Introduction: Beer and Purity
The Reinheitsgebot, Germany's legendary beer purity law of 1516, stated that only hops, barley, water and yeast* may be used to brew beer sold in Germany. Considered the oldest consumer protection law still in use (though coming under fire from EU fair use laws), it ensured that only the highest quality beer would be available to the citizens of Germany. Up until the law's enactment, brewers added a host of cheaper ingredients in order to save money on pure barley and hops and realize a generous profit. It was possible to see the inclusion of anything from poor quality hops and herbs to tree bark or even fish bladders to brew what was often a foul tasting, if not toxic product (Beer Church).
Following the Reinheitsgebot, beer in Germany became world renown for the purity and quality of ingredients. Each of the 900 or so breweries in Germany adhered to this law and restricted the importation of any foreign beer that failed to meet the strict requirements of the purity law. However, in 1985, Samuel Adams, a little known beer brewed by the Boston Beer Company, became the first American beer available in (what was then) West Germany (Samuel Adams).
Using premium imported hops from German fields, the Boston Beer Company met the stringent requirements of the Reinheitsgebot that major American breweries could not. Due to the streamlined techniques of mass-production and usage of other widely available grains, the major breweries could not invest the time and money to create a beer that met the strict German purity law (Jones). This major coup brought to the public's attention a new trend in American beer brewing that had sat in the shadows for several years, but would soon see its true renaissance in the late 80's and throughout the 90's. The microbrew revolution had arrived.
Also known as "craft brewing", the advent of the microbrew introduced the beer drinking public to a new experience in authenticity that had been previously unavailable to them. This new identity beer assumed changed the face of what one sought in types, tastes, location and names in the brewing industry. No longer was "beer" automatically a yellowish, bubbly, light-tasting beverage but it had assumed a variety of new forms. This trend towards craft brewing and its wide variety of looks and flavors came about as the tastes and cultural attitudes towards beer shifted from the fallout of Prohibition through the revolution of the microbrew.
A Brief History of Microbrewing (top)
Prohibition proved deadly too much of the uniqueness in brewing. The smaller, regional breweries that may have provided a local character to their products found it difficult to shift to the production away from alcohol. Many tried their hand at making "near beer" (a 'de-alcoholized beer' that bore no resemblance to its predecessor), soft drinks, or other product to keep the business running. The result was that only a handful of regional breweries that weathered the 13-year "Noble Experiment" of Prohibition (from 1920 through 1933) quickly gained favor with a new, national market. With the introduction of the beer can in 1935, home refrigeration and the power of mass media, the national marketing of beer shifted from drinking at the local tavern to the home (Robertson, 41). "Joe Six-pack", the average middle-class beer drinker, could now have his beer at a picnic, the beach or at home after a day on the job. As a result three major national brands emerged above the rest. From the mid-60's to the present, Budweiser, Miller and Coors vied with one another, virtually alone, for the beer-drinker's dollar. Although sales remained strong amongst these major brands, a malaise set upon the American beer-drinking public. People began to look for a taste in their beer that these major brands lacked. The result was a focus overseas; as the 70's came to a close, the "import" rose to prominence.
The affluence of the post-WWII years brought a rise in tours of Europe. American consumer culture soon became inundated with a variety of new products that many thought better than those in the U.S. These new consumables had more complexity in design, sophistication in look, and, for beer in particular, flavor. With thousands of years of European craftsmanship, these new beverages appealed to the American beer drinker who tired of the weak tasting major beer and looked for an alternative (Ursin). The new brands, including Holland's Heineken and Germany's Beck's and Lowenbrau, came onto the scene and found a quick niche market in the young, upwardly-mobile hipsters of the 70's. These people (later to acquire the moniker "Yuppie") were greatly concerned with surface appearances, and a predilection for the "trendy, new thing," and valued the look of sophistication and foreign taste associated with these new imports. Usually encased in a green bottle, often with a foil label, the imported beer served as an icon of worldliness and style. But, as the imports acquired a broad audience, another shift was taking place amongst the palates of more domestically minded Americans that would quickly demand the brewing industry's attention.
