Tag: Budvar

| Beer, Brewing, Budweiser Budvar, Cantillon, Lager, Miracle Brew, Water, Yeast

Three Examples of Why Some Good Beers Cost More

One of the biggest frustrations for brewers is when people who self-identify as lovers of good beer insist that it should always, without exception, be inexpensive. Is it fair to condemn this inverse snobbery? Or could the industry and beer communicators be doing a better job of explaining and justifying the high price tags attached to some beers?

The ‘special’ shelf in my cellar.

Notwithstanding the steady descent of Twitter generally into a platform for people to get furious over trivia and hurl abuse at people they don’t know, there’s been a spat going on over the last few days between a couple of contrarians and a bunch of beer people over the ‘outrageous’ price of a beer someone mentioned.

I immediately intervened on the side of the industry people defending and justifying the expense of some beers, tweeting:

“I find it amazing every time someone who claims to love beer asserts that beer can never be worth more than what you pay for the average pint. I’ve never heard a wine lover declare that Chateau Lafite, for example, should cost the same as Blossom Hill.”

I steadfastly believe in the validity of this comparison. But looking at the sheer ignorance of the people we were debating with, two things occurred to me. One, yes, it’s probably not worth bothering engaging with people who for some reason have chosen to spend their precious time on this planet arguing with people they don’t know about subjects on which they are entirely ignorant. But two, the frequency with which this particular attitude surfaces suggests that perhaps we’re at fault too. It’s not just on social media: in pubs and bars, when there’s some strong, rare beer being sold in thirds or halves only, there’s always someone who works out the cost of a pint (even though you can’t buy a pint) and decries how outrageous it is. Sometimes it even makes national news. And yet, we never see stories about what a rip-off it is that a pub wine list has a house white at 13.5% ABV for £14 and another wine at £65 that’s also £13.5% ABV. Even those (perhaps especially those) who are ignorant about wine are quite happy to accept that some wines are intrinsically worth more than others. If asked to explain why, they might invent an answer, but they would probably be more likely to come up with an explanation that sounds plausible to their ears rather than crying foul on pricing.

That such people are unable to do the same for beer surely says more about them than it does beer, but we can’t let them shoulder all the blame. Some of the replies to these people have been impatient, perhaps even condescending, and I thought: why would we assume people would have this knowledge when, unless they’re avid readers around beer or visitors of breweries, no one has told them?

So, in a blog post that won’t make a blind bit of difference to the professional contrarians whose only motivation is winding people up on Twitter to afford the illusion that their sad little lives mean something, here are three examples, offered with the best intentions, to explain why some beers cost more than others. These are not the only three – but they’re the three that came to my mind first.

1. Some beers have more stuff in them than other beers.

Here’s an interesting stat: in North America, craft brewers account for around ten per cent of total beer volume brewed. But craft brewers buy 25 per cent of all the hops grown in America. That means on average, craft brewers put two and a half times as many hops into their beers as mainstream commercial breweries. That means the cost of the hops going into each pint is at least two and a half times higher. (Possibly more when economies of scale and sizes of contracts are taken into account.) If you don’t like hoppy beer, or don’t want to pay a premium for it, that’s your choice. But surely the financial logic is undeniable. And that’s before you take into account the extra expense of ensuring a very hoppy beer remains chilled from the point of packaging to the point it’s bought by the drinker, to preserve the freshness of the hops.

2. Some beers take longer to make than other beers

There are various examples of this, but let’s look at lager. The word ‘lager’ means ‘to store’, and it’s generally accepted that a good quality lager should be lagered, or conditioned, at low temperatures for at least four weeks. This is because the yeast throws out various flavour compounds as it’s fermenting and conditioning. But left long enough, the yeast will then reabsorb these compounds, leaving a fresh, clean beer that’s crisp and refreshing but still has flavour and character. Not only does the lagering process tie up your capital for weeks because you can’t sell the beer you’ve just bought all the ingredients for and paid someone to make, it needs to be stored at cool temperatures – around two degrees Celsius. Keeping huge rooms full of tanks at that temperature consistently costs a serous amount of money. Budweiser Budvar lagers its beers in this way for at least ninety days. Some mainstream commercial brands go from brewing to packaging in 72 hours. If asked, they’ll tell you that modern technology has removed the need for lagering time. But taste a properly lagered lager alongside one that’s been made in a few days, and you might be sceptical about this.

