Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

October 18, 2007

Beer Issues:

Coiller Does Not Rock

What you as a beer dork can do about the Coors-Miller merger.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
Unless you’ve been living under a rock—or don’t keep up on beer current events—you’ve probably heard about the merger of domestic operations between Miller and Coors, creating a company called MillerCoors, or CoorsMiller. They probably thought Coiller sounded too much like an ’80s rock band and Milloors was too stupid sounding. And they totally missed out on Cooler, but that’s marketing people for ya’, folks.

Anyway, there has been much discussion about how this will negatively impact craft beer in the Midwest, and the consensus has been that it’s all about distribution. In short, with Coiller being formed, in order to save money—that is what big beer cares all about, remember—they narrow their distribution channels, meaning fewer distributors. Fewer distributors means fewer beer selections. And guess which beers will get cut from distributors lists first.

“It’s unlikely that Miller or Coors will cut any of their brands, so distributors may be forced to cut out some of the smaller breweries in order to save on costs,” a beer buyer in Wisconsin said in a recent interview.

“For example, in the Fox Valley, we have 3 distributors: Wisconsin Distributors, which is Bud, and Bud is very protective of their product, so any distributor must only carry Anheuser-Busch products or their good buddies like Goose and Redhook and the Inbev products they’re acquiring, and General Beer, which is Miller, but also some crafts and imports, and Lee Beverage, which is Coors, as well as some crafts and imports.”

But all that could change with the merger.

“Now, what are the chances that Lee and General will continue to operate as seperate entities if Miller and Coors combine? Not good. What are the chances that all the craft breweries with distribution contracts with Lee will be retained? Not good. So, they’re gonna eliminate whatever breweries aren’t keeping up with whatever they feel are appropriate sales, and they’re gonna eliminate contracts that they deem unattractive.”

Also, the large breweries hold tremendous sway with distributors, almost to the point, in some states, at least, where they are virtually the same entity. So what do you think Coors would say if one of their new distributors says, “Hey, we’ve got some demand for some craft beer”? You guessed it, they’ll say, “Hey, we’ve got one for you: Blue Moon.”

But we as consumers aren’t hog-tied in this. Anyone who watched the housing bubble make its slow, agonizing burst knows that collective psychology has a huge impact on the economy—and if we’re smart, we can help shape that psychology. Who knows, with the help of beer lovers around the Midwest, maybe we can make this work for craft beer, in which new distributors are created that cater primarily to locally produced, kick ass beer.

Here are a few ideas to get you beer dorks started:

Don’t drink that shit. We already know you don’t drink MGD or Coors Light or any of that other filth in a bottle, but it’s now time to nut up. No more Leinie’s. No more Blue Moon. Even if that’s all there is to drink in the whole damn bar, turn it down. Drink water instead. And make sure you ask your server where the fuck the locally produced craft beers are on the menu. Make sure you use that F-word, too. You’re looking for results.

Write your state legislator. If you live in a state that doesn’t allow self-distribution—the ability of brewers to deliver their own beer to retailers and consumers—this is important. Tell them your concerns about how the merger will affect the availability of different beer brands, especially small, craft-brewed ones, and how it will impact local jobs and therefore local economies. Although self-distribution becomes too expensive once a brewery’s consumer base becomes geographically large, both consumers and producers should at the very least have a choice. Right now, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin are the only Midwestern states that allow self-distribution in varying degrees (mainly depending on the size of the brewery). Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan flat out do not. In Minnesota, legislation has been introduced in the Senate (S.B. 2326) that would let small brewers self distribute. So you Illinoisans, Iowans, Minnesotans, and Michiganders, start writing! Find your state legislator here. This time, don’t use the F-word, as you can come off like a real nut if used in the wrong context. And if you live in Illinois, remember that writing a letter to a politician without including a bribe is, well, pointless.

Drink local! I shouldn’t need to reiterate this again, but I guess I have to. Drink local, dammit! If you have a brewpub within walking distance, go there (unless it sucks and you don’t care if it goes under). Not within walking distance? Then get your lazy ass in the car, drive over to the nearest brewpub and get a growler to go. If you live close to a brewery, buy your six packs directly from them if you can. Failing that, when you’re in the liquor store or bar, look for the stuff that is brewed closest by—there is a chance that, in states where allowed, at least, it was delivered directly by the brewer.

Home brew. Do an end-around the entire fucking system. No shady laws enforcing a three-tier distribution of brewing supplies … yet. So learn how to brew. It is unbelievably easy—and cheap—to get started. Visit some web sites like Home Brew Talk, buy The New Complete Joy Of Home Brewing, and read Jug’s enlightening articles. The more you learn about the brewing process, the more you’ll appreciate great, hand-crafted beer and understand its significance in, well, the entire history of the world.

Stay informed. Keep visiting us for the latest news and reviews. Check out Beer Advocate, Real Beer, and Support Your Local Brewery on a regular basis. Go to brew fests, hang out in beer bars, take brewery tours. Make sure you know the issues and the beers—don’t get fooled into thinking Coillers’ latest Blue Moon or Leinenkugel’s clone is a craft beer!

Remember: we can create our own collective psychology. Sure, it sounds as delusionally optimistic as a true-blue Cubs fan, but the stakes are important here, folks. We’re talking about beer.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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