The microbrew revolution began as many people rediscovered the time-honored tradition of home brewing. Popular even with the founding fathers (Thomas Jefferson's recipe for ale is on file at the Library of Congress), home brewers enjoyed the freedom from outside corporatism and the ability to choose all the ingredients for their beers. Especially in the Pacific Northwest, a unique confluence of circumstances and people came together in the late 70's that launched craft brewing into the 80's. The fertile lands of Northern California, Oregon and Washington provided all the ingredients for the craft brewer. 18% of American brewer's barley harvest came from Oregon with a wide variety of types and varieties (Jones, sidebar). The fresh mountain streams provided an untainted water supply and an aura of naturalism unavailable in other, urbanized areas. Yet more than the ingredients, it was the people who helped propel the microbreweries.
The people who were largely involved in the craft brew phenomenon, Baby Boomers who had grown up in the liberating 60's, had finally "found" themselves in the 70's. Best represented in Tom Wolfe's seminal essay "The Me Decade" and Richard Bach's best-selling, allegorical novella "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", the 70's represented, "an extension and transformation of the Sixties search for wholeness and authenticity" (Schulman, 78). Emphasizing personal experience, self-discovery and a resistance to established institutions, the 'seekers' of the Seventies looked inward for enlightenment as New Age religion and a "back to nature" aesthetic gained popularity. Communes sprang up in Northern California and Oregon as the 60's came to an end. The foothills of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains, as well as the valleys and beaches that spread out to the west welcomed many more nature-lovers and 'hippies' who were searching for a genuine experience away from the "grim routine of the workaday world" (ibid.).
Many of these areas (particularly Sonoma and Napa Valleys in California and the Willamette Valley in Oregon) had seen the booming years of the domestic wine industry in the 60's. Wine, another of the products enjoyed by American tourists in Europe, had been welcomed by the sophisticated and social elites as their drink of choice. Those emerging from the "true" 60's experience wanted a beverage that shied away from the artifice of what was thought of as simply a "status symbol". Beer had a long history with common folk or people of the land, but the beer available didn't provide the uniqueness in flavor and style that many of those in the Pacific Northwest, so dedicated to the earth and nature, preferred. Home brewing had a foothold in this area where people could have control over the contents and styles of beer brewed. The successful home brewer, with a nose for business, started amongst the first of the microbreweries.
The microbrew renaissance had its first formal declaration when President Jimmy Carter signed a bill in early 1979 legalizing home brewing on a much larger scale than previously allowed. The Cranston Bill (named for Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston of California) gave license to the American public, and his constituents in Northern California, to begin the hobby of brewing their own, authentic beer (Jones, sidebar). A few years later, noticing the regional, grass-roots business of the craft brewing movement, the Oregon legislature enacted what became the most lenient brewing law for any state to date, allowing a greater output and easing distribution restrictions. This support further ramped up the microbrewery ideal and supported what became a genuine homegrown business (Jones). However the microbrewery was not a completely new invention.
In 1965 Fritz Maytag opened the small Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, a city synonymous with the ideologies of the 60's. Though it took them years to get more than a local reputation, the Anchor family of beer had widely been regarded as the grandfather of the microbrewery industry. Maytag began brewing Anchor's flagship beer (Anchor Steam Pale Ale), made his brewery profitable, then broadened his selection into a variety of new brands and types that, to this day, inspire some of the microbrewers to emulate (Epstein). With a foundation in Maytag's image of self-sufficiency, many of the craft brewers began their own microbreweries in locations that radiated away from San Francisco. In Maytag's footsteps microbreweries first thrived in even greater numbers further north, especially in Portland, Oregon.
The Pacific Northwest (top)
It's no mistake that Portland is widely considered the home of the microbrew revolution. Widely known as having a population with the "inclination, education and opportunity" to enjoy the best beer available, Portlanders actively sought out authenticity in what they drank. The cold, wet climate, combined with Portland's general appreciation and celebration of community drove many people to gather together at bars and taverns for evenings of warmth and good friends (Eckhardt). With locals gathering in these establishments, the infusion of regional beer into the tavern and bar scene opened up a new expression of community in Portland. The "brewpub", an outgrowth of part of the Oregon microbrewery law that required the serving of food with the serving of alcohol, became a major part of the communal relationship of the Portland microbrewery scene. The McMenamin brothers capitalized on the new brewery/restaurant concept. Not only did they establish the first brewpubs in Oregon, but they also built a sprawling business out of the combination of on-location brewing, restaurants, and a lively atmosphere. They revived many aging properties (such as movie theaters, restaurants and even an old school) and created a unique environment where the customers can enjoy themselves (Jones). Furthermore, the McMenamin's broke the age-old tradition of the "tied house" (where a pub or tavern may only sell the product of one brewery or distributor, as is still used in the British Isles) by introducing this concept of the "free house" to Portland (Dalldorf). Installing multiple taps at a brewpub to host this wide variety of locally brewed beer celebrated the concept of "progressive collaboration" (a cousin to the 60's ideal of "participatory democracy") in helping smaller brewers promote their product without making them raise the money required to open their own brewpub, engage in expensive advertising campaigns or install costly bottling operations (Coleman). With further incentive, more brewers and their various brands appeared on the local tavern scene. The community ideal fostered the sharing of beer recipes and ideas amongst these small businesses. Now, with a wide variety of local brews available at any given location, beer drinkers began to develop specific tastes for the different kinds of beer available. Quality rose to the forefront and the microbrewery concept grew with it. This unique social environment and relationship amongst the small brewers in Portland generated what was widely regarded as the finest small brewers festival in the country.