3. Some beers use rare or special ingredients or processes

Lambic and geueze beers were at the centre of the recent Twitter spat. There are many, means reasons why these beers are expensive compared to a mainstream lager, but I want to focus on just one.

Instead of adding laboratory-cultured yeasts to start the fermentation of sugar into alcohol, lambic brewers rely on the natural yeasts in the air around them. It’s not quite the same thing as sourdough versus regular bread, but it’s close enough for comparison. The air around us is filled with a swirling cocktail of microflora, and its composition changes depending on where you are. There are certain parts of Belgium where this airborne biome produces great results in beer: other parts, not so much. So beers in this style are tied to particular places. But the cocktail doesn’t just change depending on where you go; it changes depending on the time of year, too. In warmer months, the party gets a little crowded, and as well as the ‘good’ yeasts you want in your beer, there are lots of uglier critters floating around that will spoil the beer and made it undrinkable. This means lambic producers can only brew during certain months of the year. The traditional season runs from October to April, when the average temperature is between -8 degrees Celsius and +8 degrees Celsius. But global warming means this window is now narrowing: the unseasonal warm weather we’re having now is catastrophic for lambic brewers. At Cantillon, the world’s most famous lambic brewery, the limited brewing window has contracted from 165 days in the early 1900s to about 140 days today. Within that period, sudden spikes mean a beer has to get poured away. This is a small, family business – the beer you brew over 140 days – once it’s been stored for three years, matured and blended – has to support people’s livelihoods for the whole year round. Prices have to rise, or the company will go out of business.

I’m not denying that there are opportunistic brewers and retailers who are cashing in on the craft beer boom to sell beers at artificially inflated prices because there are people who are willing to pay them. But I offer these three stories as examples that not all beers are the same. Brewing is an extraordinarily complex process and the ingredients of beer are each complex in their own way.

As with anything you buy in the supermarket, there are cheap versions and expensive versions – if all you can afford is an Iceland spag bol at £1 for an individual portion, it would be wrong to judge. But surely you’d appreciate that a scratch-cooked version using better quality tomatoes and beef is going to taste better? Brewers face similar decisions to you. If you’re not interested or not able to afford the better quality stuff, fine. But it’s simply inverse snobbery to criticise those who would rather splash out.

If anyone is interested in learning more about beer’s complex and wonderful supply chain, and the incredible lengths growers, breeders and scientists go to help brewers produce great beer, try Miracle Brew:

You’ll never see beer in the same way again. I know I didn’t.

| Anheuser-Busch, Beer, Budweiser Budvar, Lager, Marketing

Budweiser: You Can’t Rush Plagiarism

Seems like America’s beer just can’t stop stealing things from southern Bohemia…

I was shocked late Friday night to see a really good beer ad from Budweiser. No, stop laughing. I’ve seen plenty of good ads from Bud before – stuff about frogs and lizards and whazaaap, but this was a good beer ad: it’s true, it’s centred on the product, and it says something good about the broader beer category – good lager takes time to mature.

Last I heard, Budweiser is matured for twenty days. That’s not as long as the classic lagers of the Czech Republic and Germany are matured, but it’s a hell of a lot longer than the 72 hours some leading brands allegedly spend in the brewery between mashing in and packaging. You may not like the (lack of) taste in Budweiser, but even now they do some things right, and deserve some credit for that. So I was pleased to see an ad that had made lager maturation look cool.

