Food Babe learns the controversial ingredient in Budweiser’s beer

Vani Hari, the Food Babe, demands answers readily available

English: American und Tchech Budweiser in Tray

Budweiser lists ingredients right on the bottle folks: “Hops, Rice, and Best Barley Malt”! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vani Hari, the self-proclaimed Food Babe has a petition asking demanding that “Anheuser-Busch and Miller Coors, America’s largest beer brands to disclose their full set of ingredients online for all consumers to see.” Apparently, listing the ingredients on the beer’s label where everyone can see it is not enough, it should be online. Go ahead; look at the label. It says: “Hops, Rice, and Best Barley Malt“! Aha! They didn’t list water! I knew they were hiding something! Coors, on the other hand, only lists “100% Rocky Mountain Water” on the can.

Online, Anheuser-Busch goes on to list the water and yeast (apparently, Hari’s investigation did not include actual research or fact checking or she could not get by the age-gates for the breweries’ websites). While the yeasts, hops, barley, rice, and water are all proprietary for these breweries (yes, even water tastes different due to different chemicals/minerals in it–water in different areas is different) the basics are the same. Crushed grain (usually just barley but sometimes, wheat, rice, or corn may be added) is soaked in hot water (between 140F and 158F) for a period of time (about 20 to 60 minutes) and then the liquid is run off to be boiled. After the liquid (called wort) has boiled it is cooled and yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) are “pitched” into the wort. The yeast eat the sugars and excrete alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2) until they run out of sugars to eat. That’s it.

English: A Clydesdale horse owned and maintain...

English: A Clydesdale horse owned and maintained by Anheuser-Busch at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With their ingredients listed on their websites and for Budweiser on its cans, Hari’s demands were first answered by silence. As Hank Campbell, founder of Science 2.0 points out:

[Hari] uses the science illiteracy of the nutritionist segment to full effect and conspiratorially declares that [her targets] must be hiding something if they refuse to answer her uninformed questions about ingredients.

You will notice she has gone after BMC (Budweiser Miller Coors) because, of course, they are corporations and only corporations have something to hide. It is common knowledge, after all, that smaller brewers use only the finest, purest, highest quality ingredients for their artisanal malt beverages. That logic is, of course, the pure, high quality horse manure.

Because as Maureen Ogle notes this sort of tactic has been used before:

Well over a century ago…supporters of “temperance” and alcohol prohibition launched a campaign to eliminate “adulterated” beer from the marketplace…[one particular group] demanded that the nation’s brewers reveal the use of all their ingredients and sent brewers a questionnaire aimed at rooting out the truth. On the list of alleged ingredients were corn, rice, glucose, ‘grape sugar,’ molasses, and potato and corn starch. Other groups claimed brewers used acids in their beer…Eventually, of course, the prohibitionists, who never met a fear they weren’t willing to exploit, managed to make prohibition the law of the land — with, shall we say, disastrous results.

The Brewers Association, which represents the smaller craft brewers in the United States has been silent on this issue. Whether they think that they are exempt from the Food Babes of the world or they think “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” or something else entirely, I do not know. Either way, it is a dangerously naive strategy.

Smart Takes

The New Yellow Journalism By Jay Brooks
Beware the Dangers of [Profit-Driven] Dumbassery by Maureen Ogle
Beer McCarthyism – The Food Babe Goes After Breweries Again by Hank Campbell
What’s In YOUR Beer? Or, The Dangers of Dumbassery by Maureen Ogle
Beer Wars: The Calumny of The Food Babe by Tom Cizauskas (anyone who use “calumny” in a title has to be giving a smart take)

 

Let the Best Beer Win

English: Anheuser-Busch plant, St. Louis, MO USA

Anheuser-Busch plant, St. Louis, MO USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over at the ever-relevant Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog (and my go-to blog for all things beer-taste related), Jim Galligan has posted, “Brewers Association Calls Out Counterfeit Craft Beers.” He said he asked Julia Herz of the Brewers Association (BA) why they’re speaking out now, since in the past they had “tiptoed around the topic….She simply said that talk about Big Beer offering up imposter brews has been growing increasingly louder in the craft beer community, and the BA felt it was time to state their point of view on the topic.”

I’ll have some more to say further down, but first, here is the BA media announcement in its entirety:

Boulder, CO • December 13, 2012—The Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American craft brewers, issued the following statement regarding the increase in production and promotion of craft-like beers by large, non-craft breweries:

An American craft brewer is defined as small and independent. Their annual production is 6 million barrels of beer or less and no more than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

The community of small and independent craft brewers has grown as beer enthusiasts embrace new, diverse beers brewed by their neighbors and friends who are invested in their local communities. Beer drinkers are voting with their palates and dollars to support these entrepreneurs and their small and independent businesses.

In 2011, small and independent craft brewers saw their industry grow 13 percent by volume; in the first half of 2012, volume grew by an additional 12 percent. Meanwhile, the overall beer industry was down 1.3 percent by volume and domestic non-craft was down 5 million barrels in 2011.