The community ideal alive in Portland's "progressive collaboration" generated the first Oregon Brewers Festival in 1987. The focus of the Festival was never on competition, but as an opportunity for craft brewers to showcase their beer in a lively atmosphere to an ever-expanding group of visitors. With the many types of beer available, the visitors could never be disappointed in regards to the variety in selection or the quantity of brewers presented. As the festival grew to become the largest festival of independent brewers in the United States, so did the breadth of breweries present. The attendees grew east to include brewers from as far away as Vermont to provide the festival's guests with the broadest sampling possible. The on-site education tent, an idea to teach the techniques of craft brewing and the qualities of different beers, reached out to these visitors, many who were new to the idea of the microbrew (Jones). The issue of educating beer drinkers brought to light the true natural authenticity of the small craft brews and their choice of ingredients and brewing styles.
The craft brewers of the Pacific Northwest weren't the first to associate nature and beer, but these brewers were some of the first who emphasized this link more than before. The location of many of the first breweries all had close associations with nature. The city of Portland lies at the merging of the Cascade Mountain-fed Willamette and Columbia Rivers, within eye-sight of Mt. Hood; Mendocino Brewing Company (in the aptly-named town of Hopland) sits amidst the towering redwoods and rolling foothills of Northern California; and the Rogue River Brewery was established in the port town of Newport, Oregon, where the Rogue River meets the Pacific Ocean. Stemming from their location, the names of these and a vast majority of other breweries emphasize the nature of the Pacific Northwest. As one of the first great departures from the major brands, it's this connection with nature that comes to the fore.
Microbrews and Nature (top)
Sierra Nevada, Wild River and North Coast are all breweries that pride themselves on the undiluted purity associated with their locations in the remote Northwest. Many other breweries' identities also refer to natural vistas, animals, small town locations, or geological formations in the names chosen to punctuate their genuine relationship with "realness". The disassociation with anything large comes across quite readily. The first thing that each and every one of these beers does not want to be is "another beer".
The major labels and breweries all pride themselves on the tradition associated with their beers. Yet, in large contrast to the microbreweries, a great majority of these brewing corporations derive their names from their founders. After immigrating with their northern European brethren to the Midwest in the second half of the 19th century, these men all established breweries in their own name. Adolph Coors, Eberhard Anheuser, Augustus Busch and Frederick Miller (along with many others) began the brewing legacies that remain today. Each beer celebrates the tradition associated with what each of these men established. In corporate communications, web sites and national beer advertising campaigns, each company leans on the time-honored tradition established by their brewery's founder in creating a history upon which the current brewery rests. Yet it's that exact legacy that the microbrew revolution came not to unseat, but provide an alternative.
The maverick spirit of the West, a strange yet potent bedfellow with the communal ideologies of the 'hippie generation', drives the desires of the microbrewers to stay small, and not become associated as a corporate conglomeration with the likes of the major breweries. The intense condemnation many of the 'free spirits' of the 60's had of incorporation fed their desires to live in the untainted nature of the Pacific Northwest, away from the despised modernity and materialism of the large city. Craft brewers sought the authenticity unavailable in corporate (or as many regard them, "industrial") beers, and wanted to create something that related their individualistic spirit of their beer and their location in the Pacific Northwest (Student).
