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Are we all wrong about craft beer?

Wine tastersCraft beer sales have been so strong of late that we headlined a story in this space a couple of months ago “No news here.”

Craft beer volume sales were up 11.7% in 2006, with dollar sales in supermarkets growing 17.8% – and the first quarter was even stronger. For instance, Samueal Adams was up 22% in the first quarter, and many smaller breweries are talking about gains of 25%-30% over the first quarter of 2006.

So why did SABMiller CEO Graham Mackay say the craft beer surge is going to fade (“It’s inevitable”)? We suspect he didn’t mean craft beer is going away, or even that sales won’t continue to grow. He was talking about how long these levels can be sustained. And, honestly, we should accept the fact that the growth rate has to slow sometime – and not act then (as many did in the 1990s) like the sky is falling.

On the other hand there is little reason to respect the “Beer in the Headlights” article that appeared in the high circulation online magazine Slate.

Here are the rebuttals from the beer blogosphere:

Beer Is Dead, Long Live Wine (Jay Brooks) and a followup
How do you overlook 100 million cases of beer? (Stan Hieronymus)
Pastoral Nostalgia or Blue Collar Chic? Enough of the Beer vs. Wine Debate! (Jess Sand)

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Craft beer surge bound to fade?

Graham Mackay, CEO of brewing giant SABMiller, sits down with Fortune’s Matthew Boyle to talk about “rival Anheuser-Busch, the company’s new beer Miller Chill, and why goats make great mascots.”

The interview indicates that running his business is about more than the beer that ends up in the glass. Speaking about recent declines in profits he says, “The issue right now is cost pressures, in aluminum specifically. We spent about $100 million dollars more on aluminum this past fiscal year than the year prior.”

Not to spoil the interview for you, but here are two answers bound to interest Realbeer.com Beer Therapy readers.

What is your favorite beer?

Pilsner Urquell.

What do you make of the craft beer resurgence in America?

I think it’s going to fade. It’s inevitable.

The interview.

Updated June 6: Tomme Arthur answers the same questions.

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NH considers allowing stronger beer

The New Hampshire legislature is struggling with a bill that would boost the ceiling on alcohol allowed in beer from 12% abv to 18%.

A compromise was reached Tuesday that gives the state Liquor Commission the power to approve the sale of specialty beer above 12% on an individual basis.

“This allows the state of New Hampshire to maintain its proper scrutiny of the industry but at the same time achieve economic success in the alcohol selling business,” said Eddie Edwards, law enforcement chief with the SLC.

Also learned in this story: That Vermont caps beer at 8% abv.

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Bud.TV not dead yet

It would appear that the rumors of the death of Bud.TV have – in the words of Mark Twain – “been greatly exaggerated.”

The Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports, “Despite earlier suggestions that it might scrap its struggling online entertainment channel, Anheuser-Busch has decided instead to revamp the Web site to make it edgier.”

Instead of reinventing the way consumers – particularly young male consumers who drink beer – use the Internet, A-B seems to have figured out those web surfers already know how they want websites to work.

While during the site’s rollout Anheuser-Busch touted its slickly produced original content, Bud.TV will also now begin pulling videos and content from other sites. Its aim is to become an aggregator of cool information for beer drinkers. One idea the brewer is toying with: a “joke of the day.” Anheuser-Busch is also hoping to have Bud.TV content appear on other sites such as YouTube and Yahoo as a way to drive traffic.

A-B need look no further than Rogue Ales for an idea how to do that right.

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Miller Chill goes national

Miller ChillIt seems we failed to report this earlier, but having passed test marketing with flying colors Miller Chill is going national.

Miller Brewing indicates the beer – 4.2% abv with 110 calories and 6.5 carbs – should be in all markets by the week of July 9th.

Miller Chill is modeled after a popular style of Mexican beer called a “chelada,” and flavored with lime and salt.

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Belgian brewery rolls out Zer0% beer

Alken-Maes has launched a new non-alcoholic beer in Belgium.

The subsidiary of Scottish & Newcastle plans to sell ZerO% in about 300 nightclubs throughout the country beginning in June.

Alken-Maes hopes Maes ZerO% will appeal to young adults who deliberately choose not to drink alcohol when they have to drive. The new beer, with a dash of lime, will be available in a trendy bottle and have a refreshing taste, the brewery says.

Previously, Belgian brewers marketed their non-alcholic beers to those with health concerns.

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Canadian beer industry ‘disappearing’

Steven Poirier, president of Moosehead Breweries, sounded an alarm about the future of Canadian brewing in a speech delivered Monday.

