While the city of St. Louis is is mourning and millions of Bud Lite drinkers are sobbing in their, well, beer, I'm beginning to believe the sudsy sellout was a shrewd move by the frankly outgunned AB board. To being with, they are slowly losing ground to beers with a startling new characteristic: flavor.
The latest hot trend in the "other" pie slice is ale. While it sounds worse than it is, I think it simply points out a new freedom being exercised by beer drinkers across the US. Microbrews are more about taste, not alcohol. They are also a chance to display discerning judgment.
Such good cheer may seem odd, given that beer seems to be falling out of favour in Britain. Sales have dropped by 9% over the past decade, in part because wine has grown more popular. But not all beers are the same. The festival was organised by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), a 90,000-strong lobbying group promoting traditional, unpasteurised, unfiltered beer, stored and served from casks wherein, with live yeast, it continues to ferment.Of course, these are Brits who have drinking brews of all kinds for a millenia longer than we have. But it is a trend with legs, I think.
Sales of real ale have bucked beer’s downward trend. According to TNS, a market-research firm, the volume of real-ale sales has grown by 3% over the past year, whereas total beer sales were flat. Among all alcoholic drinks, only cider and wine performed better. Around 600 breweries now produce real ale, says Adrian Tierney-Jones, a journalist and beer expert. Their number has doubled in 15 years.
Beer boosters argue that consumers prefer a higher-quality product. The stewards at Earls Court draw a contemptuous distinction between real ale and the “dead and lifeless” mass-produced lagers sold by the four brewers that dominate the British market. A wholesome image helps too, says one: “Nobody likes a lager lout, but have you ever heard of a real-ale lout?” [More]
The more interesting possibility for me is the AB stance on GM rice. While nominally opposed, critics say there are tests on beer which show GM.
An independent laboratory, commissioned by Greenpeace, detected the presence of GE rice (Bayer LL601) in three out of four samples taken at a mill operated by the mega-brewer. Since 2006, GE contamination has been found in approximately 30 percent of US rice stocks, negatively impacting the US rice industry because foreign markets have not approved GE rice.
“Beer drinkers need Anheuser-Busch to explain why it is not preventing use of this genetically-engineered rice in the US. If, as the company has informed Greenpeace, all of the Budweiser exported from the US or manufactured outside of the US is guaranteed GE free then Anheuser-Busch needs to state this publicly, and explain the double standard,” said Doreen Stabinsky, Greenpeace International GE Campaigner.
LL601 GE rice was retroactively granted approval by the US Dept of Agriculture in an effort to reduce public concern and company liability despite 15,000 public objections. Anheuser-Busch is the largest single rice buyer in the US, buying 6-10% of the annual US rice crop. Budweiser is one of only a few American beers to use rice as an adjunct ingredient. The brand is found in around 60 countries through a mix of exports and local brewing arrangements. [More]
It could be this gradualist approach is the best way to acclimate customers to GM ingredients. After all, we have enough positive data with other GM crops to predict a lack of deleterious effects. But will the new management decide the time is right to put a smile on fellow St. Louis behemoth Monsanto's face by openly buying GM rice?
I wouldn't be surprised, but then I've been drinking.