’s actually pretty frustrating for beer lovers. Go into a fine restaurant and look at what beverages are available to complement your $40 entrée. There’s a wine list the size of the US Tax Code, but as far a beer is concerned, there’s the same old four brews the caterer supplied at your cousin’s Bar Mitzvah.

Some of us LIKE beer with our dinner, and while it may never be as hoity-toity as wine, it would be nice to see some of the wonderfully complex and worldly beers on the freakin’ menu from time to time!

Anyway, if you’re sitting down with your date, and you have to choose among the staple imports, allow us to break them down for you. If you’re picking up some euro lager for around the house, we’ve offered some suggestions you may not have considered.

Beck’s Lager, from the German town of Bremen, is the German analog of Budweiser and the most widely available German beer in the USA. It’s conspicuously clean-tasting and well balanced. You can taste both the malt foundation and a pleasant bitterness imparted by the hops.

These characteristics make Beck’s a good choice if you’re mowing the lawn, or if you’re flying to Germany in Lufthansa’s less-than commodious economy cabin (where it’s free). But if more character and flavor is desired, find some Spaten Lager or Jever Pils.

It doesn’t seem necessary to prove that Americans will buy anything, but Corona affirms the theory nonetheless. You have a Corona there? Oh goody. Let’s try a little experiment. Open the bottle…

Now take a sip without the lime.

See? Nasty, isn’t it? The fact that Corona is borderline undrinkable without the addition of Citrus fruit, coupled with its premium price, makes this Mexican import as favorite whipping boy for beer enthusiasts, many of whom have their own theories about how the brewery workers ‘produce’ this thin yellow lager.

Granted, with the lime, a Corona can go down nicely on a hot day, and you sure can drink ‘em fast, which explains their population among the frat boy ‘first real job’ professional set. But for a step up, try Pacifico or Sol. They’re also imported from Mexico but offer a bit more flavor and pleasant character.

The Netherlands, of course, weighs in with Heineken, another beer whose export success can be chalked up to marketing dollars. The chief gripe about Heiney is the skunky flavor. It’s caused by the green bottle, which unlike brown bottles don’t stop ultraviolet light. The UV breaks down the alpha acids in the hops, causing a chemical reaction which releases that skunk flavor.

The Heineken keg-cans, however, avoid the skunk problem; from a can, you can taste Heineken as it actually is: bland. No character, No real presence, a lackluster body, yet waaay over hyped, it is the Paris Hilton of beers. Still, it’s drinkable when you’re at that wedding to which you’ve been dragged. And you don’t know 80% of the people there, and the only person you want to talk to is the bartender who’s just popped you another Heineken , and, oh crap, they’re about to start ‘The Chicken Dance…’

Sorry, little flashback there. Anyway, for a better, more interesting Dutch beer, get some Grolsch. It’s more robust, with a pleasant sweetness, and it comes in a cool chunky bottle with a mechanical stopper- you can unseal and reseal the bottle as much as you want. Great fun!

We’re not saying these beers are the bottom of the barrel, but they’re engineered and marketed to stay firmly in the middle. We drink them, and enjoy them, but it behooves any beer enthusiast to look beyond the obvious and find the true great flavors and combinations.

Just like any good chef or sommelier should. Hint, hint!

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

Beercraft newspaper column #30- Wild Styles

Three wild beers for a brand new year
By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

It’s a new year, and in observance of that we have a new resolution: 1280 X 800.

Ha ha. That was a little computer joke. But seriously, one resolution all beer fans should make is to try something new. We all have our favorite brands and styles, but it’s a good idea to get out of the rut from time to time; you never know what you might be missing.

In this spirit, allow us to suggest three “must-try” beers for 2007. They’re wildly different styles, but will certainly go well together in your refrigerator.

First, we’ll talk porter. It’s best known as a British style, and most American producers keep their recipes faithful to the classic London archetype. But 18th century shipping of porter from England to Russia has left an indelible taste for this dark, substantial beer style all along the Baltic Sea. Breweries in Poland, Estonia and Mother Russia developed a sweeter, milder porter of their own.

