Business week’s “The Plot to Destroy America’s Beer” shines the light on another victim of multinational corporations: beer. Independent brewers and others are being run out of business or co-opted (and then destroyed) by AB InBev, a ruthless company intent on total beer supremacy. AB InBev already owns close to 50 percent of America’s beer market, as it is. In many cases, beer drinkers don’t learn that their tried-and-true favorites have become AB InBev puppets until after they pop the first cap in a six pack, and now they’re complaining that their favorite brands have lost their characteristic tastes under the stewardship the company:
One Friday night in January, Rinfret, who is now 52, stopped on the way home from work at his local liquor store in Monroe, N.J., and purchased a 12-pack of Beck’s. When he got home, he opened a bottle. “I was like, what the hell?” he recalls. “It tasted light. It tasted weak. Just, you know, night and day. Bubbly, real fizzy. To me, it wasn’t German beer. It tasted like a Budweiser with flavoring.”
He examined the label. It said the beer was no longer brewed in Bremen. He looked more closely at the fine print: “Product of the USA.” This was profoundly unsettling for a guy who had been a Beck’s drinker for more than half his life. He was also miffed to have paid the full import price for the 12-pack.
Rinfret left a telephone message with AB InBev (BUD), the owner of Beck’s and many other beers, including Budweiser. Nobody got back to him. He had better luck with e-mail. An AB InBev employee informed him that Beck’s was now being brewed in St. Louis along with Budweiser. But never fear, the rep told Rinfret: AB InBev was using the same recipe as always.
He wasn’t satisfied. In March, he posted a plea on Beck’s official Facebook (FB) page: “Beck’s made in the U.S. not worth drinking. Bring back German Beck’s. Please.” He had plenty of company. “This is a travesty,” a fellow disgruntled Beck’s drinker raged. “I’m pretty bummed,” wrote another. “I’ve been drinking this beer religiously for over 20 years.” Rinfret kept trashing Beck’s on Facebook. Until, he says, AB InBev unfriended him in May. “They banned me from their site. I can’t post anything on there any longer.”
AB InBev’s domination of the beer market may not impact home brewers and some of their micro-brewer counterparts, but this can vary widely based on where a beer drinker lives. Home brewing is technically a crime in many states, and frustrating ABC laws and prudish limitations on a brew’s alcohol by volume can limit beer availability to the products of just a major corporations, many of which are now owned by AB InBev. Lobbyists working on behalf of corporate brewers often line the pockets of state lawmakers to ensure that restrictions remain in place, ensuring a virtual monopoly for their products.
In my own state, beer was limited to six percent by volume for many, many years, no doubt influenced by the steady stream of cash from Anheuser-Busch pouring into legislative pockets. A partnership between bought-and-paid-for representatives and disingenuous evangelicals (Local joke: What’s the difference between a Catholic and a Southern Baptist? The Catholic will say hello when he sees you in the liquor store.) kept beer sales in gridlock. When the same corporations started offering “premium” brews the ABV limit when up to eight percent almost overnight. Offerings from microbreweries, local and national, began to share space with Budweiser, Coors, Miller and Michelob brews. It’s not perfect, but it’s an improvement.
One danger inherent in allowing AB InBev and its like to monopolize beer sales is that by crushing competition and wooing congress they’ll be in a position to bring the same backwards types of situation that we have in Mississippi to the United States as a whole. You may still be able to get decent beer, but you’ll have a much harder time doing it.
Hat tip: BoingBoing.