‘‘Close to 90 per cent of all beer sold in Canada today is controlled by foreign brewers,’’ Poirier said. Moosehead is now the largest independent Canadian brewery, with just 5.5% of national beer sales.

Poirier said the three fastest growing beer brands in Canada are U.S. brands.

‘‘Are we destined to become the largest consumers of American beer outside the United States? From our perspective it certainly appears so,’’ he says.

The story.

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Wyeast debuts gluten-free yeast

Wyeast Laboratories will soon begin selling two of its most popular yeasts to homebrewers in gluten-free form. The Oregon yeast lab already offers the yeast to commercial brewing companies.

Wyeast 1272 GF American Ale II and Wyeast 2206 GF Bavarian Lager will be sold in Activator Pure Pitchable Yeast packages.
The gluten-free yeast will be offered to home brewers via Wyeast’s quarterly VSS – Very Special Strains – Promotion beginning July 1. The VSS Promotions feature strains of yeast otherwise unavailable to homebrewers. Wyeast expects these gluten free strains to be continued as permanent offerings when this introductory promotion has ended.

Jess Caudill, product and process development microbiologist at Wyeast reports that these strains have performed well in test brews at the lab, and at independent test breweries and labs. Yeast vitality and overall cell count will be comparable to Wyeast’s current popular products.

Due to an increase in celiac disease, gluten intolerance and wheat and barley allergies, gluten-free products are one of the fastest growing sectors in the food industry. While much of the attention has centered on find grains to replace barley and wheat malts – the two most commonly used in brewing – using gluten free yeast is just as important.

Until recently, commercial or homebrewers who want to brew beer free of gluten had to propagate their own yeast in a gluten-free medium.

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Aussies get lower alcohol choice

Headline: Boutique beers sales up 12%, mainstream sales flat.

Just another quarterly update from the United States? No, this is from Australia.

In reaction, Foster’s has decided for the first time to produce a weaker version of Victoria Bitter (also known as VB), putting a yellow-label on the 3.5% abv beer. VB, which has been around 113 years, is 5% and is known for its distinctive green label.

Reuters reports that hundreds of craft breweries are opening and aiming to rival small European makers, turning Australians away from traditional lagers and on to more complex beer styles.

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New organic beers on the way

Two new beers on the organic front:

– Mateveza USA and Butte Creek Brewing are combining to introduce an organic, naturally caffeinated pale ale. Mateveza Yerba Mate Ale is brewed with yerba mate, the ancient tea from South America.

Mateveza unites organic yerba mate (pronounced mah-tay) with cascade hops in a classic American pale ale. “Yerba mate’s earthy, herbal notes are the perfect compliment to the crisp, citrusy character of the cascade hops,” says Mateveza founder Jim Woods. The yerba mate also provides a natural source of caffeine that is equivalent to one half cup of coffee in a 12-ounce serving of Mateveza.

Like coffee, yerba mate contains the alkaloid caffeine. Unlike coffee, yerba mate also contains theobromine, the active alkaloid in chocolate that is a mild, long-lasting stimulant. Mateveza will be available initially on draft and in 22-ounce bottles throughout California and Oregon at retailers including Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and local co-ops and natural food stores.

– Henry Weinhard’s is rolling out Henry Weinhard’s Organic Amber in its Pacific Northwest markets.

The new beer from Weinhards, a unit of Miller Brewing Co., is made from locally grown organic barley and natural hops. It meets USDA organic standards that require more than 95% of ingredients be grown without the use of pesticides and chemicals.

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All-malt Michelob

Michelob is getting a makeover.

Ho-hum, you say? How cares about a new embossed teardrop bottle?

But wait. There’s more news hidden in the Brandweek story.

Michelob will no longer be made with rice and corn. Right, no adjuncts.

Yet the redo is not intended to align Michelob with craft beers, say wholesalers. Rather the strategy is to bring the brand closer to its original roots and target, which is older consumers. Product literature describes the target as 28 to 54-year-old drinkers who might be drawn to a beer with “more robust malty body and distinctive hop character.” A-B was not available for comment.

Drinkers looking for more robust malty bod and distinctive hop character? That wouldn’t be you, would it?

(We’ve added more details since this post.)

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German beer sales up – for how long?

German beer consumption rose 1.4% in 2006, the largest gain – and, in fact, only the second – in 12 years.

Increases sales are credited to the month-long World Cup football tournament and don’t necessarily indicate the slide of the last decade is over. Sales have declined 15% in the last dozen years. Only in 2004, when weather was unusually warm most of the summer, were brewers able to increase in production.

[Via Reuters.]