I Go on the Road for a Few Days and THIS Happens!

What’s “this”? Well, so far as I can tell, the tall foreheads behind the U.S. operations of the world’s biggest brewery have pretty much lost their minds. I know, that sounds harsh, but I can honestly think of no other way to explain it. Bear witness:

  • Into a market segment that has been defined since Day 1 as “tastes great, less filling,” Anheuser-Bush InBev has decided to introduce a 6% alcohol version of Bud Light, to be known as Bud Light Platinum. Yes, you read that right, a strong “light” beer! It will, according to an unnamed source quoted in the Los Angeles Times, “appeal to a key group of beer drinkers and expands consumer occasions.” Assuming, of course, that said “key group of beer drinkers” are a bunch of very, very confused individuals.
  • The production of what might be the most famous German beer in the world, Beck’s, is being moved to…St. Louis. Yep, you read that right, too. German beer brewed in the United States for American consumption, which kind of makes it American beer with a not-even-terribly-German-sounding name, doesn’t it? But hey, what can go wrong? After all, it worked for well for Lowenbrau…

So, can you blame me for thinking that something strange has gotten into the water supply at ABIB HQ?

18 Replies to “I Go on the Road for a Few Days and THIS Happens!”

  1. That group of beer drinkers should be asked to return their key. ABIB is pitching to the wrong group. Odd that these transnational beer companies are so incapable of inspired ideas. Given their flat sales, desparate times should be breeding something more than same-old-same-old.

  2. An industrial brewery is imitating what many small US breweries do and this is strange? How many “German” beers are brewed by small US breweries? How many “Belgian” beers are brewed by small US breweries? A higher-alcohol “light” beer? What about a black pale ale? How is that any better?

    You don’t have to be a marketing expert to look at Ratebeer’s top 100 beers (http://www.ratebeer.com/RateBeerBest/bestbeers_012011.asp) to realise that many of their most popular beers have uncommonly high levels of alcohol (over 10%, say).

    With industrial beer sales dropping, is it really any surprise that those brewers are looking for growth anywhere they can find it?

    1. No US craft beers (that I’m aware of) purport to be anything other than domestic versions of foreign styles, Mike. I believe that Beck’s is a different kettle of fish, as per my comments to Scoats below.

      1. Stephen, I can only go by what I see on Ratebeer since that’s my primary access to information on US beers. I see a pretty fine line between what the US micro-brewers do and what InBev is doing. Neither of these groups is going out of their way to inform consumers where their beer comes from.

        Frankly, I wonder why US micro-brewers give their beers foreign names if not to give their customers the impression they are getting a “premium” product.

        1. One of the great selling points of craft beer IS its locality, Mike, so I can’t imagine why any US craft brewery would want consumers to think otherwise.

  3. At first both ideas seemed stupid to me, but thinking on it a bit has changed my mind. These ideas are not for us. They are probably to get back the people BMC has lost.

    It’s an interesting trend, many “imported” non-Canadian beers that used to come to USA from Canada (Fosters and Red Hook for two) are now being brewed in the US. It would seem losing “imported” on the label hasn’t hurt sales. Chalk this up as a win for microbreweries who would seem have proven that domestic are equal or better than imported beers.

    Might as well move Becks to the USA too. As long as they expose it to enough sunlight, it will be the skunky mess everyone expects… and none of us drinks.

    High calorie Bud Light makes some sense. Many people drink light beer because it is tasteless. If you could amp up the ABV while keeping it flavorless, I can see a market for that. This for the people for whom Light means flavorless more than low calorie.

    It would be interesting to know exactly who BMC lost their customers to. Yuengling can only be fraction of that loss. These efforts may actually be focused on those people.

    All of that said, I think BMC is pretty clueless.

    1. Since no one really knows what BL Platinum will be yet, Scoats, I’ll reserve judgement on the theory you put forth, except to say that it is entirely plausible. What struck me, though — and this I’ll admit comes from my Canadian perspective, where “light” is thought of more as low alcohol, rather than low calorie — is the odd notion of a strong light beer. And before Mike calls me to task again, I’ve said similar things about Imperial milds, black whites, etc.

