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Mar 4, 2007 06:31 PM

The evil of InBev

I hear a lot of negative press about InBev (and others) and never quite understand the beef. Is the issue the fact that they control international brands like Beck's, Boddingtons, Spaten, etc, and contract brew these brands locally for local markets thus degrading the original product? I'd apptreciate some clarification.


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  1. Like all the big players, they have a history of buying smaller breweries and cannibalizing the brewery's line in order to sell the most profitable or marketable products and eliminating interesting, unique or cult beers. They often move production to large facilities, eliminating local character of beers and thereby destroying the quality of some. And they have eliminated some products through buyouts specifically to enhance the market share of a similar product they already own. They're no worse than other alcohol conglomerates in this respect.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Kevin B

      Of course, without evil "Big Beer" stepping in, some, or perhaps many, of these brands and breweries would have faded away in bankrupcy. It works both ways.

      1. re: SuzyInChains

        You used the word "automatic" and I don't argue that in every case where a buyout occurs, the product suffers.

        I think you're coming at this with a micro not macro view. In some micro cases, the brewery is largely left alone and continues to produce the same quality. It's the cumulative effect of consolidation that is a loss for the consumer.

        Just in the last six months, Young's Ram Brewery has been shuttered and Latrobe is closed. Maybe there won't be any negative effect, but in the case of The Ram, there's nearly 200 years of brewing tradition that's gone.

        1. re: Kevin B

          Wow, that's sad to hear about Young's.

          1. re: Kevin B

            News of the Young's merger with the Charles Wells brewery came about some time last year, and shortly afterwards they announced the closure of the Ram Brewery. While it would be incredible to see another brewery buy the historic space, I've yet to hear any rumors of the sort. The newly merged brewers will now market their beers under the Wells & Young's name, with all the Young's beers being brewed at the Wells location. IIRC, there was some talk about a consolidation of the product lines, eliminating a certain degree of overlap in their combined portfolios, but I'm not sure what's come of this. I have noticed that they no longer list Young's Oatmeal Stout on their site, and I'd heard they might kill off Waggle Dance, but the latter seems to live on for now. Since the merger, it's seemed as if our local distributor has had a much harder time keeping Young's Double Chocolate Stout in stock, but I haven't noticed any packaging changes the few times they've actually delivered it to us, so I'm not sure what's going on there.

      2. Which beers have they hurt (in your opinion)?


        1 Reply
        1. re: Chinon00

          The whole Hoegarden line, particularly the formerly great Forbidden Fruit. Abbaye DeLeffe is also a pale shadow of what it was. And I realize this statement is controversial, but their huge marketing push of the sweetened Belle Vue line has had a hand in the disappearance of many traditional Lambic products.

        2. Hoegaarden has definitely suffered in quality. It definitely is not as good as it used to be. I know they changed locations, so that could be a big factor.

          1. There's little in the world of food and drink that improves under the hand of Conglomco.

            11 Replies
            1. re: Josh

              But there *are* exceptions to the rule . . .

              1. re: zin1953

                It's a debate that's been going on for many years; there's no real logical reason WHY a contract-brewed version or a brewed-in-a-different-location (often by a new owner) version of a beer CAN'T be as good as the "old/original" beer, but they almost never are. (Heck, in theory, it could even be better...).

                And, off hand, I can't think of an example of an "exception" beer that was as good or better than the original. OTOH, the history of beer is littered with once great beer brands that are mere shadows of their former selves, once a new owner gets through with 'em.

                1. re: JessKidden

                  I see lots of people blaming the buyer (Inbev) but not the seller. And if the seller doesn't sell, the buyer can't buy.

                  Interestingly, I read today that Barron's Investors cites Inbev as the world's best rated brewer. Analysts note the company's high sales growth and substantial cosst reduction (which I suppose comes partly from shutting down breweries). Inbev stock is up 33% in a year, gaining almost $10 billion in market cap.

                  I suppose all this drives home the point that companies like Inbev seek financial performance while some of us are more interested in the product.

                  1. re: Jim Dorsch

                    "I see lots of people blaming the buyer (Inbev) but not the seller. And if the seller doesn't sell, the buyer can't buy"

                    Well, that's another question, isn't it? (Complicated by things like whether the sold company was privately held or publicly traded, and if it was doing well or going bankrupt, etc.)

                    Seems that when a brewer buys another brand, it's buying that percentage of market share (and, hoping to use some of it's own excess capacity to make their own breweries more efficient), and, one would think, to maintain that share, to "keep" those customers, all effort would go into making the exact same beer or, else, why bother? If A-B's version of Rolling Rock turns off many RR drinkers (beyond those in Latrobe) and doesn't gain others, it was money poorly spent, even if it eliminated a competitor with .5% of the market.

                    Some might say, especially with "failed breweries", "Well, since they went out of business from selling that beer, why would another brewery make the same 'mistake'" <g>? (Of course, that supposes that breweries go out of business for selling "bad" beer- seldom the case.)

                    1. re: JessKidden

                      This raises the question of whether the typical beer drinker drinks the beer or the brand. I would say in many cases it's the latter.

