Food and Micros May Be Saving the Brewpubs

Don't sound the final death knell for brewpubs quite yet. Despite a steady flow of stories noting the decline in beer sales, especially among young and female consumer, and the shuttering of numerous craft breweries around the country, at least one major industry publisher finds hope in brewpubs' futures.

Restaurants & Institutions (registration necessary to access, but free) senior editor Kristina Buchtal reports positive things in her story "Better Business Brewing: Rising popularity of microbrews buoys brewpubs’ success."

In a story that hopscotches around the country, Buchtal zeroes in on the more innovate food and beer menus that are pulling people back. As she notes, "When Cosmopolitans and Manhattans regained their popularity, they brought along some unlikely companions: stouts and ales. While sales have been flat for mass-produced domestic beers, sales of 'craft beer,' also called microbrews, have multiplied.

"The result has been a boon for brewpubs as more consumers choose small-batch brews and menu items to accompany them. Food accounts for upward of 50% of sales at many brewpubs, and menus are more varied and sophisticated than what was common a decade ago."

Buchtal isn't totally starry-eyed about the brewpub niche, however. She does take note of a report from Technomic Inc., the Chicago food service consultancy, that says "Mixed drinks this year surpassed beer in on-premise alcoholic-beverage sales. Long the reigning champion of on-site alcohol sales, national-brand beers remain strong but with slower growth."

Technomic says craft beers accounted for a mere 3.2% of beer consumed nationwide in 2004, by barrels. But craft beer, a $3.5 billion segment last year, represents the domestic brewing industry’s only robust growth segment.

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World Champion Pourer

Forget all those Bavarian, Irish and Aussie beer pourers who claim their techniques are the best in the world. A Philadelphia bartender named Jessica Waltz has the tropy to prove she's truly No. 1.

Waltz, 28, who tends bar at Ten Stone Bar & Restaurant in Philly, won the title in the 9th-annual Stella Artois Global Draught Master competition in Brussels, Belgium. She is the first American to win the title in the two-day event that finds competitors from around the world being judged on technique, presentation and stamina. Each one pulled two glasses of Stella Artois, the renowned Belgian beer and event sponsor, a pint of Hoegaarden, and a single goblet of Leffe Brown poured from a large bottle.

"Everyone wants me to pour them one," Waltz said with a laugh when she was interviewed by Philly.com after returning home in triumph. "I was surprised word spread so quickly."

Was her regular job something that prepared her for the competition? Not really.

"We don't pour from a bottle at Ten Stone, so that's something I never practiced before," she said. "But now I know all the different things I'm supposed to do when I pour."

Her pouring tips for a successful brew-centric event, courtesy of Philly.com:

• Introduce yourself and your beer. Guests want to know a bit about what they're about to swallow.

• Choose the correct glassware. A beer tastes better in its proper glass: pilsners in tall, thin glasses; Belgians in goblets or tulips, for example.

• Make sure it's clean and rinsed. Soap not only impedes foam development, it tastes downright funky.

• Use cold glasses, not warm out of the dishwasher. But not ice cold. That'll kill the flavor.

• Don't be afraid to pour a large head. True, American beer-drinkers think they're getting cheated, but a large collar of foam looks better, protects the beer from smoke and actually adds to the beer's enjoyment.

• Use a head-cutter. Pour until you've got a half-inch of foam above the glass rim; these top bubbles tend to be larger, adding to gassiness. Trim them off with a blade so the remaining collar consists of compact bubbles.

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Bootie Call

The words "sophistication" and "beer ads" are, for the most part, mutually exclusive. The average beer commercial shows crowds of people screaming at some sporting event, leering at scantily-clad girls, or helping a couple of loser-types get through another dateless evening in their apartment.

There's a new beer, brewed in Orlando, FL, whose creators are looking to sell their product a different way. "Unlike other beers, there's no women cat-fighting in our ads, no sexy twins or cheesy underwear," says Andy Teubner, sales vice president for the company.

I guess you don't have to do a lot with the visuals when the name of your product is Bootie Beer. It sort of sells the cheesy idea all by itself.

The radio ads say things like "Bootie and beer, one great combination," and "Hey bootie, bootie." Clever stuff, huh?

The slang word "bootie" has its own connotations that were arrived at well before it became a brand name.

"To one person, it means having sex," says Bootie President Tania Torruella. "To another, it means going to the club and getting loose. To a third, it's having a sophisticated dinner with dad."

I think she's kidding us with that last definition. Nevertheless, she and her partners are spending several million on regional ad campaigns for their product. How are they doing so far? Targeting 21- to 29-year-old male buyers who make a "grab and go" purchase before a party or a sporting event, Bootie Beer sold out its entire production run in its first 10 days.

Life is not all fun and games for Torruella. According to a story in the Orlando Business Journal, she was fired from her previous job as a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch & Co. "In July 2003," the newspaper reported, "the firm was fined $900,000 by the New York Stock Exchange for failing to supervise Torruella, who was charged with making unauthorized trades for about 550 clients during an 18-month period. The company paid more than $28 million in settlements to 200 of her clients, and Torruella was permanently barred from the securities industry."

Torruella says working in the alcoholic beverage industry was a natural change of direction for her.

"My family makes Don Q Rum in Puerto Rico. One branch wanted to get into the beer business, so that's what I did."

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Michelada: The New Margarita?

Squeezing a lime wedge into your Corona is not particularly adventuresome. That beer-additive is commonplace, particularly among baby boomers and the slightly younger generations.

But a michelada is another story entirely.

It's a Mexican invention of beer mixed with a blend of lime juice, Tabasco sauce and beef seasoning, served in a glass rimmed with salt.

