Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Battlefield Earth

ho to cheer for in this one? The one who makes forgettable beer but clever Super Bowl commercials, or the other behemoth who yells "Stella! Stella!"? (Here's a fresh dose of news from the front.)

We drink none of Anheuser-Busch's line, and only a clutch of InBev's (like Bass, when we're consigned to those bars that the thought "Well at least they have Guinness/Sam Adams/Bass ..." comes to mind. But Bass just doesn't taste the same anymore).

Honestly, the deck – as far as sympathy goes – is stacked against A-B (we heard it called "payback" by one Garden State craft brewer). There are so many things about Bud we've long hated, even before the '90s beer revolution around here, and nearly every one of them has to do with how Bud tastes. Bud may be bland, but there is a taste there, and it's called wretched. (The last Bud we drank was a year ago, and that was at a Tria Fermentation School session, when the presentation was about malt, and the speaker used Bud to illustrate – not perjoratively, however – that Bud's kinda bankrupt when it comes to malt stylings.)

A-B also casts a long shadow in New Jersey with deep pockets, and any cynic in the Garden State can tell you deep pockets paves your way when you want things in New Jersey. A-B's presence in Newark is almost like they breathe all the air so none of the Garden State craft brewers has enough to do anything but turn blue. That's hyperbole, of course. But A-B can spread around a lot of free sports-logo barware, T-shirts and posters and other co-oped advertising, things that would take a big bite out of the craft brewers' budgets.

But let's not rush to make a whipping boy/easy target out of Bud and its sire. Everyone with a homebrew set-up and a refrigerator overloaded with the micro of the week from Joe Canal's has done that, and hurled a few stones at Miller and Coors to boot. (Disclosure: We've done it; still do. And our refrigerators are overloaded with micros, etc.)

Let's look at InBev, without getting too analytical (or even too serious; remember, we endorsed Stephen Colbert for president; still do.) InBev has a sterile-sounding corporate name that looks more like a New York Stock Exchange ticker symbol. So minor points to A-B for corporately relying on the German family moniker and at least putting a human face on things. And InBev right now is the evil corporate raider, the opportunistic aggressor.

If we were jingoistic, we'd note that Belgian-Brazilian InBev is also a foreign invader, but St. Louis-based A-B's ownership bloodline isn't pure, nor its holdings apple pie all-American, so that statement is just dumbing things down. This is the 21st century and global economics, and besides, the Chicago Skyway toll road is owned by an Australian-Spanish corporate mashup.

But really, this A-B/InBev battle, as it carries on, is starting to make us yawn already, and it's still early in the going. It's hard not to think of A-B and InBev as two giants from warring planets sent to Earth to duke it out in a fight to the finish. Only it's two giants duking it out with corporate lawyers on the boardroom-corporate raider battlefield, and probably somewhere down the line some people are going to get screwed out of their jobs (if $4 a gallon gasoline doesn't do it first).

Maybe it's time to go watch (or read) "Barbarians at the Gate." At least that's interesting and entertaining.

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