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News, nuggets and longreads 8 May 2021: AB-InBev Carlsberg Marston’s

Here’s all the news and commentary on beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from need states to Sourvisiae.

First, a bit of news: Carlos Brito, head of AB-InBev, is stepping down after 17 years in charge. Seen by some as beer’s biggest baddie, and by others as something of a genius, he’s not the kind of bloke who gets profiled at Good Beer Hunting or Pellicle. Fortunately, Sky’s Ian King is on the case, offering a fascinating career overview and a glimpse into the principles guiding AB-InBev’s operations:

Throughout his career, Mr Brito has adhered to [the mantra of] relentless cost-cutting, restructuring and zero-based budgeting, where executives begin each financial year – or in some cases each quarter – with a blank sheet of paper on which they are obliged to spell out and justify any spending they wish to carry out… It has made him and 3G’s backers – who have parleyed their original $250m stake in Brahma into a shareholding in AB-InBev worth $31bn at its peak – spectacularly wealthy… But it has also left them open to criticism, as seen ahead of the SABMiller deal, that they are little more than cost-cutters… Some investors have worried whether a management team obsessed with cost-cutting is equipped to focus on organic growth – which, now AB-InBev has run out of acquisition targets, is going to be of increased importance.

Is the acquisition spree over, then? That’s an interesting thought.


Carlsberg Marston's logo

While we’re in the world of big beer, this interview with Paul Davies, head of the newly-formed Carlsberg Marston, by Daniel Woolfson for The Grocer, is scattered with intriguing nuggets:

As at-home booze consumption surged, its brands punched above their weight on the supermarket shelves. In particular, posh Spanish lager San Miguel, which grew retail value by 68.2% to £273.2m to become the fifth best selling brand in the supermarkets… Another Covid success story is the formerly flagging premium bottled ales category, which has been revitalised in the off-trade… Davies stresses CMBC will not be following in the footsteps of its rivals Budweiser Brewing Group and Molson Coors, both of which are expanding into other categories such as hard seltzer, spirits and RTDs… Instead, Davies says he is more interested in expanding the beer category. For him, there are still “so many need states that haven’t yet been brought to the UK’s shelves, so many different styles and opportunities”.

‘Need states’? That’s business and marketing jargon, that, and it’s interesting to know that’s where beer CEOs heads are at.


Hop poles in Tettnang

We’ve seen discussions of the concept of terroir in beer before but Jacopo Mazzeo’s piece for Good Beer Hunting goes deep into the subject. It’s not a word we use, probably for this reason:

Just as Pinot Noir grapes do in a Grand Cru Burgundy… regionally specific ingredients are supposed to allow these beers to express their own terroir, perceived by the drinker as a unique sensory experience. Unlike wine, however, a beer’s ingredients are rarely traceable to a single geographical entity. Beerburg’s mesquite-based beer or PGIs such as Kölsch and Kaimiškas Jovarų Alus represent but a fraction of the world’s beer. As such, the interpretation of the term ‘terroir’ as an expression of a unique geographical entity can’t be as representative as it is for wine.


Social media 'like'

For Burum Collective Helen Anne Smith picks up the ongoing debate over ‘influencers’ in the world of beer. This distinction is important, we think, and one which the media in general seems unable to grasp:

The argument I see a lot against influencers, is usually against those who actively contact breweries and producers trying to get free products in exchange for posts, or those who have travelled around the world in the middle of the pandemic claiming “work purposes”. These gripes are understandable, and I don’t think these behaviours are okay, but neither do I believe that all influencers behave this way. I am a bartender. Some bartenders are creepy, rude, condescending and abusive. Some bartenders steal, or drink on shift… What I am saying is, there are professions in the drinks industry that are upheld by people who can cause others serious harm, which to me, makes the overall aggressive response towards the role of the influencer and the ongoing debate as to their worth within the industry extremely confusing. 

