Let me explain―after I pour myself another glass of Infinium, a Christmas gift from the Boston Beer Co. It does kind of taste like champagne, like they promised―very refreshing and delicious. But it begs the question: Should beer out-champagne champagne? Should beer attempt to out-[insert alcohol beverage of choice] anything except beer? Or should good beer should just be a good balanced representation of what it’s supposed to be?
There. In that paragraph I’ve written more about actual beer than I have in my entire life. And you, lucky reader, are here to witness it. I feel all verklempt. Let’s take another moment to reflect. (Incidentally, upon reflection, in this paragraph I’ve quite possibly also infuriated an influential and powerful friend in the beer industry, Jim Koch. Sorry, Jim. As you know, I’m the least qualified person on earth to pass intelligent judgment on a beer. I’ll give you this: It certainly has inspired some fascinating prose so far).
Let’s get back to our thesis, after that shameless attempt at an interesting filler of verbiage: beer is heavy, heavier than money and heavy relative to its price. The fact that beer is heavier than money has implications on both the global and the local beer industries, for similar reasons. On the global stage, a clever group of bankers disguised as brewery owners have figured out that beer’s weight makes it prohibitively expensive to ship economically, particularly across mountain ranges and oceans. Therefore, rather than take a brand like Brazil’s Brahma and ship it far and wide, it makes much more financial sense to move the money internationally, which is weightless, and buy other breweries. Hence the rapid global consolidation of mega-breweries we’ve witnessed for the past 20 years: SAB and Miller, Molson and Coors, InBev and Anheuser-Busch, Heineken and Femsa, to name just a few.
You can apparently use the profits from what you make on Brahma to finance buying a brewery in Belgium, and once you’ve paid down your debt from the purchase, walla! Now you’ve increased the size of your company and make more money. Not only that, when you own Brahma in Brazil and buy a brewery in Belgium, the brewery in Belgium can brew Brahma there, saving the shipping costs. Easy-peasy, Japanese-y. The Belgians who wish to drink Brahma either don’t know or care where the Brazilian beer is made, it appears. In fact, only in the United States do beer drinkers care where their beer is actually brewed. That’s why Heineken is brewed all over the world for local markets, except in the U.S., where the Heineken you drink is brewed in Amsterdam at the mother ship brewery. Beer is heavy, don’t forget, relative to its price. Another sip of Infinium. It’s growing on me.
Now, you know what other alcoholic beverage isn’t heavy relative to its price, in the high-end at least? Wine. High-end wine is expensive, and yet it weighs nearly the same as beer. And terrior matters. So when you drink Chateau Lafitte Rothschild, you know it comes from France. In spirits, you wouldn’t drink single malt scotch from Mexico just as you wouldn’t drink an agave tequila from Scotland. And that’s OK for those companies because the prices are such that the shipping is nearly negligible. Another sip―liquid ambrosia.
And even within the U.S., there’s a thriving Internet business with domestic high-end wines, because the price is high enough relative to its weight that you can buy a case and not worry too much about the shipping costs because it’s a minor add-on. That’s why so much wine and spirits are shipped long distances. Thirty percent of wine and spirits sold is high-end, so it’s a big part of that industry. I should note here that this Infinium is a piece of heaven on earth.