                      1. re: Jim Dorsch

                        I would agree with you on this one. I would say most people go for the brand. My hatred of Corona has caused me to do many a blind taste test in bars with unsuspecting Corona drinkers. Needless to say, Corona almost always loses to beers like Schaeffer and PBR

                        1. re: Jim Dorsch

                          Yeah, I think it's the case that most people drink the brand over the beer but that doesn't mean that people don't switch their loyalty to a different brand when a beer is sold and/or changed because it "doesn't taste the same". Certainly, US brewing history is filled with anectotal stories about a brewery changing a formula and losing sales (Schlitz, Ballantine Beer [twice], etc.).

                          Two of my own beer anecdotes are for Schaefer and Ballantine Ale.

                          I had relatives in the Albany, NY area, most of whom were Schaefer drinkers at the time Schaefer had a brewery in Albany (as well as in Brooklyn and Baltimore). Albany was closed when they built the new plant near Allentown, PA and, almost instantly all said relatives had soon switched to Genesee Beer 'cause the "new" Schaefer gave them headaches. (I've often wondered if it was a headache or just psychological from the bad press Schaefer no doubt go when those local jobs went south).

                          As a Ballantine Ale drinker in the 70's, I'd often get comments from the drunks in "old man bars"- "Ah, I used to drink that stuff, ain't the same no more since they closed the Newark brewery." (And, it wasn't "the same" but it was a whole lot better than the Bud and Miller Lite those old men were drinking- it used to make me think to myself, "So, Falstaff tinkered with the recipe, maybe cheapened it a bit, so you just GAVE UP on flavor all together and switched to Miller Lite?")

                          OTOH, it's not hard to "surprise" people drinking their regular beer with "Oh, your beer's not made in Germany/Australia/Ireland/Milwaukee/Colorado/Detroit anymore, just read the label." (If you're lucky, they'll even spill it on themselves as they turn the can/bottle on it's side, looking for the fine print.)

                          One of my favorite studies on blind tastings of beer added an interesting twist. Not only did people rate a beer differently blind then when the brand was shown, but they rated them differently when the familiar label was displayed vs. a plain block letter, black and white name.

                          1. re: JessKidden

                            On those blind studies, were there people for whom the results were the same regardless of if they saw the label or not?

                    2. re: JessKidden

                      part of the reason of the why a beer tastes different when "brewed in a different location" is probably the water that is used. unless a brewer wants to import the water where the beer is from, there's going to be some difference in the taste of the brew. aside from the grown ingredients, i.e. hops, the water is probably the biggest reason.

                      1. re: da_seuss

                        I think water plays a very small part in the taste of most of these beers we're discussing. The large brewing companies long ago learned how to adjust ph and add (or filter out) minerals to make a consistent and ideal water for the beers they brew in multiple locations. (Indeed, there's even a term for it, when it comes to trying to duplicate the ales of the UK from Burton, "Burtonizing").

                        Despite the PR that "It's the Water" or the "Rocky Mt. Water" or "Sky Blue Waters", the artesian wells or the water from the beautiful mountain stream- fed reservoir, most breweries today heavily filter their water and then treat it by adding back the minerals and salts they require. Coors, for instance, despite saying that it's water is "sourced from the Rocky Mts." had no problem brewing their beers with Memphis water or adding Virginia water to re-constitute it's high gravity brews. "The mineral content of Coors Brewing water is what makes our water so special for brewing, so we keep it a secret!" Does one really suppose that "Rocky Mountain water" has a constant and unchanging mineral content?

                        Here's a refreshingly honest water description from a larger brewer:
                        "The Genesee Brewery has the most thorough and elaborate water purifying system ever devised. Even though its source of water is spring-fed Hemlock Lake Reservoir, Genesee runs the water first through sand and gravel filters, and finally through extensive charcoal filters."

                        Respected beer writer Roger Protz notes "Today all brewers treat their brewing liquor to achieve absolute purity, passing it through filters several times to remove unwanted salts and impurities. In order to get the right flavour balance, good fermentation and use of raw materials, brewers in many counties will add small amounts of gypsum and epson salts."

                    3. re: zin1953

                      I suppose there must be exceptions, but I can't think of any.

                  2. SAB/MILLER has done the same to Plzen Urquell. No more againg in wood, no lengthy lagering and some of the stuff for European market is now made in Poland! Original my tucchas!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: MOREKASHA

                      Stainless steel had replaced the wooden fermenters and lagering tanks at Pilsner Urquell by the mid-90's (after the Velvet Revolution), well before the SAB purchase in 1999. (Not that SABMiller wouldn't have done it eventually, too.) I used to like to repeat a quote I read from a brewery executive that went something like, "We study every new brewing technique in depth and for months before we reject it."

                      Heck, I still miss the corklined caps.

                      1. re: JessKidden

                        I love the quote. I assumed the tanks were changed after SAB bought it. My mistake. Still, a great beer that always had a heard time travelling, pasterization, light, etc. It's a shame 'cause most people (even some beer geeks) think a Pls is a week and inspid yellow beer. A crime against hops 'n malt.

                        1. re: MOREKASHA

                          "I love that quote."

                          Yeah, me, too. I actually found it again the other day (unfortunately, I was looking for two OTHER sources of info at the time- a study about the effect of seeing the label in a taste test and a study about "light stuck" times on clear vs green vs brown glass.)

                          Anyway, the actual quote (originally from a Playboy interview, no less) is from an official of the brewery, identified only as "Mr. Hlavacek*", from 1972: "We spend two years studying each new brewing technique as it comes along--before rejecting it."

                          A Google for him turns up this: