"Where do you come from, and where do you go…"

by Katie Pizzuto on June 13, 2010

in beer,Imports

We’re ordering some sushi at the sushi bar not long ago, and knowing the limited offering of beers there, I ask for a Sapporo. The guy next to me hears and feels inclined to tell me that of the two big Japanese import beers, he prefers Kirin Ichiban. “But Kirin isn’t an import,” I tell him. “Of course it is!” (You stupid, uncultured swine, he thinks.) He laughs lightly. I grab the half-empty bottle out of his hand, turn it, and point to the “Brewed under the strict supervision of Kirin’s brewmaster at Anheuser-Busch, Inc. in Los Angeles, CA” and retort, “NO. It isn’t.” My serving of miso soup has, at this point, gone cold.

Despite the fact that I’m not even remotely a gambling woman, I’m willing to bet that there will come a time in the not-so-distant future when the distinction between domestic beer and imported beer will be supplanted by that of mass-produced beer vs. craft beer. Given the lines—or should I say borders—that are being blurred because of big-brand buyouts and global mergers, defining what is and isn’t an import is an even less stable conjecture than stock investment planning at this point. Add to that the fact that in terms of case sales, most of the leading import brands are pale pilsners (I mean, Corona and Heineken alone account for half the category for fuck’s sake), and suddenly that foreign landscape begins to look an awful lot like the domestic beer scene here in the US.

The growing confusion between domestics and imports, for starters, doesn’t end with Kirin. My husband happens to like Blue Moon Belgian White—a light-bodied wheat beer he sometimes chooses with sushi—a name that pissed off the Confederation of Belgian Brewers enough to sue Coors, the company that brews the beer. Thing is, Coors is now a division of Molson Coors Brewing Company, and Blue Moon gets brewed on both sides of the border. Then there’s Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY which, given its locale, would appear to be a domestic brew. But since 2003, Ommegang has been owned by Duvel, a Belgian brewery, and their Three Philosophers is a blend of an ale brewed here in Upstate New York and a kriek brewed by Liefmans in Belgium. So what the hell are you drinking, something domestic or something imported? The short answer is, you’re drinking something tasty, so why care? How important (or accurate for that matter) is citizenship at this point?

Despite the pathetic softness of our economy, and oftentimes despite tighter wallets, many consumers are counter-intuitively splurging on the priciest segment of the beer industry—craft brews. Country of origin is no longer as important as how the beer tastes. The unfortunate side effect, however, of American craft brewers being inspired by old European recipes, and European brewers being inspired by the American craft beer movement, is that the big boys—the ones producing the pale, bland, insipid pilsners—are now playing off the “small is better” philosophy and reaping its benefits like hungry leeches. Those Goliaths are fighting tooth and nail to hold on to every last bit of their market share by creating companies like Green Valley Brewing (owned by Anheuser-Busch) that mislead consumers into thinking that they are buying a craft, small-production beer, and it’s that competition that needs to be regarded with a proverbial fine-toothed comb at this point.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Barbara June 13, 2010

I like Anheuser Busch horses though! Truth is, I grew up in St. Louis and now live in Colorado…and remember when the beer from Colorado was considered something special a very long time ago. Seems that’s mostly because it wasn’t shipped east of the Mississippi…wonder if the mystique added to the taste for many?

Reply

2 jim mosier June 13, 2010

Those same corporatist bastards started doing that with Lowenbrau back in the 70’s. Miller (now Fosters?) used to import it, then they made it without disclaimer. Used to be you could bet “Swiss Lowenbrau.” Bet the corporate beer wizards have made that brand virtually extinct as well.

Reply

3 Katie Pizzuto June 13, 2010

First of all, I can’t even see the word Lowenbrau without singing that friggin’ jingle they used to have, remember? “…the beer you drink, must be something more, somehow. So tonight, tonight, let it be Lowenbrau.” LMAO. Miller merged with Coors in 2008, and as I mentioned, Coors is now a division of Molson Coors Brewing…one giant clusterfuck. Miller owned the rights to distribute Foster’s in the US, but now I guess that ownership passed on to Molson Coors?! Not sure about that one!

Reply

4 The Wine Commonsewer June 13, 2010

Blue Moon is about the best Coors beer you ever had, though.

A little sniglet of the universe: Coors originally billed itself as America’s Fine Light Beer. Course that was before Diet Beer had been invented.

I have to admit that I feel a little cheated to learn that Coors is making Blue Moon.

But, interestingly enough, I don’t care a fig that St Francis is owned by Kobrand. In fact, I consistently point out on TWC that being corporate doesn’t necessarily translate into crappy wine and St Francis is proof of this.

Go figger.

Reply

5 Katie Pizzuto June 13, 2010

@ Barb…That’s what we say here at home…well, at least they have beautiful Clydesdale horses!

@Mike…No question, Mike…I wouldn’t ever bother with a Coors product cuz I don’t even feel like I’m drinking beer, but Blue Moon is decent…not the best wheat beer ever, but decent enough. Sorry to make you feel cheated about it…I’m pretty sure the guy at the sushi bar felt the same way to learn Kirin wasn’t an import. And certainly corporate isn’t always bad. I was recently at a Mumm’s tasting in NYC and they’ve done an ENORMOUS amount to turn the reputation of that Champagne house around. Be doing a post about it soon.