Witnessing both the tremendous success and growth of craft brewers and the fact that many beer lovers are turning away from mass-produced light lagers, the large brewers have been seeking entry into the craft beer marketplace. Many started producing their own craft-imitating beers, while some purchased (or are attempting to purchase) large or full stakes in small and independent breweries.

While this is certainly a nod to the innovation and ingenuity of today’s small and independent brewers, it’s important to remember that if a large brewer has a controlling share of a smaller producing brewery, the brewer is, by definition, not craft.

However, many non-standard, non-light “crafty” beers found in the marketplace today are not labeled as products of large breweries. So when someone is drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, they often believe that it’s from a craft brewer, since there is no clear indication that it’s made by SABMiller. The same goes for Shock Top, a brand that is 100 percent owned by Anheuser-Bush InBev, and several others that are owned by a multinational brewing and beverage company.

The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers. We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking. [emphasis added]

And for those passionate beer lovers out there, we ask that you take the time to familiarize yourself with who is brewing the beer you are drinking. Is it a product of a small and independent brewer? Or is it from a crafty large brewer, seeking to capitalize on the mounting success of small and independent craft brewers?

A full list of U.S. breweries is available on BrewersAssociation.org. The Brewers Association list of domestic non-craft breweries is available for download.

The BA has a point. BMC (Bud-Miller-Coors) market-test their beers to make them appeal to the widest audience possible (or the lowest common denominator, depending on your point of view and how charitable you feel). And, like other large-scale retailers, they will copy hipper and trendier styles and market those products minus their Big Box brand’s label.

Now I drink “craft beer” and I make “craft beer,” but for me, it is an artificial distinction. Each beer must stand or fall on its merits (and, frankly, whether I like the style). The “big corporations are evil” story is getting stale. This is beyond beer-nerdery (if that can be a word) and into beer snobbery.

The big brewers make good and consistent beers. These brews may not be what you or I want to drink but that distinction says we have different tastes from the mainstream. That Anheuser-Busch can brew a beer in twelve regional facilities and produce a beer that tastes the same is a testament to their abilities.

Smaller and nimbler breweries make an asset of their attributes. They can produce new beers when the whim strikes them (without test marketing reactions); and, they have been known to distribute one-off mistakes, such as Lagunitas Brewing‘s Brown Shugga, meant originally to be a batch of their Olde GnarlyWine Ale.

BMC can do good and bad things. Anheuser-Busch endowed the beer program at University of California at Davis. This has benefited craft brewing immensely. A number of the brewers that today make craft beer went to UC Davis and studied under Dr Bamforth.  But, because they are big, BMC can really throw their weight around and play to win. As Jim Galligan wrote for the Today blog, The Big Beer companies have “done their best to push craft beers off the shelf, confuse consumers by creating their own craft beer lookalike brands, and they’ve purchased beloved craft breweries like Goose Island outright, replacing the folks who built the place with their own mass-market veterans.”

But hold on, the BA’s pronouncement has incensed other brewers, who have been excluded from the BA by its definitions of what constitutes “Craft Beer.” According to BeerPulse.com, August Schell of Schell’s Brewing, announced:

We put the same amount of pride and effort into producing our American Lagers as we do our line up of all-malt “specialty” beers, since we can’t dare call them “craft.” I know for a fact the same holds true for our friends at the Yuengling and Straub breweries. For you to say that the three oldest, family-owned breweries in America are “not traditional” is downright disrespectful, rude and quite frankly, embarrassing. – August Schell

Drink the beer because you like who made it. Drink the beer because it tastes good. Drink the beer because your server is cute. It’s beer, and while it may be art, it ain’t the Mona Lisa.

As Lagunitas says, Beer speaks, people mumble. Or as Sam Calagione, owner of Dogfish Head Brewing says, “Beauty is in the eye of the beerholder.”

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It takes some real work to make me feel sorry for Budweiser, but it seems that I am a little nostalgic for the days when it was run by the Busch family.

I am not against large corporations, per se, but an article in articleBusinessWeek.com, “The Plot to Destroy America’s Beer,” paints a picture of a corporate leader, Carlos Brito, the CEO of AB InBev, as someone who knows nothing about beer and everything about corporate takeovers. AbInBev has seemingly taken over every name brand beer on the planet: Beck’s, Stella Artois, Budweiser, Corona, Spaten, and many others.

Here’s an excerpt:

“[Ab InBev is] hurting these brands,” says Gerard Rijk, a beverage analyst at ING (ING).

Rijk gives Beck’s as an example:

“The authenticity of Beck’s is that it is a German brand with German water, with German malt, with German hops. This isn’t about brand building. It’s about costs. Full stop. Heineken (HEIA) would never do such a thing.”

I am reminded of the takeover of Pacific Lumber by Texas financier Charles Hurwitz. And with good reason…

[Brito’s] been running AB InBev’s business in the U.S. like a private equity investor. He has increased revenue and profit, but he has done so almost entirely by raising prices and cutting the cost of making the product….

What will Mr. Brito do when he runs out of companies to acquire and actually has to brew decent beer? Something he apparently doesn’t have a clue how to do.

The Plot to Destroy America’s Beer” is well worth a look.