Beer is “transitioning back to a time of subtleties and balance” according to Ben Dobler, Widmer Brothers master brewer and head of innovation brewing at the Craft Brew Alliance (CBA).
Dobler was in Australia hosting masterclasses for the launch of Craft Revolution a new Australian beer distributor, which is bringing to our shores beers from the CBA, the fifth largest craft brewing company in the US.
The brands are Portland’s Widmer Brothers Brewing, Seattle’s Redhook Brewery and Hawaii’s Kona Brewing Co, with the portfolio including the likes of Widmer Brothers ‘The Original’ American Hefeweizen, Kona Big Wave Golden Ale, Redhook ESB, Redhook Long Hammer IPA and Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale.
“The amazing thing, honestly, is the Hefe I didn’t think it would be that well-received but, oh my God, people have been loving it,” Dobler told Beer & Brewer.
“I mean I know it’s good, but wow. Obviously the Kona beers are great, but people haven’t been going as bananas for them as they have for the Hefe.”
The unfiltered cloudy American-style Hefeweizen is served with a slice of lemon to highlight the citrus notes and at 4.9 per cent ABV it is a great beer for the hot Australian climate.
“It delivers a really nice rounded flavour, with Cascade hops to make that citrus flavour pop and the addition of the lemon garnish really helps that. It is one of the most food-friendly beers,” said Dobler.
“Right now there’s a huge shift for the most part all over the US, IPAs are still ruling the day but brewers are finally talented enough that they can make a really nice Munich helles or a Dortmunder.
“We’re finally transitioning back to a time of subtleties and balance and for an older guy that’s great because I’ve drunk enough 7.5-8 per cent ABV, 80IBU imperial IPAs that now I want to be sociable. In fact, when you look at our portfolio a lot of the beers fall in that sub six per cent category and to me that’s the real talent and merit of a good brewer.
“I think the biggest thing that we’re finally seeing is a real ‘occasion shift’ so it isn’t one beer fits everything and that’s what’s great about our portfolio; we’ve got this range of beers that can fit a range of occasions.”
Another trend in the US that Dobler mentioned was canned beer, with the two major can producers in the US apparently taking no more orders as they cannot keep up with the current volume.
Dobler said CBA has been interested in the Australian market for a while but was searching for the right distribution partner, which they have found in Craft Revolution.
“Yeah you guys drink 107L per person, per year so I’m not a hard core capitalist but I look at those numbers and if we do 80L and you do 107L…,” said Dobler.
With the move into the Australian market now underway, a collaboration with an Australian brewery could be on the cards with Dobler saying they were ‘wide open’ to the idea.
Mergers & Acquisitions
There have been a number of major mergers and acquisitions in the US this year, with the most recent being the sale of Ballast Point for US$1 billion to Constellation Brands.
“Good on them. Obviously Constellation sees something in making that a global brand,” Dobler said of sale.
He also said that according to the brewers who have been involved in some of the recent mergers and acquisitions, it’s business as usual for now.
“ABInbev buying 10 Barrel, Elysian, Sixpoint, Golden Road and Goose, I’m good friends with pretty much everybody at every one of these breweries and at least for now, nothing has changed.
“The only thing that has changed is that they now have access to cheaper ingredients and by cheaper I just mean cost.
“It’s just a matter of whether or not the public continues to support it and if eventually AB’s like ‘we’re closing the little brewery’ and we’ll just absorb everything and move it to our larger brewery. The thing is though none of these big breweries are built to make craft beer, they’re just not, they’re lager breweries. The layout of a lager brewery is different to an ale brewery.”
In regards to the acquisition of SABMiller by AB InBev, Dobler believes we should keep an eye on the Miller Coors brand and the distribution networks, after Molson Coors agreed to buy SABMiller’s share of the joint venture.
“The interesting thing is, what it will do to the distribution networks in the States,” he said.
“Honestly what I see happening is a huge resurgence of Miller in the States because it’s going to be the cool brand again. I think those brands that don’t get gobbled up will experience a great resurgence.”
The CBA brands are now being distributed in Australia by Craft Revolution, with Dave Paton as national sales director.