I said as much on Twitter and Facebook, and very quickly Simon George of Budweiser Budvar UK shot back that his new strategy is to focus on the Czech beer’s astonishingly long lagering time – five times longer than the American beer. Budweiser Budvar has been running this copy for about nine months, albeit without the huge TV ad budgets US Bud can afford:

The dispute between American Budweiser and Czech Budweiser Budvar is decades old. Bud founder Adolphus Busch told a court of law, on record, in 1894: “The idea was simple,” he testified, “to produce a beer of the same quality, colour and taste as the beer produced in Budejovice [the Czech name for the town known as Budweis in German] or Bohemia.” Even though that record exists, the company has since flatly denied that this it stole the name Budweiser from the town of Budweis, or even took any inspiration from there. (There’s a lot more on this dispute in my book Three Sheets to the Wind.)

Budvar spent a long time capitalising on its David V Goliath relationship with Budweiser and has recently decided to move on and focus on its ageing process instead, as part of a new strategy to remain relevant in a market where craft beer means drinkers are more interested in product specifics. But it seems Budweiser are still hung up on their namesake. Nine months after Czech Budvar focused their marketing campaign on how long it takes to make their beer, American Budweiser focused their marketing campaign on how long it takes to make their beer:


Having stolen the idea, they’ve now gone the whole hog and even stolen the same copy. The Budvar headline above? ‘You can’t rush perfection.’ Spot the difference in the Facebook link to the ad below.

Come on, Budweiser. You’ve already stolen your name from the town in which Budweiser Budvar is brewed. You’ve copied their advertising idea (albiet in a fine execution) and now even their copy, word for word. You employ some of the best and most expensive advertising agencies in the world (even if you do try to shaft them on costs.) Is this the best those agencies can do?

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Why Beer Matters – The Results!

21 people competed for the trip to Budvar I won in December and offered up here in January.

I’m sorry it took so long to pick a winner!
It was interesting to read the variety of entries – a privilege to get an insight into what beer means to different people around the world.
Many entries talked about beer’s role through history in keeping us alive, and almost everyone touched at least in part on beer’s role today as the most sociable of drinks, its uniquely slow, stately progression of inebriation and the way we can bond over it. Many said we could do that bonding anyway, but the beer sure as hell helps. Some tried the angle that the beer itself is not what matters, but the friendships and times it helps catalyse, while others said beer may not matter to you, or to the guy down the street, but it matters to me because I drink it, or I brew it, or make my living out of it, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
So in terms of themes it was all quite familiar stuff – I’ve made all those points in my books and on this blog many times before.
But what made reading these entries special was the way these arguments were illustrated. We might all think similar things about beer, but our own individual stories that back up these beliefs are quite different, and make for a wonderful collection of reading. Your first beer, your coming of age with beer, the moment you decided you wanted to brew, the places you’ve travelled in the name of beer… reading these entries one after the other was to be pulled around the world from one cool bar to another, back and forth across the last three or four decades, fantastic beer at the centre of a kaleidoscope of life experiences.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘sod the platitude and purple prose Pete, who won?’
OK, so we had three entries that really stood out for the pack.
In third place, is John Bidwell from Denver, Colorado, with his essay: ‘Liquid identities: Community Representation through Beer.’ He focuses on how two brewers in two different parts of the world pack their beers with a real sense of place and provenance, and transport you to those places when you drink them.
In second place is Shea Luke, with a spirited romp through her life as a young, female real ale enthusiast and ticker. Shea blogs here and will be on my blogroll from now on. She has a distinctive, fresh voice and a lovely turn of phrase, and I hope we hear a lot more from her in future.
And the winner… let’s hope all these prizes don’t start going to his head, but first place goes to Mark Dredge. He’s so industrious, so omnipresent, that it’s easy to forget that Mark has been writing about beer for less than two years. He’s on a very steep upward trajectory and this entry is proof of that. It traces all the themes outlined above, but frames them in a neat narrative arc and addresses them with passion, energy and clarity. A clear voice and an increasing confidence in his writing mean Mark will be going to Ceske Budejovice and seeing his piece in The Publican very soon.
Thank you so much to everyone who entered. It really was a pleasure to judge – I don’t think there was a single entry that was not enjoyable in some way. I’m hoping to post the top three entries on here over the next week or two, so stay tuned for some fresh takes on the beverage we all feel matters so much.