Every new brewery (and their respective products) created a label that often displayed a picture of their environs. The same rugged mountains, winding rivers and great outdoors that the small towns reside among find their best representation on the labels of many of these brands. Two of the best examples of this type of depiction comes on the labels of Chico, California's Sierra Nevada Brewing Company's family of beer as well as those of Hood River, Oregon's Full Sail Brewing Company. Each one of the labels is situated upon a background of snow-capped mountains that yield a pure sparkling river, flowing into the foreground of verdant meadows. Trees populate the surrounding areas completing the cohesive natural landscape of mountain, river, and valley floor with the native flora. Each companies' label is then surrounded by iconographic drawings of barley, yeast and hops. The label design depicts the four basic elements of beer unified in a scene that emphasizes the untainted wilderness from which the elements, and thus the beer, come. And yet it isn't only the wilderness the begat the beer, but the independence the beer has from any industrial control. It's almost as if the individualistic spirit that created the beer in such a landscape must have harnessed the genuine purity of this beautiful land and placed it within the bottle the label sits upon. In contrast to the free spirit associated with the natural scene on the microbrewed beer, the major beer label intends to be a corporate logo.
Corporate branding depicts little to none of the natural elements their beer is meant to represent. Many major labels do share the small tokens of nature that comprise the beverage inside, but they're most often remnants from the more than 100 year-old traditional label. The modern labels of Budweiser, Coors and Miller Lite all have a representation of hops and/or barley on their label design. Stark drawing of these plants are bundled or loosely draped along the outside of the label itself. Similarly, Coors has a waterfall as part of its label, yet it too has a less prominent role than previous versions of the label. Oddly enough, each of these logos, what were at one point the centerpiece of their label design, have taken a reduced role in size and superiority on the label in order to feature the beer's name more prominently. Now a small oval or circle that at one time was the most graphically depicted label feature, showing the waterfall or the grains, has now been cast off to the side in a greatly diminished capacity. The beer's name, of course, has become by far the most prominent feature on the label to more prominently elicit name-brand recognition. This association between the major brand and the beer has come about due to a major shift in beer advertising.
"Industrial Beer" Advertising (top)
One of the most visible differences between the microbrews and the major labels has been the method in which the breweries used advertising to market their products towards a public who is the ultimate authority in whether a brand succeeds or fails. The 1970's proved to be the turning point where marketing, branding and advertising took the United States by storm and paved the way for the modern beer industry.
After World War II, advertising agencies discovered that the average beer drinker saw little to no difference between one domestic beer brand and another. "Joe Six-Pack" understood that most brands were made with the same ingredients, using the same process, and ultimately looked and generally tasted the same. The marketers had to find some way to sell their beer as unique above all the other brands available. With the advent of television, beer commercials became the major medium for beer advertising. Hamm's had seen some success with a lovable cartoon bear throughout the 50's and 60's that was backed by the infectious jingle, "From the Lands of Sky Blue Waters." Carling also saw popularity with their commercial featuring a beautiful blonde waitress serving beer to those who ordered their Carling Black Label by saying, "Hey Mabel, Black Label"(Miller). Yet neither changed the beer advertising industry like Miller did in 1971.
After buying Miller Brewing Company in 1969, tobacco giant Philip Morris (best known as the company behind Marlboro cigarettes and the American icon "Marlboro Man") brought the same success to Miller High Life brand with a strikingly similar look of rugged individualism as that associated with their cigarettes. The new ads showed men drinking High Life not because of the taste, not because of the label and not because of the easy to open bottle, but they drank the beer because they had worked hard and now it was "Miller Time" (Budweiser followed in suit soon after with their slogan, "For all you do, this Bud's for you"). The over-riding theme of "have a beer, you earned it," was a dramatic step away from the commercials television had seen in its short life span. For the first time on TV, and everywhere else, beer advertisements were not about the beer, but about the beer drinker (ibid.). The years that followed introduced some of the most memorable characters into the modern pantheon of pop culture.
Certainly one of the greatest collection of "real" men to appear on TV was with Miller Lite's "Everything you always wanted in a beer, and less" advertisements of the 70's and early 80's. In order to make their low calorie beer agreeable to men (a great majority of the beer consuming public) instead of being viewed as a "sissy beer", Miller figured that a host of football players, baseball players, as well as other athletes and tough guys (especially gritty detective novelist Mickey Spillaine) could prove it. The shift towards the beer drinker proved to be such a phenomenal success it even made celebrities out of the rarely seen faces who hid beneath ball caps and face masks. If not remembered for their on-field heroics and Hall of Fame careers, these "Lite All-Stars" would be remembered as arguing one or the other side of the "Less Filling, Tastes Great" dichotomy. As Boog Powell, long time first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles said, "You make one Lite commercial, it's like then everyone forgets you played ball for 20 years" (ibid.).
