One of the best definitions of the alcoholic industry is imagining the business as a three legged stool. Consider the seat of the stool as the entire industry, with each leg representing one segment. One leg is the spirit business, one leg the wine portion, and the third leg is the beer segment. All the legs hold up the seat, the industry.
While this simplistic explanation of the alcoholic industry works, especially to outsiders, each leg could not be more different from the other. While the spirit leg and the wine leg could be siblings in the nature of their operation, the beer leg is a distant cousin, at best. The difference between the beer industry and the wine and spirit industry is predominately due to the culture of each segment.
There was great push back from the branches at Glazers as they attempted to add craft/import beers to their portfolios. This seems somewhat odd given that for decades, Glazers distributed Heineken in Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas. Then in the 80s and 90s, Heineken, having been surpassed by Corona, took issue with Glazers’ market performance and took legal action to ensure their brand was sold through beer houses. Heineken had some success in changing over.
In the late 1990s, Glazers was awarded statewide distribution for New Belgium products for Texas. This was the base in which the company began to build its beer business. Over the years, as the craft and import portfolio grew, there continued to be push back from the wine and spirit side of the business. Simply put, there was very little interest or desire to sell beer, especially from management at the branches. In my opinion, it this was all due to a cultural difference between the three legs of the stool.
During those years that an individual either joined a brewery team, or even a wholesaler, there were typically only one to three brands of beer to sell. This made learning about each beer relatively easy. Even when I joined Coors Brewing Co. in 1987, the initial training was only two days in length. The training consisted of simply teaching the company’s history and learning the production process for Coors. This was the beer culture.
Anyone new to the industry quickly learns that everyone is a beer expert. Even during the days of domination by Budweiser, Schlitz, Coors and Miller everyone was an expert. If I had a nickel for every time a consumer in a bar started a discussion with me on beers I could retire wealthy. You learn that consumers know best, and not to disagree with their comments on any beer. As previously discussed in past blogs, beer is probably the most affordable consumer product available that can create an upscale image.
The craft beer phenomenon spawned the creation of the Cicerone Certification Program. Wholesalers and brewers are not only encouraging employees to become Cicerones, many are now making it mandatory. A number of colleges which are providing craft beer programs are embedding the Cicerone programs into their curriculum. The list of certified Cicerones is extensive and growing.
Recently, The Thrillist posted an article entitled, 19 Types of Beer Snobs, an article that would not have been written even 10 years ago. Perhaps the cultural differences in each leg of the stool are now gone. In 2015, beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.
Thursday is National IPA Day