Reply

6 Don June 13, 2010

This reminds me of what happened once import duties were relaxed in the automotive industry and you began to get vehicles with parts that were “outsourced” all over the place. The engine was from Japan, the body was from Germany, the dash was from Iowa, you get the picture. Then Honda and Toyota opened American plants to get around import fees on autos. It became a big convoluted mess. I think you are correct you need to look at what tastes good! and as Andrew Zimmern states if it looks good…eat it. Or in this case drink it.

Reply

7 Heather June 15, 2010

This is why I stick to small local breweries like Magic Hat and Three Floyds. Two of my absolute favorites. They are NOT easy to find on a trip out to eat however.

Reply

8 castello June 15, 2010

I think I’ve mentioned here before but a must see is Beer Wars. It’s a documentary about the big beer companies vs the little guys. Bud with all its blah beer along with Coors has taken over most of the space in all of our liquor and grocery stores! UGH

Reply

9 Katie Pizzuto June 16, 2010

Agree Ed. I’ve seen it twice already, and think it’s a must for any beer lover. I guess the guy at my sushi bar obviously HADN’T SEEN it 🙂

Reply

10 Jim August 22, 2010

Theoretically, you don’t HAVE to go out of your way to be abrasive to random strangers who don’t know about beer, if it’s going to cost you that valuable 30 seconds that lets your “miso soup go cold.”

Prioritize, perhaps.

And looking back on it, in no world can I imagine myself or any person I wouldn’t immediately dislike “grabbing a half-empty bottle” out of a stranger’s hands, as you said. I can only imagine the pages-long rant it would inspire, if someone did that to YOU.

Reply

11 Katie Pizzuto August 22, 2010

Not sure how i was abrasive in correcting him…his opinion wasn’t requested and yet he stuck his nose into MY order. When i respectfully told him it wasn’t an import HE was the one that looked at me with disdain…i didn’t have a right to show him he was wrong after he listened in on my order and gave me unsolicited advice? Come on now.

Reply

12 Jim August 23, 2010

You certainly have a double standard on these things. Trust me. You’re intelligent—extremely. I like your blog. But don’t let it go to your head. Other people aren’t as smart as you. That’s a fact of life. They’re going to say stupid things; that’s what they do. If we really want to bring a little culture or understanding to people, we can’t lord our knowledge over them.

I realize he offered his opinion when it wasn’t called for. But was that really an issue? And did you really need to stick in the passive-aggressive jab about how your brief exchange somehow exponentially sped up the cooling process of your soup? It makes you come off sounding as elitest and condescening…and if we want those same stupid people—the people offering incorrect information in restaurants—to ever wise up, that’s the LAST THING we can afford to be.

And as far as “respectfully told him” goes, you’re the one who claims you grabbed a bottle of beer out of a stranger’s hands. I can’t help but think it’s funny that on a blog where you rail constantly about the slightest faux pas in service in a restaurant, you seem unable to detect in yourself what I know for a fact you would classify as extreme rudeness in other people. We cannot afford that sort of double standard.

I like your blog. Really, I honestly do. You write well. And I don’t even disagree with you that the guy was an idiot.

…but we need to change the way we deal with idiots. As is, I don’t think your method is much better than his. And I know you’re capable of much better. And I have faith that you’re not so ingrained in your ways as to have no chance of improving.

It’s a fine line between appreciation, snobbery, and downright irascibility. My philosophy is simple—why can’t we appreciate finer things without coming off as a bunch of stuck-up pricks?

Reply

13 Katie Pizzuto August 23, 2010

Understand your point, but understand that this is also gonzo journalism, and I’m the first to exaggerate details or blur the lines for the effect of making a point. I didn’t YANK the thing out of his hand, I took it, turned it, and pointed. I didn’t say, “You stupid idiot, don’t argue with someone who knows more than you” in fact quite the contrary, I just said, “no, it isn’t.” Had I finished that story, I would’ve included that he was shocked and thanked me for opening his eyes….he had no idea. My goal is never to make someone look like an idiot, I love educating others….but when you stick your nose into my conversation, it rubs me the wrong way. In no way did I act like a stuck-up prick. A bit of a wench perhaps, but not a prick 😉 I just find it kinda funny that you got stuck on the introductory paragraph when that really wasn’t the point of the piece, LOL. Also found it funny that you obviously read the blog often, but only comment when you have something negative to say?! Not attacking….seriously, I’m not….just ironic.

Reply

14 Jim August 23, 2010

Hah, no, I’m a new reader, I just have gone back through the archives to get a feel for the place. I believe I was linked here from the beer and whiskey bros.

Presumably there will be positive things to comment on as well. I guess my objection probably was at least partially the result of being employed as a journalist of the non-gonzo persuasion. I think that probably vaults me up the rankings of “likelyhood to nitpick.”

Reply

15 Katie Pizzuto August 23, 2010

Permission to nitpick granted 🙂

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: