Pondering Beer's Future

In a comment on my previous blog entry, Stan Hieronymus of appellationbeer.com asks a good question: Will beer-based cookbooks and campaigns, like Here's to Beer, persuade Americans to re-think beer's role in daily life? (*1)

I'm all for the focus on food and beer. But that is well-trod territory, one that post-Prohibition brewers worked as they struggled to promote beer to an indifferent public. In the 1930s, for example, brewers hosted "ladies luncheons" in department stores, where hired chefs prepared food with beer. During the '40s and '50s, women's magazines and the "women's" section of daily newspapers routinely ran articles about how to cook with and serve beer. (I suspect those pieces were press releases submitted by breweries and their ad agencies.)

It didn't have much impact then. Will it now? I'm not sure, although I hasten to add that I'm all in favor of ANYTHING brewers can do to promote beer as a sophisticated, complex beverage. That won't be easy. Like just about everything else in daily life, public relations, marketing, and media are in turmoil. I'm not sure anyone, in or out of brewing, understands what kinds of promotions work in an age of remote controls, Ipods, and internet.

But to get back to Stan's question: In my opinion, until brewers persuade Americans to re-think their attitudes toward alcohol, cookbooks won't do much good. The "Here's to Beer" campaign won't have much impact. But they've got an uphill climb ahead of them, because the "other side" is far better organized and funded.

Right now, MADD owns the subject of alcohol. It sets both the tone and the agenda in the crusade to demonize alcohol and to eliminate its manufacture, sale, and consumption in the United States. What brewers need is an equally substantive, organized campaign to counteract the neo-Prohibitionists (eg, MADD and groups like it). The operative word here is ORGANIZED. As in: Unified. United. As in: they need to work together.

Brewing's great downfall c. 1915 was not the Prohibitionists per se. It was the prohibitionists' unifed action and the brewers' fragmented fractitiousness. Yes, the Brewers Association works hard to promote beer. But its budget and resources are limited.

Yes, Jim Koch at Boston Beer Company uses his ad dollars to air commercials that challenge our old image of beer. Yes, brewers' website urge vistors to "drink responsibly." Yes, the Here's to Beer campaign soldiers on. But it's not enough, and it's too disjointed and fractured. Brewers need to work hard TOGETHER. Not as competitors, but as partners in a larger battle. And yes, that means that the craft brewers need to reach out and accept the helping hand offered by That Big Giant that funds the Here's to Beer campaign. Because none of them can do it alone.


*1: Full disclosure: I appeared in the Here's to Beer documentary titled "The American Brew." I was not paid for my time nor was I compensated for expenses incurred.