You know the old story about how an Italian knows when spaghetti is done? They fish a piece of pasta out of the pot and fling it at the wall. If it sticks, it's done; if it falls, they cook it a bit longer. There's a technical explanation about why it actually kind of works – some stuff about starch chains and adhesion – but the picture's great, right?
Anheuser-Busch must like it so much that they've got it framed. A-B is throwing new beers – or beer-like ... things – at the market wall every month and just hoping that they'll stick. The recent list of spaghetti includes some really weird stuff:
– a "bold berry-flavor" beer with caffeine, ginseng and guarana. (What the hell's guarana? It's wacky weed from Brazil; check it out: www.guarana.com
9th Street Market – a whole series of fruit beers, and I do mean fruit beers – blood orange grapefruit, lime & cactus, pomegranate raspberry and Tuscan orange. Sounds like this "9th Street Market" is a real effin' yuppie joint. (A-B's home brewery is on 9th Street in St. Louis.)
Be (B-to-the-E) – a carbed-up jolt juice that makes Tilt look like Ambien in a can.
Wild Blue and Blue Horizon
– not one but two
different blueberry beers.
Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale (pictured here) – just what it sounds like ("Jack's" pumpkin spice, get it?).
Peels – a line of fruit-flavored, "natural" malt beverages aimed at women ... that they're taste-testing in spas and beauty salons.
Jekyll & Hyde – maybe the strangest thing; it's liquor, or more precisely, two liquors in two bottles that come together in a package intended to be mixed together. "Jekyll" is a 60-proof scarlet berry booze; "Hyde" is a black, Jägermeisterish, 80-proof concoction. Yum.
Twixt thee and me ... I don't think any of that crap's gonna stick to the wall ... except maybe the pumpkin beer. People really like beers with pumpkin pie spices in them, and a good one will sell strongly in the fall.
Happily, they're also throwing out some real beers, too. Spring Heat Spiced Wheat is a witbier
, a cloudy wheat beer spiced with citrus and coriander, like Hoegaarden or Blue Moon Belgian White (a Coors product, by the way), and there's a pretty tasty Michelob Marzen out in the fall. They're test-marketing Wild Hop Lager, an organic beer that's aimed at upscale supermarket shoppers. Then there are two bruisers that may or may not return next winter: Michelob Celebrate and Winter Bourbon Cask, a couple of holiday beers that were heavy-handed but well-intentioned. A-B also just released two new regional beers
: Demon's Hop Yard IPA in the New England market and Burnin' Helles lager in Ohio.
And of course, there's the usual shtick: Michelob Ultra Amber, which is surely a sign of the Apocalypse – a dark light beer – and Bud Select, which ... um ... is, uh ... actually, can anyone tell me exactly what Bud Select is? Don't they already have Bud Light? What's this, Bud Lighter? Anyway, these beers are naturally instant successes, as the Bud sales force spreads out across the land with them and beats accounts into submission until they buy and buy and buy.
A-B isn't just throwing beers against the wall, they're throwing ways to serve them, and I don't mean smashing glassware. In perhaps the oddest idea to come from a brewery since, well, since stimulant-infused energy beers, A-B has published a booklet with an assortment of 24 "beertails," recipes for cocktails based on Anheuser-Busch beers, with names like the Bud Light Orangutan, Hamptons Iced Tea, and the BEatch. No, really. They're serious.
What the hell's going on here? Some marketing guys at A-B trying to justify their jobs? Acid in the Bud Select test batch?
It may look like A-B is scared of the craft beer boom, and some beer weenies have actually been fool enough to float this theory on some of the more excitable websites. Sure, and we're pressuring Iran to stop making uranium for costumed ninnies to do fan dances with because we're scared they're going to blow us all up with one little pissant atom bomb ... before we turn them into a black, glass-lined crater. It's about as likely. A-B's not scared of anything smaller than Corona (and they own 50 percent of that), but they do know good profits when they see them, and they might want some of that $8.99 six-pack stuff.
What's really going on here is what we talked about a few months ago: They truly are afraid of wine and spirits, both of which are booming after years of being on the skids. They can see the numbers, and they show wine and spirits growing while "premium" beer – Bud, MGD, Busch, Miller High Life – is sucking wind. Never mind that light beer is still growing; it's kind of being kept alive with massive infusions of advertising and promotions. Seen a lot of wine ads on the Super Bowl lately, have you? Of course not. They don't need them. They're actually selling on flavor.
Which is why this latest blast of "innovation" from A-B shows that they don't get the whole idea at all, that their marketing department is utterly clueless on how to do
anything other than try to solve problems with an enema bag full of advertising cash, that they are morally bankrupt when it comes to their conception of the soul of beer.
I'm not talking about Budweiser, Michelob or even Bud Light. They are what they are – they're definitely beer with a capital Suds. But Tilt? B-to-the-E (pictured here)? 9th Street?
Light beer with fruit flavors is an idea that's come and righteously gone, and buzzjolt energy beer is an idea that should have been stillborn. If you want to make a beer that's different, you don't have to be degrading. This is like saying you want to change football to make it more appealing, which you do by running NASCAR races around the field while the players – half of them tiny women – ice-dance the ball to the end zone. It's an abomination, a stench in the nostrils of the Beer Gods.
Beer doesn't need to be "improved" or changed. There are already great beers out there. There are some people at A-B who understand that: Wild Hop and Michelob Marzen prove that. Hell, even the pumpkin beer does, much as that baffles me. Fire the whole marketing department and get some real beer drinkers in there to sell beer, not sour-assed belly wash.
Stop throwing stuff at the wall. There's a seafood lasagna in the oven that smells great, a big antipasto on the table already and the pizza guy just rang the doorbell. All different, all ready to go.
Quit screwing around with that crap you're making and let's eat.