For additional context, this thread from Robin LeBlanc is also persuasive and interesting:

For our part, we’re too old to get influence culture ourselves but, equally, we don’t think blogs, articles and books are the only legitimate media for talking about beer; or that you should only be allowed to talk about beer once you’ve been ‘studying’ it long enough that you never, ever make even the tiniest mistake about, say, the history of IPA. Enthusiasm and energy are good, too.


Yeast

At Beervana Jeff Alworth provides a thoughtful review of the latest trends in yeast that helped us catch up with some developments we’d missed, such as genetically-modified self-souring yeast:

Ales limned with acid represent one of the biggest growth categories in beer, whether we’re talking about lemonade-like summer sours or fruit-saturated smoothie ales. Beginning in the middle-teens, breweries started making these by kettle-souring their wort… The Canadian yeast company Lallemand wondered if there was an even faster, easier way to sour a beer… In 2019 they released the answer to this question, Sourvisiae, a regular Saccharomyces strain that had been genetically modified to produce lactic acid. Conventional yeast already produces acid, as Owen explained above, so getting it to produce more required only a small genetic tweak. Recent advances in gene ‘scissors’ like CRISPR made this a snap.


Hops

Liam at BeerFoodTravel is a bit fed up with seeing a certain myth repeated over and again: ‘Historically, hops were not grown in Ireland…’ Determined to put this to bed once and for all he’s commenced a three-part exploration of hop growing in Ireland:

1632 – A quote in an article in The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Volume 17 first published in 1830 and quoting an earlier source says that hops, along with other crops, were introduced to Ireland in 1632 “and grew very well.” Not exactly a verifiable source but it is certainly very conceivable that hops would have made there way here by this time, if not before.

1689 – The Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin from this year and published in 1895 states that ‘Flemish hops by retail not to exceed eighteen pence per pound. And English and Irish hops not to exceed two shillings and three pence per pound.’ This price fixing exercise mentions the term Irish hops as distinct from Flemish or English ones, so is this an indicator of a reasonable crop being grown here?


Bass

Normality is in sight – Martin Taylor has had his first pint of post-reopening draught Bass. He doesn’t have much to say about it – “Honestly, this was a Top 10 pint.” – but you might enjoy the pictures.


Can of beer in a park
SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

After a brief pause prompted by a new job which almost looked as if it might make blogging impossible Eoghan Walsh is back with a snapshot of a moment, drinking canned beer in a park in a the park:

It doesn’t look like a brewery from the outside… The door’s been jammed open a little, and through the gap slips out the unmistakable tang of pulverised grains steeping in scalding water. The neighbourhood knows this smell well. Back when these streets echoed to the braying of passing donkeys the sweet smell of mashed barley blanketed the quartier, seeping into the redbrick and plaster of tenement row houses along the neighbourhood’s disorderly grid. But it’s been sixty years or more since a Schaarbeek brewmaster picked up a mash paddle.


Finally, from Twitter one of those very literal ‘sign of the times’ moments we love so much:

For more good reading check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.

5 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 8 May 2021: AB-InBev Carlsberg Marston’s”

Those influencer defenses are just weird. Nobody is objecting to to “diverse, clever people in beer media”, they’re objecting to the attempt to hide advertising budgets behind what looks like genuine enthusiasm.

It is odd to me that folk equate acceptance of influencers with age demographics. I think of it as related to information starved materialist belief systems. Like anti-vaxers or rabid party political types or ambitious middle management generalists. Vendors of thin and shopped messages. Sure, they may have something to say but what is wrong with noticing that it us often something of little value? In a topic as rife with puffery as beer why is this the new taboo?

Thanks for sharing that bit about terroir! I hadn’t seen it, and it captures a lot of what I find unconvincing about the “using locally grown ingredients to give our beer a real sense of place” routine.

“In particular, posh Spanish lager San Miguel”
Is it really considered that way in the UK? I can’t help thinking about the brand as one of the worst you can get. I am more of a Xibeca drinker, that’s Damm’s light cheap beer.
Curious how SM market themselves outside Spain…

Not among beer geeks but it’s definitely in the ‘premium lager’ category as far as draught pricing in pubs.

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