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Dropped out of circulation for a few weeks there while I was rewriting Man Walks into a Pub. Just got final rewrites off to the editor and am now resuming normal service.

Apologies if you entered the Budvar/Publican Why Beer Matters competition – it’s a month since closing date and it’s very remiss of me not to have done the judging by now. I’ll be resolving that asap.
Lots of great stuff happening over the next few weeks though – I’ll be posting about my recent trip to Denmark, the Welsh beer revolution, lager, and plans for Cask Ale Week over the next week or two.
In the meantime, here’s a column I did for the Publican when I was out after the Liverpool Beer Festival last week.

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I love Ceske Budejovice, in southern Bohemia.

The main reason I love it is because it’s where Budvar is brewed.I first visited on 2003, when I was starting Three Sheets to the Wind. In fact, if I’m honest, and stripping away the white lies around order and timing you have to weave in order to create a coherent narrative, it’s the trip that inspired Three Sheets – my first foreign beer trip. We had such a rollicking time on that trip I simply wrote down what happened, submitted it to my editor and he bought the book on the spot, saying, “If it’s all as funny as that, we’ve got a winner”.
It wasn’t all as funny as that. The trip remains a highlight of my beery career.
Three Sheets nevertheless won the Guild of Beer Writers Budweiser Budvar Travel Bursary in 2006. The prize? Another trip to the brewery in Ceske Budejovice, which I duly took in 2008.
Once again, it was amazing. Drinking unpasteurised, unfiltered Budvar from the tanks in the cellar remains a standout beer drinking moment in my life. When it was time to move on I almost had to be dragged from that cellar, wedging my arms in the doorway, clinging to the door jamb with my fingernails until they broke. If you think you don’t like lager, you only have to taste this nectar to become aware of your folly.
If you’ve read Hops & Glory, you’ll know that winning the Bursary led directly to me writing that book. And last month, once again, it won the newly renamed Budweiser Budvar John White Travel Bursary at the Guild awards. Prize? Another trip to the brewery.
This is all a long-winded prelude to saying that, while I love this place dearly, and while I certainly intend to drink the unpasteurised Budvar in the cellar again sometime soon, I feel that to go on a third press trip in seven years would not give me as much value as it could give someone else. It’s amazing, it really is, but I’ve done it – twice.
So I’ve decided to give the trip away.
Working in conjunction with Budvar UK and The Publican, we’re launching a mini-competition to encourage new beer writing talent.
This is open to anyone who is passionate about beer, wants to write about it, but has not yet had anything published in print media. We can’t and don’t want to exclude bloggers because most people who are keen to write about beer have started doing so electronically, but we want to offer someone the chance to break into being published offline for the first time.

It’s simple. You need to write a thousand-word piece on the subject of ‘Why Beer Matters’, interpreted in whatever way you see fit. You need to send this to me at petebrown@stormlantern.co.uk by 29th January, remembering to include your real name, postal address and contact telephone number.
Judges will include me, and Publican editor Caroline Nodder. The winning entry will be published in The Publican, and the successful writer will be invited on a press trip to Ceske Budejovice, which also takes in a day trip to the stunning medieval town of Ceske Krumlov (below) some time in early spring.

Get writing. And good luck!
This is open to any writer, anywhere (though you’d have to get yourself to either London or Prague under your own steam if you live outside the UK.)
This is my idea, and sets no precedent in terms of what happens to future winners of the Budweiser Budvar John White Travel Bursary. And it’s only the trip – you can’t have the cheque that constitutes the other part of the prize, or the traditional Budvar tankard. I need those. And if you submit an entry, and we then discover you’ve been previously published in a book or magazine, you’ll not only be disqualified; we’ll also send the boys round.