Beer to Wine: “I’m Not Dead Yet”
Yesterday, Slate sprayed a bottle of Champagne all over the American beer industry, declaring it dead at the hands of wine, which is winning over the hearts and gullets of six-pack-toting football fans and the coveted NASCAR dads (even Jeff Gordon’s own Chardonnay is now on the list at Napa's French Laundry). There’s nothing newsy here: American beer sales have been as flat as a day-old pilsner for years, while wine is enjoying an all-time boom (Slate’s story is mostly a retread of a piece they ran two years ago). But Slate and other outlets sounding the beer death knell are missing one very important point: It’s the generic-tasting, mass-produced beer (Budweiser, Miller and their ilk) that Americans are waving off. American craft beer is still alive and kicking, experiencing its biggest growth since the microbrewery gold rush of the 1990s. According to the Brewers Association, a consortium of independent microbreweries, total craft beer sales are up 31.5 percent over the past three years and craft beer was the fasting growing alcoholic beverage of 2006 based on supermarket sales (up 17.8 percent compared to wine’s 10 percent).
After I read Slate’s obituary I called Marty Jones of Oskar Blues brewery, which makes a line of excellent canned craft beers (one of the 100 Tastes to Try in ’07 from F&W's January issue) to see if he feels the Grim Reaper’s cold, wine-stained finger tapping him on his shoulder. “Hardly,” Jones said. “We can’t keep up with the demand for our beer. It’s the big guys who are suffering. Americans are realizing that insipid, factory-produced stuff is not as interesting or satisfying as small-batch, lovingly crafted beer.” If true, this is great news: Not only are Americans drinking more wine (it’s good for you, after all), they’re drinking better beer. If this is the case, then the megabreweries—Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors—will adjust their recipes to fit our evolving tastes. And everybody wins.