We need a new Fritz! And what's with the Gummies?
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San Francisco has a rich history of creating great bands and great rock stars. Journey, The Grateful Dead, Faith No More, The Pointer Sisters, Santana, and Tupac to name just a few. Oh, and don’t forget Huey Lewis, who in the 1980s sang, “I want a new drug.” Well, today what the craft beer industry wants is a new Fritz. (How’s that for a segway?) Allow me to explain.
We need a new Fritz
The news dropped earlier this week. San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing will shut down entirely and liquidate the business. It marks an unceremonious end for the 127-year-old brewery that essentially invented the concept of craft brewing in post-prohibition America.
Fritz Maytag, who rescued the then-failing brewery in the 1960s, is like a rockstar who created a new genre of music. Fritz’s music sounded weird at first. The public ear didn’t tune into it for more than a decade, but his music is something that we came to know as craft beer, and today over 9,000 breweries are playing it.
Fritz Maytag, 1965. Courtesy Anchor Brewing.
When Fritz Maytag bought Anchor Brewing, the brewing industry was experiencing some big changes. Namely, widespread consolidation. The number of independent breweries in the U.S. was drastically shrinking as brands consolidated under the control of the largest players. Fritz bought Anchor Brewing, kept it both alive and independent, and then started doing things that no other breweries were doing.
Today the situation is both different and the same. The craft beer industry is experiencing upheaval but in a different way. Not necessarily the same kind of consolidation, but change nevertheless. Breweries are adapting to the new normal as the new normal is still under construction.
The old branding.
The company attributed the brewery’s troubles to an over-played repertoire of excuses, but Anchor Brewing and Sapporo USA, which has owned Anchor since 2017, didn’t adapt well. Reportedly, things like deferring maintenance on the facility, investing in automation, picking fights with the union, and introducing a widely unpopular rebrand all played a role in the company’s decline. Whispers in the industry suggest there may have been other internal tribulations at work.
The new branding.
That’s all water under the bridge now, so what can we learn from the situation? What the world needs now is another Fritz Maytag. Sure, it’d be great if someone stepped up and rescued Anchor Brewing again, but that seems very unlikely at this point. Sapporo USA says it already made unsuccessful attempts to sell the brewery and has now decided to liquidate the business. To sell it for parts.
Craft beer needs a new rockstar to step up and show us the way. Someone to not only follow a path but to blaze a trail. So come on, who’s going to be the next Fritz Maytag?
More about that Harris Poll
Last week we reported on the Harris Poll recently conducted by the Brewers Association, which looked at craft beer consumer attitudes and habits. There was a lot to unpack and we didn’t touch on everything, so here are couple more observations Bart Watson made when discussing the data.
“If you’re not thinking about flavor as the No. 1 value proposition of craft, then you’re not where most customers are when they think about craft,” said Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association.
He also mentioned that ABV matters more than ever. Not just people looking for higher ABV beers, but also looking for lower ABV beers. For years, most craft beers ranged from 5.2 to 6.7 percent ABV. The new consumer, it seems, is much more likely to look for things outside of that range.
Those two things —flavor and ABV— combine to explain the public’s fascination with fruited IPAs of imperial strength. Beers like New Belgium’s wildly successful Voodoo Ranger Fruit Force IPA, a “fruit punch IPA” that clocks in at 9.5 percent ABV. The high-ABV series of VooDoo Ranger beers have been one of the only bright spots in craft beer sales in recent months. And, indeed, it’s been a very bright spot for New Belgium.
No wonder companies like Sweetwater Brewing of Atlanta are introducing beers like its new Gummies Tropical IIPA. It’s described as a 9.5 percent IPA that “combines passionfruit, pineapple, and tangerine to create a tropical medley reminiscent of a refreshing piña colada and freshly squeezed orange juice. With no trace of bitterness…”
By the way, if you think IPAs are supposed to be inherently bitter, you’re old. Like us.
So how did we do this week?
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This week's Taster Tray was composed by Kendall Jones.