The assortment of other characters to advertise beer ran the gamut from the funny to the ludicrous. Anheuser-Bush pitted its two most popular brands, Budweiser and Bud Light, in an animated, helmet-wearing clash against of one brand's bottle against the other in a football competition known as the "Bud Bowl". Tied into championship football season, Las Vegas casinos even began accepting bets as to the outcome of these "games" that ran as advertisements during the Super Bowl. Budweiser also introduced "Spuds MacKenzie, Party Animal" to the television public. A bull terrier dressed in a floral Hawaiian shirt, Spuds aroused the ire of other men in the commercial who couldn't attract the bikini clad women that the "Party Animal" could; perhaps because they were holding the wrong beer. And, of course, the men stuck without beer on Miller's "Old Milwaukee" commercials were saved from their boredom by the appearance of the Swedish Bikini Team, carrying a cooler full of beer and the eventual good times that were to follow. In an age where beer advertising showed the beer drinker, and not the beer, it comes as no surprise that those who looked for an escape from such advertising inanity found the microbrew.
Advertising... microsized (top)
From their humble beginnings, microbrewers relied almost wholly on word of mouth instead of broad-based advertising in order to gain product recognition. For the first brewers of the Pacific Northwest, the spread of a beer's popularity rested largely on the "beer educated". These men and women, better known as "hop-heads" (an offhand reference to "Deadheads", the eponymous followers of the Grateful Dead), had extensive knowledge of the brewing process, the proper proportions of the ingredients in different beers, and could detail specific tastes in each beer. Akin to the wine industry's sommelier, they helped put words to the different experiences encountered when tasting beer. Many bartenders were required to be able to detail the specific tastes present in the beer they had available and helped their customers find a particular taste they were looking for (Crecca). Furthermore, almost every microbrewery had an on-location tasting room where visitors could sample the newest concoctions, just as brewpubs had a "sampler" where a beer drinker could get a small taste of some of the beer on the menu. As the craft brewing trade spread, independent newspapers and larger regional newspapers and magazines employed columnists who would write about local microbrews. As the trend grew on a national scale, food and drink critics would often write on the appeal of nationally available microbrews (Eckhardt). What little advertising there was relied on the smallness and taste.
The high prices for television and radio advertising for many of these small breweries forced them towards site specific advertising. Using their label designs appealing to the natural elements of their beer or the uniqueness of their name, many people browsing the beer aisle bought their bottled product on this limited form of advertising (hoping word of mouth worked in their favor). For those breweries that didn't have the immediate funds or desire to bottle their product (only serving them in taverns or other "free house" brewpubs), they at least had a tap handle that was recognizable on site as the specific design of the brewery. The label design and color or, for some of the more creative breweries, another shape would decorate the tap handle and serve as a dominant form of advertising. Yet the finest example of advertising focusing on smallness and taste certainly belongs to Jim Koch and his Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
Jim Koch: Brewer, Beer lover (top)
With more funding than his fellow microbrewers across the country Jim Koch took to the radio with a unique series of advertisements that opened the floodgates to the broad public's discovery of craft brewed beers. Primarily using radio spots to establish his beer's name, his focus was on the small size of his brewing operation and the quality of his beer. Speaking for his brewery on their ads, Koch opened by saying, "I'm not a golden-throated pitchman," like those used to promote the major brands but the "brewer of quality beer." Noting that he traveled to Germany to hand pick the hops used in his beer, Koch reminded listeners that quality was of the greatest concern. He stressed the point that he will only brew beer that he likes, and that because he takes such detailed care with the brewing process, he can't brew as much beer as the major brewers can. The tag line, "most major breweries spill more beer in a day than I brew all year," became a reminder to the consumer of the "craft" required in craft brewing (Khermouch). These commercials aired across the United States and Samuel Adams became an immediate hit. For the millions of beer drinkers who had tired of "their fathers beer" in the form of the industrial beers, and those looking for domestic relief from the host of imports, an authentic American revolution had taken place; with an authentic American revolutionary at the forefront.