You can find Baltic porter by breweries such as Okocim (Poland) and Baltika (Russia), but we’re going to recommend Saku, from the diminutive nation of Estonia. Thick and dark, with a light caramel sweetness and creamy body, Saku goes down well on a chilly evening. Be careful, though. At 7% alcohol by volume, Saku Porter could get you into trouble with the law or your spouse.

Crossing the Baltic to Finland, we find sahti, of the strangest and rarest beer styles in the world. It’s the last of the primitive European beers; the kind peasants drank before hops wore used in brewing. Sahti is made of barley and rye, and flavored with juniper twigs and berries.

Finland is pretty much a “drink at home” (or sometimes a “drink until you pass out on the ferry to Leningrad”) culture, so sahti remains a very uncommercial beer. To our knowledge, you won’t find the real stuff anywhere in the USA. You will, however, be able to get your hands on Helsinki Gold, from Vermont’s Otter Creek Brewing Company.

We can’t really vouch for this beer’s authenticity, but Helsinki Gold is a different and very pleasant beer in its own right. The juniper lends the beer a prominent citrus bite, and the rye malt imparts a distinctive aroma. It’s lighter in color and mouthfeel than we expected sahti to be, actually a pleasant drink for a sunny afternoon. As usual, Otter Creek has released an adventurous and excellent specialty beer.

Hopefully, some entrepreneur will wise up one day and send us the real sahti. Who knows? It could be the most interesting thing to come out of Finland since saunas, hockey goalies, and, uh, Finnish chicks.

We’ll wrap up this tour of unusual beer styles in the unbearably quaint town of Bamberg, Germany, where half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets, and medieval-esque guildhalls provide the setting for one of the world’s great “love-hate” beer styles: Bamberger Rauchbier.

“Rauch” is the German word for smoke, and we’ll let that serve as an ominous introduction to what’s about to be poured in your mental glass. It’s basically a dark, sweet Marzen-style German lager in which the malt has been smoked over a beech fire prior to brewing.

Some people think the resulting beer is fabulous. Others think it tastes like a sausage. Still, people flock to Bamberg in droves to sample the famous Rauchbier at the source.

Your best bet here in the USA is the tongue-mangling Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier. Don’t try to pronounce it, just point and the guy will get it off the shelf for you. Very rarely, you’ll find it on draft in specialty beer bars, but usually a trip to a good beer store, like Rochester’s Beers of the World, s necessary.

Lots of American craft brewers have taken a stab at making Rauchbier, but more often than not, it tastes more like a brewery fire than anything else. It goes to show that 800 years of monastic brewing tradition and technique do pay off in the end. If you’ve been put off by microbrewed smoked beers, go back and give the Schlenkerla a try before closing the book on the entire style.

So there you go. You have a whole year to try three of the most unique styles in all of beerdom. Pull it off, and you’ll be an expert amongst your friends, and gain the almost magical ability to be insufferable at parties. And even if you don’t go wild over these untraditional styles, at least you’ll have something against which to contrast the flavor of your favorite pint.

At any rate, we’d love to hear your opinions on these styles. Drop us a line. We’ll be drinking sahti. In the sauna.

Hopefully with the Finnish chicks.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

Life is good

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It’s Tuesday night, and I’m hanging at Monty’s Krown, one of my favorite dive bars. The beer of the moment: Lagunitas IPA with it’s sharp hop bite.

Since I happen to have my laptop with me, I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to be ultra-geeky and post to my blog while I’m still on the licensed premises. A hypocritical smile crosses my face as I think of the derision I’d heap on anybody else engaged in the same activity I am currently performing.

Anyway, Wi-fi is one of the greatest things to ever happen to the social beer lover. It lets me hang out, drink beer, and attract tons of chicks with my awesome 1337 B33R Sk111z. And if you’re doing real work, it just flows faster in a bar instead of a wussy-ass cafe.

-Mark