      On the Beck’s front, I think that it’s essentially dishonest. Forget for a moment the idea of whether the beer will taste any different — I have enough faith in the brewing division of ABIB to believe it will be a reasonable facsimile — people pay extra for imported beers because, rightly or wrongly, they expect a “premium” imported beer experience. Will they get a price break once the beer is produced domestically? I doubt it. It’s a cash grab, pure and simple.

      1. Of course it’s dishonest. It’s a Canadian thing 🙂 Just kidding, sort of.

        “Fah-stahs it’s Austraileeean for beer mate!” Imported from Canada, or at least it was. These people are not starting from a high moral ground to begin with. Stephen, would you be as upset if Becks was brewed in Canada and then exported to the USA?

        My prediction is the next big thing will be localism. The big boys are helping this trend along by cluelessly losing any sense of place to their beers. With explosion of new high quality breweries everywhere, there is becoming less and less reason to drink beer that has been shipped large distances. This is even true of long iconic microbrews. Does Sierra Nevada Pale Ale really need to be in Pennsylvania anymore, and is there any reason to ship Victory Headwaters Pale Ale out west where you can get a tasty and perfect Sierra Nevada Pale Ale?

        Becks has nothing to offer us in North America anymore (if it ever did) The only way Becks will increase sales in the USA is through pricey and unceasing marketing, so they might as well move the production to the USA. Becks customers will continue to get what they pay for, but it will be for marketing rather than transportation.

        1. According to the AdAge story, Scoats, Foster’s is now brewed in Texas! But you’re quite right, of course, importing a beer from a country other than the one it is habitually associated with is an old scam.

      2. “Red Hook” came to the USA from Canada? When? I vote for never. Does never work for you? Since I live in the city where Redhook was founded, and it’s larger, newer brewery is just outside of town, and the other places it’s brewed are both also in the USA … um, hello? I’ve never, ever seen or heard of any Redhook beers brewed in and imported from Canada. Maybe I’m at a disadvantage by actually living very close to where Redhook is brewed … ?

      3. Red Stripe being “image brewed” elsewhere, I can see. That’s the thing with international lager brands like that. It’s not that distinctive, so one big lager brewery is as good as another … sort of. It worked so well for Miller-brewed “Löwenbräu” back in the day, right? I remember when Tuborg was US-brewed for a time, too. I sort of perceived ABInBev-brewed-in-St-Louis “Beck’s” as inevitable anyway. Can Stella Artois lager (or Jupiler or Loburg) be far behind?

  4. Steve, is the new Platinum in some ways a reinvention of the venerable malt liquor category? This would seem attractive to big brewers since the palate of malt liquor is on the light side due to its attenuation when combined with the typical mash bill of industrial U.S. lager brewing, but you get 6% alcohol for starters with this category, so that sort of aligns to the stronger beer trend in craft brewing. And of course the taste is still akin to traditional mass-produced lager: I haven’t tried the new Bud Light Platinum but would think its palate is not on the craft beer vector given the intended market and the calorie content.

    If this is not that, why do you think malt liquor hasn’t come in for an update by large brewers? It was – at its best – one of Jim Robertson’s favorite styles of the pre-craft categories, and I’d agree. I recall Maximus Super being very good, even Jackson liked it. A lot of it wasn’t great perhaps but given that what is presented as novel is so often something older but re-invented, why hasn’t malt liquor appealed to big brewers as a way out, or one way out, from the predicament of flat or falling markets?


  5. BLP sounds like a great profit booster: carbonated water, grain alcohol and a little yellow food coloring. Voila! No need for costly mashing and fermentation.

  6. I think the more time and money Budweiser wastes on disasterous products like this (it is not going to sell, unless it is really cheap), the sooner they will be out of the craft beer world’s hair! And yes, I know they are not going anywhere anytime soon, even with a failed product, but a fella can hope right?!

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