Why You Might Miss Anheuser-Busch When It’s Gone.

In the current issue of Beer Advocate magazine (volume II, issue X) a reader chides the magazine’s publishers/editors for running ads from the “big” brewers.

“. . . I don’t think BA should be a forum for the advertisers at BudMillerCoors. In the same way, I don’t want to see a Wal-Mart ad in my sub-culture, indie-rock magazine, even if Wal-Mart’s music department claims to bring in ‘the latest alternative music.'”

He goes on to say:

“BA has a history of representing a subculture of small-batch brewers. If you open the doors to every size of beer, BA loses some of its identity as a billboard for the little guy.”

I understand the writer’s irritation with what he interprets as an invasion into “his” sub-culture.

But here’s another perspective on the situation: Take away the three full-page ads for A-B products found in the same issue of Beer Advocate, and that issue of Beer Advocate might not have appeared at all. Ditto for All About Beer and Draft magazines.

Yes, there are plenty of other beer ads in the beer magazines, but the majority of them are mostly quarter-page ads. That’s all that most small brewers can afford, but that’s probably not enough to keep the magazines going. Put another way, the “big” brewers (or, as the letter-writer calls them, “BudMillerCoors”) help subsidize beer journalism.

If you enjoy reading Beer Advocate, thank A-B (and MillerCoors and some of the bigger importers) for helping make the magazine possible. Sometime in the next few weeks, InBev will likely complete its acquisition of Anheuser-Busch. Expect a fair amount of fist-pumping and “take thats” from beer bloggers and participants in the on-line forums as they celebrate A-B’s “demise But here’s another thought — and now I’m quoting myself from a piece I wrote for the October issue of Modern Brewery Age:

The gloating may be premature. It’s hard to imagine Carlos Brito funding an endowed chair at the nation’s most prestigious brewing school, as A-B did at University of California-Davis some years ago. Flip through one of the beer-consumer magazines and look at the expensive glossy ads that A-B buys each month. Will the penny-pinching Brito continue the practice? Can the magazines survive if he does not?

And what about the “Here’s To Beer” campaign?

A few years ago, A-B suggested that brewers mount a collective, industry-wide campaign to promote beer as a sophisticated beverage for discerning consumers, something brewing needed as aging consumers turned to wine and spirits.

Brewers said no thanks, and beer geeks mocked the suggestion. (Would they have done the same if the idea had come from, say, Jim Koch?) A-B went ahead anyway — and left no fingerprints. As far as the average consumer knows, this was just beer’s version of the milk industry’s “Got Milk?” campaign. Craft brewers in particular would have benefited from the project, but the opportunity is likely gone for good.

And so, apparently, is the Busch family. But as American brewers witness the end of an extraordinary saga, I hope they’ll take a moment to ponder the Long View and the Big Picture: For more than 140 years, the Busch fathers and sons waged war, created enemies, and broke hearts. But their warrior stance also inspired competitors to aim higher and work harder; inspired them to imagine a better beer. As the door closes, take a moment to say thanks.

 

___________________

My thanks to Pete Reid, editor and publisher of Modern Brewery Age ,for allowing me to quote from my essay “Farewell and Thanks: Why The Busch Family Mattered,” which appeared in the October 2008 issue. You can read the entire piece (and the entire issue) here.

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