Tuesday 4 September 2012

Book Review - Beer Blast

As you have noticed, I have a fondness for beer.

I love the taste and I love researching breweries, beer styles and beers history. Beer Blast appealed to me as it was written about the American beer wars during the 70's, 80's and 90's.

Brewing, a venerable American industry, once was dominated by family-owned firms serving a loyal clientele. In the late 1970s, however, the conglomerates got involved, and the beer wars erupted. In Beer Blast, a veteran of the beer wars (from the famous Van Munching clan, importers of Heineken) shares his wealth of colorful, often amazing stories about the personalities, battles, and follies of the beer biz.

Beer is supposed to be fun and when reading about it, I want to enjoy a fun read. Philip Van Munching gave me just that. It is full of humour on how U.S. giants, Anheuser-Busch and Miller, fought it out to build their brands, with Coors coming in later on in the fight and how Schlitz destroyed their product.

I found it quite interesting reading about how to position a new beer when it comes out, so it brings in new business, without stealing customers away from its own flagship brands. For instance, when Bud Lite came out, did it draw consumers away from Lite Beer from Miller as new business or did it just have its own loyal customers move over from Budweiser?

His views on big breweries' constant search for the next best thing in order to grow the business helped me to better understand what is happening today with Lime beers, cans that change colour and resealable bottle cans (do you plan to just have half a beer and have the other half tomorrow?).

The chapter on Jim Koch bringing Samuel Adams Boston Lager to the market was enjoyable. Not only did he rattle the big boys but was taking market share away from Van Munching's premium Heineken brands. It was interesting how Koch approached the market the same way as Van Munching and how Van Muching says it is a very tasty beer.

The book came out in 1997, and much has changed in the beer world since that. He predicts at the end of the book that the big three brewers will one day need to put some serious money into the craft beer path to ensure future growth. I wonder if he foresaw the big three all being bought out by larger international beer conglomerates.

Beer Blast was a blast. A good fun read.

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