Saturday, June 24, 2023

The Number One Beer in America is... Modelo? WTF?

Beer is seeing its fortunes change, once again.

Not long ago, beer was considered a working-class drink.  Blue collar bars would serve beer, but you would never see it at a cocktail party, at the country club, or served on a yacht.  If you were a white-collar worker and your boss came over for dinner, you would never dream of serving him a beer.

Cocktails were the thing, probably a remnant of the prohibition era.  You can smuggle a lot more alcohol in the form of liquor than in the form of beer.  It is simple economics - one that drug smugglers know today.  Why risk jail smuggling bales of marijuana worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, when you can smuggle more easily concealable kilos of cocaine worth millions?

As I noted before, however, in the 1970s and 1980s, beer took off as a mainstream beverage.  Hippies bought it because it was cheap, and being working-class was counter-culture as well. And like coffee, baby-boomers had to ruin beer by taking it far too seriously.  So imported beers (and quasi-imported beers) took off in America in the late 1970s, and by the 1990s, the "micro-brew" thing was in full swing.  Beer was being served at cocktail parties, upscale bars, and the country club.

But of course, what baby boomers created, the millenials had to tear asunder.  Damn millenials, ruining everything, even beer!  Just kidding.  It was Gen-Z that ruined beer!  Just kidding, again. However, it is true that beer has declined in popularity over time.  The big problem for Bud Light wasn't that it was perceived as "Gay Beer" but that the demographic for the product - older boomers who swilled it by the suitcase - was dying off.

Worse yet, as they got older, people discovered that beer didn't agree with them.  It can leave you feeling bloated and full - at least it does to me Bear in mind at one point in my life, I contemplated marrying beer, I loved it so much. I had not one, but two draft beer systems in my house - one light, one dark.

So beer has seen its day in the sun, but that day is fading.  Beer won't go away entirely, but it won't be as wildly popular as it was during the beer boom of the 1970's and beyond.  Maybe this is a cyclical thing - and the coming recession (already here for many of us!) will drive people back to beer as a cheap buzz.  Some argue that the legalization of marijuana is resulting in declining beer sales, but I am less sure of that - most pot smokers I know (or knew) washed their weed down with a cold draft.

As for Bud Light, is the "boycott" destroying Anheuser-Busch? Hardly - Bud Light is no longer the most popular selling beer in America - eclipsed by Mexican brew, Modelo Especial.  Guess who owns Modelo?  That's right - Anheuser-Busch.  In fact, there are only a handful (actually, just two) companies that produce the majority of beers you see in the supermarket.  We have the lovely illusion of choice.  Even some vaunted "micro-brews" are in fact, owned by AmBev or SABMiller.

In terms of "Gay Beer" there is really no brand that hasn't been tied to some gay pride promotion at one time or another.  There was a boycott of Coors beer at one time - by gays - as the Coors family was very homophobic.  Coors caved in and donated money to gay causes and sponsored pride events.  Bud Light boycotters are ironically switching to Coors, which is made by SABMiller. You can't get away from it! Maybe there is a "Hitler Lite" microbrew out there somewhere (probably from Northern Idaho) but I suspect that would be one of those $5-a-bottle brands, that no one can really afford.

So the boycott really is ineffective. Maybe it caused a declining brand to decline further, but it hasn't really changed beer sales dramatically. And switching brands to another brand in the same stable isn't really doing much. Switching to a different manufacturer who has the same values seems even less effective.

On the other hand, I am not sure that courting the "trans" demographic is a marketing coup. Will this get the 20-somethings to embrace a brand their homophobic uncle swills while sitting in a plastic chair in his back yard?  I doubt it.  It is about as likely as getting the Kawasaki Ninja rider to "upgrade" to a Harley. Different generations have different values - although over time, these too, can morph.  Hippies can turn into Yuppies, overnight.

So how did a Mexican beer become the most popular beer in America?  Was it due to the "boycott" of Bud Light?  Or was it just a popular beer in ascendancy and Bud Light sales were in the decline anyway?   Perhaps a little of bothBeer sales are down, year to year, in recent years, while the share of imported beers continues to rise.  People are buying less beer, but what they do buy, they are fussier about. Craft beers are still doing well, but the number of  brewpubs opening up has declined, and the number closing down has increased. I think it was a trend that was overdone, quite frankly.  And the thought of drinking huge draughts of beer to wash down one of those impossible-to-get-in-your-mouth cheeseburgers and a mountain of fried potato chunks, just isn't appealing to me as a 63-year-old.  I'd be up all night!

Meanwhile, the kids are getting into cocktails.  Not real ones, of course.  They love the sweet drinks, and their idea of a "cocktail" is a shot of Jagermeister or some designer vodka mixed with Red Bull.  If you ask them if they want a martini, they say, "sure - chocolate or lemon drop?"  Youth favors the sweet, savory is an acquired taste, if you'll pardon the pun. Seriously, though, this is probably a biological thing.  Maybe the sweet taste buds die off over time.  Or many our brains are programmed to like sweet when we are kids, as we need those mega-calories to grow into adults.  As adults, however, sweet kills us.  But I digress.

Like I said, this could be a cycle - beer may make a comeback as the economy worsens.  And if it does, maybe as a cheaper alternative to cocktails.  Perhaps that is one problem facing beer these days - it costs as much as a cocktail in many bars.  If you are paying $8-$10 for a beer, why not have a Vodka-Tonic instead?  The math is compelling.

Of course, maybe alcohol consumption in general is dropping, as people realize the adverse effects it can have on your health - attacking every organ in your body, including the brain.