With a label reading "Samuel Adams: Brewer, Patriot," hosting an image of the beer's Revolutionary namesake, Samuel Adams Boston Lager capitalized on the nationalism of the mid-80's in providing Americans with a tasteful alternative to the imports. Cold War tensions, fervent Americanism of the Reagan presidency and patriotic tendencies evoked by the "Made in the USA" advertising campaign begged for Americans to think locally before they bought globally. Though initially the only sign of beer drinking "sophistication", the imports had to share the title with the upstart Samuel Adams and the host of new American microbrews which arrived on the broad national market in its wake. Each of these new beers had a taste that was unique to the average beer drinker yet they each provided something different than the national brands or the imported beers.
What it all comes down to... Taste (top)
Beyond all of the other factors in the microbrew revolution the quality of taste was by far the most important. Prior to 1978, few people had had the opportunity to try a beer other than the mass-brewed pilsner or lager beer that were mainstays at liquor stores and local bars. However, in 1978 James D. Robertson published the Great American Beer Book that detailed the qualities of over 330 American beers, 230 foreign beers, as well as provided the results of their double-blind taste tests amongst them all to see which was the best beer in the world. This guidebook, which includes histories and descriptions of breweries and beer, amongst several other elements of "beeriana" (or the "trivia of beer culture"), gave Americans their first broad glimpse into the many varieties of beer available. Like many different wine books before it, the Great American Beer Book brought the pastime of drinking quality beer to a certain level of cultural acceptance and awareness. Learning for the first time, in many regards, that there were such a wide variety of choices, beer drinkers began in earnest to seek these new beers for an authentic experience in tastes associated with different areas of the United States. An experience the major brands couldn't provide.
The national brands people had been drinking came about with the rise of soft drinks following Prohibition and World War II. They had a much more bubbly, sweet quality that hadn't been associated with beer in the past. Many of the "beer connoisseurs" stated that the major brands were simply beer for people who didn't like the taste of beer (Demetrakakes). Over the years there may have been minor differences with types of beer (such as super-economy, ice, and dry variations of the major brands), but the mass production that is used to create these beer and styles simply could not create the uniquely styled, carefully formed tastes of the microbrews. Statements like that of Fred Eckhardt, a beer writer in Portland, emphasizes this craft ideology of the new microbrewer: "Budweiser is trying to be the best brewer in the world, but if you try to please everybody, you end up not pleasing anybody. That's what we're working on, the 'anybody'" (Jones).
The most prominent display of authenticity in the microbrew revolution comes from creating the right beer for the, as Eckhardt calls them, 'anybody'. At an event like the Oregon Brewers Festival, one can sample every beer in the Festival and not run into two that have the same taste or are brewed in the same style. Craft brewers, trying to stray away from the same beer that the major labels had been brewing for years, experimented with age old processes in brewing from throughout the world to create a taste that appealed to them as unique from anything that had come before. Beer varieties such as porter, lambic, india pale ale, ESB, stout, hefeweizen, blonde and many others not only have different brewing processes, but may include special ingredients or different amounts of the same ingredients to create a beer that has a distinct flavor, texture and style. Adding other flavors in the brewing process, such as fruits (particularly berries and citrus), vegetables, nut and seed extracts, spices and herbs have further given craft brewing a greater range of tastes. Furthermore, the individual attention given to craft brewed beer allows for constant variation. Many microbreweries, along with the several varieties of beer regularly brewed, often produce seasonal beers. There are additions of seasonal fruits or altered recipes to coincide with the season in which it is released. Every year Samuel Adams will produce, amongst others, a Summer Ale with a hint of lemon and Anchor will have a Christmas Ale (Anchor emphasizing each release with a distinct taste and label from their Christmas release the previous year). Constant variety and regular novelty in craft brewed beer has become a lynchpin for many such microbreweries. With these many styles, textures and flavors, the 'anybody' that the microbrew shoots for is well within reach. With the microbrew revolution anyone from people who don't like the taste of beer to those who look for extreme particulars in theirs may find a beer that not only suits their tastes, but also establishes brand loyalty.
