Call it the quintessential antithesis or maybe apocalyptical or even the beginning of an era. For me the Spring of 1994 was one of the most prescient moments in my life of beer. The Miller Brewing Company, then owned by Phillip Morris, unveiled a new beer called Miller Reserve Velvet Stout. To me it was in short “Miller Stout” and that absolutely floored me!
This was a time when American craft brewers were high on the 1.7 million barrels of beer brewed in 1993. There was a feeling of critical mass reached with about 370 small and independent craft brewers churning out craft beer.
Industry analysts were continuing to dismiss the possibility of craft brewing success, predicting saturation of the market had already taken place and survival was unlikely.
And then Miller came out with their stout. As I recall it was a well-made stout but with a high level of carbonation typical of their mainstream and market leading Miller Lite. And then the brand gently faded into oblivion. It was one of their wet spaghetti strands thrown against a wall to see if it would stick. Am I being unkind? Not at all. My brother did an MBA research project investigating marketing tactics. In his conversation with a Miller Brewing advertising executive he was told they try all kinds of things without a whole lot of research and see if it works in the market place; using the spaghetti analogy that if it was cooked just right it might stick. They were going through a lot of spaghetti.
But back to my point, I was floored. It was the first time a major brewing company extended their product range into such a specialty extreme. Yes, there was Coors with Killians Irish Red Ale in 1982, which certainly deserves merit. Then their was Anheuser-Busch’s O’Doul’s Irish Pale Ale, but these forays were nothing as extreme as stout served up in a beer market dominated by Lite beer.
My reaction after getting off the floor was to go to my refrigerator, pull out a homebrew and pour myself a tall glassful and settle into my living room overstuffed chair. I lost myself, content that not only was homebrewing here to stay, but the American beer market was going to be forever changed and stay that way for a long, long time. I have been 100% confident in my belief that craft beer from small and independent craft brewers would continue ever since the spring of 1994.
It’s 2014 – 20 years later and the Brewers Association recently revealed that U.S. craft brewers sold 10.6 million barrels of beer between January and month-end June 2014. That is a growth rate clipping along at 18% annual growth. There are currently 3,040 craft breweries operating in the U.S.A. with another 1,929 in the planning stage.
Yet there are still beer journalists and media still broadcasting stories predicting the doom and demise of craft beer and brewing. I understand why. The continued and sustained success of American craft brewers is old, tired and boring news. After all, who’s interested in reading about another year of success? Predicting doom, gloom and impending disaster is far more interesting, sells more subscriptions and increases readership. Meanwhile beer drinkers continue to come out of the woodwork and ask for craft, discovering the joys of craft beer from craft brewers.
Thanks Miller Brewing for tipping me off 20 years ago.