Fighting Words

 

It’s time to tone down the language a bit. No, I’m not suggesting everyone’s got to keep their daily discourse airplane-friendly by filtering out expletives. I’ve been known to use a colorful metaphor or three from time to time (just ask anyone who works with me). What I’m proposing is that we take the inter-category smack-talk down a notch.

Last month at the National Beer Wholesalers Association’s 75th annual convention in San Diego, the usual hand-wringing over wine and spirits grabbing more and more of beer’s alcohol market share took place, but it seems like the verbiage being used in such discussions has been amped up quite a bit (and I’ve gone to every one of these conventions in the past decade, so I’ve got a pretty good personal history to draw upon). 

It was one of many topics of conversation on the panel of beer executives including Bill Hackett of Crown Imports, Luiz Edmond of Anheuser-Busch, Tom Long of MillerCoors, Dolf van den Brink of Heineken USA and, from the craft realm, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. 

During the course of the panel, I heard terms like “threats” and “adversaries,” being used to describe the wine and spirits categories. Pledges to “kick” wine and spirits’ “rear”—and less euphemistic terms—were hurled around. 

I get it, it’s a very competitive market place and competition is what makes the beverage and any other market great. But what’s being lost in all of the posturing and machismo is that fact that consumers, by and large really don’t care. There are actually very few drinkers of alcohol beverages that only drink from one category. Most are cross drinkers. I myself am a cross drinker. I’ve made no secret of my partisanship toward craft beer, but I do enjoy drinking a good glass of Cabernet, a single malt Scotch or a straight bourbon pretty frequently. I’ve taken personal trips to beer-centric areas like Belgium and Asheville, N.C. But I’ve also spent multiple vacation days in Napa. And I recently figured out how to make a pretty good mint julep (if I do say so myself), which has found a spot on my growing list of go-to drinks. 

The cross-category lines have blurred in distribution as well. Beer distributors increasingly have taken on products beyond their core segment, including wine and spirits. Look at a major wine and spirits distributor like Wirtz, which does some pretty healthy beer volume. 

In my cover story on the craft distilling movement, I talk to Rick Steckler of Click Wholesale, which has made a name for itself distributing beer and wine. With the privatization of spirits sales in the state of Washington, the company saw an opportunity to use its existing distribution infrastructure to excel in the spirits segment as well. 

I hardly think companies like Click or Wirtz are pitting one segment against another with such hostile rhetoric.

The mission of the Beer Institute has been to build “Brand Beer”—as well it should be because that’s within the organization’s purview. However, as an editor of a magazine that serves all drinks categories and as a consumer who drinks a little bit of everything I’m becoming an advocate for something more radical: Brand Beverage.  

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