The Majors React (top)
The renaissance of beer caught the major brands by surprise. Though the smaller brewers never amassed more than 4% of the beer market, the major brewers used their marketing muscle to create their own brands. Icehouse, from Plank Road Brewery is a fine example of one of the major breweries trying to edge their way into the microbrew world. With a label depicting the image of a rustic old cabin tucked away at the bottom of a tree and snow-covered hill, the notions of authenticity created by the labels of the Pacific Northwest arise. However, there is no Plank Road Brewery. It doesn't exist. Icehouse is entirely owned and brewed by Miller and their mass-production brewing plants. Coors and Anheuser-Busch also use these "smoke and mirror" tactics with Blue Moon Belgian White and Killarney's Irish Red, respectively. The reason these brews can attain the notoriety they do is because the power of the major breweries is in distribution and marketing. These two forces have also begun to make forays into the "true" microbrewery world. Redhook of Seattle, one of the Pacific Northwest's originals, now counts Anheuser-Busch as a majority shareholder, which, in turn, provides Redhook to their web of distributors throughout the United States and the world (Student). The broad-based advertising that Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors has also been affected by the rise of the microbrews.
Beer commercials beginning with a man sitting by a mountain stream in a denim jacket, wearing a cowboy hat and boots, talking straight to the camera are not an uncommon sight on the television airwaves. Moving back to nature has been a new fad for the likes of Joseph Coors and Augustus Busch, III, CEO's and heirs to their family's business. Previously unseen in their commercials, these men try and stress their company's focus on the quality of the beer they create and the purity of (at least some of) the ingredients. Invoking the spirits of their great grandfathers who started their own brewery "more than a hundred years ago" by doing what they loved to do, "brew good beer," these men have tried to relate the genuine origins of their beers; or, as the Coors marketing slogan boasts, "the Last Original Beer," emphasizing that they're not "the beer of the month" (Dwyer). Miller, on the other hand, has taken another stance in the face of the rise of the microbrews.
"It's time for a good old macro-brew," was a Miller advertising campaign in the late 1990's for their Miller Genuine Draft label. Figuring that people were becoming either tired or confused by the wide variety of choices between the major brands, the imports and the microbrews, Miller tried to remove the decision-making problem from the beer-drinking process. They mocked the taste and quality oriented ads of Jim Koch and the microbrews with phrases like, "it's time for better beer breath." "You know what kind of beer we are, we won't surprise you," became their positive advertising idea to reclaim beer drinkers in the more complicated beer drinking game of the late 20th Century (Cox). The response of the major breweries legitimated the microbrew revolution as a powerful presence in the American cultural landscape and cemented the microbrew as an entity in the beer industry; but this begs the question, can the "microbrew revolution" last?
Conclusion: Is It Still Authentic? (top)
Many people claim that the microbrew revolution is over precisely because of their growth. The major brewers' complain that for a business to be considered a "microbrewery" they must brew less than (the somewhat arbitrary) 15,000 barrels a year, anything above that (up to two million barrels a year) are considered "regional breweries", and thus not deserving of the authentic term "microbrewery". Struggling, small brewers believe these regional breweries/larger-scale microbrewers besmirch the "good name" of the craft brew that each of them pride their creations on (Dwyer). The debate ultimately lies in the Catch-22 of the industry of craft brewing: In order to succeed the microbrew must grow; but in growing, does the authenticity fade away? It is still possible to focus on the bottom line and make quality beer?
Microbrewers, major breweries and many beer lovers alike question Samuel Adams' authenticity as a "craft brew". For the last several years the Boston Beer Company has brewed a small fraction of their beer in Boston. They participate in what's called "contract brewing" where they have their beer brewed in larger breweries owned by other companies well outside of Boston. But the larger "micro" brewers defend the changing dynamic of their operation. "If Julia child comes to your kitchen, brings her own ingredients and makes dinner - but you own the kitchen," Koch was quoted as saying, "is it you or Julia Childs who made dinner?" (ibid.)
People ask for many different things in a beer. Yet since the repeal of Prohibition, people's relationships towards beer has changed. Their tastes have shifted, the brewers' advertising tactics have varied, and even the method of where and when they get their beer has changed. Yet the genuine experience of one person drinking a beer has always stayed constant. This experience was made more authentic by the introduction of an innumerable variety of beer styles, flavors and brands with the microbrew revolution. The revolution reintroduced personality and nature into a business that had moved to the corporation and proved to a world of beer drinkers that "realness" and imagination in creating a good beer were still close at hand. Wherever people sought "authenticity" in the microbrew revolution, whether it was from the home brewer, the small craft brewer, up through the larger microbrewery, one thing stands above all others, they could find it in the experience of enjoying a quality beer.