Charles Davis discovered the michelada a decade ago when he visited a Mexican bar and was impressed by a drink he thinks could be the world's next margarita.

"I ordered a beer," the McAllen, TX, businessman said, "but the waiter brought me out something that definitely didn't look like a beer. I got hooked right then and there. The carbonation from the beer combined with the tomato and lime mixture just creates this flavor explosion."

Davis, who told his tale in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News, is selling a bottled mix called Michelada Mix on the Internet and in stores across Texas through his company, Habagallo Foods. The mix is made in San Antonio.

Davis told the newspaper he has traced the drink's roots to the 1940s, when Mexican bar patrons would spice up their beer with Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and other seasonings.

He plans to expand his sales points to other major Texas cities. In five years of tightly-controlled test marketing, his sales of Michelada Mix have quadrupled.

Davis estimates that overall online and retail sales account for about 9,600 bottles of Michelada Mix a month.

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Bad Elf Not So Bad After All

My earlier report on the state of Connecticut considering a ban on selling the holiday-season beer Seriously Bad Elf has a mixed-impact followup.

Although the state's Department of Consumer Protection has done an about-face and decided to allow sales of the beer, its Massachusetts-based distributor says it probably is too late because beer sales for the holidays were completed October and it is doubtful Shelton Brothers will be able to fill any orders now for Connecticut stores. No other state threatened to prohibit sales.

The bottle label of Seriously Bad Elf shows an elf taking aim at Santa Claus's sleigh with a slingshot. Somehow Connecticut initially theorized that such a label would cause mobs of elf-crazed kids to go seek out beer simply because Santa was part of the artwork.

Shelton Brothers was planning to battle on First Amendment grounds the initial decision to ban the beer. The state denied any First Amendment issues figured into its eventual decision not to block sales.

Dan Shelton said he was almost disappointed by the Nov. 8 ruling.

"They took the easy way out," he said. "There is so much wrong with that regulation that (the lawyers) were looking forward to attacking the whole thing in court."

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Anheuser-Busch Expands Into Spirits

Everyone is getting into everyone else's act. Bourbon king Jim Beam Brands has gotten into wine. The Mogollon Brewing Co., a popular Flagstaff, AZ, micro-brewery, is getting press for its entry into the vodka wars. Now, beer ultramegagiant Anheuser-Busch has formed a spirits unit called Long Tail Libations Inc.

Its first product: Jekyll & Hyde.

It is two products packaged as one. As Mic Zavarella,, Long Tail's director of innovations, describes it, Jekyll is "a 60 proof, scarlet-red product with a wild berry flavor" and Hyde is "80-proof, black in color a little licorice tasting." The bartender or consumer mixes the two liquids to create the final cocktail.

Don't go rushing out to your local spirits shop to look for it. Jekyll & Hyde is just in the market testing stage, sold only in selected restaurants and bars in the test markets -- Columbia, MO, Denver, Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla., the company said.

The move isn't a total surprise. The U.S. beer industry has been losing customers to mixed drinks, particularly among younger drinkers, especially women.

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Rheingold Brewery Sold

Drinks Americas Holdings Ltd. has signed a letter of intent with Rheingold Brewing Co. for the purchase of Rheingold Beer.

Rheingold beer, a New York City brand established in 1883, is now produced under an agreement with F.X Matt Brewing Co. When the deal closes at the end of November, Drinks Americas will be the exclusive producer and marketer.

(See earlier story.)

Norm Snyder, president of Rheingold, said in a statement, "The board members and shareholders of Rheingold feel that the opportunity to be a part of the overall Drinks Americas business model increases our chance to add value and build a strong Rheingold brand in both the Metro New York market and, over time, grow to an expanded market base."

Drinks Americas owns, markets, and distributes alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Its portfolio includes Willie Nelson's Old Whiskey River Bourbon, Roy Yamaguchi's Y Sake, Aguila Tequila, Normans Wines from Australia and Newman’s Own Soda’s.

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A Seriously Bad Decision

OK, take a look at the label to the right. It shows an elf taking aim at Santa's sleigh with a slingshot.

If you think its mere presence on a beer bottle is going to lead underage kids down the road to degradation you fit into one of two categories:

• You know only really stupid kids.
• You work for the state of Connecticut.

The Nutmeg State is trying to block sales of a British beer called Seriously Bad Elf that uses the label. Not because of any implied violence or mischief, mind you, but because officials claim the label might entice children to drink.

State liquor regulations bar alcohol advertising with images that might appeal to children, and the regulations specifically mention Santa Claus.

"There are certain symbols and images that appeal more strongly to children and this regulation includes the most obvious among them," Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. "The state has wide discretion to regulate the sales of alcohol."

Perhaps it's only a matter of degree that got the state Liquor Control Division's attention. Shelton Brothers, a Massachusetts distributor that sold the seasonal beer in Coinnecticut when it was called Bad Elf and then Very Bad Elf, never had a problem in Connecticut before. In fact, it sells its imports in 30 states with no special restrictions.

"We even had a beer called Santa's Butt last year," said Dan Shelton, co-owner. "They didn't notice Santa's Butt, but they notice this one. How can you miss that big red thing? Minors are not going to be looking to buy beer because Santa Claus is on the label."

If you're interested in trying it, it's a bitter winter ale brewed at the Ridgeway Brewery in England. You just might not be able to sample it in Connecticut unless Shelton's case, being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, turns out in his company's favor. It has a lot of money riding on the final decision because Connecticut has given strong indications it also will prohibit Shelton Brothers from selling another seasonal brew, Warm Welcome Nut Brown Ale, which also has a picture of Santa Claus on the label.

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